French is Gabon's official language, but Fang is the most popular language spoken in the country. French is mostly used in the capital and among those who have completed secondary or university education. French further serves as Gabon's medium of instruction in schools. Gabon's indigenous languages are classified in the Bantu family. These languages reached Gabon approximately 2,000 years ago, and subsequently branched out into nearly 40 languages. The languages are mostly spoken rather than written, and are passed down through family and clans. Beginning in the 1970s, the Gabonese government began to research the various Bantu languages.
Official Language of Gabon
Before World War II, very few Gabon natives had adopted French, and those who did were engaged in business or government administration. France called for universal primary education in the country after the war, and 47% of Gabon's population over the age of 14 communicated in French according to the 1960-61 census. A further 13% were identified as literate in French. The literacy rate had shot up to 60% by the 1990s, and it is currently estimated that 80% of the Gabonese population can speak the language. One-third of the inhabitants of Libreville, which is Gabon's capital, are indigenous French speakers. Over 10,000 French people reside in Gabon, and France maintains dominance in the nation's foreign commercial and cultural spheres.
National Language of Gabon
Fang is regarded as Gabon's national language. It is linked to the Ewondo and Bulu languages used in southern Cameroon. Fang falls under the Niger-Congo family, and 32% of the Gabonese people use Fang as their mother tongue. The Fang community is one of the most significant ethnic groups in Gabon, as well as neighboring Equatorial Guinea. Fang is particularly popular in northern Gabon, and it is recognized as a southern Bantu language.
Indigenous Languages Spoken in Gabon
All of Gabon's indigenous languages fall within the Bantu family. There are about 40 different native languages used in various regions of Gabon. Missionaries from France, as well as the US, came up with transcriptions for some of the languages that were based on the Latin alphabet beginning in the 1840s. The missionaries went further and translated the Bible into certain Gabonese languages. French colonial policy, however, encouraged the study of French at the expense of African languages. The African languages mainly survived through families and clans. Apart from Fang, Eshira and Mbere also have significant groups of speakers. Other native Gabonese languages include Sake, Duma, Tsogo, Simba, Vumbu, Fufu, Barama, Bekwel, and Benga.
Francophone African Sign Language
Early mission work in the West African deaf communities, including Gabon, used American Sign Language. Andrew Foster is recognized for promoting deaf education in the country. The sign language in Gabon and several other Francophone nations is influenced by French to some extent. As an African deviation of American Sign Language, Gabon's sign language includes local conventions and taboos. These inclusions are particularly noted in taboo topics, such as sex.
The Gabonese president, Ali Bongo, has been vocal about the promotion of English in the country. This announcement is seen as a growing development among the Francophone nations situated in West Africa. The same move was made by Rwanda in 2009, a country which is making significant strides towards national prosperity.