What Languages Are Spoken in Chad?

The flag of Chad.
The flag of Chad.

Official Languages of Chad

Chad is located in Central Africa and shares borders with Niger, Cameroon, Libya, Nigeria, and Sudan. It has a population of approximately 13.67 million. The country's population and culture have been influenced by indigenous inhabitants, Muslim empires, and French colonialism. These influence are reflected in the languages spoken here today.

The government of Chad recognizes French and Arabic as the country's two official languages. From 1900 until 1960, Chad was a French colony and all public services were carried out in the French language. This use of the language continues today. French is the language of both government and education. In fact, a larger percentage of the population in Chad speaks French than Arabic. Around 2 million individuals report French as their second language. Arabic is concentrated in the northern part of the country, where it is used in daily communication and by radio broadcasts.

The Lingua Franca of Chad

The lingua franca of Chad is a local dialect of Arabic, called Chadian Arabic. Over 1 million individuals consider this dialect their native language. The majority of native Chadian Arabic speakers (around 12% of the total population) are concentrated in the southern region of this country. In total, between 40 and 60% of the population of the country is fluent in this dialect. In fact, Chadian Arabic is the primary language of the capital of Chad, N’Djamena. Additionally, the residents and business people of the cities of Am Timan, Mao, and Abéché use Chadian Arabic as the principal means of communication.

This dialect is believed to have originated among livestock herders during the 17th century, when the population of Arabic speakers grew within the historic nomadic territories of the region. By the early 20th century, some linguist scholars had published grammar rule books for the local dialects throughout Chad and neighboring countries, noting that the same dialect was used in several locations.

Indigenous Languages of Chad

Linguists report over 120 indigenous languages in Chad. These tongues are divided into three large language families: Afro-Asiatic, Niger-Congo, and Nilo-Saharan. The Afro-Asiatic language family is further divided into the following subgroups: Semitic languages (Chadian Arabic, for example) and Chadic languages. The Niger-Congo language family is made up of the Adamawa subgroup, which consists of 5 specific tongues. The Nilo-Saharan language family is further divided into the following subgroups: Saharan, Bongo-Bagirmi, Fur, Eastern Sudanic, Maban, and Sinyar. Each of these subgroups consists of several specific languages.

Of these indigenous languages, Sar (also known as Sara) is the most widely spoken. It belongs to the Bongo-Bagirmi language subgroup, which is made up of around 40 different languages. Approximately 183,471 individuals speak Sar as their native tongue. These native speakers belong to the Kirdi ethnic group, also referred to as Sara people. These people represent the largest ethnicity in Chad and are concentrated in the southern region of this country. Ngambay is the most widely spoken dialect of the Sar language and is used in the southern city of Sarh as the language of daily communication and business transactions.


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