Africa, with its 54 countries and its 1,2 billion population, is one of the biggest linguistic concentrations in the world.
African languages are a subject of interest especially for socialization or learning purpose.
Below are some key facts on how many languages are spoken in Africa.
Over 3000 Languages are spoken in Africa
Africa is home for approximately one-third of the world’s languages ranged between 1250 – 2000 native languages; some counts go over to 3000 spoken languages across the continent.
There are countries like Nigeria that count about 500 languages while Cameroon counts more than 250 languages.
These counts exclude English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch which are adopted post-colonial languages and mainly used in Government and for Education.
How many Languages are Spoken in Africa?
The main reason there are so many languages spoken in Africa is because of cultural diversity.
African countries feature a great deal of tribes and consequently, each tribe will have its own language.
Yu can think of it as a sense of identity.
African people primary will speak the language of their tribe of birth.
The tribes typically are based on regional locations.
In a given country like Nigeria or Cameroon, habitants from the North or South will have specific tribes (or ethnic groups) each with their own languages.
You may have heard of Hausa (25% of the population), Yoruba (21% of the Population are located in the Southwest), Igbo (18% of the country population live in the South) or Fulani ethnic groups in Nigeria.
What Languages do African People Speak?
Such is also the case in neighboring Cameroon, a country of 22 million souls with over 250 languages.
As a result, the average African person will be exposed not only to his tribe language but also, the language of a neighboring tribe just because of geographical proximity.
The other nuance to keep in mind is that in order to get along with neighbors in Africa more particularly, it is best if you can communicate with them in the same language.
That can help mitigate several regional conflicts.
For those who live in big cities, they are likely to be exposed to people who speak a language different from their original one.
May that be in school or in business dealing.
If we add the marriage factors into account, then you can see why people from Africa are likely to speak many languages.
Are People Who Speak Multiple Languages Smarter?
When we think about the skills it takes to learn a new language, one cannot help to wonder if the ability to speak many languages make people smarter.
After all, a language is like any type of knowledge that requires specific dispositions to absorb and master.
I have always been intrigued by people reaction when they hear me speak either French or one of my African languages.
A couple of my friends from Texas A&M enjoyed this social experiment a great dela.
There is me from Africa, a French born lad along with the third fellow of Asian descent.
What language do you think 3 completely different looking individual would speak when at a Pizza joint in the Brazos Valley?
The answer is French.
That used to leave many wondering for a while on what could possibly unite three people of different background.
Moral of the story is that being able to speak multiple languages has a great deal of benefits from making friends to learning about a new culture.
All in all, I really think as individuals we tend to enrich ourselves when we are able to speak multiple languages.
African Languages by families
The languages spoken in Africa are divided into 4 major families: Niger-Congo. – Nilo-Saharan – Afroasiatic – Khoisan.
There are smaller families as the Austronesian languages spoken in Madagascar or in the Comoros, the Khoe Kadi used in Botswana or the African creoles (pidgins languages) which are yet to be classified.
Arabic is the most spoken language in Africa followed by Somali, Berber, Amharic, Oromo, Igbo, Swahili, Hausa, Manding, Fulani and Yoruba.
With its highest demographic density, 216,239,497 inhabitants as of June 2022, Nigeria also records the greatest linguistic diversity in Africa.
Official and National Languages in Africa
African Countries have also adopted one or more of the colonial languages (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Dutch) after their independence as official languages.
English, French and Portuguese are the predominant official languages in the continent.
Additionally, African countries have opted for one or more native languages alongside the official languages as their national languages to promote multilingualism.
Due to their colonial past history, Africans speak more than one language.
It is worth noting that among these languages, at least 75 languages count over a million speakers.
Arabic and Swahili are the most famous languages spoken in Africa followed by Somali, Berber, Amharic, Oromo, Igbo, Hausa, Manding, Fulani and Yoruba.
Top Countries in Africa Taht Speak French
- Ivory Coast
- Burkina Faso
- Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
- Central African Republic
This means that if you are traveling in one of this country and looking to speak French, the majority of the people should be able to communicate with you quite easily.
An interesting language: West African Pidgin
African languages are not static. The main evolution in African languages has resulted in the formation of a variety of African creoles including the famous Pidgin English.
West African Pidgin English, also named Guinea Coast Creole English, is a mixed of English and native languages.
It is commonly used in Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.
Pidgin languages are extremely flexible with limited rules.
There is no native pidgin language; pidgin is always acquired as a second language.
Languages in Top 5 Most Populated Countries in Africa
|Country||Population||Number of Known languages|
|1. Nigeria||215 million||500|
|2. Ethiopia||115 million||80|
|3. Egypt||105 million||TBD|
|4. DR Congo||90 million||TBD|
|5.Tanzania||60 million||126 (40 endangered, 8 dying)|
You do not need to be from Africa to speak many languages.
There are several polyglots in the world many of whom are truly passionate about breaking the language barrier amongst other things.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON How Many LANGUAGES Are SPOKEN IN AFRICA
With over 2000 spoken languages, Africa is a wealth of tones and diversities.
Learn More on African languages resources available here.