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General stuff



These pages
were created
by Jouni Maho.


The distribution of African languages
click for full size image

There are anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 languages spoken in Africa. Most commonly these are divided into four major language groupings (cfr Greenberg 1966, Heine & Nurse 2000).

However, a simple four-way division betrays the fact that much of Africa's linguistic history as well as the relationships between languages and some language groupings are not yet fully understood. Much work on these issues still remain to be done.

There are several "non-African" languages spoken in Africa (e.g. Malagasy, English, French, etc.), as well as many pidgins/creoles and other "new" languages. Moreover, many (indigenously) African languages are yet to be satisfactorily classified.

The adjoining map depicts a slightly more skeptical view on the African language situation than that of the traditional Greenbergian view.

The links on this page (which follow the section with references to printed sources immediately below) have been grouped into the following categories:

These may change at any time.


Childs, George Tucker. 2004. An introduction to African linguistics. John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Greenberg, Joseph H. 1966. The languages of Africa. 2nd edition. Mouton & Co.

Heine, Bernd; Nurse, Derek. (Eds.) 2000. African languages: an introduction. Cambridge University Press.

Heine, Bernd; Nurse, Derek. (Eds.) 2004. Les langues africaines. Editions Karthala.

Heine, Bernd; Schadeberg, Thilo C.; Wolff, Ekkehard. (Eds.) 1981. Die Sprachen Afrikas, 6 Bde. Helmut Buske Verlag.

Maho, Jouni Filip. 2001. African languages country by country: a reference guide. 5th edition. Department of Oriental and African Languages, Göteborg University.

Maho, Jouni Filip. 2004. How many languages are there in Africa, really? In: Globalisation and African languages (ed. by Katrin Bromber & Birgit Smieja), p. 279-296. Mouton de Gruyter.

Mann, Michael; Dalby, David. (Eds.) 1987. A thesaurus of African languages. Hans Zell Publishers and K G Saur Verlag.

Mous, Maarten. 2003. Loss of linguistic diversity in Africa. In: Language death and language maintenance (ed. by Mark Janse & Sijmen Tol), p. 157-170. Amsterdam & John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Mutaka, Ngessimo M.; Tamanji, Pius Ngwa. 2000. An introduction to African linguistics. Lincom Europa.

Perrot, Jean. (Ed.) 1981. Les langues dans le monde ancien et moderne, v. 1: les languages de l'Afrique subsaharienne. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

Sebeok, Thomas A. (Ed.) 1971. Current trends in linguistics, v. 7: linguistics in sub-Saharan Africa. Mouton & Co.

Sommer, Gabi. 1992. A survey on language death in Africa. In: Language death: factual and theoretical explorations with special reference to East Africa (ed. by Matthias Brenzinger), p. 301-417. Mouton de Gruyter.

General resources back to top »

African languages, according to SIL's Ethnologue.

African languages, article at Wikipedia.

African languages, University of Wisconsin.

African languages: maps, at Mutur Zikin.

African languages and linguistics on the Internet - Africa south of the Sahara. Stanford University.

African language resources on the Internet, Columbia University Libraries.

African language technology (AfLaT).

Bisharat! - language, technology, and development initiative. Maintained by Don Osborn.

UNESCO's atlas of endangered languages: Africa.

UNESCO red book on endangered languages: Africa compiled by Bernd Heine & Matthias Brenzinger.

WEB-BALL = WEB Bibliography for African Languages and Linguistics, maintained by Guillaume Segerer, with help from Jouni Maho.

Webbook of African language resources. Michigan State University.

Yale Guide to resources in African languages and literature.

Words, dictionaries, terminologies back to top »

Your dictionary - prev. "Web of On-Line Dictionaries".

Pierre Alexandre, 1983
Sur quelques problèmes pratiques d'onomastique africaine: toponymie, anthroponymie, ethnonymie. Cahiers d'études africaines, v. 23, p. 175-188.

Edema Atibakwa Baboya, 2001
Terminologie européenne et terminologie africaine: éléments de comparaison (PDF). Cahiers du Rifal, v. 21, p. 32-38.

