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Song of Lawino, well known in African literature, was written in Acholi by Okot p’Bitek, although its sequel, Song of Ocol, was written in English.
Acoli is a dialect, widely used by Acholi people throughout Gulu, Kitgum and Pader regions of northern Uganda. This dialec is also used in southern Sudan in Magwi County Eastern Equatoria states.
Well known literature by Okot p’Bitek of Africa is written in Acholi, even though Song of Ocol, which is a sequel to it, was written in English.
Afar is an Afroasiatic language that belongs to the family’s Cushitic branch. It is used by Afar people in Djibouti, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Afrikaans is a West Germanic language, used in South Africa, Namibia and, to a lesser degree, in Botswana and Zimbabwe. It originated from the Dutch vernacular of South Holland (Hollandic dialect) spoken by the mostly Dutch settlers of what is today South Africa, where it gradually began to develop distinguishing characteristics in the course of the 18th century.
Akan is a Central Tano language that is the principal native language of the Akan people of Ghana, spoken over much of the southern half of that country, by about 58% of the population, and among 30% of the population of Ivory Coast. Three dialects have been developed as literary standards with distinct orthographies: Asante, Akuapem (together called Twi), and Fante, which, despite being mutually intelligible, were inaccessible in written form to speakers of the other standards.
Amharic is an Afro-Asiatic language of the Semitic branch. It is spoken as a mother tongue by the Amhara in Ethiopia. The language serves as the official working language of Ethiopia, and is also the official or working language of several of the states within the federal system. Amharic is the second-most widely spoken Semitic language in the world after Arabic.
Ateso (from Teso) is an Eastern Nilotic language spoken by the Iteso people of Uganda and Kenya. It is part of the Teso–Turkana language cluster.
According to the 2002 Uganda population and housing census, over 1.57 million people (6.7% of the total Uganda population) in Uganda spoke Ateso. Also an estimated 279,000 people in Kenya speak it. Its SIL code is TEO.
The Ateso language comes from an area called Teso.
The Bassa language is a Kru language spoken by about 350,000 people in Liberia and 5,000 in Sierra Leone by Bassa people.
The Bemba language is a major Bantu language spoken mostly in north-eastern Zambia by the Bemba people and as a lingua franca by about 18 various ethnic groups, including the Bisa people of Mpika and Lake Bangweulu, and to a lesser extent in Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Botswana. Including all its dialects, Bemba is the most spoken indigenous language in Zambia. The Lamba language is closely related and some people consider it a dialect of Bemba.
Chewa, also known as Nyanja, is a language of the Bantu language family. In Malawi, the name was officially changed from Chinyanja to Chichewa in 1968 at the insistence of President Hastings Kamuzu Banda (himself of the Chewa tribe), and this is still the name most commonly used in Malawi today. In Zambia, Chewa is spoken by other people like the Ngoni and the Kunda, so a more neutral name, Chinyanja ‘(language) of the lake’ (referring to Lake Malawi), is used instead of Chichewa.
The Luo dialect, Dholuo, is the eponymous dialect of the Luo group of Nilotic languages, spoken by about 6 million Luo people of Kenya and Tanzania, Sudan who occupy parts of the eastern shore of Lake Victoria and areas to the south. It is used for broadcasts on KBC (Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, formerly the Voice of Kenya), Radio Ramogi, Radio Lake Victoria, Radio Lolwe, Radio Osienala as well as newspapers such as Otit Mach, Nam Dar etc. Dholuo is heavily used online in specially dedicated sites as well as in social media.
Dinka, or Thuɔŋjäŋ, is a Nilotic dialect cluster spoken by the Dinka people, the major ethnic group of South Sudan. There are five main varieties, Ngok, Rek, Agaar, Awiel,Twic Mayardit and Bor, which are distinct enough to require separate literary standards and thus to be considered separate languages. Jaang, Jieng or Moinyjieng is used as a general term to cover all Dinka languages. Rek is the standard and prestige dialect.
Embu, also known as Kîembu, is a Bantu language of Kenya. It is spoken by the Embu people, also known as the Aembu (sg. Muembu), and by the Mbeere people.
Embu also has two known dialects, Mbeere (Mbere, Kimbeere) and Embu proper.
Ewe is a Niger–Congo language spoken in southeastern Ghana by over three million people. Ewe is part of a cluster of related languages commonly called Gbe; the other major Gbe language is Fon of Benin. Like many African languages, Ewe is tonal.
