Monday, January 26, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Tanzania

A couple of weeks ago we took a look at the languages of Kenya, a country in eastern Africa. Today we're shifting our focus to the linguistic diversity of Tanzania, another African country which borders Kenya to the south.

The Official Languages

Tanzania has two official languages. In fact, they are the same two languages as the official languages in Kenya: English and Swahili. Swahili, a Bantu language, is spoken by approximately 15 million people in Tanzania due to its widespread use as a lingua franca. English, on the other hand, became an official language during Tanzania's colonial era.

In the present day, English is generally used in secondary education and universities as well as in the courts and the technology industry. However, Swahili is preferred for things such as everyday conversation, politics, and primary education.

A Tingatinga painting, which is a type of painting
that developed in Tanzania in the late 20th century.
Other Languages

Despite having only two official languages, Tanzania is actually home to over 120 other languages. As we saw when we recently looked at Kenya's languages, most of these languages belong to the Niger-Congo and Nilo-Saharan languages. We don't have time to look at all of these languages today, but we will mention a few of Tanzania's most spoken languages. 

Most of the Niger-Congo languages spoken in Tanzania belong to the Bantu language family. A few of the most spoken Bantu languages in Tanzania include Sukuma, spoken by approximately 5.4 million people, and the Gogo and Haya languages, which are both used by over 1 million speakers. The Makonde language is also important in Tanzania. It is spoken by nearly 1 million members of the Makonde ethnic group that resides in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique.

In terms of Nilo-Saharan languages, the Datooga language boasts many speakers. Over 87,000 people living in the Great Rift Valley speak Datooga. The Maasai language is also spoken by around 450,000 members of the Maasai ethnic group in Tanzania, plus many more native speakers in southern Kenya.