[Reality Check] There’s no such thing as an ‘African language’

Farida Dawkins March 17, 2018

Prompted by the global release of the highly anticipated film, “Black Panther,” there is sure to be speculation about the continent of Africa and dialect.  Let’s explore this a bit further.

Africa has 54 countries within it. All have various languages and dialects contained within any given country.  For instance, Hausa, a Chadic language that is considered a lingua franca – a common tongue shared amongst a vast group of individuals, is typically spoken in West Africa.  It wouldn’t be considered a common way of communicating in Egypt.

The same goes for Swahili. Though it is a popular language, spoken in the African Great Lakes region and other portions of south-eastern Africa, it isn’t popular in North Africa.

Other popular African languages are Amharic which is spoken by over 21 million people. This is the second most popular language in Ethiopia after Oromo. Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia and also the working language of several of the states within the country.

Over 2 million Ethiopians living outside the country also speak this language, as it is the second most Semitic language in the world after Arabic.

The third most spoken language in Africa, Yoruba is also one of Nigeria’s official languages, serving as the mother tongue of the Yoruba people in the country. It has over 30 million speakers in Nigeria, Benin and Togo and it is widely spoken by West African expatriates in the US and UK. Yoruba, which has over 15 dialects, also forms part of the also forms part of Volta-Niger branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages.

Some Caribbean languages have also been influenced by African languages. Examples are the Jamaican Patois or Jamaican Creole which has most of its loan words from the Akan language in West Africa. The language developed when enslaved Africans from West and Central Africa were “exposed to, learned, and nativized the vernacular and dialectal forms” the English spoken by slave owners.

Others are the Haitian Creole and the Antillean Creole which are French-based but with influences from Portuguese, Spanish, English, Taíno, and West African languages.

Africa is a vast area with unique customs, religions, and rituals contained within each region. It would be a sad state of affairs to believe otherwise.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: March 16, 2018


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