Monday, June 8, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Burkina Faso

A couple of weeks ago we looked at the languages of Angola, and today we're back in Africa once again to learn more about Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in West Africa that is home to approximately 17 million people.

The Official Language

French is the sole official language of Burkina Faso. It has been used in the country since the 1890s, when it fell under French colonial rule. Although Burkina Faso gained independence from France in 1960, French has continued to be the country's primary language.

While the French language may dominate the country's linguistic landscape, Burkina Faso is also the home of many other languages. According to Ethnologue, there are 70 living languages that are used in Burkina Faso, including several prominent languages used by large percentages of the population.

Other Languages

The majority of the dozens of indigenous languages used in Burkina Faso belong to the Niger-Congo language family. This includes the country's most spoken indigenous languages: Mòoré, Jula, Fulfulde, Gourmanchéma, Northern Dagara, and Bissa.

Monument des Martyrs in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Burkina Faso's most important indigenous language is Mòoré, also known as Mossi. It is the language of the Mossi people, the country's largest ethnic group. There are approximately 5 million native speakers of Mòoré in Burkina Faso, primarily in the areas surrounding the capital, Ouagadougou.

Another important language is Jula, which is used as a trade language in the western part of the country. About 3 million people in the country speak Jula, including 1 million native speakers. It is followed in number of speakers by Fulfulde, also known as Fula or Fulani, which is spoken throughout West Africa.

Finally, there's Gourmanchéma, Northern Dagara, and Bissa. Gourmanchéma is spoken by approximately 600,000 people in eastern Burkina Faso. Northern Dagara, also known as Dagaare, has nearly 400,000 speakers in Burkina Faso, and is closely related to Southern Dagara, which is used in nearby Ghana. Bissa is also spoken in Ghana, as well as being the language of around 350,000 people in southern Burkina Faso.

There are dozens of other languages that are used in Burkina Faso, though we don't have enough time to cover all of them today. Most have them have very small numbers of speakers, but do continue to thrive in the villages and towns where they are spoken.