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