Monday, December 28, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Libya

Last week we explored the linguistic makeup of Eritrea, and today we're going to look at the languages of Libya. Located in North Africa, Libya is one of the 20 largest countries in the world by area, and is also the fourth largest country in Africa.

The Official Language

As is true of many other countries in the region, the sole official language of Libya is Arabic, specifically Modern Standard Arabic. However, when it comes to spoken Arabic, the vast majority of Libyans speak Libyan Arabic, a variety of the language that is also used in music, television, and poetry. In fact, Libya is home to about 4 million native speakers of Libyan Arabic, which equals nearly two-thirds of the country's population.

Other Languages

The ruins of the ancient Greek city of Cyrene,
which is located in northeastern Libya.
While Libya is not as linguistically diverse as some nearby countries, it is still home to several other interesting languages. Five of them are Berber languages: Nafusi, Ghadamès, Awjila, Tamahaq, and Siwi. The most spoken of these languages is Nafusi, which is the native language of over 180,000 people who primarily reside in the Nafusa Mountains.

The next most prominent Berber languages are Tamahaq and Ghadamès. Tamahaq is natively spoken by about 17,000 Libyans in western Libya, while Ghadamès has about 10,000 native speakers. They are followed by Awjila, which is severely endangered and is thought to only have about 3,000 native speakers left. Finally, there's Siwi, which is primarily spoken in Egypt near the border with Libya, though some speakers also reside within Libya itself.

In addition to these five Berber languages, Libya is also home to a large number of speakers of Domari, an Indo-Aryan language. Its 33,000 native speakers in Libya are members of the Dom ethnic group, which can be found throughout the Middle East and North Africa.