Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Languages with only one speaker

28 April 2013

According to “World’s 18 most endangered spoken languages,” there were 18 languages listed in the UNESCO Atlas of Endangered Languages with only one speaker in April 2010. (Thanks to LoL for the link to this article.)

According to the Atlas, there are now 19, but in many cases, the Ethnologue has different information. The languages listed in the Atlas with only one speaker are (by continent):


1. Bikya (byb) – the Ethnologue says there are no speakers

2. Bishuo (bwh) – the Ethnologue says there are no speakers


3. Pazeh (uun) – the Ethnologue says there are no speakers

North America

4. Patwin (pwi)

5. Tolowa (tol)

6. Wintu-Nomlaki, or Wintu (wnw) – the Ethnologue says there are no known native speakers

Oceanian, including Indonesia

7. Dampelas (dms)

8. Lae, or Aribwatsa (laz) – the Ethnologue says there are no speakers

9. Laua (luf) – the Ethnologue says there are no speakers

10. Volow (mlv) – the Ethnologue lists this and Dagmel as dialects, each with one speaker

11. Yarawi, or Suena (sue) – the Ethnologue says there are 3,600 speakers

South America (other than Brazil)

12. Chaná – it appears to not be listed in the Ethnologue (gqn appears to be different); (qs1 – Linguist List code)

13. Pémono, or Mapoyo-Yabarana (pev)

14. Taushiro (trr)

15. Tinigua (tit) – the Ethnologue says there are two speakers

16. Yaghan, or Yagán (yag)


17. Apiaká (api)

18. Diahói, or Parintintín (pah)

19. Kaixána, or Kawishana – it appears to not be listed in the Ethnologue; (qsw – Linguist List code)

Dissertation on Ndengeleko, a low-prestige language

23 April 2013

Last month Eva-Marie Ström published her doctoral dissertation titled “The Ndengeleko Language of Tanzania.”

Covering everything from the Ndengeleko people, an attitudinal survey, phonology and grammar, the dissertation is the first description of Ndengeleko (ndg).

Ström’s estimate of the number of speakers is 72,000, down from the 2000 estimate cited by the Ethnologue of 110,000. Due to factors such as the low-prestige status of Ndengleko and lack of economic benefits that speaking the language brings, Ström believes the language to be in danger of disappearing in a few generations.

See also “Endangered African language explored” for a summary of the language and her work.

Rushing to learn English, Zimbabweans forgetting their tongues

30 May 2012

Some of the languages spoken in Zimbabwe and their populations are:

But as children, particularly those in urban areas, strive to learn English and have their attention on iPhones and video games, they are forgetting their native tongues.

In “Zimbabwe: Killing Our Languages Slowly,” Sekai Nzenza laments about the situation even while recognizing the importance of communicating in English. She recalls sitting around the fire, listening to stories about her people. She also recounts that her schoolbook had some of those stories, but also had stories that taught the children to be embarrassed of their language and culture.

Speaking in a mother tongue speaks to the heart

26 May 2012

There are about 400 languages in Nigeria, including the official language (English) and the national languages Hausa (hau), Igbo (ibo) and Yoruba (yor), each with at least 20 million speakers.

Yet even such widely spoken tongues face pressure. Take Beatrice Ejiogu, whose first language is English because her Igbo parents adopted English and sent her to South Africa for schooling. She has returned to Nigeria for university but cannot communicate with her grandparents. As reported in “Using language as instrument of national identity,” her situation is common among the youth of today in Nigeria.

According to Ukegbu Kazi, a secondary school principal, parents should always speak to their children in their native tongues to preserve their linguistic and cultural heritage.

The importance of doing so is summarized in a quote in the article from former South African President Nelson Mandela, who evidently once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

Fifth Festival of Indigenous African Language Films

11 November 2011

According to “Summit Resolve To Showcase Indigenous Language Films,” FIAF 2011 has just ended, and topics included using film as a medium to stress African values and indigenous languages.

Cumpulsory Ijaw in Bayelsa Schools

15 September 2011

As the coastline of West Africa turns south, it runs along the border of Bayelsa, a state in Nigeria. As in the rest of Nigeria, the official language is English; however, Ijaw (Ijoid family) languages are widely spoken in Bayelsa by the Ijaw people.

According to “Ijaw language to be made compulsory in Bayelsa’s schools,” in a move to protect Ijaw against the erosion by Western culture, the State House of Assembly passed a resolution making Ijaw learning mandatory in schools. As the State House of Assembly is apparently the only legislative body in the state, the majority vote makes the resolution law.

