Language Classification

Name ID 329

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 1

Afroasiatic family

The Afroasiatic family is considered a distinct language grouping. Its various languages are spoken primarily in northern Africa and in Ethiopia and Somalia, as well as outside the African continent. The branch called Chadic is spoken in northern Nigeria and adjacent territories. Hausa is the most widely spoken of the Chadic languages and, after Swahili the second most widely spoken language of sub-Saharan Africa. Between 10 and 15 million people are native Hausa speakers, and many others use it as a second language.

Extract ID: 473

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 2

Nilo-Saharan family

Languages in the Nilo-Saharan family are spoken in and just south of the Sahara, from Mali in the west to the Nile basin, and southward into Uganda, Kenya, and northern Tanzania.

The Songhai branch of Nilo-Saharan is spoken by the 500,000 or so people who live along the great bend of the Niger from Mali to northwestern Nigeria. It consists of Songhai, Dyerma, and Dendi, all closely related and possibly mutually intelligible.

The Saharan branch, primarily Kanuri and Teda, is spoken by more than 2.5 million people who live from northeastern Nigeria north through Niger and Chad to the Libyan border.

Maban, Fur, and Koman are three small branches; each comprises one or only a few languages.

The remaining branch of the Nilo-Saharan family is Chari-Nile.

Several Chari-Nile languages, most spoken by only a small number of people, form the Central Sudanic group of languages, which are spoken by people scattered from the vicinity of Lake Chad to the Nile basin.

An Eastern Sudanic group primarily includes the Nilotic languages: Dinka, which is spoken by 1 to 2 million people; Nuer and Shilluk in southern Sudan; Achooli and Lwo in Uganda; Nandi and Suk in Kenya; and Maasai in northern Tanzania. Each of the Eastern Sudanic languages is spoken by a few hundred thousand people.

Two small isolated languages, Berta and Kunama, complete the Chari-Nile branch.

Extract ID: 474

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 3

Niger-Kordofanian

The third African language family is the Niger-Kordofanian, the languages of which are spoken in nearly all the areas from Senegal to Kenya, and south to South Africa. Niger-Kordofanian is divided into two subfamilies.

The first, Kordofanian, is small and encompasses five branches: Koalib, Teqali, Talodi, Tumtum, and Katla. All are spoken in southern Sudan. None, however, are well known, nor are they spoken by any sizable number of people.

The Niger-Congo subfamily, on the other hand, includes a majority of all the languages of Africa. The Niger-Congo subfamily comprises seven or perhaps eight branches.

Extract ID: 475

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 3.1

Mande branch

The Mande branch was apparently the first to diverge from the parent Niger-Congo stock, possibly 6,000 years ago. Mande languages are spoken in a large area of West Africa, from Senegal and Mali to Liberia and Ivory Coast, but they are not spoken along the Atlantic coast, except in Liberia, where about 40,000 people speak Vai. Isolated Mande languages are spoken in eastern Ivory Coast and western Ghana, in Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), and in Benin and Nigeria. Mandekan is the most widely spoken and most important Mande language. It is better known by the names of its major dialects--Bambara, Maninka or Malinke, and Dyula--and several million people use it. Other important Mande languages are Mende in Sierra Leone and Kpelle in Liberia.

Extract ID: 476

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 3.2

West Atlantic

A second branch of Niger-Congo is West Atlantic, which may include two relatively distinct branches of the subfamily--northern and southern; the latter is also called Mel. The major Mel language is Temne, which is spoken by perhaps as many as 500,000 people in Sierra Leone. The northern West Atlantic languages of the Niger-Congo subfamily include Wolof, which is spoken by about 700,000 people and is the major language of Senegal and its capital city Dakar. Much more widely spoken, however, is Fula (also known as Fulani, Fulfulde, Peuhl), which is used by perhaps 4 to 5 million people. A major Fula concentration is found in northern Guinea. Some 2,400 km (1,500 mi) to the east, in northeastern Nigeria and Cameroon, is another large concentration of Fula speakers. Between these extremes are other permanent Fula settlements, and a great many more Fula speakers are seminomadic cattle herdsmen. Several West Atlantic languages are spoken by small groups of people along or near the Atlantic coast from Senegal to Liberia.

Extract ID: 477

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 3.3

Kru

The Kru branch of the Niger-Congo subfamily consists of about 30 languages that are spoken in southeastern Liberia and southwestern Ivory Coast. Probably the most widely used is the language known as Krahn in Liberia and as Guere in Ivory Coast; about 350,000 people use this language. Better known are Bassa, Kru, and Grebo in Liberia, and Bete in Ivory Coast.

