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Lodhi, Abdulaziz Y.. The Language Situation in Africa Today
1993, Nordic Journal of African Studies. 2 (1): 79–86.
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Added by: Sara Peppe and Björn Freter
Abstract: The African continent and the nearby islands constitute one-fourth of the land surface of the earth. Approximately 460 million people live in Africa which is about 11% of the world's population. Of the estimated 6,200 languages and dialects in the world, 2,582 languages and 1,382 dialects are found in Africa. Some languages in Africa are spoken by more than 20 or 30 million people, e.g. Hausa-Fulani, Oromo/Galla and Swahili. Arabic is the most widely spread language on the continent and it is the mothertongue of more than 110 million Africans, whereas in Asia there are only half as many native speakers of Arabic. More than 50 languages are spoken by more than one million speakers each; and a couple of hundred languages are spoken by small groups of a few thousand, or a few hundred people. These small languages are disappearing at a fast rate. Altogether only 146 vernaculars are used as "operative languages" in different situations, and 82 of them are classified by linguists as "highest priority languages", i.e. they are used as "local languages" in different contexts by various authorities, aid organisations and non- governmental organisations (NGOs) in their projects and campaigns. Of the latter, 41 languages are widely used as "lingua franca" for inter-ethnic, regional and/or international communication. All African languages compete with metropolitan/colonial languages, as well as with pidgin and creoles. However, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has recommended 50 languages to be supported along with Arabic and Swahili as the only native African working languages. The lingua francas in Africa are of two types: Type A is spread by Africans, e.g. Amharic, Hausa, Swahili and Wolof; while Type B is spread through foreign influence, e.g. Lingala and Swahili during the colonial period. Most lingua francas have both Type A and B features, and the common denominator for them all is that they have been, and many of them are today, languages which were used by soldiers and warrior groups and African conquerors, languages which were later employed by European colonialists in their African armies.

Comment: This article provides an outlook on the languages of Africa, highlighting that the African continent is multi-lingual since there is a huge number of languages and dialects. Plus, the paper clarifies that together with the autochthonous languages, colonialism introduced European languages, increasing the number of languages used. The importance of this article is that it elucidates the impact of the acquis of languages in Africa on politics, education and development. This is linked with the issue of African languages in African philosophy too.

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