The German Africanist Diedrich Hermann Westermann published many dictionaries and grammars of Ewe and several other Gbe languages. Other linguists who have worked on Ewe and closely related languages include Gilbert Ansre (tone, syntax), Herbert Stahlke (morphology, tone), Nick Clements (tone, syntax), Roberto Pazzi (anthropology, lexicography), Felix K. Ameka (semantics, cognitive linguistics), Alan Stewart Duthie (semantics, phonetics), Hounkpati B. Capo (phonology, phonetics), Enoch Aboh (syntax), and Chris Collins (syntax).
Fanti is one of the three formal literary dialects of the Akan language. It is the major local dialects in the Central Region of Ghana as well as in settlements in other regions from mid to southern Ghana. One such community is Fante New Town in Kumasi, in the Ashanti Region of Ghana.
The Fula language, also known as Fulani is a non-tonal language spoken as various closely related dialects, in a continuum that stretches across some 20 countries of Western Africa and Central Africa. Like other related languages such as Serer and Wolof, it belongs to the Atlantic subfamily of the Niger–Congo languages. It is spoken as a first language by the Fula people and related groups such as the Toucouleur people in the Senegal River Valley from the Senegambia region and Guinea to Cameroon and Sudan. It is also spoken as a second language by various peoples in the region, such as the Kirdi of Northern Cameroon and Northeastern Nigeria.
Hausa is the Chadic language (a branch of the Afroasiatic language family) with the largest number of speakers, spoken as a first language by about 35 million people, and as a second language by millions more in Nigeria, and millions more in other countries, for a total of at least 41 million speakers. Originally the language of the Hausa people stretching across southern Niger and northern Nigeria, it has developed into a lingua franca across much of western Africa for purposes of trade. In the 20th and 21st centuries, it has become more commonly published in print and online.
Igbo, is the principal native language of the Igbo people, an ethnic group of southeastern Nigeria. The language has approximately 24 million speakers, who live mostly in Nigeria and are primarily of Igbo descent. Igbo is written in the Latin script, which was introduced by British colonialists. Igbo has over 20 dialects, though dialect leveling appears to be occurring. A standard literary language was developed in 1972 based on the Owerri (Isuama) and Umuahia (such as Ohuhu) dialects, though it omits the nasalization and aspiration of those varieties. Related Igboid languages such as Ika, Ikwerre and Ogba are sometimes considered dialects of Igbo; the most divergent of these is Ekpeye. Igbo is also a recognized minority language of Equatorial Guinea.
The Kalenjin languages are a family of a dozen Southern Nilotic languages spoken in Kenya, eastern Uganda and northern Tanzania. The term Kalenjin comes from a Nandi expression meaning ‘I say (to you)’. Kalenjin in this broad linguistic sense should not be confused with Kalenjin as a term for the common identity the Nandi-speaking peoples of Kenya assumed halfway through the twentieth century; see Kalenjin people and Kalenjin language.
The Kalenjin languages are generally distinguished into four branches. There is less certainty regarding internal relationships within these.
• Elgon (Sebei)
• Nandi–Markweta (Kalenjin)
The Kamba language, or Kikamba, is a Bantu language spoken by the Kamba people of Kenya. It is also spoken by 5,000 people in Tanzania (Thaisu).
The Kamba language has lexical similarities to other Bantu languages such as Kikuyu, Meru and Embu.
In Kenya, Kamba is generally spoken in 4 of counties of Kenya: Machakos, Kitui, Makueni, and Kwale. The Machakos variety is considered the standard variety and has been used in the translation.
Bajuni (Kibajuni) is a variety of Swahili spoken by the Bajuni people who inhabit the tiny Bajuni Islands and coastal Kenya, in addition to parts of southern Somalia, where they constitute a minority ethnic group. Maho (2009) considers it a distinct language.
Kiga (also called Rukiga, Ruchiga, or Chiga) is the native language of the Kiga people (Bakiga). Kiga is a very similar language to the Nkore language. It was first written in the second half of the 19th century.
Kiga is so similar to Nkore (84%–94% lexical similarity) that some argue they are dialects of the same language, called Nkore-Kiga by Charles Taylor.
Kikuyu or Gikuyu is a language of the Bantu family spoken primarily by the Kikuyu people (Agĩkũyũ) of Kenya. Numbering about 7 million (22% of Kenya’s population), they are the largest ethnic group in Kenya. Kikuyu is spoken in the area between Nyeri and Nairobi. Kikuyu is one of the five languages of the Thagichu subgroup of the Bantu languages, which stretches from Kenya to Tanzania. The Kikuyu people usually identify their lands by the surrounding mountain ranges in Central Kenya which they call Kĩrĩnyaga.
