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Languages of West Africa

There are very few regions of the world where such a large and diverse number of languages are spoken as West Africa, and many West Africans speak second and third languages.  In an article by the Linguistic Data Consortium of the University of Pennsylvania, the writers estimate that the languages most commonly spoken are Hausa, followed by Yoruba, then Igbo, Fulah, Akan, Moore, Mandingo, Wolof, Yemba, then Ngomba.  Other sources estimate that for all of the African continent, over 1500 languages are spoken, principally Arabic, French and English.  In West Africa, there are generally 3 main language regions as follows :

The Afroasiatic (Afrasian) languages (which consists of six branches including Egyptian, Semitic, Berber, Cushitic, Omotic, and Chadic) are spoken primarily in West Asia, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and parts of Sahel and consist of an estimated over 300 languages and dialects.

  • Amazigh (Berber) : includes the Tashelhit (Tashelhiyt, Tashelhait, Shilha), Tarifit, Kabyle, Tamazight, Tamahaq, Guanche and Iberian languages, spoken primarily in Morocco, the Maghrib enclaves, a region of Africa between Egypt’s Siwa Oasis and Mauretania, the Canary Islands and the Iberian Peninsula
  • Chadic : consists of over 140 languages including Hausa, Biu-Madara and Masa, spoken primarily in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad
  • Cushitic : consists of about 40 languages including North Cushitic (Beja), Bilin, Kemant, Kwara, Xamtage, Awngi, Iraqw, Burunge, Gorowa, Dahalo, Burji, Sidamo, Kambata, Hadiyya, Dasenech, Arbore, Saho-Afar, Oromo, Konso, Somali, Rendille and Boni, spoken primarily in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, northwestern Kenya and Tanzania
  • Egyptian : the extinct language of the Nile valley
  • Omotic : consists of about 40 languages including Aari, Hamer-Banna, Karo, Dime, Dizi, Nayi, Sheko, Kaficho, Shakacho, Boro, Anfillo, Yemsa (Janjero), Gimira-Ometo, Woylatta, Gamo, Gofa, Basketto, Male and Chara, spoken primarily in western Ethiopia
  • Semitic

The Niger-Congo languages are spoken mostly in the West, Central, Southeast and Southern Africa regions.  They are considered the world’s largest family of languages and dialects, with the most common being Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, Shona and Swahili.  The major traditional language branches and sub-groups of this region include :

