Languages of Africa: Beyond Borders and Cultures

A Journey Through Languages and Heritage

Africa, the second-largest continent-spanning approximately 30 million square kilometers, is home to a thriving population of around 1.2 billion people. Within this diverse landscape, a captivating tapestry of languages unfurls, encompassing approximately 2,000 indigenous languages, alongside English, French, and Arabic, which hold prominence in official contexts. The intricate historical narrative of Africa, including its colonization, has led to the prevalence of European languages during formal occasions. Nonetheless, a burgeoning movement to reclaim indigenous languages is gaining momentum, fostering a multilingual environment across various regions.

Main African Languages

Delving into this rich linguistic milieu, several dominant languages emerge, reflecting Africa’s historical and cultural interactions:

  1. Swahili: Leading the linguistic forefront is Swahili, a Bantu language spoken by an estimated 150 million individuals across Central and Southern Africa, particularly in the Great Lakes region. With roots tracing back to Arabic, “Swahili” translates to “coast,” symbolizing coastal communities‘ deep connection with their maritime heritage.
  2. Arabic: The legacy of external influences is palpable through Arabic, which finds resonance among more than 100 million Africans. This language serves as a testament to the enduring impact of centuries-long interactions. Countries such as Ethiopia, Niger, Senegal, and Tanzania harbor the presence of Arabic, mainly in formal settings.
  3. French: The echoes of colonial history reverberate in the prevalence of French, now spoken by an estimated 90 million individuals across 26 African nations. From Mauritius to Côte d’Ivoire and Gabon, the French language underscores the historical ties between Africa and Europe.
  4. Hausa: Emerging as a pivotal Afro-African language, Hausa thrives in Nigeria and Niger alongside their official languages. With approximately 80 million speakers, Hausa plays an indispensable role in West African trade and business. Its burgeoning significance is felt within regional commerce and at prestigious international universities.
  5. Yoruba and Oromo: Navigating the linguistic panorama, Yoruba is the voice of 30 million Africans, particularly in Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Similarly, Oromo resonates with an equally significant number of individuals, with concentrations in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Somalia.

African Language Families

The majority of languages spoken in Africa belong to one of three dominant language families: “Afroasiatic,” “Niger-Congo,” and “Nilo-Saharan.” However, there are also hundreds of other languages belonging to various families such as Nilotic, Saharan, and others. These families are categorized under the umbrella term “Khoisan.” Additionally, there are numerous languages that remain unclassified due to a lack of script and sources. Also, one of the facinating factor about the languages of africa is that The Sign language is also cosidere as one of the 12 official languages of Africa. But their is a little difference between the sign language of different region of africa.

Afroasiatic languages

According to Wikipedia, the Afroasiatic languages, also known as Hamito-Semitic, comprise a language family consisting of 375 spoken languages. These languages dominate the regions of West Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, as well as parts of the Sahara and Sahel. Spoken by over 5 million people worldwide, they constitute the fourth-largest language family in the world. The main subfamilies of Afroasiatic are Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, Omotic, Egyptian and Semitic. The Afroasiatic Urheimat is uncertain. The considerable language of these family is Arabic, Hebrew and Amharic.

Nilo-Saharan Languages

Nilo-Saharan is a Language family of around 100 diverse languages and comprising of around 70 million speakers. These languages share some unusual morphology, But, if they are related most of the branches must have undergone major restructuring since diverging from their common ancestor. The languages extend through 17 nations in the northern half of Africa: from Algeria to Benin in the west; from Libya to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the centre; and from Egypt to Tanzania in the east. In addition to Kunama, Berta, and the Eastern Sudanic and Central Sudanic languages (once in the Chari-Nile group), most scholars now consider Nilo-Saharan to include Songhai, Saharan, Maban, Komuz, and Fur.

Niger-Congo Languages

The Niger-Congo languages are the largest language family spoken in West Africa and globally in terms of language count. They feature a notable noun class system and tonality, seen in languages like Yoruba, Igbo, Akan, and Ewe. The Bantu branch, within this family, has a broad distribution. Another family, Niger-Kordofanian, combines Niger-Congo and Kordofanian languages from Sudan. While some use “Niger-Congo” for the entire family, including Kordofanian, debates persist over its branches like Mande and Dogon, with uncertainties about their divergence order.

Other Families

Africans speak several other language families as well. These languages do not belong to the region of Africa but originated outside of Africa and came to this Consentient with migration, invasion, business and other sources.

Here are some other families of languages spoken by African People.

Languages Family

Most Popular Language of the Family

Austronesian Cebuano, Tagalog, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Bicol, Waray-Waray, Kapampangan and Pangasinan
Indo-European Afrikaans, English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish
Mande Ligbi and Bisa
Ubangian Sango, Sere, Ngbaka, and Mba
Te-Ne-Omotic Maale, Dorzze, Gofa, and Oyda
Arido (formaly known as South Omotic) Aari, Hamer-Banna (1), Hamer-Banna (1), and Dime
Khoisan Hadza, Sandawe, Khoe, and Tuu


Among the African Languages families, Khoisan is considered the most acceptable African indigenous languages family. This family of the Languages also has the Click sounds which make it facinative language. The speakers of this language family are regarded as the oldest human inhabitants of South Africa. Researchers believe that two distinct groups, Khoe and San, merged into one, and in the modern era, people consider them as a single entity.

Here are some African Countries with their Official and other spoken Languages.