Kingwana is a language of the Democratic Republic of Congo in W Africa, closely related to Swahili and used as a lingua franca.
Kinyarwanda Kinyarwanda, or in Uganda as Fumbira, is an official language of Rwanda and a dialect of the Rwanda-Rundi language spoken by 12 million people in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and adjacent parts of southern Uganda. (The Kirundi dialect is the official language of neighboring Burundi.)
Kinyarwanda is one of the three official languages of Rwanda (along with English and French), and is spoken by almost all of the native population. This contrasts with most modern African states, whose borders were drawn by colonial powers and did not correspond to ethnic boundaries or pre-colonial kingdoms.
Kirundi, also known as Rundi, is a Bantu language spoken by nine million people in Burundi and adjacent parts of Tanzania and Congo-Kinshasa, as well as in Uganda. It is the official language of Burundi. Kirundi is mutually intelligible with Kinyarwanda, an official language of Rwanda, and the two form part of the wider dialect continuum known as Rwanda-Rundi.
The inhabitants of Rwanda and Burundi belong to several different ethnic groups: Hutu including Bakiga and other related ethnicities (84%), Tutsi, including Hima (15%), and Twa (1%) (pygmy people). Kirundi is natively spoken by the Hutu, although the other ethnic groups present in the country such as Tutsi, Twa, and Hima among others have adopted the language. Neighboring dialects of Kirundi are mutually intelligible with Ha, a language spoken in western Tanzania.
The Gusii language (also known as Kisii or Ekegusii) is a Bantu language spoken in the Kisii district in western Kenya, whose headquarters is Kisii town, (between the Kavirondo Gulf of Lake Victoria and the border with Tanzania). It is spoken by the Gusii people, numbering about 2.0 million (SIL/Ethnologue 1994). A few Gusii people are bilingual in Luo.
Sierra Leonean Creole, Krio or Patois (archaic) is the lingua franca and the de facto national language spoken throughout the West African nation of Sierra Leone. Krio is spoken by 97% of Sierra Leone’s population and unites the different ethnic groups in the country, especially in their trade and social interaction with each other. Krio is the primary language of communication among Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad. The language is native to the Sierra Leone Creole people or Krios, (a community of about 300,000 descendants of freed slaves from the West Indies, United States and Great Britain), and is spoken as a second language by millions of other Sierra Leoneans belonging to the country’s indigenous tribes. English is Sierra Leone’s official language, while Krio, despite its common use throughout the country, has no official status.
The Kunama language is a language isolate which has been included in the proposed Nilo-Saharan language family. Kunama is spoken by the Kunama people of western Eritrea and just across the Ethiopian border. The language has several dialects including: Barka, Marda, Aimara, Odasa, Tika, Lakatakura, Sokodasa, Takazze-Selit, and Tigray. Ilit and Bitama are not mutually intelligible and so may be considered distinct languages.
Southern Luo dialect, Lango is spoken by Langi people in Uganda. It is mostly spread in Lango sub-region and in the Northern Region, and has at least 1.8 million speakers, which makes 5% of the Uganda population. Orthography for it using the Latin script has been introduced and is taught in primary schools. It is viewed more as a distinct language, and not a dialect, because the Langi people are ethnically distinct from other Luo.
Lingala (Ngala) is a Bantu language spoken throughout the northwestern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a large part of the Republic of the Congo, as well as to some degree in Angola and the Central African Republic. It has over 10 million speakers.
The Ganda language, Luganda, is one of the major languages in Uganda, spoken by five million Baganda and other people principally in Southern Uganda, including the capital Kampala. It belongs to the Bantu branch of the Niger–Congo language family. Typologically, it is a highly agglutinating language with subject–verb–object word order and nominative–accusative morphosyntactic alignment.
With about four million first-language-speakers in the Buganda region and a million others who are fluent, it is the most widely spoken Ugandan language. As second language it follows English and precedes Swahili. The language is used in some primary schools in Buganda as pupils begin to learn English, the primary official language of Uganda. Until the 1960s, Luganda was also the official language of instruction in primary schools in Eastern Uganda.
