English is the official language of Nigeria, however, the country has an extremely diverse linguistic landscape with over 520 regional languages and dialects spoken all over the country.

Nigeria used to be a British colony until 1960, which is why English influence in this most populous country on the western coast of Africa is particularly strong. As with many other countries whose borders were drawn by European colonizers, Nigeria’s borders are considered to be artificial. Thus, many ethnic groups exist within its limits, with many of them having territories that cross several different countries. For this reason, many ethnic languages which are spoken in Nigeria are also expressed in neighboring countries such as Niger, Chad, Benin and Cameroon.

As aforementioned, over 520 languages are spoken in Nigeria today. Many of these languages are from the Afroasiatic language family, the Niger-Congo language family or the Nilo-Saharan language family. However, as a result of the British colonial rule, English is the official language of the country. English is used by the government for all official messages and communication purposes, although the dialect spoken is a distinct variant of English called Nigerian English. Nigerian English is also used in schools as the instruction medium. English is spoken by about 80 million Nigerians, particularly in urban centers of the country.

The regional languages of Nigeria most widely spoken include Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo. Hausa is one of the most prominent indigenous languages of Nigeria and is spoken by about 30 million people as a native language in West Africa, and an additional 20 million as a second language. Hausa is often regarded as the lingua franca of West Africa, as the Hausa ethnic group is one of the largest ethnic groups in the region. Hausa comes from the Afroasiatic language family, from the Chadic branch of languages. There are many dialects within Hausa, but only Dauranchi and Kananci are recognized as official dialects of Hausa. Hausa is traditionally written using the Arabic script, but due to the effects of globalization, it has recently started being written using the Latin script.

Yoruba is another prominent language in Nigeria used by the Yoruba people. It is spoken by about 19 million people in Nigeria as their native language, but over 30 million people in Nigeria and other countries speak Yoruba as their native language. Yoruba is of the Niger-Congo family, having drawn many loan words from the Arabic language, and has many different dialects depending on the region.

Igbo is another common regional language used in Nigeria, which comes from the Niger-Congo language family and has approximately 24 million native speakers, within and outside of Nigeria. Igbo has over 20 dialects, but Umuahia and Owerri are considered to be the official dialects.

Some of the indigenous languages of Nigeria are endangered, with some of them already extinct. Rapid urbanization and globalization are among the biggest factors contributing to people having to drop their indigenous languages in favor of English.

People with hearing imparities in Nigeria generally use Nigerian Sign Language as a form of communication. Nigerian Sign Language was developed from American Sign Language and is used by the vast majority of deaf people in the country, but there are people within Nigeria who also use Hausa Sign Language and Bura Sign Language.


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