Monday, September 7, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Guinea

Last week we explored the linguistic landscape of Somalia, and today we're going to look at the languages of another African country, Guinea.

First though, we'd like to point out that we're talking about the West African country of Guinea, not the neighboring country of Guinea-Bissau (where they speak Portuguese) or the nearby countries of Equatorial Guinea (where Spanish is spoken) and Ghana (where English is used). It's also important not to confuse Guinea with Papua New Guinea, which is located across the world in Oceania, or Guyana and French Guiana, which can both be found in South America. Now that it's clear which country we're talking about, let's learn a bit about Guinea!

Conakry Grande Mosque
The Official Language

The sole official language of Guinea is French, a colonial language which has remained important in the country since its independence from France in 1958. French is used by the government and other official institutions, as well as in business and education. However, it is most often spoken as a second language instead of as a native language.

The National Languages

The government of Guinea has also recognized six indigenous languages as national languages: Fula, Maninka, Susu, Kissi, Kpelle, and Toma. All six of these languages belong to the Niger-Congo language family, and are used by significant percentages of the population.

Fula, an important language used throughout West Africa, is the native language of approximately 2.5 million Guineans. It is primarily spoken in the central parts of the country. There's also Maninka, a group of closely related language varieties and dialects spoken by the Malinké people. There are around 3 million speakers of Maninka in Guinea.

Susu is primarily spoken in the areas surrounding Conakry, the capital of Guinea, and is the native language of around 900,000 Guineans. There are also approximately 500,000 native speakers of the Kpelle language, which is also used in Liberia. Finally, there are about 300,000 Kissi speakers and over 200,000 speakers of the Toma language.

Other Languages

According to the Ethnologue, Guinea is the home of 37 living languages. Most of these languages belong to the Niger-Congo language family, and are used by very small numbers of Guineans. A few of these languages include Zialo, Lele, and Jahanka, which are all Niger-Congo languages that have between 20,000 and 30,000 native speakers in Guinea.