Monday, April 27, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Mozambique

In recent weeks we've looked at the languages of countries in northern and western Africa, namely Morocco and Ghana. Today we're moving on to southeastern Africa to the coastal country of Mozambique.

The Official Language

Mozambique has one official language, and that language is Portuguese. Between 1498 and 1975, the area that is now Mozambique was known as Portuguese Mozambique, which was an important Portuguese trading post. When Mozambique gained its independence from Portugal in 1975, it kept Portuguese as its official language, undoubtedly due to its long-term use throughout the country.

Portuguese is the native language of approximately 50% of the population, and is especially important in the country's largest cities. However, several other languages are spoken throughout Mozambique, albeit in much smaller numbers.

Ponta do Ouro, a beautiful cape in southern Mozambique.
Bantu Languages

While Portuguese may be the most important language in Mozambique, there are approximately 40 other languages spoken throughout the country. The vast majority of these indigenous languages belong to the Bantu language family.

The most spoken indigenous language in Mozambique is Makhuwa, the language of the Makua people, which boasts over 3 million native speakers. Another prominent Bantu language is Tsonga, which has over 1.7 million native speakers in Mozambique. It is also spoken in the nearby countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland.

The Lomwe, Sena, and Tswa languages all have over 1 million native speakers, while the Ronga language has over 700,000 and the Nyanja language has nearly 600,000 speakers. Nyanja is also known by the name Chewa, and is an official language of Malawi. Finally, two other notable Bantu languages are Swahili and Zulu, which are used by small groups in Mozambique.