The branch of Chadic languages which belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family is made up of about 195 languages. The name of the branch derives from the name of the area where languages are spoken – Lake Chad. Nevertheless, it is not the only area where Chadic languages are in use. Speakers of these languages can be found south of the Sahara desert in an area stretching from the south of Niger, across northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and Chad.
It is interesting to know that exactly the Chadic branch was the first to separate from the common ancestor to become the first distinct branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. In other words, Chadic languages form the most variegated branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family.
Generally, Chadic languages are divided into Western, Eastern, Central, and Masa groups. There are some significant differences between these groups.
It is worth to mention that the most described language of the Chadic branch is Hausa. It is the official language in Nigeria and enjoys the status of lingua franca in a huge area of West Africa. Hausa is also considered to be the most demographically significant language of the branch. The population of Hausa speakers is estimated at about 24 million speakers. The biggest part of Hausa speakers, about 19 million, reside in Nigeria, 5 more million can be found in Niger. Also, there are about 1 million speakers in Cameroon, Togo, and Benin.
Most of the languages belonging to the Chadic branch are spoken by small numbers of people and have no written form. Hausa is the only language of the branch with more than 500,000 speakers. It is worth to mention that too many Chadic languages are endangered or on the brink of extinction. The most important Chadic languages with the population of 200,000 and more speakers include Hausa, Ngas, Kamwe, Mwaghavul, Bura-Pabir, Bade, Gera, Goemai, and Karekare.
When it comes to dialects of Chadic languages, it is worth to say that dialect variations are common but has not been studied in many languages. Such languages as Hausa and Bade have four major dialects. Bura-Pabir has three dialects, and Ngas, Mwaghavul have 2 dialects each.
Despite the fact that most Chadic languages have common Chadic roots, it is worth to mention that they are also influenced by different languages. For example, many Chadic languages have borrowed some words from Arabic, as well as some non-Afro-Asiatic languages. Also, many borrowings came to Chadic languages due to the colonization of Africa. Such borrowings include words from French, Portuguese and English.
When it comes to the written form of Chadic languages, the major language of the branch – Hausa – today is based on the Latin script. Nevertheless, starting from the 16th century, the written form of Hausa was based on the Arabic script. Even today it is used by some Hausa speakers. Other languages of the Chadic branch are based on the Latin script. Nevertheless, it is worth to mention that a great number of Chadic languages have not yet been reduced to writing.