Languages of Africa

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There are an estimated 2,000 languages spoken in Africa[1] in several major linguistic families:

There are several other small families and language isolates, as well as obscure languages that have yet to be classified. In addition, Africa has a wide variety of sign languages, many of which are language isolates.

Several African languages are whistled or drummed to communicate over long distances.

About a hundred of the languages of Africa are widely used for inter-ethnic communication. Berber, Arabic, Igbo, Swahili, Hausa, Amharic, and Yoruba are spoken by tens of millions of people. If clusters of up to a hundred similar languages are counted together, twelve are spoken by 75%, and fifteen by 85%, of Africans as a first or additional language.[2]

The high linguistic diversity of many African countries (Nigeria alone has 250 languages, one of the greatest concentrations of linguistic diversity in the world) has made language policy a vital issue in the post-colonial era. In recent years, African countries have become increasingly aware of the value of their linguistic inheritance. Language policies being developed nowadays are mostly aimed at multilingualism. For example, all African languages are considered official languages of the African Union (AU). 2006 was declared by the African Union as the "Year of African Languages".[3] However, although many mid-sized languages are used on the radio, in newspapers, and in primary-school education, and some of the larger ones are considered national languages, only a few are official at the national level.


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