What Languages Are Spoken In Madagascar?

French is one of the official languages of Madagascar.
French is one of the official languages of Madagascar.

Madagascar is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean and is made up of the island of Madagascar and several other small islands. The nation has a population of over 24.4 million people and is primarily made up of the Malagasy ethnic group who account for over 90% of the total population.The country is a Francophone nation and has Malagasy and French as the official languages.

Official Language: Malagasy

Malagasy is the most popular language in Madagascar with the majority of Madagascar residents being conversant with the language. The 1958 constitution of Madagascar established Malagasy as one of the two official languages in the country, the other being French. However, the 1992 Constitution made no provisions concerning the official status of Malagasy language with the language maintaining its status albeit as a de facto. The 2007 Constitution reinstated Malagasy as one of three official languages in Madagascar with the language also becoming the national language of the country. There were an estimated 18 million native Malagasy speakers in Madagascar in 2007. Malagasy is the Malayo-Polynesian language of the Austronesian language group. The language is more closely related to native languages spoken in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia and is distinct from native languages used in neighboring African countries such as Mozambique and South Africa.

While the majority of Malagasy speakers are found in Madagascar, a significant number of native speakers are also present in neighboring island nations such as Comoros and Reunion. Malagasy speakers are also found in small numbers in France and Quebec, Canada spoken by Madagascar expatriates. The language originated from ancient Austronesian people who were the first settlers on the island who migrated from Southeast Asia. There are two distinct dialects of Malagasy in Madagascar, and they are the Western dialect and the Eastern dialect. The Eastern Malagasy dialect has the highest number of speakers, and it is prominently used in the eastern region of the country while the Western dialect is primarily used in Madagascar’s western region. Ancient Madagascar residents used Arabic Ajami script commonly known as a Sorabe script when writing Malagasy manuscripts. However, in recent years, the language is written with the use of Latin orthography.

Official Language: French

French is an official language in Madagascar as provided by the Constitution of Madagascar. The majority of Madagascar residents can converse in French with the language being used in learning institutions as well as in government institutions as a medium of instruction. This foreign language was introduced in Madagascar after the island became a French colony in 1897 with a large number of settlers from France relocating to the island and controlled much of the country’s wealth. After gaining independence in 1958, the country maintained French as a national language due to its proliferation into the local population. After the country had gained independence, most of the French settlers left, leaving behind a small number of native French speakers. These native French speakers are currently estimated to number over 123,000 people or 0.618% of the total Madagascar population. As an official language, French is used as the language of instruction in learning institutions all over Madagascar.

Major Foreign Language: English

While Madagascar is categorized as a Francophone country, English is also used as a means of communication particularly in the major cities due to globalization and the popularity of music and movies from English-speaking countries. The 2007 Constitution indicated English as one of the official languages of the country, but its status was withdrawn during the 2010 referendum. Presently, English is primarily used in matters relating to Madagascar’s foreign policy.


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