  • Kordofanian languages : consists of about 20 languages including Talodi-Heiban, Lafofa, Rashad, Katla and Kadu spoken primarily in the Nuba Hills of southern Sudan
  • Mande languages : consists of about 40 languages Bambara, Malinke, Maninka, Mende, Dyula, Loma, Soninke, Dan, Jula, Mandinka, Susu and Kpelle spoken primarily in southeastern Senega, the Gambia, southern Mauritania, southwestern Mali, eastern Guinea, northern and eastern Sierra Leone, northern Liberia, western Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, southern Guinea, western Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, southwestern Niger and northwestern Nigeria
  • Dogon language : is spoken primarily in northeastern Mali, to the east of Mopti and along the border between Mali and Burkina Faso.
  • Atlantic languages : includes Wolof (the national language of Senegal but also spoken in Mauritania and Mali), Fula, Serer, Diola, Balanta, Manjaku, Temne, Kisi and Limba which are spoken primarily in Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Liberia
  • Ijoid (Ijaw) languages : including Eastern Ijo, the Brass Ijo, Izon and Arogbo, spoken by few people primarily along the Niger River delta region of Nigeria
  • Kru languages : consists of about 24 languages including Guere, Bassa, Bete, Nyabwa, Dida, and Seme, spoken primarily by people living of the forest regions of southwestern Cote d’Ivoire and southern Liberia as well as Burkina Faso
  • Senufo languages : consists of about 20 languages including Senari, Supyire, Cabaara and Mamara, spoken primarily in northern Cote d’Ivoire, southwestern Burkina Faso and southeastern Mali
  • Central Gur languages : consists of about 45 languages including Moore (Mossi), Gurma, Gurenne, Dagbani, Dagaari and Kabiye, spoken primarily in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso
  • Adamawa-Ubangian languages : consists of about 120 languages including Chamba Leko, Mumuye, Tupuri, Ngbaka, Sango, Banda, Gbaya and Zande, spoken primarily in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan
  • Kwa languages : consists of about 45 languages including Akan, Ewe, Baule, Fon, Ga-Dangme, Guang and Anyi, spoken primarily in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria.
  • Volta-Niger languages (Gur) : consists of about 85 languages including Moore, Gbe, Yoruba and Igbo, spoken primarily in the savanna lands north of the forest belt that runs from southeastern Mali across northern Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo and Benin.
  • West Benue-Congo languages : consists of about 900 languages including Bantu, Swahili, Fang, Kongo, Zulu, Yoruba, Isekiri, Igala, Edo, Igbo, Nupe, Idoma and Akokoid, spoken primarily in Nigeria, Cameroon, and through central Africa to eastern Africa
  • Platoid languages : consists of about 50 languages including Jju, Tsuvadi, Kwanka, Kaje, Birom, Tarok, Jukun Takum, Wapan, Tigon-Mbembe and Icen, spoken in the area of the Jos Plateau southward to the Benue River valley and across the river to the southeast
  • Cross-River languages : consists of about 60 languages including Ibibo, Efik, Anang, Khana, Ogbia, Loko, Mbembe, Obolo and Gokana, spoken primarily around the Cross River in southeastern Nigeria and westward toward the Niger Delta
  • Northern Bantoid languages : consists of about 15 languages including Chamba Daka, Mambila, Tikar and Jarawa, spoken primarily in eastern Nigeria and central Cameroon
  • Southern Bantoid languages : consists of over 100 languages including Bantu, Jarawa, Tiv, Beboid, Ekoi, Nyang, the Grassfields languages, Beti, Fang, Lingala, Gikuyu (Kikuyu), Kamba, Gusii, Meru, Sukuma, Nyamwesi, Swahili, Gogo, Kituba, Luanda Mbundu, Kongo, Yaka, Ganda, Chiga, Nyankore, Soga, Haya, Luyia, Nandi, Rwanda, Rundi, Ha, Luba, Songe, Tonga, Nyakusa-Ngonde, Nyanja, Tumbuka, Sena, Makua, Yao, Ngulu, Makonde, Mbundu, Herero, Shona, Ndau, North-Sotho, Pedi (South Sotho), Tswana, South-Ndebele, Lozi, Zulu, Xhosa, North Ndebele, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswa, Ronga, Chopi and Venda, spoken primarily in eastern Nigeria and Cameroon

The Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken by nearly 60 million people.  The primary subdivisions of this language group are Berta, Fur, Gumuz, Koman, Kuliak, Kunama, Maban, Saharan, Songhay, Central Sudanic, Eastern Sudanic (including Nilotic), Kadu, Mimi-D and Shabo.  The primary languages include :

  • Luo (Dholuo) : spoken primarily in Kenya and Tanzania
  • Kanuri : spoken primarily around Lake Chad
  • Songhay : spoken primarily along the Niger River in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger
  • Teso
  • Nubian : spoken primarily from southern Egypt into northern Sudan
  • Lugbara : spoken primarily in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • the Nandi-Markweta languages : spoken primarily in the Kenyan Rift Valley
  • Lango : spoken primarily in Uganda
  • Dinka : spoken primarily in South Sudan
  • Acholi : spoken primarily in Uganda
  • Nuer : spoken primarily in South Sudan and Ethiopia
  • Maasai : spoken primarily in Kenya
  • Ngambay : spoken primarily in Central Sudan and Southern Chad
  • Fur : spoken primarily in the Darfur Province in western Sudan
  • Tubu : spoken primarily in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and into Libya

 

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