Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Languages present a rich cultural diversity in AFRICA

African is known to be one of the most diverse continents in the world with 3000 distinct ethnic groups and more than 2000 languages. One of the major characteristics which defines Africa is its linguistic diversity with all spoken languages regrouped into four groups; Afro-Asiatic common in Northern Africa, Central Sahara and the Horn of Africa, Nilo-Saharian covering Central and Eastern Africa, Niger-Congo covering Central, Southern and Eastern Africa and Khoisan, covering the western part of Southern Africa.

Africa has the world’s most linguistically diverse country, Nigeria which has close to 514 languages. The number of native languages spoken in Africa is estimated between 1,250 and 2,100. However, one of the most remarkable differences between Africa and other linguistic areas is its relative uniformity, due to the fact that several languages are widely used for inter-ethnic communication. Arabic, Somali, Berber, Amharic, Oromo, Igbo, Swahili, Hausa, Manding, Fulani and Yoruba are spoken by tens of millions of people.

However, although most of these languages are used in communication and often times on the radio, in newspapers and, in schools, only a few are official at the national level.

Never the less some pundits have been of opinion that a common language like Kiswahili can unite Africa. South Africa’s Julius Malema, is one of those who strongly called out for the adoption of a common language in Africa. Following his call, the South African government announced that Kiswahili will be incorporated into South Africa’s school curriculum. Swahili is a language widely spoken in African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, DR Congo, northern Mozambique, and northern Zambia and has more than 100 million speakers.

In a bid to nurture the growth and development of African Languages, the African Union declared 2006 the “Year of African Languages”. It had early created in 2001, the African Academy of Languages (ACALAN), which promotes the usage and perpetuation of African languages among African people as a means to harmonize the various languages across the continent and safeguard any that are on the verge of becoming extinct.

Meanwhile, several of these languages face the risk of extinction. It was noted that about 300 languages have less than 10,000 speakers, which puts them on the UN’s endangered list, and 37 are in danger of completely dying out.

While Africa prides itself with such linguistic diversity, the denizens are yet to fully embrace it as it is commonplace in countries like Cameroon for people to feel ashamed discussing in their mother tongue in public. A majority of youth who grow up in the cities are not taught their mother tongue and many of them do not see any necessity in learning it.

Nonetheless, the spirit of reawakening is currently blowing across the continent as many persons have begun to show increasing interest in native languages. It is now very common to see Africans on social media like twitter, engaging in discussions in their mother tongue.

Article from the editorial of AFRIC

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