THE LANGUAGES OF AFRICA

As the crab nears the stream, it understands the language of the stream.”

african flag mapWith over 1,000 languages, Africa is home to more languages than any other continent. Most Africans are multilingual or at least bilingual, typically speaking the language of their own ethnic group as well as one or two languages of wider communication. A person from southeast Nigeria, for example, will probably speak at least three languages: Efik (in his/her community); Igbo (the regional language); and English (the language used in schools). A Nigerian may even speak Nigerian Pidgin English, particularly if s/he conducts business in major Nigerian cities.

 

The majority of African people do speak an “overarching” language like Kiswahili, French, Arabic, or English. Because of Africa’s experience with colonialism and imperialism, the names or official languages of African countries may often be European. (Egyptians, for example, call their own country Misr, not Egypt, and many South Africans refer to their homeland as Azania, rather than South Africa).

 

Kiswahili, of the Niger-Kordofanian family, is the most widely spoken language in Africa with between 50 and 80 million speakers (as a first and second language). The countries of Kiswahili-speaking communities represent a total area of 6,649,511 square miles, which is 1.14 times the size of the United States (Ramazani 1995). Countries with Kiswahili-speaking communities include, but are not limited to, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Comoros, and Madagascar.

 

The World Factbook 2006 estimates suggest Hausa (25 million speakers), Yoruba (22 million speakers), Amharic (17 million speakers), Zulu (10 million speakers), Rundi (5 to 8 million speakers), and Fulani (6 million speakers) are also widely used languages.

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