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African Languages

It is estimated that there are between 2000 and 3000 languages spoken on the African continent, with possibly as many as 8000 dialects. African languages are divided into four major language families, as well as Austronesian.

Kiswahili (Swahili) is a major Bantu language spoken in East Africa. There are an estimated 50,000,000 speakers, which makes it the most widely spoken language on the African continent. Approximately 2,000,000 people use Swahili as a home language. Swahili is an official language of Tanzania, and is a national language in Kenya and Uganda. Swahili is also spoken in a number of other countries in the region, including the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, northern Mozambique and Somalia.

During Apartheid, South Africa had 2 official languages, English and Afrikaans. After Apartheid officially ended in 1994, the new constitution gave official status to 11 languages; English, Afrikaans, and 9 indigenous African languages. English is the only one of the official South African languages which is not indigenous.

Sesotho sa Leboa (Northern Sotho, or literally, "Sotho of the North") is mostly spoken in the North-Eastern parts of South Africa, generally North-East of Tshwane (Pretoria), in parts of Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga (see map). It is used as a home language by 4,208,980 (9.39 %) of South Africans [2001 census data]. Sesotho sa Leboa is one of the 11 official languages of South Africa.

Bade is spoken in the northern part of Yobe State, Nigeria, in an area fanning out east and south of Gashua, the current location of the court of the Emir of Bade (Bedde). It is one of seven languages of the Chadic family indigenous to Yobe State, the others being Bole, Duwai, Karekare, Maka, Ngamo, and Ngizim. Bade is a member of the West Branch of Chadic and is hence related to Hausa, the dominant language throughout northern Nigeria. Bade's closest linguistic relatives are, however, Ngizim, spoken to the south, around Potiskum, and Duwai, spoken east of Gashua. Bade is dialectally very diverse, to the extent that one could really speak of several "Bade languages". There are three main dialect varieties: Western Bade, the variety with the largest number of speakers, spoken over the western half to two-thirds of the Bade area, some of the larger Western Bade speaking towns being Amshi, Dagona, Tagali, and, Madamuwa; Southern Bade, spoken to the southeast of the Western area and south of Gashua, with some of the main Southern Bade-speaking towns being Katamma, Katangana, and Gorgoram; and Gashua Bade, spoken in the city of Gashua, by far the largest town in the Bade-speaking area, and villages fanning out around Gashua. There is, moreover, considerable variation within each of these three dialect varieties, with virtually every village having its distinct features. Particulary notable is the town of Karege, more or less at the boundary between the Western and Gashua areas, where the dialect has a unique mix of features from the two dialect varieties.


BOLE is a language spoken in Yobe and Gombe States of northeastern Nigeria. About 250-300,000 people speak BOLE, making it among the largest languages in the region, perhaps surpassed only by its linguistic cousin HAUSA, the dominant language of all northern Nigeria and the sub-Saharan language with the most native speakers, and KANURI, the historically dominant language of northeastern Nigeria over the past few centuries. BOLE is a member of the Chadic Language family, and belongs to the same main sub-branch of that family as Hausa, though linguistically Bole and Hausa are probably no more closely related than, say, English and French.

The source of the name "BOLE" is uncertain. This is not the term the people use for themselves or their language. One suggestion is that the term comes from the Bole phrase, "Bo le?", which in Bole could mean either "Why?" (literally, "Because-of what?") or "What language?" (literally, "Mouth-of what?")--the word bo can mean either 'because' or 'mouth' and le means 'what?'. It is not uncommon for a people or their language to get their "mainstream" name from a phrase that recurs in the language and that non-speakers hear and apply as an ethnic name without having any idea what it means. For example, Kanakuru is the widely used name for a group in northeastern Nigeria who call themselves "Dera". "Kanakuru" in Dera means, "Good morning"!


Duwai is spoken in Yobe State, Nigeria, in the area to the east and southeast of Gashua, the largest city in the northern part of Yobe State. It is one of seven languages of the Chadic family indigenous to Yobe State, the others being Bade, Bole, Karekare, Maka, Ngamo, and Ngizim. Duwai is a member of the West Branch of Chadic and is hence related to Hausa, the dominant language throughout northern Nigeria. Duwai's closest linguistic relatives are Bade, spoken to the west of Duwai in Bade (Bedde) Emirate, and Ngizim, well to the south, around Potiskum. Duwai is a geographical neighbor of Bade and has considerable linguistic interaction particularly with the Gashua dialect of Bade, but in terms of relatedness, the various dialects of Bade form a linguistic group with Ngizim, and Duwai forms its own branch of this linguistic subfamily.

Accurate census figures for the number of Duwai speakers are not available. The Ethnologue gives a figure of 11,386, which seems not unreasonable. The Duwai as an ethnolinguistic group are part of the Bade Emirate, whose headquarters is in Gashua and of which the traditional ruler is Mai Bade. Nearly all speakers of Duwai are Muslim. There are no major commercial or political centers where Duwai is the primary language. Some of the main Duwai-speaking towns are Gangawa, Rinakunu, and Cirawa. In the mid-1970's, the easternmost Duwai speaking town was Dadigar, but even at that time, Duwai was giving way to Kanuri and only the older generation still spoke Duwai to any extent.

Not much is known about dialect variation in Duwai. There are indications that at one time Duwai covered a much larger area than it does now and that there was considerable dialect variation (for example, data collected in Dadigar in 1974 shows significant differences from the Duwai of Gangawa, which is the variety documented on this site). However, the Duwai speaking area is shrinking and the language has been or is being replaced by Kanuri from the east, by Bade from the neighboring Gashua dialect, and, like all minority languages in northern Nigeria, by Hausa. The native name for the Duwai people is @vji (the symbol "@" = IPA "barred i"), but this is also the Duwai word for "Bade". The name Duwai (with initial glottalized "d"), which is accepted by Duwai speakers, provides a way to differentiate Duwai from Bade. The origin of this term is uncertain. It first appeared in Koelle's Polyglotta Africana (1854), which includes a Duwai wordlist. The language is widely known in Yobe State as Tafirifiri (apparently a term of Bade origin describing how the language sounds to speakers of Bade), but this term is considered derogatory by speakers of Duwai.

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