Africa: Home to One-Third of the World’s Languages

August 07, 2015

The African continent has 725 million inhabitants. The African people speak more than 2,000 languages, which represent over 30% of the world's languages. Africa is linguistically diverse with almost one language per 360,000 inhabitants.

 

Although there are over 2,000 languages ​​in 56 states, only 14 African languages have an official status.

 

  • GPI_African Languages_homeAfrikaans: South Africa
  • Amharic: Ethiopia
  • Arabic: Algeria, Chad, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia
  • English: The Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Saint Helena, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
  • French: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo
  • Kiswahili: United Republic of Tanzania, Kenya
  • Kirundi: Burundi
  • Nyanja: Malawi
  • Portuguese: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe
  • Sangho: Central African Republic
  • Sesotho: Lesotho
  • Setswana: Botswana
  • Somali: Somalia
  • Tigrinya: Eritrea

 

African languages are grouped into four main "families":

 

  • Afro-Asiatic
  • Nilo-Saharan
  • Khoisan
  • Niger-Congo

 

The majority of countries have retained the official language of the colonizer. Very few of the continent's indigenous languages have an official status.

The Afro-Asiatic Family

 

There are 353 languages in this family, totaling 340 million speakers. However, the Afro-Asiatic languages are not exclusively African. This language family also extends to the Arabian Peninsula and covers only the northern part of West Africa.

 

Berbere, the original language of the inhabitants of North Africa, is part of this language group as well as Arabic, which is the language with the most speakers in Africa.

The Nilo-Saharan Family

 

The Nilo-Saharan family consists of 197 languages with 35 million speakers. These languages cover some of the upper part of the Nile basin and highlands in East Africa.

 

There are twelve groups of languages that compose this language family. But, only two are located in West Africa: the Songhai (Mali, Niger, Burkina, and Benin) and Kanuri (Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad).

The Khoisan Family

 

This language family is the smallest African language family. It is made up of 22 languages and 360,000 speakers.

 

These languages are located in Namibia and extend to Angola, Botswana and South Africa. Historically, the Khoisan languages were spoken in southern and eastern Africa. They were slowly replaced by many of the Bantu languages and then European languages.

The Niger-Congo Family

 

GPI_African Languages_1The Niger-Congo family has nearly 1500 languages, making it the largest language family in the world. It makes up 71% of African languages and 22% of the world's languages.

 

It covers most of the West African countries and the vast majority of the population of the region. The Bantu languages are in this family, which cover almost all of sub-equatorial Africa. Kiswhalili (aka Swahili) also belongs to this language group.

 

Many experts believe that the original home of the Bantu languages is located south of the Benue (along the Cameroon and Nigeria border). 4000 years ago, the Bantus began a long relocation to Central Africa, driven by the aridity of the climate and the development of agriculture.

 

This colonization took nearly three millennia. Bantus reached the southern continent in the sixteenth century.

 

The many similarities between the Bantu languages ​​and their remarkable geographic expansion in a specific language area are often distinguished from the rest of the Niger-Congo family.

 

 

 

 

 

Image Credit: Niger-Congo

Summary

 

Africa is an extremely diverse continent. Anyone looking to travel or expand their global business there should fully research the specific country or region they are interested in to understand the languages and cultures that exist.

 

This vast continent presents many opportunities for African companies, as well as global companies looking to expand into the African marketplace. Please see one of GPI's previous blogs, African Languages and Locales: Essential Facts, to find additional information on Africa.

Additional Resources on Africa and African Language Translation

 

In order to support the growing needs of our clients for many of the African and Middle Eastern languages, GPI has opened offices in Dubai, UAE and Cairo, Egypt to support our clients doing business in the Middle East and Africa. GPI has built teams of professional native speakers for many of the African languages whether national or indigenous, who are available to help companies with their African language translations needs.

 

Feel free to review our blogs that are particularly relevant:

 

 

Please feel free to contact GPI at info@globalizationpartners.com with any questions about our translation services. Also let us know if you have any interesting blog topics you would like us to cover in future blogs. You may also request a complimentary Translation Quote for your projects as well.

Category:
Country Specific
Tags:
African languages, African Language families, Languages of Africa

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Comments

  • Raya NunezOn Aug 11, Raya Nunez said:
    Thank you for a great article!
    I would like to see more African languages taught at International Business Schools.
    Which African language(s) would you suggest for International Business students to learn?
    And why. (I need to convince the university managers to support and finance the classes.)
  • Raya NunezOn Aug 11, Raya Nunez said:
    Thank you for a great article!
    I would like to see more African languages taught at International Business Schools.
    Which African language(s) would you suggest for International Business students to learn?
    And why. (I need to convince the university managers to support and finance the classes.)
  • LIliane NakadOn Aug 12, LIliane Nakad said:
    Hello Raya, and thank you for your comment. We will make sure to cover more subjects about Africa in the future.
    In regards to your question, International Business Students should be asked to learn in addition to English of course Arabic, Mandarin, French & Spanish. Arabic and Mandarin are top 5 spoken languages in the world and this is due to the new economies and trades that are emerging in China & the Arab world especially the UAE & Qatar.Spanish is also a language that is widely spoken in the Americas Europe and Africa. French could also be important if you are looking to work in Africa as it is one of the most spoken languages.
  • Africa: Home to One-Third of the World’s Languages - Masreya MediaMasreya MediaOn Jan 21, Africa: Home to One-Third of the World’s Languages - Masreya MediaMasreya Media said:
    http://blog.globalizationpartners.com/africa-home-to-one-third-of-the-world-s-languages.aspx
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Mai Farouk Mohamed Nour (Mai Nour) is a native Arabic speaker who lives in Cairo, Egypt. She is a senior copywriter, translator and reviewer with great passion for translation and creative writing in English and Arabic. Mai obtained her B.A. degree in English Language and Literature from Faculty of Alsun, Ain Shams University. She has a well-rounded experience exceeding nine years in copywriting and translation working with various companies throughout the Middle East. Her primary translation and writing focus has been on the subjects of legal, technical, hospitality, localization and general marketing, and has significant experience translating legal and marketing projects and HR and literary books. For her, translation is more than a career, it is a mission. When Mai is not working she enjoys traveling, reading, coloring, and going to the movies.