Monday, August 15, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Botswana

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the languages spoken in Lesotho. Today, we'll be exploring the linguistic landscape of Botswana, another landlocked country in southern Africa.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Botswana is English, which is a remnant of colonial times when the country was under British rule. However, English is not the country's most spoken language. It is only spoken as a native language by about 30,000 people in Botswana, while another 600,000 use it as a second language.

Other Languages

As it turns out, the most spoken language in Botswana is Setswana, also known as Tswana. Setswana is a Bantu language that is indigenous to the region. Over 1.25 million people in Botswana speak Setswana as their mother tongue, while another 150,000 use it as a second language.

The Okavango Delta in Botswana.
According to the Ethnologue, over two dozen other languages are spoken in Botswana. When it comes to Botswana's ten most spoken indigenous languages, including Setswana, nine are Bantu languages. Kalanga boasts over 150,000 native speakers, Kgalagadi has about 40,000, and there are also about 20,000 Mbukushu speakers. There are also between 11,000 and 15,000 native speakers of Birwa, Nambya, Lozi, Zezuru, and Herero.

In terms of Botswana's top indigenous languages, only one isn't a Bantu language. That language is Hai||om, a member of the Khoe language family, which is known for its clicks. There are over 30,000 Hai||om native speakers in Botswana.

In addition to Hai||om, there are several other Khoe languages spoken in Botswana. Naro, Shua and Tsoa all have over 2,000 native speakers, while languages like ||Ani, ||Gana, |Gwi, Khwe, Kua and Khoekhoe have between 200 and 2,000.

There are also a few more Bantu languages left to mention. Ndebele boasts about 8,000 native speakers, while Kuhane is used by 6,000, and Tswapong, Yeyi and Gciriku are used by between 2,000 and 5,000 people in Botswana.

The last four languages we'll be mentioning today are Afrikaans, Ju|'hoan, !Xóõ, and ‡Hua. You've probably heard of Afrikaans before, since it's a Germanic language closely related to Dutch that is one of the official languages of South Africa. Botswana is home to about 6,000 native Afrikaans speakers. There are also about 5,000 native speakers of Ju|'hoan, a member of the !Kung family, and another 2,000 speakers of !Xóõ, which is known for its impressive phoneme inventory. Last but not least, there are about 30 native speakers of ‡Hua, a nearly extinct language that is possibly related to the !Kung languages.