African languages

For the purposes of this wiki resource, "African languages" are understood to include the languages indigenous to the continent, long-established languages from other regions that are mother tongues of large populations in Africa (such as Arabic, Malagasy, and Afrikaans), and African creoles.

The European languages of wider communication (ELWCs) that are used officially in many countries of Africa (English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish) are not considered African languages in this sense, or for the purposes of this localisation resource.

Lists of African languages

This wiki organises pages on African languages in two categories:

  • Major languages, a list of 93 languages most widely used in terms of numbers of speakers. The list was modified from one used by David Dwyer in a compilation of resources on African languages (1987; rev. 1994; rev. and put online in 1999)
  • More languages, pages on other African languages

The wiki also has pages featuring other lists of African languages:


Ethnologue? counts 2138 living languages? in Africa, of which "Institutional: 194, Developing?: 542, Vigorous: 1,026, In Trouble: 245, Dying: 131" (there do not appear to be any continent-level lists for any of these categories).

Categorising African languages by role & extent of use


For its purposes, ACALAN groups languages in Africa as follows (per information on its website, accessed 9 Nov 2015; comments in italics added here):

  • Widely spoken cross-border languages (these evidently include 41 "vehicular cross-border languages")
  • Limited cross-border languages
    • Limited symmetric cross-border languages (similar populations on both sides of a border)
    • Limited asymmetric cross-border languages (more on one side of a border than the other)
  • Widely spoken non-cross-border languages
  • Limited non-cross-border languages
  • Endangered languages
  • Imported (or partner) languages (these evidently include the ELWCs)

Dar es Salaam, 1979

The Subregional Seminar on National Languages and Teacher Training held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1979 proposed a "five-tier categorisation of African languages in relation to development as follows:

Mapping languages of Africa

Various maps and collections of maps showing areas in which African languages are spoken:

Also a project:

References & links

< Regional language? | Language terms & topics | Community language >