Monday, October 6, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of Nigeria

Today we're looking at the linguistic diversity of Nigeria, the seventh most populous country in the world. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa by population due to its over 170 million people. The country is made up of hundreds of different ethnic groups, so it should come as no surprise that it is also home to hundreds of distinct languages.

The Official Language

The official language of Nigeria is English. It was chosen as the official language as a way of culturally and linguistically uniting the country following its independence from British rule in 1960. While English is often used in urban areas, the use of other indigenous languages is much more popular in rural areas. However, English is primarily used for business and educational purposes throughout the country.

Zuma Rock, a monolith near Abuja, the Nigeria capital.
The Major Languages

The three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria are the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. Each has its own language of the same name. 

Hausa, the most spoken indigenous language in Nigeria, is a member of the Chadic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. It is a popular lingua franca used in West Africa, and is also often associated with Islam due to its use by Muslims throughout the region.

The Yoruba and Igbo languages, on the other hand, are members of the Niger-Congo language family. These three indigenous languages are all spoken by large numbers of Nigerians, particularly those living in rural areas.

Other Languages

Over 500 languages are spoken in Nigeria, so there's no way for us to mention them all. However, they can primarily be divided into two groups: Afro-Asiatic languages such as Hausa, and Niger-Congo languages like Yoruba and Igbo.

The Fula, Ibibio, and Edo languages are three important Niger-Congo languages used in Nigeria. Varieties of Fula, also known as Fulani, are spoken in Senegal, Nigeria, Guinea, Mali, and Niger. Ibibio is primarily spoken in the Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom, while Edo is spoken in the western Edo State.

Another popular language in Nigeria is Kanuri, which belongs to neither of these language families. Instead, it belongs to the Nilo-Saharan language family. It is spoken by approximately 4 million people in various African countries.

The ethnic groups represented by the aforementioned languages comprise the vast majority of the Nigerian population, though many other fascinating languages are spoken in the country. One such example is Cen Tuum, also known as Jalaa, a language of unknown linguistic origins. Sadly, it has very few remaining speakers and is nearing extinction.