Masaba (Lumasaaba), sometimes known as Gisu (Lugisu) after one of its dialects, is a Bantu language spoken by more than two million people in East Africa. Gisu dialect in eastern Uganda is mutually intelligible with Bukusu, spoken by ethnic Luhya in western Kenya. Masaba is the local name of Mount Elgon and the name of the son of the ancestor of the Gisu tribe. Like other Bantu languages, Lumasaba has a large set of prefixes used as noun classifiers. This is similar to how gender is used in many Germanic and Romance languages, except that instead of the usual two or three, there are around eighteen different noun classes. The language has quite complex verb morphology.
Gwere, or Lugwere, is the language spoken by the Gwere people (Bagwere), a Bantu people found in the eastern part of Uganda. It has a close dialectical resemblance to Soga and Ganda, which neighbour the Gwere.
Gwere, though closest in dialect to its eastern neighbours, also has many words similar to those used by tribes from the western part of Uganda. For example, musaiza (a man) resembles mushiiza used by the western languages with the same meaning.
The Ruli, a somewhat distant people living in central Uganda, speak a language that has almost exactly the same words used in Lugwere, but with a very different pronunciation.
The various Luhya tribes speak several related languages and dialects, though some of them are no closer to each other than they are to neighboring non-Luhya languages. For example, the Bukusu people are ethnically Luhya, but the Bukusu dialect is a variety of Masaba. (See Luhya people for details.) However, there is a core of mutually intelligible dialects that comprise Luhya proper:
The dozen Luo, Lwo or Lwoian languages are spoken by the Luo peoples in an area ranging from southern Sudan to southern Kenya, with Dholuo extending into northern Tanzania and Alur into the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They form one of the two branches of the Western Nilotic family, the other being Dinka–Nuer. The Southern Luo varieties are mutually intelligible, and apart from ethnic identity they might be considered a single language.
The time depth of the division of the Luo languages is moderate, perhaps close to two millennia. The division within the Southern Luo dialect cluster is considerably shallower, perhaps five to eight centuries, reflecting migrations due to the impact of the Islamization of Sudan).
Soga, or Lusoga, is a Bantu language spoken in Uganda. It is the native language of the Soga people or Basoga of the Busoga region of southern Uganda. With over three million speakers, it is one of the major languages of Uganda, after English, Swahili, and Luganda. However, it is largely restricted to the Busoga region, which is mainly within the natural boundaries of Lake Victoria to the south, Lake Kyoga to the north, the Nile river to the west and the Mpologoma (Lion) river to the east of Namutumba district. It is tonal.
Maasai or Maa is an Eastern Nilotic language spoken in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania by the Maasai people, numbering about 800,000. It is closely related to the other Maa varieties: Samburu (or Sampur), the language of the Samburu people of central Kenya, Chamus, spoken south and southeast of Lake Baringo (sometimes regarded as a dialect of Samburu); and Parakuyu of Tanzania. The Maasai, Samburu, il-Chamus and Parakuyu peoples are historically related and all refer to their language as ɔl Maa. Properly speaking, “Maa” refers to the language and the culture and “Maasai” refers to the people “who speak Maa.”
The Maasai people, from the Eastern region of the African continent, have been protected from the widespread Westernization of agriculture and colonization because they inhabit a primarily desert area. Because the Maasai have resisted forms of colonization and Western expansion, their systems of communication and exchange revolve primarily around the trade they do within the tribe. Therefore, the spoken language is not only the most significant point of contact that the Maasai use but also one of the only ways that Maasai can continue to thrive in their traditional tribal way of life.
Maay Maay is a member of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family and is written using the Latin script. It is spoken mostly in Somalia and adjacent parts of Ethiopia and Kenya. Its speakers are known as Sab Somalis. The center of the language is around Baidoa.
Malagasy is an Austronesian language and the national language of Madagascar. Most people in Madagascar speak it as a first language as do some people of Malagasy descent elsewhere.
The Mandinka language, or Mandingo, is a Mandé language spoken by the Mandinka people of the Casamance region of Senegal, the Gambia, and northern Guinea-Bissau. It is the principal language of the Gambia.
Mandinka belongs to the Manding branch of Mandé, and is thus similar to Bambara and Maninka/Malinké. In a majority of areas, it is a tonal language with two tones: low and high, although the particular variety spoken in the Gambia and Senegal borders on a pitch accent due to its proximity with non-tonal neighboring languages like Wolof.
Meru is the language spoken by the Meru people who live on the Eastern and Northern slopes of Mount Kenya, Kenya, Africa and on the Nyambene ranges. They settled in this area after centuries of migration from the north.
