African Languages

African Languages

There are over 2100 and by some counts over 3000 languages spoken natively in Africa in several major language families:

  • Afroasiatic (Hamito-Semitic) spread throughout the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahel
  • Nilo-Saharan is centered on Sudan and Chad (disputed validity)
  • Niger–Congo (Bantu) covers West, Central, and Southeast Africa
  • Khoe is concentrated in the deserts of Namibia and Botswana
  • Austronesian on Madagascar.
  • Indo-European on the southern tip of the continent.

There are several other small families and language isolates, as well as obscure languages that have yet to be classified. In addition, Africa has a wide variety of sign languages, many of which are language isolates.

Several African languages are whistled or drummed to communicate over long distances.

About a hundred of the languages of Africa are widely used for inter-ethnic communication. Arabic, Berber, Amharic, Somali, Oromo, Swahili, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba are spoken by tens of millions of people. If clusters of up to a hundred similar languages are counted together, twelve are spoken by 75 percent, and fifteen by 85 percent, of Africans as a first or additional language.

The high linguistic diversity of many African countries (Nigeria alone has over 500 languages, one of the greatest concentrations of linguistic diversity in the world) has made language policy a vital issue in the post-colonial era. In recent years, African countries have become increasingly aware of the value of their linguistic inheritance. Language policies being developed nowadays are mostly aimed at multilingualism. For example, all African languages are considered official languages of the African Union (AU). 2006 was declared by the African Union as the "Year of African Languages". However, although many mid-sized languages are used on the radio, in newspapers, and in primary-school education, and some of the larger ones are considered national languages, only a few are official at the national level.

Read more about African Languages:  Language Groups, Language in Africa, Linguistic Features

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