“It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you,
There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do,
I bless the rains down in Africa,
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had.”
You went there, didn’t you? You saw the title of this article, you thought of Toto, and suddenly these lyrics appeared in your head as if by magic.
Oh. Perhaps just us then.
Well, now that we have firmly got that song stuck in our heads and hopefully piqued your interest a little, we feel it is time to take a quick look at the languages of Africa. This continent is largely undiscovered when it comes to language learning, and we would like to rectify that travesty – or at least make you aware of your choices should you be looking for a new language challenge.
Come and take a look!
When you think about the languages that spoken in Africa, perhaps your first thoughts would be Somali, Swahili or Berber. True, these are very widely-spoken languages across the African content. However, Africa in fact has a linguistic diversity that is second only to Asia. Asia has an impressive 2197 languages spoken across its continent, whilst for Africa this is estimated to be at between 1500 and 2100. Given the difference in size – Africa, 30.22 million km² and Asia, 44.58 million km², that is a phenomenal amount of languages.
For ease of reference, we will look at the languages spoken across the African continent in terms of which language family they belong to.
From North Africa to the Horn of Africa and Southwest Asia
There are around 200 languages that originate from this language family, and Afroasiatic languages can be heard over almost the entire North African region. The most commonly spoken language in this region is Arabic, which itself has several colloquial varieties. Some of the other common African languages that fall within the Afroasiatic family are Hausa, Oromo and Somali.
Sudan and Chad
Approximately 11 million speakers communicate in one or more of 140 languages that fall within the language family of Nilo-Sarahan. The people living in this region are called the Nilotic, and within this group, Duoluo is the most spoken language, with popular others being Kanuri, Songhai and Teso.
West, Central, and Southeast Africa
This language family represents the largest amount of spoken languages throughout Africa. Some 1000 languages are spoken by approximately 200 million people in these regions alone. Bantu takes up the largest proportion of languages spoken for this region, with Gbaya, Moore and Yoruba representing smaller populations.
The deserts of Namibia and Botswana
Even over this comparably small area, thirty separate languages that belong to the Khoe language family are spoken in these places. The only well-known language for this area is Nama, of Namibia, although languages that fall within this bracket do collectively rival Bantu in Southern Africa for those that are most spoken.
There is really only one Austronesian language spoken in Madagascar, spoken by a population estimated at around 18 million people, and this is Malagasy. The Austronesian language family spans a vast area across the globe, from southeast Asia, down to the islands of the Pacific Ocean, and across to Madagascar itself. We are yet to see the film Madagascar in Malagasy, however, and this is a discrepancy we feel should be fixed.
Southern tip of the continent
There are 7.2 million speakers of Afrikaans, which is the most used Indo-European language in Africa. Other languages that fall within this bracket are English, French and Portuguese, although these are often spoken more as a lingua franca than as an official language. Afrikaans is the only language from the Indo-European family thought to have developed in Africa itself.
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That is a lot of languages to consider! It is fair to say that whilst there is such a rich diversity of languages spoken across the African continent, not all of these beautiful languages are spoken by everyone, or even by a majority. Next time, we will take a look at the most spoken languages in Africa in an attempt to give a more objective overview. To give you a taster, here is a useful phrase for you to practice in Zulu, the most widely spoken language in Africa:
Umkhumbi wami ugcwele ngenyoka zemanzini – my hovercraft is full of eels.
Not useful? We can only blame Monty Python…
Until next time 🙂