Language, a system of communication used by a particular country or community is unique to tribes, ethnic groups and countries. Africa is home to around 2000 languages and has a population of 1.216 billion people belonging to different native tribes and groups. The 54 countries in Africa all have a wide range of languages as diverse as their ancestral tribes.
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What is the most common language spoken in Africa?
With few exceptions, all of Africa’s languages have been gathered into four major phyla. Around a hundred languages are widely used for inter-ethnic communication. Arabic, Somali, Berber, Amharic, Oromo, Igbo, Swahili, Hausa, Manding, Fulani and Yoruba are spoken by tens of millions of people. Let’s take you through the top 10 most spoken languages in Africa 2019
Top 10 Most Widely Spoken African Languages in 2019
Swahili is one of the most widely spoken African languages. It belongs to the Bantu language group being its largest representative. The language is spoken by some 100 million Africans in the African Great Lakes region in Central and Southern Africa. It is the official language in Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, Burundi, and Democratic Republic of Congo. As it was historically a trade language created to facilitate communications between a number of Southern and Eastern Africa’s population, Swahili has retained its essence from the times of the early trade till the 21st Century, a feat not possible by other languages. In the modern world, even a very rare language is on everyone’s lips. A paradox, isn’t it? The names of Disney heroes of the popular cartoon “The Lion King” are taken from Swahili. Simba in Swahili means “lion”, Pumbaa is “lazy”, and Rafiki is a “friend”. And the name of the soundtrack for the cartoon “Akuna Matata” is translated from Swahili as “no worry”.
Arabic is the Semitic language used by more than 100 million people around the world. It is official in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Libya, Eritrea, and some other states. Also, residents of many countries use it as non-official language. Arabic is one of the world’s most widely spoken language in the world and also in Africa, where it houses about 62% of the total speakers of Arabic in the whole world.
French is an European language that saw the light of Africa after the Colonization period. 90 million people in 24 countries of the black continent speak French, but with their own language peculiarities. The highest percentage of people who speak French are from Gabon, Mauritius, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Sao Tome & Principe, Tunisia, Guinea, Seychelles, Democratic Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea. The second largest French speaking country is Algeria, with over 50 percent of the population being French speakers.
Hausa, one of Nigeria’s official languages, and a member of the Chadic branch of Afro-Asiatic family of languages is spoken by more than 50 million Africans as their first language. 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. Hausa makes it to the list of most spoken languages in Africa due to its significance in trade, commerce and business across Nigeria and West African region. Besides that, it is one of the few African languages that is taught in International Universities due to the huge amount of literature that it possesses. Despite the fact that some features of Hausa are characteristic for many Sudanese languages, it has an undeniable connection with the Semitic, Cushitic, and Berber languages.
Oromo is spoken by over 30 million people in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Egypt. The people of Oromo account for more than 40% of Ethiopian population and are the largest ethnic group in the country.
Yoruba is one of the cardinal languages of Nigeria, accounting for over 30 million speakers in Benin, Nigeria, and Togo. It is also widely spoken by West African experts in the US and UK. It is the mother tongue of the Yoruba people in Nigeria, and has over fifteen dialects including Awori, Ijesha, Ilaje and Ila. It is a tonal language with three tones: high, mid and low, and forms part of the Volta-Niger branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages. To say hello in Yoruba, one says “Bawo”.
One of Nigeria’s official languages, Igbo is spoken by over 24 million people, with a significant amount of speakers in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. The language is divided into a number of dialects, some of which are regarded as independent languages. Igbo is written on the Latin graphical basis, dialects have their own written traditions. There is no single literary norm. Igbo has more than 20 dialects and descends from the Volta-Niger branch of Niger-Congo family of language, with the Igbo people being the largest ethnic group in Africa.
Amharic is from the Semitic family of languages and is the state language of Ethiopia. About 18-21 million people speak this language. The name “Amharic” comes from the name of the Amhara region in the north of Ethiopia, which is considered the historical center of the Amharic language. Being a native language, Amharic is one of the very few languages having its own alphabet, while most others use Arabic or Latin letters.
Perhaps this is the reason that it is host to a growing body of Ethiopian literature such as poetry, novels and journals.
IsiZulu, also known as Zulu, is one of South Africa’s official languages. Branching out from the Bantu/Nguni family of languages, Zulu has more than 10 million speakers, and is the second most widely spoken Bantu language after Shona, and is written using the Latin alphabet. It is characterized by unique click sounds within the dialect as a result of influence from the Khoisan language. To say hello in Zulu, one says “Sawubona”.
Shona originates from the Bantu family of languages, Shona is the most spoken language in Zimbabwe, with over 10 million speakers. It is the principle language of Zimbabwe, along with Ndebele and English. To say hello in Shona, one says “Mhoro”.