The Meru people are a fairly homogeneous community and all share a common ancestry. They speak the same language, Kimeru, but there are some slight regional differences, in accent and local words. The community comprises the following subdivisions; from the north to south:
• Tigania (Tiania) (culture close to neighbouring Cushitic and Nilotic communities)
• Tharaka (Saraka)
• Chuka (Gicuka) (marginal intelligibility with Meru proper and with Gikuyu)
As the Meru language is similar to its surrounding neighbors, the Kikuyu and Embu could have possibly adopted parts of Meru.
Mozambican Portuguese refers to the varieties of Portuguese spoken in Mozambique. Portuguese is the official language of the country.
Several variables factor into the emergence of Mozambican Portuguese. Mozambique shares the linguistic norm used in the other Portuguese-speaking African countries and Portugal. Mozambican Portuguese also enriches the Portuguese language with new words and expressions.
Nepali, originally known as Khas Kura, Parbate Bhasa or Gorkhali, is an Indo-Aryan language. It is the official language and de facto lingua franca of Nepal. It is also spoken in various parts of India, particularly by Indian Gorkha, and by a significant number of Bhutanese and some Burmese people. In India, Nepali language is listed in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution of India having an official status in the Indian state of Sikkim and in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district. Nepali developed in proximity to a number of Indo-Aryan languages, most notably the Pahari languages and Magahi, and shows Sanskrit influences. However, owing to Nepal’s geographical area, it has also been influenced by Tibeto-Burman languages. Nepali is mainly differentiated from Central Pahari, both in grammar and vocabulary, by Tibeto-Burman idioms owing to close contact with the respective language group. Nepali language shares 40% lexical similarity with the Bengali language. In the nineteenth century, the British resident at Kathmandu Brian Houghton Hodgson observed that it was, in eight-tenths of its vocabulary, substantially Hindi.
The Nuer language (Naath) is a Nilo-Saharan language of the Western Nilotic group. It is spoken by the Nuer people of South Sudan and in western Ethiopia (region of Gambela). Nuer is one of eastern and central Africa’s most widely spoken languages, along with the Dinka language. The language is very similar to the languages of Jieng and Chollo.
Nuer language has a Latin-based alphabet. There are also several dialects of Nuer, although all have one written standard. For example, final /k/ is pronounced in the Jikany dialect, but is dropped in other dialects despite being indicated in Nuer orthography.
Nkole/Nyankole The Bantu lect spoken by more than two million members of the Nkore (Banyankore) and Hema (Hima) peoples of southwestern Uganda, closely related to the Kiga language and sometimes considered with Kiga to be a dialect of Nkore-Kiga, or (with Kiga, Nyoro and Tooro) a dialect of Kitara.
Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa, also known by the name of its standardised dialect Sepedi or Pedi) is a Bantu language spoken primarily in South Africa, where it is one of the 11 official languages. According to the 2011 census it was the first language of 4,618,576 people in South Africa, principally in the provinces of Limpopo, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.
Urban varieties of Northern Sotho, such as Pretoria Sotho (actually a derivative of Tswana), have acquired clicks in an ongoing process of such sounds spreading from Nguni languages.
Oromo is an Afroasiatic language. It is the most widely spoken tongue in the family’s Cushitic branch. Forms of Oromo are spoken as a first language by more than 24.6 million Oromo people and neighboring peoples in Ethiopia, and by an additional half million in parts of northern and eastern Kenya. It is also spoken by smaller numbers of emigrants in other African countries such as South Africa, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan. Oromo is a dialect continuum; not all varieties are mutually intelligible. The native name for the Oromo language is “Afaan Oromo”, which translates to “mouth (language) of Oromo.” It was formerly known as “Galla”, a term now considered pejorative but still found in older literature.
Pökoot (also known as Pokot, Päkot, Pökot, and in older literature as Suk) is a language spoken in western Kenya and eastern Uganda by the Pokot people. Pökoot is classified to the northern branch of the Kalenjin languages found in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. The Pökoot are usually called “Kimukon” by the other Kalenjin peoples. A 1994 figure of SIL puts the total number of speakers at 264,000, while the only little more recent Schladt (1997:40) gives the more conservative estimate of 150,000 people, presumably based on the figures found in Rottland (1982:26) who puts the number at slightly more than 115,000.
The Pökoot area is bordered to the north by the Eastern Nilotic language Karimojong. Turkana, another Eastern Nilotic language, is found to the northeast. To the east, the Maa languages Samburu and Camus (on Lake Baringo) are spoken, and to the south, the other Kalenjin languages Tugen and Markweta are found, which show considerable influence from Pökoot.
