South Africa

South Africa is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world with 11 official languages. These languages are identified as official by the Constitution, and include: Zulu, English, Afrikaans, Swati, Northern Sotho, Venda, Tswana, Ndebele, Xhosa, Sotho and Tsonga. The most widely spoken native language in South Africa is Zulu, which belongs to the Niger-Congo language family, while English is the principal language of the government and media. There has also been a broader language policy happening in South Africa with the aim of achieving for Zulu the institutional and academic status equal to that of English.

22.7% of South Africa’s population speaks Zulu as their first language with 11.6 million speakers. English is widely used and understood by a large percentage of the population, especially among the urban areas of the country. However, only 9.6% of the population consider it as their native language, which translates to a little under 4.9 million speakers.

The second most spoken native language in South Africa is Xhosa, with 16% of the population who claim it as their first language, or 8.15 million speakers. Next are Afrikaans at 13.5% or 6.85 million, Northern Sotho at 9.1%, Tswana at 8%, Sotho at 7.6%, Tsonga at 4.5%, Swazi at 2.5%, and Venda and Ndebele at 2.4% and 2.1%, respectively. Sepedi and Setswana are another two languages which are spoken by nearly 9 million speakers combined, or 4.6 and 4.07 million, respectively. Most Afrikaans speakers, 2.8 million of them, live in the Western Cape, while Joburg harbors the most English speakers, 1.6 million of them.

South African government has made great attempts to include all cultures and their languages into the constitution, which is why there are very few minority languages that are spoken within the country that are not recognized as official.

Some of the indigenous minority languages which can be heard in South Africa include Northern Ndebele, Fangalo, Lobedu and Phuthi. Other minority languages used by immigrant communities include Italian, German, French, Dutch, Hindi, Greek, Tamil and Urdu.


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