Posts

7 Cool Things You Didn’t Know About African Languages

Marvel’s long-awaited Black Panther movie came out in theaters last month. As a result, African languages and culture are getting some well-deserved attention from the rest of the world.  With that in mind, here are seven cool things about African languages you might not have known, in Black Panther and beyond.

Africa is home to approximately 1/3 of the world’s languages.

Estimates of the number of languages people speak on the African content vary from 1,500 to over 3,000. Around 100 of these are used widely, for communication between people from different tribes and groups. Meanwhile, there are at least 75 languages in Africa with over 1 million speakers.

Why does Africa have so many languages, anyway? First of all, let’s state the obvious: it’s an enormous continent, not a country. There’s long been a tendency for Europeans and Americans to treat Africa as a monolith, but it’s not.

Second, Africa is the cradle of humanity. Humankind evolved there first and then spread across the globe. That means there’s simply been more time for languages to change and for new languages to form.

African languages may also illustrate how translation and interpretation can preserve linguistic diversity.

For example, University of Chicago evolutionary linguist Salikoko Mufwene told the Christian Science Monitor, 

[I]n the case of Europe, you have to factor in the emergence of various empires, and these various empires were assimilationist and they may have driven a number of languages already to extinction . . . Traditional African kingdoms were not as assimilationist as the European empires…say the kings relied on interpreters to translate to them what was coming from territories that they ruled but where people spoke different languages, there is no particular reason why we should be surprised that there are so many languages spoken in Africa.”

Whatever the reason, this means that Africa presents a challenging linguistic landscape for businesses that wish to be understood by the local population. Read more

The Top Languages in Africa: A Guide to the Most Spoken African Languages

When you think of Africa, what do you think of? The iconic wildlife? The horror stories of poverty, hunger, and war? The truth is that Africa is an incredibly large, incredibly diverse and rapidly developing continent.  Whether you’re a business or an NGO, if you’re trying to maximize the number of people you can reach in Africa, you need to study the most spoken African languages in your particular market. Here’s a guide to get you started.

The most spoken African languages by number of native speakers

Because many Africans are at least bilingual, there are two possible ways to determine the most spoken African languages: by the number of native speakers or by overall numbers, including L2 speakers.

By focusing on the languages with the most L1 plus L2 speakers, you can expand the reach of your content.  However, L2 speakers vary in proficiency. And when it comes to marketing, advertising and web copy, people tend to prefer their native language. So, first of all, here are the most spoken native languages in Africa.

Arabic

Number of native speakers: 140 million in Africa, 280 million around the world
Official language in Algeria, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Western Sahara

Arabic didn’t originate in Africa, but today it’s the mother tongue of over 140 million Africans. As a result, it’s the most common native language on the continent overall.

Most African Arabic speakers live in North Africa, where Arabic is the majority language.  They speak local Arabic dialects, but Modern Standard Arabic is used in writing and in the media.

Written Arabic uses the Arabic script.

Berber (Amazigh)

Number of Speakers: 56M
Official language in Algeria and Morocco 

Berber, or Amazigh, is sometimes referred to as a language, sometimes as a language family. It’s a dialect continuum spoken by the Berber people in North Africa. The dialects (or languages) may or may not be mutually intelligible. Therefore, it’s important to know which variety is spoken in the region you’re targeting.

Depending on location, Berber languages are sometimes written in the Berber Latin alphabet and sometimes in the indigenous Tifinagh script.

Although Amazigh has been displaced by Arabic throughout most of the continent, it’s commonly used in Morrocco and Amazigh activists continue to fight for recognition in other North African countries.

To hear it, check out the video below:
Read more