10 Most Spoken Languages in Africa
By: Sehar Khan
It is common knowledge that Africa is a huge continent—the second largest and most populous one. Spanning over a land area of 30.3 million square kilometers, 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.
But some of these languages are common to every city in this vast land. Let’s take a look at the 10 most spoken languages in Africa.
Swahili, known as Kiswahili in the native tongue, is a Bantu language spoken by some 150 million Africans in the African Great Lakes region in Central and Southern Africa. It is the official language in Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Swahili holds quite an appeal for many language learners owing to the wide number of people speaking this language and its rich history.
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.
The presence of Arabic in the languages spoken in Africa may come as a surprise to many. Yet Arabic is spoken by more than 100 million Africans, making it one of the biggest languages in the continent. Furthermore, Arabic is an official language in Egypt, Comoros, Djibouti, Chad, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, and Libya and is mostly concentrated in the North African region.
Arabic is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages in the world—and also in Africa, where it houses about 62% of the total speakers of Arabic in the whole world!
French is a European language that saw the light of Africa after the Colonization period. Not surprisingly, 26 African states form part of the top French-speaking countries on the continent.
In some areas, such as Abidjan, Ivory Coast, and Gabon, French is spoken in the highest percentage in Mauritius, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Sao Tome e Principe, Seychelles and Guinea. The fact that it has approximately 90 million speakers in Africa, comes as no big surprise then.
Hausa, one of Nigeria’s official languages, and a member of the Chadic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages is spoken by more than 50 million Africans as their first language. Other than Nigeria, Hausa is spoken in Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Togo, Ghana, and Chad.
Hausa makes to the list of most spoken languages in Africa due to its significance in trade, commerce and business across Nigeria and the 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.
Yoruba is one of the cardinal languages of Nigeria, accounting for over 30 million speakers in Benin, Nigeria, and Togo. Other populations speaking Yoruba as an everyday language are found in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Oromo, a descendant of the Cushitic language, is widely spoken across Africa by 30 million people/ Spoken mainly in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Egypt, Oromo has significant speakers to it name. The people of Oromo account for more than 40% of the Ethiopian population and are the largest ethnic group in the country.
A native language of the Igbo people and one of Nigeria’s official languages, Igbo is spoken by over 24 million people, with the greater portion of speakers residing in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Igbo has more than 20 dialects and descends from the Volta-Niger branch of the Niger-Congo family of language, with the Igbo people being the largest ethnic group in Africa.
The fifth most widely spoken language in Africa (25 million native and 3 million emigrants), Amharic is the second-largest Semitic dialect on the continent after Arabic and mainly spoken in Ethiopia. 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). Zulu is written using the Latin alphabet and is influenced by the Khoisan language which accounts for the unique “clicking” sounds within the dialect.
Shona originates from the Bantu family of languages, Shona is the most spoken language in Zimbabwe, with over 10 million speakers. The region of Zimbabwe not only holds Shona as the official language but also has English and Ndebele as the principal languages.
As evident from the wide list of languages mentioned above, Africa is a mixture of many languages fused into it, with each language apart and distinct from the other. The growing influx of migrants, changing political situation, and effervescent law and order situation in Africa has not been able to influence the number of most spoken languages in Africa. To date, this region remains one of the largest continents of the world with a wide number of languages to boast of—which will, undoubtedly, continue to retain themselves in the future.