Languages of Tanzania – Overview, Language Families and More

Languages of Tanzania – Overview, Language Families and More

Tanzania is multilingual, with 126 languages spoken in the country according to Ethnologue. However, none of the languages of Tanzania is solely spoken natively by a large plurality or majority of the country’s citizens. The two most commonly spoken dialect in the country is Swahili (Tanzania’s official language) and English (inherited from the colonial rule era). While both serve as Tanzania’s working languages, Swahili is dominant.

Overview of Language of Tanzania

Of the 126 spoken languages of Tanzania, 18 are still developing, eight are in the process of dying, 40 are currently endangered, two are institutional, and 58 are commonly used. Three languages also recently became extinct.

The most commonly spoken local languages of Tanzania can be divided into two language categories: Nilo-Saharan (or the Nilotic branch) and Niger-Congo (or the Bantu branch). The Nilotic and Bantu populations respectively speak these languages.

The Hadzabe
The Hadzabe

The Sandawe and Hadza hunter-gatherers speak languages that contain click consonants. These languages of Tanzania have temporarily been categorized within the Khoisan class (however, Hadza language may be a language isolate).

Languages of Tanzania that belong to the Indo-European class are spoken by British and Hindustani residents, and languages belonging to the Afro-Asiatic class are spoken by the minority Semitic and Cushitic ethnic groups.

Tanzania has many different ethnic groups, and each generally speaks their mother tongue amongst themselves. When different populations engage, Swahili and English are spoken in varying degrees of fluency.

The official national linguistic policy of 1984 states that English is primarily used in secondary education institutions, technology, higher courts, and universities. The policy also stated that Swahili belongs to adult and primary education institutions and the social and political sphere.

In 2015, the Tanzanian government announced that English as an academic language would be discontinued to overhaul the Tanzanian school system.

Additionally, several sign language variations are used in Tanzania.

Categories of Languages of Tanzania

Major Languages

The major languages of Tanzania are:

Nilotic

Nilo-Saharan
  • Maasai (682,000 – 2016)
  • Luo (185,000 – 2009)
  • Sambaa (660,000 – 2001)
  • Datooga
  • Kisankasa
  • Ngasa
  • Ogiek
  • Zinza

Bantu

The Nyamwezi tribe
The Nyamwezi tribe
Niger-Congo
  • Bena (592,000 – 2009)
  • Digo (116,000 – 2009)
  • Gogo (1,080,000 – 2009)
  • Haya (1,940,000 – 2016)
  • Hehe (1,210,000 – 2016)
  • Luguru (404,000 – 2009)
  • Makonde (1,470,000 – 2016)
  • Nyamwezi (1,470,000 – 2016)
  • Rangi (410,000 – 2007)
  • Safwa (322,000 – 2009)
  • Sukuma (8,130,000 – 2016)
  • Yao (630,000 – 2016)
  • Bemba
  • Chaga
  • Gweno
  • Iramba
  • Kilindi
  • Kerewe
  • Ngoni
  • Nyakyusa
  • Nyambo
  • Nyamwezi
  • Nyaturu
  • Nyika
  • Pare
  • Sonjo
  • Swahili
  • Tongwe
  • Turu
  • Viduna
  • Zanaki

Minor Languages of Tanzania

The less commonly spoken languages of Tanzania are:

Afro-Asiatic

Cushitic

  •       Gorowa
  •       Alagwa
  •       Iraqw
  •       Burunge

Semitic

  •       Arabic

Indo-European

Indo-Iranian

  •       Kutchi
  •       Gujarati
  •       Hindustani

Germanic

  •       German
  •       English

Romance

  •       Portuguese
  •       French

Extinct Languages of Tanzania

  •       Asa

For more articles related to Tanzania languages click here!


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