Monday, July 27, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Zambia

One month ago we took a look at the languages of Malawi, a tiny country located in southern Africa. Today we're turning our linguistic microscope to Zambia, a landlocked country which it borders to the east.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Zambia is English, which is due to its British colonial history. During its time under British rule starting in the late 1800s, the area now known as Zambia was called Northern Rhodesia, while neighboring Zimbabwe was called Southern Rhodesia. In 1964, Northern Rhodesia gained its independence and was renamed the Republic of Zambia, which pays tribute to the Zambezi River that flows through the country.

While English is the primary language used in business and education, it is not the native language of most Zambians. In fact, only about 100,000 Zambians speak English as a native language. However, the language retains its prestige and importance since nearly 2 million Zambians speaks it as a second language.

Victoria Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world,
located on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Indigenous Languages

Zambia is also home to over 40 indigenous languages. All of the country's most important indigenous languages are Bantu languages, including Bemba, Chichewa, Tonga, Lozi, Lunda, Kaonde, and Luvale, which all boast large numbers of speakers and are used by local media.

The two most spoken indigenous languages in Zambia are Bemba and Chichewa. Bemba is an important lingua franca with nearly 4 million native speakers which is often used in education and for other official purposes. Chichewa, also known as Chewa or Nyanja, has over 2 million native speakers in Zambia. It is also used in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, where it is one of two official languages.

Another notable Bantu language is Tonga, which has over 1.3 million native speakers and is also spoken in neighboring Zimbabwe. The Lozi language is spoken by approximately 600,000 members of the Lozi ethnic group in southwestern Zambia, while Lunda is used by around 225,000 Zambians and is also spoken in Angola. Finally, there's Kaonde, which is also spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has around 200,000 native speakers, and Luvale, which boasts 170,000 speakers. There are dozens of other fascinating Zambian languages with smaller numbers of speakers, but unfortunately we just don't have time for them all.