Africa’s Linguistic Tapestry. Africa is a continent of immense cultural and linguistic diversity, with a rich tapestry of languages spoken across its vast landscapes. In this article, we’ll explore the top 14 most spoken languages in Africa, highlighting the unique linguistic heritage that contributes to the continent’s cultural richness and vibrant communities.
There are about 2,000 existing languages spoken in Africa of which Nigeria alone speak about 522 languages out of them. Amongst the host of the languages, there are ones which are most spoken. We are set to consider them in this article as highlighted below.
Top 12 Most Popular And Widely-spoken Languages In Africa 2023
1. Arabic: Arabic is a Semitic language estimated to be spoken by about 292 million people in the world. Twenty seven states speak standard Arabic as their official language. The states are; Algeria, Chad, Iran, Comoros, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somaho, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, and Yemen. Arabic is also spoken as official language by organizations such as African Union, Arab League Organization of Islamic Corporation, and United Nations.
Arabic is the dominant language of Northern Africa. Arabic language has many varieties and different dialects. It is not spoken by different regions in the same way. Arabic language is also spoken by Mali and Senegal as their national language. Just like Hebrew, Arabic writing is written from right to left. Arabic language is also one out of the six official languages of United Nations.
Arabic is most spoken not just in Africa but worldwide. Arabic language notwithstanding its domination in Africa, it is not a language of African origin. Arabic is written in Modern Standard Arabic though the language has other existing local dialects.
2. Swahili Language: Swahili is pronounced in its native name as KiSwahili (Kiswahili). Swahili language is of Bantu origin. It is spoken by about 100 -150 million people counting both those that use it as an official and second language. East Africa Community (EAC) has two official languages of which Swahili is one. It is an official language for Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya. It is also used as an official language by organizations such as African Union, Southern African Development Community, and East African Community.
Swahili is a minority language for states like Burundi, DR Congo, and Mozambique. Swahili is a well dominated language in Eastern Africa. Unlike many widely spoken languages which are native to Africa, Swahili is an official language in many countries and widely used in schools. Swahili also borrowed some of its languages from the Arabic and other language.
3. Oromo: Oromo language is spoken by about 37 million people. The language is used as an official language is Ethiopia and Northeastern Kenya, though in Kenya, it is a recognized minority language. The language is more spoken in Ethiopia as it has about 36, million speakers just in Ethiopia. Oromo is a well dominated language that it is used as the primary language of education and internet language is federal sites in Ethiopia
Oromo language dialects includes; Western Oromo, Shewa, Eastern Oromo and Southern Oromo. Oromo language was at a time in the history of its development banned for in education, administrative and even conversational purposes. This was under the regime of Haile Selassie, but this status was later reversed.
4. Igbo: Igbo language is a native language in Nigeria spoken by the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. The language is spoken by over 30 million people.
Igbo dialects include; Waawa, Enuani, Ngwa, Anioma, Ezaa, Etche, Ohuhu, Ika, Ikwerre, Edda, Oyigbo, Ukwuani, Abam, Ohafia, Izzi, and Ekpeye. It is also a recognized minority language in Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. Igbo language has a recognized standard as their literary language which is known as Igbo Izugbe.
5. Amharic: Amharic language is spoken by the Amharas as their first language. It is an Afro-Asiatic Ethiopian Semitic language which is also spoken by other cities. Amharic language is spoken by about 32 million people.
It is an official language in Ethiopia native to the Amhara ethnic group. Amhara is the most spoken language in Ethiopia. It is written from left to right. It is the official language of the government and working language in Ethiopia. Amharic language employs the writing system known as fidel.
6. Hausa: Hausa is another most spoken language in Africa. The language is spoken by over 100 million people consisting of both those using it as first language and as second language. It however has an estimated 60 million native speakers.
Hausa is basically a Chadic language and also is spoken by mainly the Northern Nigeria which quantifies quite a population. Hausa is therefore a native language to Chad, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, and Niger. It is also spoken in some parts of Ghana, Sudan, Burkina Faso, CAR, Eritrea, and Togo.
7. Yoruba: Yoruba is one of the most spoken West African languages, having an estimation of about 50 million speakers. Yoruba language is mostly spoken in southwestern Nigeria by the Yoruba ethnic group. It is also spoken in its minority in countries like Cote d’lvoire, Sierra Leona, Gambia, Togo, and Benin.
8. Shona: Shona or chiShona is another language of Bantu origin. It is spoken by Shona people in Zimbabwe. Shona language is spoken by about 13 million people.
It has variety of dialects which are; Zezuru, Karanga, Korekore, Manyika, and Ndau. They employ their different dialects for conventional day to day conversation but uses the standard Shona language for writing. Shona is a native language to Zimbabwe and Mozambique, being an official language in Zimbabwe and a recognized minority in Mozambique.
9. Zulu: Zulu language is the native language of Zulu people and an official language in South Africa. Zulu is the largest ethnic group in South Africa. The language is also of Bantu origin, having an estimated figure of about 12 million native speakers.
The language is also known as isiZulu from its native pronunciation. Zulu is spoken in varieties, having dialects which include kwaZulu Natal Zulu, Transvaal Zulu, Qwabe and Cele. Zulu is the second of the most spoken Bantu languages, following Swahili. Out of the eleven official languages in South Africa, Zulu is more widely spoken. Zulu language meets the list even though it is spoken in a single country.
10. Fulani: Fulani also known as Fulah, Fulfulde, Pular and Pulaar, is an official language in Senegal, Gambia, Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Togo, Niger, Mali, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, and Guinea (Conakry).
Fulani is estimated to be spoken by about 40 million people. It is a language of West African origin. It is a Senegambian language which spread out to the Fulani people consequent to migration. The language has variety in its dialects such as; Futa Toro, Futa Jallon, Masina, Sokoto and Adamawa.
11. Afrikaans: Afrikaans Language gradually started to develop unique features within the of the 18th century. The language is now a major Language that is being spoken in South Africa, and other places like Namibia as well as Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
In 2010, the total number of Afrikaans speakers was considered to range between 15 and 23 million speakers. It has been recorded to be the third most spoken language in the country, and one of the most spoken languages in Africa.
12. Berber: Berbers also known as Imazighen, an ethnic group known to be indigenous to North Africa. It is a language of the BERBER community some of which are found in places like Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.
There are equally, but a very minimal number, Berbers in Mauritania, northern Mali, and northern Niger as well. The language, which which is a member of the Afroasiatic language family is one of the most.
13. CHEWA: The Chewa also known as AChewa are considerably, a Bantu ethnic group. They are quite native to the central and southern Africa. The CHEWA are the largest ethnic group in Malawi. The Chewa are native and closely related to those in surrounding regions like Tumbuka and Nsenga.
They historically also related to the Bemba. While the real name of the language to them is the Chichewa. It is one of the unique languages that are most spoken in the African continent.
14. KIKONGO: Kongo or the Kikongo is one of the most spoken languages in Africa and one of the Bantu languages well spoken by the Kongo people who reside in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, the Republic of the Congo as well as Angola
Although a mix of the language could be heard amongst people in different part of Europe, it remains one of the most spoken languages in Africa with over seven million native speakers.
Some of these African languages as have been discussed necessarily do not have African origin. This is probably a slam on the face of African native customs. Well, the good thing about African most spoken languages is that they have multiplicity tendencies. As a result, you can always run into more people speaking them in several countries.