What Languages Are Spoken In Zimbabwe?

Witch doctor of the Shona people in Zimbabwe. The Shona people speak the Shona language in the country.
Witch doctor of the Shona people in Zimbabwe. The Shona people speak the Shona language in the country.

Brief History Of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe in southern Africa has a population of 13 million. In the 9th century, the Shona civilization began to dominate the area, gaining control between the 13th and 19th centuries. During this time, the Shona rulers divided present-day Zimbabwe into several political regions and kingdoms. Portuguese colonizers unsuccessfully attempted to gain control of this region in the 17th century and were removed by the Shone. The Ndebele tribe moved into the area in 1821 and conquered the Shona Empire. British colonists began arriving in 1888 to mine the region’s natural resources and gained company rule over Shona and Ndebele lands. By 1923, then-Southern Rhodesia became a self-governing British colony. Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980. This history has influenced everything from the culture to the government to the languages spoken in Zimbabwe today. This article takes a look at its languages.

Dominant Languages Spoken In Zimbabwe

Because of its longstanding status as a British colony, English became the primary language of the government and the public education system. However, only around 2.5% of the population speak English as their native language. Other dominant languages spoken within the country are Shona and Ndebele, a reflection of the country’s political history. Shona belongs to the Bantu subgroup of the Niger-Congo language family. Some estimates suggest that 70% of the population speaks this language. Ndebele is also a Bantu language. It is spoken by approximately 20% of the population.

These three languages in Zimbabwe are used for most media publications and broadcasts.

Official Languages Of Zimbabwe

Many members of the general public in Zimbabwe began to denounce the widespread use of English, Shona, and Ndebele. These critics claimed that not enough recognition was given to the many other indigenous languages of the country. In response, Parliament drafted an amendment to the Constitution, naming 16 languages as official languages. These include Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and sign language. Zimbabwe now has more official languages than any other country in the world.

This constitutional change provides recognition to the many cultures within the country. The official status of these languages in Zimbabwe means that each must be promoted equally. Ensuring that all public transactions are available in 16 languages is no easy task and providing public records in each of these languages is nothing short of a logistical nightmare. This amendment also mandates that the government promote the development of these languages. Some services, such as public education, may be provided in the native language of the region. With this move, Zimbabwe may have prevented the extinction of many of its languages, a linguistic phenomenon that occurs all over the world.

Other Languages Spoken In Zimbabwe

Although having 16 official languages is a world record, there are still other languages spoken within the country that has not been given the same recognition. Two such languages of Zimbabwe, in particular, are the Lozi and Manyika. Manyika is spoken by a large portion of the population, an estimated 800,000 to be exact. It was not included in the constitutional amendment, however, because many people consider it to be a dialect of Shona. Approximately 70,000 individuals speak Lozi, which belongs to the Bantu language subgroup. It is more widely used in Zambia, a nearby country.


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