Monday, August 3, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Chad

Last week we looked at the linguistic landscape of Zambia, a landlocked country in southern Africa. Over the next few weeks we're going to continue exploring the hundreds of fascinating languages spoken throughout the African continent, starting today with a look at the languages of Chad, which is located in Central Africa.

The Official Languages

Chad has two official languages: Arabic and French. As we've seen with many other African countries, the use of the French language dates back to the colonial era, when European empires took control of much of Africa. While Chad gained its independence from France in 1960, the French language still remains important, and is the second language of nearly 2 million Chadians.

However, the most dominant language in Chad is undoubtedly Arabic. While Modern Standard Arabic is the official language and the form of Arabic used in writing and formal speech, most Arabic speakers in Chad instead use a variety called Chadian Arabic. As with most other colloquial varieties of Arabic, Chadian Arabic is a spoken language that is used as an important lingua franca throughout the country and the region.

Other Languages

The inner crater of the Emi Koussi volcano,
the highest mountain in Chad.
Chad is also home to a huge array of other languages, primarily from the Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo, and Afro-Asiatic language families. In fact, Ethnologue lists over 130 living languages in Chad. We certainly don't have time to look at all of them, but we can mention a few of the country's most prominent languages.

Almost all of the most spoken indigenous languages in Chad belong to the Nilo-Saharan language family, including Dazaga, Maba, Kanembu, Bagirmi, and Ngambay. Dazaga is the language of the Daza ethnic group that resides in northern Chad and eastern Niger, which boasts over 300,000 native speakers. Ngambay, on the other hand, is the most widely spoken language of the Sara ethnic group. Its over 900,000 speakers can be found in southwestern Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria.

The country's most spoken Niger-Congo languages are Mundang and Tupuri, which both have over 100,000 native speakers. While there are only a handful of Niger-Congo languages that are used in Chad, there are over a dozen Afro-Asiatic languages. The Afro-Asiatic language family includes the Semitic languages such as Arabic, as well as the Chadic languages, the most prominent of which is the Hausa language used throughout West Africa.

Given its name, it should come as no surprise that many members of the Chadic language branch can be found in Chad. These include the Marba, Masana, and Musey languages, which are spoken by between 100,000 and 200,000 Chadians.

Next Monday we'll be back with another African country profile, this time focusing our lens on Zimbabwe.