African Languages and Locales: Essential Facts

October 19, 2014 Martin Spethman

African-LanguagesAccording to a research from McKinsey & Company, Africa's future looks bright. Some predictions include:

  • 50% of Africans will be living in cities by 2030
  • 128 million households will have discretionary income in 2020
  • 1.1 billion Africans will be of working age by 2040
  • Africa's consumer spending will be $1.4 trillion by 2020
  • Africa's GDP will be $2.6 trillion by 2020

(Source: Lions on the move: The progress and potential of African economies)

Fast Facts on African Languages and Locales

  • Africa is a continent not a country :)
  • There are 56 countries (recognized and defacto states) in Africa
  • Six of the ten fastest-growing countries in the world are in Africa
  • There are an estimated 2000+ African languages
  • There are 4 primary language families in Africa (some classify up to 7 families)

Approximate Number of Languages and Speakers

  • Afro-Asiatic: 200 languages covering Northern Africa
  • Nilo-Saharan: 140 languages with 11 million speakers throughout Central and Eastern Africa
  • Niger-Saharan (Niger-Congo A & B): 1000 languages with some 200 million speakers
  • Khoisan: 30 languages in the western part of Southern Africa

African Languages Translations

Source: http://exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu/students/curriculum/m8/map1.php.

Note: Language families are groups of languages with a common origin and common traits such as syntax, morphology and phonology. It is believed that as people speaking a common language migrated away from each other, languages evolved with each dispersed group. Over time each separate group developed its own new language.


africa_colonial_languagesSource: http://exploringafrica.matrix.msu.edu/students/curriculum/m8/map2.php.

Note: As most of you know, Africa's history is sadly made up of a collection of colonization. There were several languages introduced to Africa through colonization. This resulted in some European languages, or colonial languages, becoming the official language(s) in most African countries. Today, the majority of Africans speak indigenous African languages as a first language and colonial languages as a second or third language.

National, Official and Trade Languages in Africa

The complex landscape of African languages has evolved and continues to evolve as languages die, become national languages and / or rise to a trade language status due to widespread usage.

Companies wishing to expand into an African market should be careful to utilize the most culturally suitable languages based on the country, region, products and services you are offering AND to whom you are targeting, whether B2B or B2C.

Country

National Languages

Other languages used in country (not all)

Algeria

Arabic and four Berber languages

French

Angola

Portuguese

Umbundu and other African languages

Benin

French

Fon and Yoruba among others

Botswana

Setswana

English

Burkina Faso

French

African languages part of Sudanic family

Burundi

Kirundi, French

Swahili

Cameroon

English, French

Over 20 other African languages

Cape Verde

Portuguese

Crioulo - mix of Portuguese and West African

Central African Republic

French, Sangho

Banda and Gbaya among other African languages

Chad

French, Arabic

Sara and more than 120 different languages and dialects

Comoros

Arabic, French

Shikomoro - a mix of Swahili and Arabic

Democratic Republic of Congo

French

Lingala, Kingwana, Kikongo, Tshiluba

Congo

French

Lingala, Monokutuba, Kikongo and many African languages and dialects

Côte d'Ivoire

French

Dioula and many African languages and dialects

Djibouti

French, Arabic

Afar and Somali

Egypt

Arabic

English and French

Equatorial Guinea

French, Spanish

Fang, Bubi, Ibo and Pidgin English

Eritrea

Arabic, English, Tigrinya

Afar, Bedawi, Kunama, Tigré and other African languages

Ethiopia

Amharic

English, Tigrinya, Oromo, Gurage, Somali, Arabic and many other African languages

Gabon

French

Bapounou/Eschira, Bandjabi, Fang, Myene, Nzebi

Gambia

English

Fula, Mandinka, Wolof

Ghana

English

Akan, Adangme, Ewe, Ga, Moshi-Dagomba

Guinea

French

Soussou, Peulh, Fulani, Maninka, Kissi, Toma, Guerze and many other African languages

Guinea-Bissau

Portuguese

Crioulo and other African languages

Kenya

English, Kiswahili

Many African languages

Lesotho

Sesotho, English

Zulu, Xhosa

Liberia

English

Many African languages

Libya

Arabic

English, Italian

Madagascar

French, Malagasy

 

Malawi

English, Nyanja

Lomwe, Tumbuka, Yao, other African languages

Mali

French

Arabic, Bambara, Dogoso, Fulfulde, Koyracini, Senoufou, and Mandinka, Tamasheq

Mauritania

Arabic

French, Hassaniya Arabic, Pulaar, Soninke

Mauritius

English, French

Creole, Hindi, Urdu, Hakka, Bhojpuri

Morocco

Arabic

French

Mozambique

Portuguese

Lomwe, Makhuwa, Sena, Tsonga and other African languages

Nambia

English

Afrikaans, Herero, Nama, Oshivambo

Niger

French

Djerma, Hausa

Nigeria

English

Fulani, Hausa, Ijaw, Ibibio, Igbo, Yoruba and many other African languages

Réunion

French

Creole

Rwanda

Rwanda (Kinyarwanda, Bantu vernacular) French, English

Kiswahili (Swahili)

Saint Helena

English

 

São Tomé and Príncipe

Portuguese

 

Senegal

French

Jola, Mandinka, Pulaar Wolof

Seychelles

English, French

Creole

Sierra Leone

English

Mende, Krio, Temne

Somalia

Somali

Arabic, English, Italian

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

English, Nubian, Ta Bedawie

Swaziland

English

 

Tanzania

Kiswahili (Swahili) and English

Arabic, Gogo, Haya, Makonde, Nyakyusa, Nyamwezi, Sukuma, Tumbuka and many African languages

Togo

French

Dagomba, Ewe, Kabye

Tunisia

Arabic

French

Uganda

English

Arabic, Ganda, Swahili

Western Sahara

Arabic - Moroccan and Hassaniya

 

Zambia

English

Bemba, Kaonda, Lozi, Lunda, Luvale, Nyanja, Tonga, and many other African languages

Zimbabwe

English

Chewa, Chishona, Nambya, Nyanja, Shangani, Sindebele, Sotho, Tongo, Venda

Sources: Ethnologue, ISO Country Names (ISO 3166-1), ISO Languages Names (ISO 639-1), African Academy of Languages (ACALAN) and others.

Additional Resources on Africa and African Language Translation:

Language Translation and Localization

In order to support the growing needs of our clients for many of the African and Middle Eastern languages, GPI has opened offices in Dubai, UAE and Cairo, Egypt to support our clients doing business in the Middle East and Africa. GPI has built teams of professional native speakers for many of the African languages whether national or indigenous, who are available to help companies with their African language translations needs.

You may contact GPI at info@globalizationpartners.com or at 866-272-5874 with your specific questions about which languages will help you succeed in Africa's diverse linguistic landscape. You may also request a complimentary Translation Services Quote for your project as well.

About the Author

Martin Spethman

Managing Partner. Martin has over 20 years' experience providing documentation, software and website globalization services. Throughout his career he has held numerous production and business development positions, including project manager, operations manager, web master, account executive, VP of sales and marketing and owner/managing partner. Martin has established and managed translation offices in Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, the United States and the UAE. He has overseen hundreds of successful globalization projects every year since 1987, ranging from large volume, multi-million word documentation sets to complex, high-profile websites for Fortune 500 companies.

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