Monday, February 16, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Sudan

While we looked at the linguistic diversity of Poland last week, this week we're heading south. In fact, we're shifting our focus all the way south from Europe to Sudan, the third largest country in Africa.

The Official Languages

Until 2005, the sole official language of Sudan was Arabic. As you may recall, there are many different varieties of Arabic due to its widespread use across a huge geographic area, many of which are not mutually intelligible. It should come as no surprise that the variety of Arabic used in Sudan is called Sudanese Arabic. It is somewhat similar to Egyptian Arabic, but contains many loanwords from Nilo-Saharan languages that are also spoken in the region.

Sudan's newest official language is English, which was included in the country's 2005 constitution. As a result, both Arabic and English are used for official government purposes as well as throughout all levels of education in Sudan.

The Nuba Mountains in Sudan
Other Languages

In addition to its two official languages, Sudan is home to over 70 other languages. These come from a wide variety of language families. Beja, also known as Bedawi, and Hausa are the two most spoken Afro-Asiatic language in Sudan. There are nearly a million speakers of Beja in the country's Red Sea area, while there are approximately 80,000 speakers of Hausa, an important language in Niger and Nigeria.

Other languages spoken in Sudan include Fula and Domari. Fula, also known as Fulani, is spoken by approximately 90,000 people in Sudan, as well as significant populations in Senegal, Cameroon, and Guinea. The number of Domari speakers is unknown, but you may recall that we mentioned this Indo-Aryan language used by the widespread Dom ethnic group in our country profile of Egypt.

Finally, we must mention a few important members of the Nilo-Saharan language family that are used in Sudan. The Fur language is spoken by around 500,000 people in western Sudan, while the Ama language is spoken by about 70,000 in the Nuba mountains. The Nubian languages are also spoken in northern Sudan, including the Nidob variety, which is used in the region near the Malha volcanic crater.