Learn more about Africa, a celebration African Languages.
By Mpho Rapata & Zuko Komisa
It is projected that in 50 years there will only three spoken languages on the entire planet; English, French and Spanish. This is a sad fact considering that there are between 1500 – 2000 languages spoken in Africa, which makes this continent the most linguistically diverse in the world. This is also heart-breaking as most of these languages are slowly dying and as a continent, our effort to change this has been minimal to none. Our interest and investment in learning a language across the continent and perhaps the rest of the world has mostly been based culturally through the media and economically through business, a massive threat to our native languages.
The languages we speak with our toddlers shapes their world, the less we speak these languages the more they disappear. The more we become affluent and westernized the more African parents are losing the desire or commitment to teaching their kids their native languages. The close relationship with China and other BRICS countries also means that Mandarin could, in the coming year, become a crucial language to know. This is evident with the introduction of the language in many South African schools.
The Language of Business.
“The African dream can be achieved if we break colonial borders” – Hugh Masekela. The emergence of the focus on entrepreneurship in the continent has a huge impact on the preservation of our native languages. Language gives you access to the economy, having clever business skills has a lot to do with one’s linguistic learning. With this in mind here are some interesting facts about top 10 most commonly spoken Languages in Africa.
Swahili, is the most widely spoken language in Africa, with over 100 million speakers. It is believed to have originated from other languages, mainly Arabic. Swahili is Tanzania’s official language; it is also Kenya and Uganda’s official language. Other Swahili speaking nations include Rwanda, Burundi and southern Somalia. To greet in Swahili, you say, “Jambo”, or “Habari” when greeting an elder.
Salam, that is hello in Amharic which is the second most spoken language in Africa and Ethiopia’s official language. It is the second most spoken Semitic language in the world after Arabic and is also the language of over 2 million Ethiopians living outside of the country.
This is one of West Africa’s most spoken languages. It is spoken in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo, and it is one of Nigeria’s official languages. It is also widely spoken by West African expats in the US and UK. To say hello in Yoruba- you say, “Bawo,” which means something totally different in Xhosa.
Oromo is spoken by over 30 million people in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Egypt. Forty percent of the Ethiopian population is Oromo. The Oromo are also the largest ethnic group in the country. To say hello in Oromo, one says “Akkam”.
“Sannu”- meaning hello, from Nigeria, in Hausa – is the fifth most spoken language on the African continent. Hausa originated as the language in northern Nigeria and southern Niger and soon spread as the lingua franca of western Africa due to trade. It is spoken mainly in northern Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Congo, Eritrea, Germany, Ghana, Sudan, Togo and much of North Africa
Next time you want to say hello to a Nigerian say “Nnoo” This is a hello in Igbo – a language spoken by over 20 million people, with a significant amount of speakers in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. The language was made prominent by author Chinua Achebe, who wrote the popular book “Things Fall Apart” and wrote most of his books in Igbo, mirroring and popularizing Igbo culture.
Zulu, is one of South Africa’s official languages and has over 10 million speakers. It is a member of the Nguni family of languages and is spoken mainly in eastern South Africa. It is the second most widely spoken language, after Shona. To say hello in Zulu, one says “Sawubona”.
Shona is the most spoken language in Zimbabwe, with over 10 million speakers in a population of over 14 million. It , like Zulu, is of the Nguni family of languages and has speakers in Botswana and Mozambique. To say hello in Shona, one says “Mhoro”.
Portuguese is the official language of six African states, including Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Sao Tome e Principe and Equatorial Guinea. Portuguese has become a post-colonial language in Africa and one of the working languages of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community. 14 million people use Portuguese as their mother tongue on the continent, and over 30 million secondary speakers. To say hello in Portuguese, one says “Olá”
Did you know that there are over 120 million French speakers who use the language as their mother tongue or secondary language on the continent? The highest percentage of people who speak French are from Gabon, Mauritius, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Sao Tome e Principe, Tunisia, Guinea, Seychelles, Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea. To say hello in French, one says “Bonjour”.
What languages can you speak? Share with us on social media.