According to the Ethnologue, there are 10 Ijoid languages with 1.75 million speakers:

  • Biseni (ije) – 4,800 speakers (1977)
  • Defaka (afn) – 200 speakers (2001)
  • Ibani (iby) – 60,000 speakers (1989)
  • Izon (ijc) – 1.1 million speakers (1989 to 1991)
  • Kalabari (ijn) – 258,000 speakers (1989)
  • Kirike (okr) – 248,000 speakers (1995)
  • Nkoroo (nkx) – 4,550 speakers (1989)
  • Okodia (okd) – 3,600 speakers (1977)
  • Oruma (orr) – 5,000 speakers (1995)
  • Southeast Ijo (ijs) – 71,500 speakers (1977)

Of these, Defaka is the most endangered at only 200 speakers (according to a report a decade ago), and the Wikipedia article reports all children grow up speaking Nkoroo. While Izon, Kalaari and Kiriki each have more than 200K speakers, all of the Ijoid languages have only a small population.

According to “Bayelsa Makes Ijaw Language Compulsory,” the resolution includes language for a campaign to “encourage the speaking of the Ijaw native languages in homes,” so hopefully all of the Ijoid languages will receive support.

For a glossary of perhaps more than 1000 Ijaw words, see The Ijaw Dictionary Online.

Spelling unification movement in Africa

10 May 2011

In Italian, the “ch” in “che” and “chi” stands for the /k/ sound. In Spanish, “ch” is used for the “ch” English sound. In French, “ch” is used for the “sh” English sound. All of these languages use the Latin alphabet, but the orthographies, or writing systems, differ.

How about if the orthographies of English, French, Italian and Spanish were unified so all letters and letter combinations were pronounced consistently in each language? It would be much easier to read and learn all four languages.

When creating a unified orthography, it would be necessary to consider sounds unique to each language. For example, “th” could stand for the sound as in “thick” and “dh” for the sound as in “this.” The combinations “th” and “dh” are not used in French, Italian or Spanish, so there would be no conflict. The combination “gl,” however, has a different pronunciation in Italian than English, French and Spanish. Perhaps an acceptable solution would be for “gl” to remain as in English, and for “ly” to be used for the Italian sound currently spelled as “gl.”

According to “Presenting the new orthographies” on the Next website, this sort of “orthography harmonization” for Igbo (ibo), Ijo (family), Hausa (hau) and Yoruba (yor) has just been completed after about six months of work.

This work was performed by the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization and the Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society. CASAS has worked on similar projects in the past as part of their “Africa-wide Harmonization and Standardization of African Languages Project,” and the next such project will focus on Nigerian Fulfulde (ful) and other languages in Nigeria.

With the unified orthography completed, dissemination must be carried out, including providing new textbooks to educators to ensure the system takes hold.

The unified orthography is provided in four volumes published by CASAS, numbers 240 to 243.

Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba as well as Nigerian Fulfulde each have millions of speakers, but the family of Ijo languages range from Okodia (okd) with a 1977 estimate of 3600 and Nkoroo (nkx) with a 1989 estimate of 4550 to Izon (ijc) with about one million speakers.

Menik strategies for maintaining language

7 May 2011

Located in West Africa, Senegal is home to 39 languages according to the Ethnologue. English speakers who recall the book “Roots” or Sinéad O’Connor‘s songs might recognize the language Mandinka (mnk), and the language Wolof (wol) might be familiar to some as well. Otherwise, French is the only Senegalese language likely familiar to most English speakers.

Among the many offerings at the upcoming 42nd Annual Conference on African Linguistics is a poster session on Menik or Bedik (tnr). According to the abstract “Menik: an endangered language between two big languages,” the Menik people live among two other languages: the macrolanguage Peul or Fula (ful), which probably refers to Pulaar (fuc), and Malinké (noted as Mandinka above).

The abstract notes two levels of language use of the Menik people:

  • That of Peul and Malinké alongside Menik
  • That of French for classrooms and government
The Menik have adopted three strategies to maintain their language:
  • Obliging/encouraging young speakers to use Menik in the village
  • The use of Menik in sacred festivals
  • The threat of expulsion from the community
ACAL 2011 will be held June 10 to 12, 2011, in Maryland, US, near Washington, DC.
A poster session is a venue such as a room where presenters display research materials and are generally present to discuss their work with people walking through the venue.

Post on Tsoa

6 May 2011

Last month, Languages, Hell Yeah! had a short post on Tsoa (hio), a language spoken in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Read more at “Endangered Language: Tsoa.”

Note also the related language Kua (tyu), which had only 820 speakers as of 2004.