What Languages Are Spoken in South Sudan?

The flag of South Sudan.
The flag of South Sudan.

South Sudan is one of the youngest independent countries of the world. It recently split away from the former State of Sudan in Africa. The country borders Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. The languages spoken in this country fall into three categories: official, indigenous, and non-indigenous languages.

Official Language of South Sudan

English is the official language of South Sudan. The country speaks the Commonwealth variant of the language, which was introduced to South Sudan during the colonial period which began in the 19th century. Over the years, the language has advanced and stabilized well in the country. English is used by the Sudanese for official purposes such as business deals, government meetings, media, and in the education sector. English is the official language of many other African countries such as Kenya and Uganda.

Indigenous Languages of South Sudan

More than 60 indigenous languages are spoken in South Sudan. These languages are classified under different language families, the majority of which fall under the Nilo-Saharan language family. However, other language families spoken in South Sudan include the Niger-Congo language, the Ubangi languages, the Banda group of languages, and the Dinka sociolinguistic language. Dinka and Nuer are the languages with the greatest number of speakers in South Sudan, and the number of Zande and Bari speakers is also significant. Most of the indigenous languages are now used as national languages. Hence, the national languages are Arabic, Luo, Dinka, Nuer, Murle and Zande.

Some of the indigenous languages are nearing extinction due to infrequent use. Those who are able to speak such languages mainly belong to the older generations of the society. The young generation finds it difficult to speak these indigenous languages fluently. Languages that are no longer used include Mittu, Togoyo, and Homa.

Non-indigenous Languages of South Sudan

The non-indigenous languages are not originally spoken by the inhabitants of South Sudan, but rather develop as a result of interactions with foreigners. For example, the Chadian Arabic language developed as a result of the natives interacting with the Baggara Arabs who led a nomadic life. The language arose in the Western Bahr Al Ghazal area, where South Sudan borders Sudan. In the country’s capital, Juba, residents speak Jubas Arabic, which is an Arabic pidgin. Some citizens are also capable of speaking Modern Standard Arabic or Sudanese Arabic.

There have been previous attempts to use Arabic as a language of instruction in schools. If implemented, Arabic would have replaced English, which had been used as a language of instruction in the southern parts of the country for a long period of time. However, in 1972, it was agreed that the use of English in teaching would be upheld. Consequently, English has become the most spoken language by the literate and elite sections of the South Sudanese society.

Future Trends

There are plans to introduce the Swahili language in South Sudan, which would occur through the support of Kenya. Knowledge of Swahili would make it easy for the Sudanese to develop partnerships in the East African Community. Some Sudanese who grew up in Cuba as refugees, called Cubans, also learned Spanish and speak it fluently.


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