Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Togo

A couple of weeks ago in our last country profile, we looked at the languages of Serbia, a small European country. This week we're moving south to Togo, a small country nestled between Ghana and Benin in West Africa.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Togo is French, which was introduced to the area during the colonial period. As with many other African countries that eventually gained their independence from France, French remains an important language throughout the country, especially when it comes to government and commerce.

However, French is not the native language of many Togolese people. In fact, there are only a few thousand native French speakers in Togo, but approximately a third of the population uses it as a second language. It is also the most common written language in the country, since many of Togo's indigenous languages are rarely used for writing.

A postcard of the Palais de Justice in Lomé, Togo's capital, in 1928.
The National Languages

Since 1975, Togo has also had two national languages: Ewe and Kabiye. These two languages are the most spoken indigenous languages in Togo, and both belong to the Niger-Congo language family. There are over 800,000 native speakers of Ewe in Togo, primarily in the south, while the nearly 1 million Kabiye native speakers live primarily in the north.

Other Languages

Togo is also home to about 40 other languages, most of which belong to the Niger-Congo language family. There is not much linguistic information on most of these languages, but we do know approximately how many speakers they have.

The most spoken indigenous languages in Togo include Gen, Tem, Aja, Ntcham, Moba, Nawdm, Lama, Gourmanchéma and Ifè. All of these Niger-Congo languages have somewhere between 100,000 and 350,000 native speakers in Togo. On the other end of the spectrum, the least spoken indigenous languages are Adangbe, Biali, Mbelime, Wudu and Kusaal, which all have between 1,000 and 4,000 native speakers.