The Sotho language, Sesotho, also known as Southern Sotho, or Southern Sesotho) is a Southern Bantu language of the Sotho-Tswana (S.30) group, spoken primarily in South Africa, where it is one of the 11 official languages, and in Lesotho, where it is the national language.
Like all Bantu languages, Sesotho is an agglutinative language, which uses numerous affixes and derivational and inflexional rules to build complete words.
Shona is the most widely first spoken Bantu language, native to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. The term is also used to identify peoples who speak one of the Central Shona varieties: Zezuru, Karanga, Manyika and Korekore. Based on Clement Doke’s 1931 report, Union Shona or Standard Shona was developed from the Central Shona varieties. Because of the presence of the capital city in the Zezuru region, that variety has come to dominate in Standard Shona.
Shona is an official language of Zimbabwe. Other countries that host Shona language speakers include Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa due to the influx of economic refugees fleeing the economic crisis in Zimbabwe.
The larger group of historically related languages (called Shona languages by linguists) also includes Ndau (Eastern Shona) and Kalanga (Western Shona), but speakers of those languages prefer their distinct identities and usually reject any connection to the term Shona.
Somali is an Afroasiatic language belonging to the Cushitic branch. It is spoken as a mother tongue by Somalis in Greater Somalia and the Somali diaspora. Somali is an official language of Somalia, Somaliland, a national language in Djibouti, and a working language in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. It is used as an adoptive language by a few neighboring ethnic minority groups and individuals. The Somali language is written officially with the Latin alphabet.
The Soninke language is a Mande language spoken by the Soninke people of West Africa. The language has an estimated 1,096,795 speakers, primarily located in Mali, and also (in order of numerical importance of the communities) in Senegal, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Ghana. It enjoys the status of a national language in Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania.
The language is relatively homogeneous, with only slight phonological, lexical, and grammatical variations.
Linguistically, its nearest relatives are the Bozo language, which is centered on the Inner Niger Delta.
It is possible that the language of the Imraguen people and the Nemadi dialect are dialects of Soninke.
Swahili – Congolese
Swahili – Kenyan
Swahili – Tanzanian
Swahili, also known as Kiswahili, is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is a lingua franca of the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south-eastern Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although sometimes considered to be a dialect of Swahili, Comorian, spoken in the Comoros Islands, is a distinct language.
Estimates of the total number of Swahili speakers vary widely, from 50 million to over 100 million. Swahili serves as a national language of three nations: Tanzania, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Shikomor, the official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (Shimaore), is related to Swahili. Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and officially recognized as a lingua franca of the East African Community.
A significant fraction of Swahili vocabulary is derived from Arabic through contact with Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants of the Swahili Coast.
The Swazi or Swati language is a Bantu language of the Nguni group spoken in Swaziland and South Africa by the Swazi people. The number of speakers is estimated to be in the region of 3 million. The language is taught in Swaziland and some South African schools in Mpumalanga, particularly former KaNgwane areas. Swazi is an official language of Swaziland (along with English), and is also one of the eleven official languages of South Africa.
Although the preferred term is “Swati” among native speakers, in English it is generally referred to as Swazi. Swazi is most closely related to the other “Tekela” Nguni languages, like Phuthi and Northern Transvaal (Sumayela) Ndebele, but is also very close to the “Zunda” Nguni languages: Zulu, Southern Ndebele, Northern Ndebele, and Xhosa.
Tigrinya is an Afroasiatic language of the Ethiopian Semitic branch. It is mainly spoken in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, with around 6,915,000 total speakers. Tigrinya speakers in Ethiopia (known as Tigrayans; Tigrawot; feminine Tigrāweyti, male Tigraway, plural Tegaru) number around 4,320,000 individuals, and are centered in the northern Tigray Region. The Tigrinya speakers in Eritrea (Tigrinyas) total roughly 2,540,000, and are concentrated in the southern and central areas. Tigrinya is also spoken by emigrants from these regions, including some Beta Israel.
Tigrinya should not be confused with the related Tigre language. The latter is spoken by the Tigre people, who inhabit the lowland regions of Eritrea to the north and west of the Tigrinya speech area.