Extract ID: 478

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 3.4

Gur

The Gur, or Burkinabe (Voltaic), branch of Niger-Congo is spoken in interior parts of West Africa, from eastern Mali and northern Ivory Coast through northern Benin. The most widely used Gur language, spoken by about 2 million people, is Moore in Burkina Faso.

Extract ID: 479

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 3.5

Kwa

Languages of the Kwa branch of Niger-Congo are spoken along the south-facing Atlantic coast from central Ivory Coast to Cameroon, and generally for a few hundred miles inland. Some major Kwa languages are Baule in Ivory Coast; Akan, including Fante, Twi, and Ashanti, in Ghana; Ewe in Ghana, and Togo along with Fon in Benin (the two perhaps constitute a single language); Yoruba, Igbo, and Efik in Nigeria. Yoruba and Igbo are the most widely spoken of these; between 6 and 10 million people speak each.

Extract ID: 480

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 3.6

Adamawa-Eastern

Languages of the Adamawa-Eastern branch are spoken from northeastern Nigeria east to Sudan, north almost to the Sahara, and south to extreme northern Zaire. In most of this area, these languages are interspersed with Chari-Nile languages of the Nilo-Saharan family; in the extreme west, Chadic languages of the Afroasiatic family are also spoken. Most of the Adamawa-Eastern languages are spoken by a relatively small number of people, and the status of many as distinct languages has not been determined. Zande is spoken by some 700,000 people in northern Zaire and adjacent parts of Sudan and the Central African Empire. Sango, a derivative of Ngbandi in northern Zaire, has become a widespread language of trade and government in the Central African Empire and, to some extent, in Chad.

Extract ID: 481

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 3.7

Benue-Congo

The Benue-Congo branch of Niger-Congo includes a number of groups of languages in northern and eastern Nigeria, most not widely spoken, and almost all languages of the great southern projection of Africa from Nigeria to northern Kenya to Capetown. The latter are the well-known Bantu languages. Apart from Bantu, the most widely used Benue-Congo language is Tiv in Nigeria; it is spoken by perhaps 1.4 million people. The Bantu languages were long thought to be an independent language family, partly because of the vast area in which they are spoken, the large number of languages that can be considered Bantu, and the large number of their speakers. More than one-third of the most widely used languages in Africa are Bantu languages. In terms of linguistic relationships, however, the Bantu languages are only an enormously overgrown subgroup within the Benue-Congo branch.

Most Bantu language names, as used by their own speakers, consist of a prefix and a stem. What is widely known as 'Swahili', for example, is properly KiSwahili; in written references, the stem -Swahili is capitalized, since non-Africans commonly use the stem alone. According to this convention, the following Bantu languages, each spoken by a million or more people, may be distinguished:

KiKongo and LiNgala (Zaire);

Umbundu (Angola);

IsiZulu and IsiXhosa, which are largely mutually intelligible (South Africa);

SeSotho, SePedi, Setswana, which are largely mutually intelligible (Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa); ChiShona (Zimbabwe); ChiBemba (Zambia and Zaire); ChiNyanja (Malawi); ShiTswa (Mozambique); KinyaRwanda and KiRundi, which are mutually intelligible (Burundi and Rwanda); LuGanda (Uganda); GiKikuyu (Kenya); KiSwahili (Tanzania, Kenya, and, to some extent, Uganda and Zaire). Of these languages, KiSwahili is the most widely spoken; however, for a vast majority of its 20 to 30 million speakers, Swahili is a second language, although they may speak it fluently.

Extract ID: 482

See also

CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 4

Khoisan

The fourth and smallest language family of Africa is the Khoisan. Most Khoisan languages are spoken by the so-called Bushmen and Hottentots of southern Africa. These peoples include a few cattle-raising groups such as the Nama, totaling perhaps 50,000 speakers, and hunting and gathering groups in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana and Namibia. Many of these are bands of fewer than a hundred speakers of distinct languages. Also included in the Khoisan language family are two languages in northern Tanzania: Sandawe, which is spoken by perhaps 25,000 people, and Hatza, which is spoken by only a few hundred people. The study of language relationships reveals the dramatic and pathetic absorption, dispersion, and isolation of peoples such as most of the Khoisan speakers. Many of the Pygmy groups found in Zaire and Cameroon are thought to be Khoisan peoples who have adopted their neighbors' Niger-Congo languages.

Extract ID: 483

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CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 0

Four main language families - groups of languages presumably descended . . .

Four main language families - groups of languages presumably descended from distinct ancestral languages - are recognized in Africa: Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Kordofanian, and Khoisan.

Extract ID: 472
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