Roger M. Blench
The problem of Pan-African roots (PDF). Mallam Dendo, Cambridge.

Marcel Diki-Kidiri, 1996
Des lanques de données terminologiques en Afrique francophone (PDF). Cahiers du Rifal, v. 15, p. 116-120.

Chantal Enguehard, Chérif Mbodj, 2003
Flore: un site coopératif pour recueillir et diffuser les noms des plantes dans les langues africaines (PDF). Cahiers du Rifal, v. 23, p. 46-55.

Nazam Halaoui, 1991
La terminologie des langues africaines: esquisse d'une problématique (PDF). Meta, v. 36, p. 291-300.

André Jacquot, 1956
La transcription des toponyms africains (PDF).

Antoine Lipou, 1997
Dictionnaires multilingues généraux en langues africaines (PDF). Meta, v. 42, p. 264-272.

James Roberts, Keith L. Snider, 2006
SIL comparative African wordlists - SILCAWL (PDF). SIL electronic working paper SILEWP 2006-005.

Gilles-Maurice de Schryver, 2003
Web for/as corpus: a perspective for the African languages (PDF). Nordic journal of African studies, v. 11, p. 266-282.

Henry Tourneux, 1992
Noms de peuples et noms de langues d'Afrique noire dans le petit Larousse illustré 1992 (PDF). Politique africaine, n. 47, p. 153-161.

Pronunciation, phonetics, phonology, tones, orthographies back to top »

African fonts, maintained by Luc Devroye. School of Computer Science, McGill University.

UCLA Phonetics Lab Archive has many sound files (with accompanying wordlists) for several African languages.

Steven Bird, 1999
Strategies for representing tone in African writing systems (PDF). Written language and literacy, v. 2, p. 1-44.

C. Chanard
Systèmes alphabétiques des langues africaines d'après "Alphabets des langues africaines", Unesco-SIL 1993. LLACAN (Langage, Langues et Cultures d'Afrique Noire).

Bruce Connell, 2001
Downdrift, downstep and declination (PDF). Paper presented at TAPS (Typology of African Prosodic Systems), University of Bielefeld, May 2001.

Laura J. Downing, 2004
What African languages tell us about accent typology (PDF). ZAS (Zentrum für allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft) papers in linguistics, v. 37, p. 101-136.

Ursula Drolc
Vokalharmonie in afrikanischen Sprachen - Literaturliste. Institut für Afrikanistik, Universität zu Köln.

Larry M. Hyman
African languages and phonological theory (PDF). University of California at Berkeley.

André Jacquot, 1956
L'orthographe française et la transcription des langues vernaculaires (PDF).

André Jacquot, 1956
La transcription des toponyms africains (PDF).

Peter Ladefoged
Vowels and consonants. Sound files for several African languages. UCLA Phonetics Lab.

William R. Leben, 2006
Rethinking autosegmental phonology (PDF). From: Selected proceedings of the 35th annual conference on African linguistics. Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Kenneth S. Olson, John Hajek, 2001
The geographic and genetic distribution of the labial flap (PDF). SIL electronic working paper SILEWP 2001-002.

Conrad Taylor, 2000
Typesetting African languages.

Grammar, morphology, syntax back to top »

African Anaphora Project. Linguistics Department, Rutgers University.

Denis Creissels, 2005
A typology of subject marker and object marker systems in African languages (PDF). From: Studies in African linguistic typologies. Edited by F. Voeltz. John Benjamins Publ.

Bernd Heine, 1986
The rise of grammatical categories: cognition and language change in Africa (PDF). Hans Wolff memorial lecture series, n. 16. African Studies Program, Indiana University.

Neil Skinner, 1997
*'dyi/*'gyi, *ma' and *am in non-Khoisan African languages (PDF). From: L'homme et l'eau dans le bassin du lac Tchad. Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique dčOutre-Mer (ORSTOM).

Language, politics, education back to top »

Pierre Alexandre, 1961
Problémes linguistiques des états négro-africains à l'heure de l'independance. Cahiers d'études africaines, v. 2, p. 177-195.

