The linguistic landscape of Benin is quite diverse. French is the official language of the country. 50 indigenous languages are also spoken in Benin that have been granted the status of national languages.
American Sign Language is used by the deaf community of Benin. Andrew Foster, a deaf American missionary, introduced the sign language in Benin.
Official Language of Benin
French, a legacy of the French colonial rule in Benin, is the official language of Benin. The language is spoken by about 4 million people, constituting around 35% of Benin’s population. Knowing French is a matter of prestige in Benin, and those seeking work in the cities of Benin are most often required to be conversant in French. A study conducted in 2012 revealed that by 2060 Benin will be completely Francophone. French also acts as a lingua franca in Benin, connecting people of diverse ethnic groups. All print media in Benin is in French. Français d’Afrique is a local variety of French that developed in Cotonou’s markets and streets.
Indigenous Languages Spoken in Benin
The most popular indigenous language spoken in Benin is Fon. Nearly 24% of the country’s population speak the language, with 17% speaking it as their first language. Most speakers of the Fon language reside in the country’s Collines, Atlantique, Zou, and Littoral Departments.
Other indigenous languages spoken in the country include the Dendi, Mina, Yoruba, and Bariba. Fon and Yoruba are most common in Benin’s southern region, while Bariba, Fulfulde, and other indigenous languages are spoken in the north.
Foreign Languages Spoken in Benin
English is growing in importance as a foreign language in Benin. This rising popularity of English is mainly sparked by the increase in trade between Benin and its neighbor Nigeria, which uses English as its national tongue. Thus, there is a high demand for English teachers in Benin. The language is also taught in secondary schools in the country. In 2014, 412,515 persons also studied Spanish.