How many African languages?

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Africa has around 2,000 languages, with some of the most common being Hausa, Swahili, and Yoruba. Most fall into one of four language families: Afro-Asiatic, Khoisan, Niger-Congo, and Nilo-Saharan. The Afro-Asiatic family covers languages spoken in North, East, and Southwest Africa, while the Khoisan languages are tonal and use click sounds. The Niger-Congo family comprises the largest number of languages spoken in Africa, while the Nilo-Saharan languages are mainly confined to central Africa. Many African languages are dying out, but there is growing awareness of their value.

Determining the number of languages ​​spoken in Africa can be complex, especially since it can be difficult to determine whether two languages ​​are distinct or simply dialects of the same language. However, many agree that the number hovers around 2,000. Some of the most common include Hausa, Swahili and Yoruba. Others including Dahalo, Laal and Shabo are rare and spoken by only a few hundred people. While many of Africa’s languages ​​are unrelated to each other, most fall into one of four language families: Afro-Asiatic, Khoisan, Niger-Congo, and Nilo-Saharan.

The Afro-Asiatic language family generally covers the languages ​​spoken in North, East and Southwest Africa. Nearly 400 languages ​​spoken by over 250 million people are represented by this family. Some examples include Aramaic, Amharic, Arabic, Hausa, Hebrew, and Tigrinya. Also included in this group are the now-extinct languages ​​of Akkadian and Ancient Egyptian.

The Khoisan languages, or Khoesaan, are generally spoken in the southwestern part of Africa, namely Angola, Botswana and Namibia. What is probably most unique about the 50 or so Khoisan languages ​​is that they are tonal and use click sounds. The largest Khoisan language is Nama, spoken in Namibia. Others in this family include Haillom (Namibia) and Sandawe (Tanzania). These languages ​​as a whole are generally believed to be endangered.

The Niger-Congo language family comprises the largest number of languages ​​spoken in Africa. This family has nearly 400 languages ​​and is spoken by more than 500 million people. In the 1950s, Joseph Greenberg, an African linguist and anthropologist known for his work on the classification and typology of languages, proposed that the Niger-Kordofan language family join the Niger-Congo language family. Linguists commonly use Niger-Congo to refer to the entire family, including Kordofanian as a subfamily. Some of the more common languages ​​that fall under this family include Igbo (Nigeria), Swahili (Tanzania), Yoruba (Nigeria), and Zulu (South Africa).

About 100 languages ​​fall under the Nilo-Saharan language family, and well over 10 million Africans speak a language within this family. The Nilo-Saharan languages ​​are mainly confined to central Africa and are spoken in more than 15 countries, including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Some major Nilo-Saharan languages ​​include Dinka (Sudan), Kanuri (Nigeria), and Luo or Dholuo (Kenya).

These languages ​​are considered the official ones of the African Union (AU). However, many of them are dying out to more widely used languages, such as Arabic and Swahili. Recently, however, African countries are becoming more aware of the value of their linguistic heritage.

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