Philip Baker, 1981
Provisional survey of major languages and language use in the independent states of sub-Saharan Africa / Inventaire provisoire des langues principales et de l'utilisation des langues dans les états indépendants de l'Afrique au sud du Sahara (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. ED-81/WS/112.

Thomas Bearth, 2000
Afrikanische Sprachen übers Internet lernen (PDF). Unijournal - die Zeitung der Universität Zürich, n. 5, p. 13+20.

Conrad Max Benedict Brann, 1981
Trilingualism in language planning for education in sub-Saharan Africa (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. ED-81/WS/116.

Birgit Brock-Utne, 2002
Language, democracy, and education in Africa (PDF). Discussion paper 15, from the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI) in Uppsala.

Herbert Chimhundu, 2002
Intergovernmental conference on language policies in Africa: final report (PDF). Unesco report. Web-version edited by Karsten Legère.

André Clas, Jean Baudot, 1984
Développement des langues africaines: de Yaoundé à Zanzibar (PDF). Meta, v. 29, p. 212-216.

David Dalby, 1985
The educational use of African languages in Sub-Saharan Africa: the state of the art (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. ED-85/WS/62.

Pathé Diagne, 1979
African languages of regional intercommunication (PDF) = Langues africaines d'intercommunications regionale (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. ED-78/WS/125.

Pathé Diagne, 1981
The Unesco Horizon 2000 project relating to the promotion of African languages: working paper (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. CC-81/CONF.603/4, CC-81/CONF.603/COL.5.

Marcel Diki-Kidiri, 2004
Multilinguisme et politiques linguistiques en Afrique (PDF). Colloque Développement Durable, Ouagadougou.

Marcel Diki-Kidiri, 2004
Les langues africaines sur la Toile (PDF). Cahiers du Rifal, v. 24, p. 46-48.

Marcel Diki-Kidiri, 2004
La recherche sur l'informatisation des langues africaines (PDF). Cahiers du Rifal, v. 24, p. 65.

Marcel Diki-Kidiri, Edema Atibakwa Baboya, 2003
Les langues africaines sur la toile (PDF). Cahiers du Rifal, v. 23, p. 5-32.

Karl Erland Gadelii, 2004
Annotated statistics on linguistic policies and practices in Africa (PDF). Unesco report.

Maurice Houïs, 1976
The problem of the choice of languages in Africa (PDF) = Le problème du choix des langues en Afrique (PDF) = El problema de elección de lenguas en Africa (PDF). Prospects / Perspectives / Perspectivas, v. 6, 3.

Lansana Keita, 1999
Africa and its linguistic problematic (PDF). Quest: an African journal of philosophy, v. 13, p. 27-36.

Jacques Leclerc
L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde: Afrique.

Roger Marcastel, 1973
African languages in education: paper prepared for the 6th meeting of national directors and chief technical advisers of the projects for the training of educational personnel, Paris, 10-22 September 1973 (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. EHT/3351/10.9.73.

Kahombo C. Mateene, 1971
The promotion of African languages as languages of instruction in Central Africa: a paper prepared for the meeting of experts for the promotion of African languages in eastern and central Africa as media of culture and life-long education, Dar es Salaam, 15-21 December 1971 (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. SHC-71/CONF.18/4.

John Mugane, 2006
Necrolinguistics: the linguistically stranded (PDF). From: Selected proceedings of the 35th annual conference on African linguistics. Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Adama Ouane, Christine Glanz, 2005
Mother tongue literacy in Sub-Saharan Africa: background paper for the "Education for all global monitoring report 2006: literacy for life" (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. 2006/ED/EFA/MRT/PI/75.

Rakissouiligri Mathieu Ouédraogo, 2000
Language planning and language policies in some selected West African countries (PDF) = Planification et politiques linguistiques dans certains pays sélectionnés d'Afrique de l'ouest (PDF). International Inst. for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA). Addis Ababa.