Tongan (Tonga Island)
The Tonga language, Chitonga, of Zambia and Zimbabwe, also known as Zambezi, is a Bantu Language primarily spoken by the Tonga people in those countries who live mainly in the Southern and Western provinces of Zambia, and in northern Zimbabwe, with a few in Mozambique. The language is also spoken by the Iwe, Toka and Leya people, perhaps by the Kafwe Twa (if that is not Ila), as well as many bilingual Zambians and Zimbabweans. It is one of the major lingua francas in Zambia, together with Bemba, Lozi and Nyanja. The Tonga of Malawi, which is classified by Guthrie as belonging to zone N15, is not particularly close to Zambian Tonga, which is classified as zone M64, and can be considered a separate language.
Tooro, or Rutooro, is a Bantu language spoken mainly by the Toro people (Batooro) from the Toro Kingdom region of western Uganda. There are three main areas where Rutooro as a language is mainly used and they are Kabarole District, Kyenjojo District and Kyegegwa District.
Tsonga is a southern African Bantu language spoken by the Tsonga people. It was officially created in 1875 at the Valdezia Mission Station and Elim/Waterval/ Shirley Mission Stations by two Swiss missionaries, Reverend Paul Berthoud and Reverend Ernest Creux. Prior to the arrival of the Missionaries at Valdezia, the Tsonga people in that region that includes, Bungeni, Chavani, Mbhokota, Shirley, Riverplaats, Elim, Waterval, Nwaxinyamani and adjacent areas did not speak one language, but rather, they spoke a diverse of east coast dialects all related to modern Tsonga language. The Swiss Missionaries combined all these east coast dialects, such as Xigwamba, XiNkuna, Xihlengwe, XiTembe, XiValoyi, XiNyembani, Xitswa, XiRonga, and XiChopi to form a new unified superlanguage which they called ‘Thonga’, but they later modified it and renamed Xitsonga or simply Tsonga.
The Tswana language, Setswana, is a language spoken in southern Africa by about five million people. It is a Bantu language belonging to the Niger–Congo language family within the Sotho-Tswana branch of Zone S (S.30), and is closely related to the Northern- and Southern Sotho languages, as well as the Kgalagadi language and the Lozi language.
Tswana is an official language and lingua franca of Botswana. The majority of Tswana speakers are found in the north of South Africa, where four million people speak the language, and where an urbanised variety known as Pretoria Sotho is the principal language of that city. The two South African provinces with largest number of speakers are Gauteng (circa 11%) and North West (over 63%). Until 1994, South African Tswana people were notionally citizens of Bophuthatswana, one of the bantustans of the apartheid regime. Although Tswana language is significantly spoken in South Africa and Botswana, a small number of speakers are also found in Zimbabwe and Namibia, where respectively an unknown number of people and about 10,000 people speak the language.
Twi or Asante Twi, is spoken by 6–9 million Ashanti people as a first language and second language. Twi is a common name for two former literary dialects of the Akan language, Asante (Ashanti) and Akuapem, which are mutually intelligible. There are about 9 million Twi speakers, mainly in Ashanti Region. Akuapem Twi was the first Akan dialect to be used for Bible translation, and became the prestige dialect as a result.
Venda, also known as Tshivenḓa or Luvenḓa, is a Bantu language and an official language of South Africa. It is mainly spoken by the Venda people in the northern part of South Africa’s Limpopo Province, as well as by some Lemba people in Zimbabwe. The Venda language is related to Kalanga (Western Shona, different from Shona, official language of Zimbabwe) which is spoken in Botswana and Zimbabwe. During the Apartheid era of South Africa, the bantustan of Venda was set up to cover the Venda speakers of South Africa.
Wolof is a language of Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania, and the native language of the Wolof people. Like the neighbouring languages Serer and Fula, it belongs to the Senegambian branch of the Niger–Congo language family. Unlike most other languages of Sub-Saharan Africa, Wolof is not a tonal language.
Wolof originated as the language of the Lebu people. It is the most widely spoken language in Senegal, spoken natively by the Wolof people (40% of the population) but also by most other Senegalese as a second language
The Xhosa language is a Bantu language with click consonants (“Xhosa” begins with a click) and one of the official languages of South Africa. It is spoken by approximately 7.6 million people, or about 18% of the South African population. Like most other Bantu languages, Xhosa is a tonal language; the same sequence of consonants and vowels can have different meanings, depending on intonation. Xhosa has two tones: high and low.
Xhosa is written with the Latin alphabet. Three letters are used to indicate the basic clicks: c for dental clicks, x for lateral clicks and q for post-alveolar clicks (for a more detailed explanation, see the table of consonant phonemes below). Tones are not normally indicated in writing.
