African Languages

The total number of languages natively spoken in Africa is variously at between 1,250 and 2,100, and by some counts at over 3,000. Nigeria alone has over 500 languages (according to SIL Ethnologue), one of the greatest concentrations of linguistic diversity in the world. The Languages of Africa belong to many distinct language families, among which the largest are:



4/18/20231 min read

five elephants on brown grass
five elephants on brown grass

Africa is home to a rich tapestry of native languages, with estimates varying from 1,250 to over 3,000. Nigeria stands out with over 500 languages, making it one of the world's most linguistically diverse countries, as per SIL Ethnologue. These languages can be classified into several language families, including:

  1. Niger-Congo, which encompasses the vast Atlantic-Congo and Bantu branches found in West, Central, Southeast, and Southern Africa.

  2. Afroasiatic languages, spoken across Western Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and parts of the Sahel.

  3. Saharan, Nilotic, and Sudanic languages, previously grouped under the hypothetical Nilo-Saharan macro-family, found in East Africa and Sahel.

  4. Austronesian languages, spoken in Madagascar and parts of the Comoros.

  5. Khoe-Kwadi languages, primarily spoken in Namibia and Botswana.

  6. Indo-European languages, such as Afrikaans, English, and German, spoken in South Africa and Namibia, and used as lingua francas in former colonies of the United Kingdom, Liberia, France, Belgium, Portugal, Italy, and Spain, as well as current Spanish territories of Ceuta, Melilla, Canary Islands, and French territories of Mayotte and La Réunion.

Around 100 languages are widely used for interethnic communication, including Arabic, Somali, Amharic, Oromo, Igbo, Swahili, Hausa, Manding, Fulani, and Yoruba, spoken as second or non-first languages by millions of people. While many African languages are used in radio, newspapers, and primary-school education, and some are considered national languages, only a few are officially recognized at the national level. In Sub-Saharan Africa, most official national languages tend to be colonial languages such as French, Portuguese, or English.

This series aims to explore some of these language families, shedding light on their origins and patterns of similarity for a better understanding.