Joseph Poth, 1977
The role of teacher training institutions in the development of national languages into languages of instruction in Africa (PDF) = Le rôle des institutions de formation des maîtres dans la promotion des langues nationales comme langue d'enseignement en Afrique (PDF). UNESCO report, ref. ED-77/WS/27.

Joseph Poth, 1980
National languages and teacher training in Africa: a methodological guide for the use of teacher training institutes (PDF), n. 1. UNESCO educational studies and documents, new series, 32.

Joseph Poth, 1988
National languages and teacher training in Africa: a methodological guide for the use of teacher training institutes (PDF), n. 2. UNESCO educational studies and documents, new series, 47.

Joseph Poth, 1993
National languages and teacher training in Africa: a methodological guide (PDF), n. 3. UNESCO educational studies and documents, new series, 54.

Joseph Poth, 1997
Language planning in a plurilingual educational context: guidelines for language policy in schools (PDF) = L'aménagement linguistique en contexte éducatif plurilingue: schéma directeur pour une réforme linguistique en contexte scolaire (PDF) = La organización lingüística en contexto educativo plurilingüe: esquema rector para una reforma lingüística en contexto escolar (PDF). Centre International de Phonétique Appliquée. Mons (Belgique).

Joseph Poth, 1997
Teacher's guide to the use of African languages in bilingual primary education (PDF) = Fichier pédagogique pour l'utilisation des langues africaines en contexte scolaire bilingue (PDF). Centre International de Phonétique Appliquée. Mons (Belgique).

Kwesi Kwaa Prah, 2002
Going native: language of instruction for education, development and African emancipation. Keynote address presented to the Launch Workshop of Language of Instruction in Tanzania and South Africa (LOITASA), Morogoro, Tanzania: 22nd to 24th April 2002.

Kwesi Kwaa Prah, 2003
Language, neo-colonialism and the African development challenge. From: TRIcontinental (Havana, Cuba), no 150, 2002.

Zaline Makini Roy-Campbell, 2006
The state of African languages and the global language politics: empowering African languages in the era of globalization (PDF). From: Selected proceedings of the 36th annual conference on African linguistics. Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Sassongo Jacques Silué, 2003
The role of national languages in promoting democracy in Africa (PDF). From: Citizenship, democracy, and lifelong learning. UNESCO Inst. for Education.

Alfâ Ibrâhîm Sow, 1971
Meeting of experts for the promotion of African languages in eastern and central Africa as media of culture and life-long education, Dar es Salaam, 15-21 December 1971 (PDF) = Réunion d'experts sur la promotion des langues africaines en Afrique centrale et en Afrique orientale comme instruments de culture et d'éducation permanente, Dar es Salaam, 15-21 décembre 1971 (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. SHC-71/CONF.18/11.

UNESCO, 1953
The use of vernacular languages in education (PDF) = L'emploi des langues vernaculaires dans l'enseignement (PDF). Monographs on fundamental education, 8.

UNESCO, 1964
Languages and literacy: a paper presented at the regional conference on the planning and organisation of literacy programmes in Africa, Abidjan, 9-14 March 1964 (PDF) = Langues et alphabétisation: une communication présentée à la conférence régionale sur la planification et l'organisation des programmes d'alphabétisation en Afrique, Abidjan, 9-14 mars 1964 (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. UNESCO/MELIT/INF/2.

UNESCO, 1964
Study on the use of the mother tongue for literacy and the preparation of alphabets for unwritten languages (PDF) = Etude sur l'emploi de la langue maternelle pour l'alphabétisation et la préparation d'alphabets pour les langues non écrites (PDF). A brief prepared by the Dept. of Adult Education. UNESCO document, ref. UNESCO/MELIT/INF/1.

UNESCO, 1972
Final report of the meeting of experts for the promotion of African languages in eastern and central Africa as media of culture and life-long education, Dar es Salaam, 15-21 December 1971 (PDF) = Rapport final du réunion d'experts sur la promotion des langues africaines en Afrique centrale et en Afrique orientale comme instruments de culture et d'éducation permanente, Dar es-Salam, 15-21 décembre 1971 (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. SHC-71/CONF.18/13.

