Monday, May 25, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Angola

This week we're going to take a brief look at the linguistic diversity of Angola, the seventh largest country in Africa. Angola is home to nearly 25 million people and is located in southern Africa, bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

The Official Language

Angola's one and only official language is Portuguese, which was first introduced to the area by Portuguese colonists in the late 15th century. Portuguese is the native language of between 30 and 40% of the country's population. It is also especially common for Portuguese to be the native language of young Angolans due to its high level of prestige.

While Portuguese is only the native language of about a third of the population, a high proportion of the population speaks it as a second language as well. In total, approximately 60% of Angolans speak Portuguese.

Miradouro da Lua, a beautiful area near Luanda, Angola.
Recognized National Languages

Soon after Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975, it decided to recognize six Bantu languages as the country's national languages: Umbundu, Kimbundu, Kikongo, Cokwe, Kwanyama, and Ganguela.

The most spoken language in Angola is Umbundu, which has approximately 6 million native speakers. It is followed by the closely related Kimbundu language which has 4 million native speakers, many of which live near Luanda, the country's capital.

Kikongo, a Bantu language also spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo, is primarily spoken in the northernmost areas of the country. It has nearly 2 million native speakers. Both Cokwe and Kwanyama, also known as Oshiwambo, are spoken by over 400,000 Angolans. Finally, there's Ganguela, also known as Nkangala, which is part of a language continuum that includes numerous dialects or varieties spoken throughout the country.

Other Languages

According to Ethnologue, Angola is home to 37 living languages, so there are several languages that we haven't mentioned yet. Most of these languages are Bantu languages such as Lunda, Lucazi, Mbangala, and Nyaneka, which all have between 150,000 and 400,000 native speakers. However, there are also a few non-Bantu languages spoken by very small numbers of Angolans, including the !Kung and Khwe languages, both known for their use of clicks.