Monday, August 10, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Zimbabwe

After a brief break from our normal language posts last Friday to announce our new translation company, we're back with a new country profile! As I mentioned last week in our look at Chad, this month we're going to be spending quite a bit of time looking at the incredibly diverse linguistic makeup of various African countries. Today is no exception as we're focusing on Zimbabwe, which has an impressive 16 official languages!

The Official Languages

As is true of many other African countries, the most important language in Zimbabwe is English, which remains from the colonial era. While all 16 of Zimbabwe's official languages are officially used in government and education, English maintains linguistic dominance due to its important use as a lingua franca, especially when it comes to business and education. In fact, most English speakers in Zimbabwe use it as a second language, and speak one of the other 15 official languages as their mother tongue.

Zimbabwe has been in the news lately due to the killing of
Cecil, a famous lion that lived in Hwange National Park.
(This is a photograph of another majestic lion.)
In terms of native languages, the top spot in Zimbabwe goes to Shona, a Bantu language. Shona is the native language of nearly 11 million Zimbabweans, which is the vast majority of the country's population. There are also approximately 1.5 million native speakers of Ndbele, another Bantu language, in Zimbabwe. When it comes to daily life in Zimbabwe, English, Shona, and Ndbele are the three most important languages, as they are all regularly used in television and radio broadcasts.

Of the 13 remaining official languages, 11 more are Bantu languages: Ndau, Kalanga, Chewa, Tonga, Nambya, Venda, Tswana, Chibarwe, Shangani, Sotho, and Xhosa. Of these languages, Ndau and Kalanga are the most prominent, with over 700,000 native speakers each. Several of the languages are also spoken by significant populations in neighboring countries, such as Chewa, an official language of Malawi, and Xhosa, which is spoken by about a fifth of the population of South Africa.

The two final languages listed in Zimbabwe's constitution are "Koisan", which is thought to refer to a dialect of Tshwa that belongs to the Khoe language family, and "sign language". Various sign languages are used by deaf communities throughout the country, but since the constitution doesn't clarify which one is official, it was likely included in order to promote the rights of deaf citizens, which seems like a great idea to us!

Other Languages

While most of the languages used in Zimbabwe are included in its list of official languages, there are a couple more that we can briefly mention: Lozi and Manyika. There are approximately 800,000 native speakers of Manyika in Zimbabwe, which might cause you to wonder why it's not included in the official languages. Our guess is that it's because it is closely related to Shona, and is considered by many to be a dialect of the language.

There are also around 70,000 speakers of Lozi, yet another Bantu language. Lozi is the language of the Lozi ethnic group, and is most often used in nearby Zambia.