UNESCO, 1985
African languages as instructional media: a final report of the regional workshop on curriculum and methods in the use of African languages as instructional media, Monrovia, Liberia, 16-21 October 1983 (PDF) = L'utilisation des langues africaines dans l'enseignement: pratiques et méthodologies dans l'enseignement des langues africaines (rapport final) (PDF). Network of Educational Innovation for Development in Africa (NEIDA) & UNESCO Regional Office for Education in Africa, Dakar.

Ekkehard Wolff, 2000
Pre-school child multilingualism and its educational implications in the African context (PDF). PRAESA (Project for Alternative Education in South Africa) occasional papers, n. 4. University of Cape Town.

Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, 2006
The inventions of African identities and languages: the discursive and developmental implications (PDF). From: Selected proceedings of the 36th annual conference on African linguistics. Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Miscellaneous, general, unsorted back to top »

Pierre Alexandre, 1961
Note sur quelques problèmes d'ethnolinguistique. L'homme, v. 1 (1), p. 102-106.

Roger M. Blench
Language death in West Africa (PDF). Mallam Dendo, Cambridge.

Robert Chaudenson, 2004
La graphisation des langues africaines (PDF). Cahiers du Rifal, v. 24, p. 66-67.

Pius Hasha, 1974
African linguistics: London and Paris trends. Cahiers d'études africaines, v. 14, p. 753-755.

Stephen Huffman
World language phyla/family mapping.

Larry M. Hyman, 2003
Why describe African languages? (PDF). Keynote address at the World Congress of African Linguistics & Annual Conference of African Linguistics, Rutgers University, June 18, 2003.

Peter Limb
Book review: 'Publishing in African languages: challenges and prospects' by Philip G. Altbach & Damtew Teferra, 1999. H-Net book review, July 2000.

Abdulaziz Y. Lodhi, 1993
The language situation in Africa today (PDF). Nordic journal of African studies, v. 2 (1), p. 79-86.

Jouni Filip Maho
Pre-1920 literature on sub-Saharan languages and peoples (PDF). Draft bibliography.

Thaddeus Menang, 2001
Which language(s) for African literature: a reappraisal. Trans: Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften, n. 11.

Jacques Ngangala Balade Tongamba, 2001
Technologie de l'information et langues africaines: lieux des enjeux existentiels (PDF). Cahiers du Rifal, v. 22, p. 5-9.

Donald Z. Osborn, 2006
African languages and information and communication technologies: literacy, access, and the future (PDF). From: Selected proceedings of the 35th annual conference on African linguistics. Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Karen von Otterloo
Book review: 'African voices' edited by Vic Webb & E. Kembo-sure. SIL electronic book review SILEBR 2003-012.

Helma Pasch
Das Internet als Forschungsinstrument für die Afrikanistik. Afrikanistik Online, 2004.

Terri Scruggs, 1980
Notes on African linguistics (PDF). Work papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota session, n. 24, p. 142-169. (ED357615)

John E. Stark
Book review: 'African languages' edited by Bernd Heine & Derek Nurse, 2000. SIL electronic book review SILEBR 2004-002.

UNESCO, 1978
Répertoire des recherches sur les langues africaines en Afrique sub-saharienne: répertoire des personnes et institutions s'occupant de l'étude des langues africaines et de leur emploi dans l'éducation dans les états indépendants en Afrique au Sud du Sahara / Register of African language research in sub-Saharan Africa: a directory of individuals and institutions in independent sub-Saharan Africa, concerned with the study of African languages and/or their use in education (PDF). UNESCO document, ref. ED-78/WS/42.

Online communities, mailing lists, weblogs, etc. back to top »

A12n-collaboration - African languages & ICT technical working group, hosted by Bisharat.

AfLaT (African language technology) forum.

African languages - Yahoo group for African language reading and writing.

Bisharat's discussion boards on specific African languages & ICT.

Google in various African languages.

Sociolingo's Africa, a weblog.

Wikipedia in various African languages.

The Linguist List, their list of mailinglists, as well as their mailinglist archives
The H-Net discussion network
A long list of lists at Bisharat

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