Africa is the second largest and second most populated continent in the world, with a total population of 1.2 billion people. Given its diverse population, Africa has the highest linguistic diversity in the world, and accounts for over 2,000 distinct languages. The continent also has a rich multilingual history resulting from trade and intermarriage between different linguistic cultures. After gaining independence, many African countries adopted the language of their colonizers as the official language used in government, education, and business. Nevertheless, most African countries still promote local languages and appreciate their linguistic diversities through language policies that uphold multilingualism. The most commonly spoken languages in Africa are highlighted below.
The Most Commonly Spoken Languages
Arabic is a Semitic language spoken by 150 million people in Africa, making it the most widely spoken language on the continent. Arabic speakers in Africa account for 62% of the total Arabic speakers in the world. It is recognized as the official language in countries in North and Sib-Saharan Africa including Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Eritrea, and Algeria. Arabic is a co-official language in some countries such as Chad, Djibouti, and Somalia, and is also widely spoken in countries that do not recognize it as an national language. A vast majority of Arabic speakers in the continent also practice Islam as the predominant religion.
Berber is an Afro-Asiatic language made up of twenty-six closely related languages. It is spoken by approximately 56 million people, making it the second most commonly spoken language in Africa. Berber is widely spoken in North African countries like Morocco and Algeria, which account for the highest number of standard Berber speakers. It is also widely spoken in countries along the Sahara desert, the Sahel, and the Mediterranean coast, since they were historically inhabited by Berbers.
Hausa is the third most commonly spoken language in Africa and includes more than 34 million native speakers. It is a branch of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, and is widely spoken as a first and second language in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, where it originated from the Kano dialect. Hausa is also widely used as a business and teaching language in West African countries like Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, and Togo. Hausa is among the few African languages taught in international universities due to its rich literature.
Language Policies in Africa
Language policies have been implemented throughout the continent as a way of promoting multilingualism and conserving native African languages. The Harare Declaration of 1997 helped enable African countries use their native languages in economic development. In 2006, the African Union (AU) adopted the Harare Declaration and established the African Academy of Language as a specialized office of the AU mandated to coordinate language policies.
What Languages Are Spoken in Africa?
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