Throughout the long multilingual history of the African continent, African languages have been subject to phenomena like language contact, language expansion, language shift, and language death. A case in point is the Bantu expansion, the process of Bantu-speaking peoples expanding over most of the Sub-Saharan part of Africa, thereby displacing Khoi-San speaking peoples in much of East-Africa. Another example is the Islamic expansion in the 7th century AD, marking the start of a period of profound Arabic influence in North Africa.
With so many totally unrelated families represented over wide areas, the image of the African linguistic situation is that of a veritable “Babel”, although it is true that a certain number of languages categorized as distinct are in fact mutually intelligible dialects to some degree – eg. the Nguni languages of Southern Africa or the Manding languages of West Africa.
Trade languages are another age-old phenomenon in the African linguistic landscape. Cultural and linguistic innovations spread along trade routes and languages of peoples dominant in trade developed into languages of wider communication (linguae francae). Of particular importance in this respect are Jula (western West Africa), Fulfulde (West Africa, mainly across the Sahel), Hausa (eastern West Africa), Lingala (Congo), Swahili (East Africa) and Arabic (North Africa and the Horn of Africa).
After gaining independence, many African countries, in the search for national unity, selected one language (generally the former colonial language) to be used in government and education. In recent years, African countries have become increasingly aware of the importance of linguistic diversity. Language policies that are being developed nowadays are mostly aimed at multilingualism.
Official languages in many African countries there are several official languages. Not shown on this map, English is official in Sudan.
Besides the colonial languages English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch (Afrikaans) only a few languages are official at the national level. These are:
- Arabic, in Algeria, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, and Tunisia
- Swahili in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda
- Amharic in Ethiopia – Somali in Somalia
- Tigrinya in Eritrea (technically a working language)
- Kinyarwanda in Rwanda and the closely related Kirundi in Burundi- Sango in the CAR
- Yoruba in Nigeria and the Republic of Benin
- Igbo or Ibo in Nigeria and Cameroon
- Swazi in Swaziland and South Africa
- Malagasy in Madagascar
- Seychellois Creole in the Seychelles
South Africa, the only multilingual country with widespread official status for its indigenous languages, has Afrikaans, English, IsiNdebele, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, SiSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga
African Translation Services
Corporate Translations provide professional African translation services to the companies all over the UK and worldwide. Based in Essex near London, we are a long-established professional UK business language translation agency. We have a large database of fully trained translators with expertise in many industries to meet your needs. Our expertise covers business, legal, financial, technical, medical, media and website translations to name just a few.
African Typesetting Services
Our typesetting service covers brochures, business cards, stationery and packaging labels. We have a database of hundreds of fonts and follow your English design layout as much as the script allows