Yoruba is a language spoken in West Africa. The number of speakers of Yoruba is approaching 30 million. It is a pluricentric language spoken principally in Benin and Nigeria, with communities in other parts of Africa, the Americas, and Europe. A variety of the language, Lucumi, is the liturgical language of the Santería religion of the Caribbean. Many Yoruba words are used in the Afro-Brazilian religion known as Candomblé. Yoruba is most closely related to the Itsekiri language (spoken in the Niger Delta) and to Igala (spoken in central Nigeria).
Zulu (Zulu: isiZulu) is the language of the Zulu people, with about 10 million speakers, the vast majority (over 95%) of whom live in South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa (24% of the population), and it is understood by over 50% of its population. It became one of South Africa’s 11 official languages in 1994.
According to Ethnologue, it is the second most widely spoken of the Bantu languages, after Shona. Like many other Bantu languages, it is written with the Latin alphabet.
Even in English, the language is often referred to by using its native form, isiZulu.
Bari is the Nilotic language of the Karo people, spoken over large areas of Central Equatoria state in South Sudan, across the northwest corner of Uganda, and into the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bari is spoken by several distinct tribes: the Bari people themselves, the Pojulu, Kakwa, Nyangwara, Mundari, and Kuku. Each has their own dialect. The language is therefore sometimes called Karo or Kutuk (‘mother tongue’) rather than Bari.
Dari is the variety of the Persian language spoken in Afghanistan. Dari is the term officially recognized and promoted since 1964 by the Afghan government for the Persian language. Hence, it is also known as Afghan Persian in many Western sources.
Persian, is one of the Western Iranian languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan (officially known as Dari since 1958), and Tajikistan (officially known as Tajiki since the Soviet era), and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of the Greater Iran. It is written in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.
Hebrew is a Northwest Semitic language native to Israel, spoken by over 9 million people worldwide. Historically, it is regarded as the language of the Israelites and their ancestors, although the language was not referred to by the name Hebrew in the Tanakh. The earliest examples of written Paleo-Hebrew date from the 10th century BCE. Hebrew belongs to the West Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Hebrew is the only living Canaanite language left, and the only truly successful example of a revived dead language.
The Karen or Karenic languages are tonal languages spoken by some seven million Karen people. They are of unclear affiliation within the Sino-Tibetan languages. The Karen languages are written using the Burmese script. The three main branches are Sgaw, Pwo, and Pa’o. Karenni (also known Kayah or Red Karen) and Kayan (also known as Padaung) are related to the Sgaw branch. They are unusual among the Sino-Tibetan languages in having a subject–verb–object word order; other than Karen, Bai, and the Chinese languages, Sino-Tibetan languages have a subject–object–verb order. This is likely due to influence from neighboring Mon and Tai languages. The Karen languages are also considered unusual for not having any Chinese influence.
Urdu is a persianized and standardized register of the Hindustani language. It is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan, and an official language of six states of India. It is also one of the 22 official languages recognized in the Constitution of India. Hyderabad, Rampur, Bhopal and Lucknow are noted Urdu-speaking cities of India.
Apart from specialized vocabulary, Urdu is mutually intelligible with Standard Hindi (another recognized register of Hindustani) and not with Arabic or Persian language. The Urdu variant of Hindustani received recognition and patronage under British rule when the British replaced the local official languages with English and Hindustani written in Perso-Arabic script, as the official language in north and northwestern India.
Fijian is an Austronesian language of the Malayo-Polynesian family spoken by some 350,000–450,000 ethnic Fijians as a native language. The 2013 Constitution established Fijian as an official language of Fiji, along with English and Fiji Hindi, and there is discussion about establishing it as the “national language”, though English and Fiji Hindi would remain official. Fijian is a VOS language.
Indonesian is the official language of Indonesia. It is a standardized register of Malay, an Austronesian language that has been used as a lingua franca in the multilingual Indonesian archipelago for centuries. Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world. Of its large population, the majority speak Indonesian, making it one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.
Samoan is the language of the Samoan Islands, comprising the Independent State of Samoa and the United States territory of American Samoa. It is an official language — alongside English — in both jurisdictions.
Samoan, a Polynesian language, is the first language for most of the Samoa Islands’ population of about 246,000 people. With many Samoan people living in other countries, the total number of speakers worldwide is estimated at 510,000 in 2015. It is the third most widely spoken language in New Zealand, where more than 2% of the population – 86,000 people – were able to speak it as of 2013.
The language is notable for the phonological differences between formal and informal speech as well as a ceremonial form used in Samoan oratory.