Friday, March 6, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Uganda

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the languages of Sudan, and today we're back in Africa to look at the linguistic diversity of the nearby country of Uganda. Uganda is the second most populous landlocked country in the world, and is home to approximately 40 languages that we're going to explore a bit today.

The Official Languages

For most of Uganda's history since its independence in 1962, it had one official language. It should come as no surprise that the language was English, since it had been under British rule for nearly 100 years. 

However, in 2005, Swahili was added as the second official language of Uganda. While in many cases the addition of another official language is seen as a positive, inclusive idea, in this case it has been rather divisive. Swahili was selected since it is an important lingua franca in northern Uganda, but this was not always well-received by speakers of Bantu languages who live in the southern regions of the country. There are many complex political and historical reasons for this, but we're not going to get into them here.

In any case, Uganda is home to nearly 40 other fascinating languages, so we're going to look at as many as we can today.

Mount Kadam, Uganda
The Major Language

The Luganda language, also known as Ganda, is the most spoken language in Uganda. This Bantu language is the most spoken language in the country, and is used by the Baganda ethnic group. It is also widely used throughout the southern part of the country as a lingua franca, and is used in some primary schools throughout Buganda, a subnational kingdom within Uganda.

After Uganda gained its independence, Luganda was considered as a candidate to become an indigenous official language of the country due to its use throughout the country. However, some native speakers were opposed to the idea since they felt that the use of the language outside of the Buganda kingdom could lead to grammatical errors and mispronunciations that could ruin the language, and therefore preferred the use of English. 

Other Languages

The other languages spoken in Uganda generally belong to the Bantu and Nilotic language families. Two prominent Bantu languages are Chiga and Nyankore. Chiga, also known as Kiga, is spoken by over 1.5 million Ugandans, while the closely related Nyankore language is spoken by over 2.3 million people in southwestern Uganda.

A few other languages with over 1 million native speakers in Uganda include varieties known as Acholi and Lango that are dialects of the Southern Luo language, and Teso, which are all members of the Nilotic language family. There are also over 1 million speakers of the Bantu languages known as Masaaba and Soga.