There are about 2,000 languages spoken in Africa. Generally, these languages belong to one of six major linguistic families. They are Afroasiatic family, Nilo-Saharan family, Niger-Congo family, Khoe family, Austronesian family and Indo-European family. Also, there are some additional smaller families.
There are also some minor languages, sign languages and language isolates in Africa. There are just a couple of African languages whistled to communicate over long distances. There are also some major African languages with a population of speakers estimated by tens of millions of people. They are such individual languages as Berber, Arabic, Igbo, Swahili, Hausa, Amharic, and Yoruba. There are also numerous languages used for inter-ethnic communication.
Main Language Families
The biggest part of African languages belongs to one of four major families: Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo, and Khoisan.
There are about 375 Afroasiatic languages spoken by approximately 300 million people across North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Southwest Asia. The Afroasiatic family includes such subfamilies as Semitic, Cushitic, Berber, and Chadic. It is worth to mention that the Semitic branch includes some languages that are spoken outside of Africa. The most widely spoken languages of the Afroasiatic family include Arabic, Amharic, Somali, Oromo, Tamazight, and Hausa.
Nilo-Saharan family is considered to be the most controversial one and includes more than a hundred languages spoken in the areas from southern Egypt to northern Tanzania and into Nigeria and DR Congo. There are also some languages spoken nearby the Niger River. The most important languages of this family include Kanuri, Songhay, Nubian, Luo, Dinka, and Maasai.
The Niger-Congo family of languages is considered to be the largest group of Africa or even the largest group in the world. It is important to mention that Bantu languages, a group of about 500 languages belonging to the Bantoid subgroup of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family, a greater geographic area than the rest of the family put together. Such languages as Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, and Shona belong to Niger-Congo family. The most widely spoken language of this family by a number of speakers is Swahili.
The Khoisan language family is the smallest of the language families of Africa. It consists about 30 languages spoken by about 300,000 – 400,000 people. Mainly, Khoisan languages can be found in Namibia and Botswana. There are also two geographic outliers: Sandawe and Hadza of Tanzania. Khoisan languages include Sandawe, Nama, Shua, Tsoa, and others.
Austronesian and Indo-European Families
A handful of African languages belongs to the Indo-European and Austronesian language families.These are languages concentrated or originating outside of the African continent. The best representatives of such languages are the Malagasy language belonging to the Austronesian language family and spoken on Madagascar, and Afrikaans belonging to Indo-European language family. It is interesting to know that Afrikaans is considered to be the only Indo-European language developed in Africa from the colonial era. Other Indo-European languages spoken in Africa are English, French, and Portuguese. It is important to note that since the colonial era, these languages still have an official status in many countries, as well as they are widely spoken in the continent.
There are also some creole languages that appeared in Africa due to its colonial past and its multilingualism. The most notable creole languages used in Africa are Seychellois Creole spoken in the Seychelles and Mauritian Creole spoken in Mauritius. Both two of them are based on the French language.