Offical and National Language

Other Spoken Languages


Portuguese Umbundu, Kimbundu and Kikongo


Arabic, Berber languages, four dialects (by constitutional amendment) French


French Fon and Yoruba (most common vernaculars in south), tribal languages (at least six major ones in north).


Setswana national language and English as official Tswana

Burkina Faso

French Mooré, Dioula and other Languages belong to Sudanic Family of African languages.


Kirundi, French Swahili (along Lake Tanganyika and in the Bujumbura area).


English, French 24 major African language groups.

Cape Verde

Portuguese Kabuverdianu (Crioulo) (a blend of Portuguese and West African words)

Central African Republic

French, Sangho (lingua franca and national language) Banda, Gbaya and other tribal languages.


French, Arabic Sara (in south), more than 120 different languages and dialects.


Arabic, French Shikomoro (a blend of Swahili and Arabic).

Democratic Republic of the Congo

French Lingala (a lingua franca trade language), Kingwana (a dialect of Kiswahili or Swahili), Kikongo, Tshiluba.

Congo, Republic of the  

French Lingala and Monokutuba (lingua franca trade languages), many local languages and dialects (of which Kikongo is the most widespread).

Côte d’Ivoire

French 60 native dialects with Dioula the most widely spoken.


French, Arabic Somali, Afar


Arabic English and French widely understood by educated classes.

Equatorial Guinea

Spanish, French Pidgin English, Fang, Bubi, Ibo.


Tigrinya (Tigrigna), Arabic, English Tigré (second major language), Afar, Bedawi, Kunama, other Cushitic languages.


Amharic Tigrinya, Oromo, Gurage, Somali, Arabic, 80 other local languages, English (major foreign language taught in schools)


French Bantu languages like Fang, Myene, Nzebi, Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi.

Gambia, The

English Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, other indigenous vernaculars.


English African languages (including Akan, Adangme, Moshi-Dagomba, Ewe, and Ga)


French (spoken by 15-20%) Eight national languages, Soussou (Susu, in coastal Guinea), Peulh (Fulani, in Northrn Guinea), Maninka (Upper Guinea), Kissi (Kissidougou Region), Toma and Guerze (Kpelle) in rain forest Guinea; plus various ethnic groups with their own language.


Portuguese Crioulo (a mixture of Portuguese and African), other African languages.


English, Kiswahili numerous indigenous languages.


Sesotho (southern Sotho), English Zulu, Xhosa.


English 20% some 20 ethnic group languages, of which a few can be written and are used in correspondence.


Arabic Italian, English, all are widely understood in the major cities.


French, Malagasy


English, Nyanja (Chichewa, Chewa) Lomwe, Tumbuka, Yao, other languages important regionally.


French Bambara (Bamanakan), Arabic and numerous dialects of Dogoso, Fulfulde, Koyracini, Senoufou, and Mandinka/Malinké (Maninkakan), Tamasheq are also widely spoken.


Arabic Hassaniya Arabic, Pulaar, Soninke, Wolof, French


English, French Creole, Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bhojpuri


Arabic Berber dialects, French often the language of business, government, and diplomacy.


Portuguese (spoken by 27% of population as a second language) Makhuwa, Tsonga, Lomwe, Sena, numerous other indigenous languages.


English (7%) Afrikaans common language of most of the population and about 60% of the white population, German 32%, indigenous languages: Oshivambo, Herero, Nama.


French Hausa, Djerma


English Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo (Ibo), Fulani, Ijaw, Ibibio and about 250 other indigenous languages spoken by the different ethnic groups.


French Creole widely used


Rwanda (Kinyarwanda, Bantu vernacular) French, English Kiswahili (Swahili) used in commercial centers

Saint Helena


São Tomé and Príncipe



French Wolof, Pulaar, Jola, Mandinka


English, French Creole

Sierra Leone

English (regular use limited to literate minority) Mende (principal vernacular in the south), Temne (principal vernacular in the north), Krio (English-based Creole a first language for 10% of the population but understood by 95%)


Somali Arabic, Italian, English

South Africa

11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, Pedi, Sesotho (Sotho), siSwati (Swazi), Xitsonga (Tsonga), Tswana, Tshivenda (Venda), isiXhosa, isiZulu

Sudan/South Sudan

Arabic Nubian, Ta Bedawie, diverse dialects of Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic, Sudanic languages, English. note: program of “Arabization” in process


English (government business conducted in English), siSwati

Tanzania, United Republic of

Kiswahili (Swahili), Kiunguju (name for Swahili in Zanzibar), English (primary language of commerce, administration, and higher education) Arabic (widely spoken in Zanzibar), Gogo, Haya, Makonde, Nyakyusa, Nyamwezi, Sukuma, Tumbuka, many other local languages.


French (the language of commerce) Ewe and Mina (the two major African languages in the south), Kabye (Kabiye) and Dagomba (the two major African languages in the north)


Arabic (and the languages of commerce) French (commerce)


English (used in courts of law and by most newspapers and some radio broadcasts) Ganda (Luganda; most widely used of the Niger-Congo languages, preferred for native language publications), other Niger-Congo languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, Acoli, Swahili, Arabic

Western Sahara

Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic


English major vernaculars: Bemba, Kaonda, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja, Tonga, and about 70 other indigenous languages.


English Chishona (Shona), Sindebele (Ndebele), numerous but minor tribal dialects like: Sotho and Nambya, Shangani, Venda, Chewa, Nyanja, and Tonga.


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