Cultural Diversity in Africa


All the Cultures & Languages in Africa

All the Cultures and Languages in Africa

Africanity: The Cultural Diversity of Africa

Africa, the cradle of human civilization, with a population of 1.2 billion, or 16% of the world’s population, in 54 nations, is the most culturally diverse continent. It spreads over about 6% of Earth’s total surface area and 20% of the land area, yet, Africa is home to almost a third of the world languages. A dignified 2,000 distinct languages, spoken by less than a seventh of the world’s population. As an old continent, Africa’s unrivalled cultural diversity, and its contributions to world civilization, is a key to the eternal youth that draws us back to that place where the human race set off to discover our planet. By the same token, without culture and the relative freedom it implies, the stories of Africa would cease to be vibrant, for culture, in its novelty, embodies the credo, outlook, philosophy, arts, and institutions so dear to Africa. It may be divulged that today, Africa’s cultural diversity is much over mingled with European traits. And this is true, considering her history. But, her diversity, sometimes referred to as Ubuntu (I am, because you are), more proper Africanity – the quality or state of being African or of having African origins – is the fundamental pillar for the assembly of her social fabric. It has, and continues to, credibly contribute to the survival and revival of the identity of the untold cultures; some confined to as small a geographical precinct as a village. It then may come as a surprise to realize even in Africa a language is lost every three months, and, if ethnographers forecasts are bang on, that 50% of the world’s languages will be lost in the 21st century. This comes at a time when there’s renewed interest in preserving dying dialects.

The Roots of Human Language

About the Cultures & Languages in Africa

The purpose of this article is to give a simple knowledge of the cultural diversity in Africa as they are today. What we now call Africanity is a rare adjective that is derived from the unity of Africa: Arabity (North Africa) and Black Africa (Sub Saharan Africa). It is meant to give the reader an introduction to the sprightly essence of Africanity. It looks at all the 54 countries in Africa and gives simple narratives on the language composition of each, learning about the ethnicities, history and unique languages. Much of the narratives are a result of research by the author and meant to serve as appetisers for the reader and traveller to learn and discover more about Africa. Despite the fact that Africa is an increasingly attractive context for business organizations throughout the world, only a hand ful of studies have examined the impact of culture on business in this context. And although the African continent is made up of 54 nations, only 12 have been included in at least one of the middlebrow cross-cultural studies in recent years.

As we now know, the total number of languages spoken natively across Africa is 2,000, although this can be variously estimated depending on the delineation of language versus dialect, at between 1,250 and 2,100, and by some counts almost 3,000. Making the language and cultural mosaic of Africa an indispensable part of the global diversity. Just the same, the entire principality and association of the languages in Africa is small, all its languages falling into four large phyla or language linguistic groups: Niger-Congo (Niger-Kordofanian), Afroasiatic, Nilo-Saharan and Khoisan. “This four-way division is overly simplistic, and the true number of African language families likely surpasses twenty, including a number of isolates and sign languages”. In Sub-Saharan Africa, that includes West Africa, over 1,500 languages are spoken, most falling under Niger-Congo family. Many of the prominent languages spoken across Central, Eastern and Southern Africa belong to the Bantu language family, the largest subgroup of Niger-Congo. In North Africa, across the Arabic belt, the main language family is the Afro-Asiatic, which includes languages spoken in both the Middle East and Africa. Subgroups of Afroasiatic include Berber, Cushitic, Omotic, Chadic, Semitic and Egyptian. Berber languages such as Tamazight, Kabyle, and Tuareg are spoken in North Africa. Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken mainly across the Sahara to eastern Africa, in countries like Mali, Chad, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia. “The Khoisan languages are not one family, but rather are consisted of Kx’a, Tuu and Khoe-Kwadi families in and around the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, and isolates Hadza and Sandawe spoken in Tanzania.

African Language Family Distributions & Migration. Courtesy of ResearchGate
African Language Family Distributions & Migration. Courtesy of ResearchGate

Non-native languages also play a role in Africa, especially the European languages of the former colonizers, French, English and Portuguese, but also Afrikaans, an originally Germanic language which diverged through contact with southern African languages; and Malagasy, spoken in Madagascar, related to Austronesian dialects of Indonesia.


Dance in Cultural Expression

Music and dance expression are a salient and constitutive function of cultural expression across the planet. In an age of concentrated expression in assorted forms of art reflecting the native essence, dance in cultural expression in Africa could be said to be in its gilded age, as it receives an ever-growing interest and global attention. However, there is no single way to define music and dance in cultural expression. Finding an agreed upon definition of its uses and forms is rather challenging. Differences and variation of dances across Africa may lead to the perception that one culture is different from the immediate neighbour or as a variation that exists within and across groups on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, language, gender, sexual orientation, and social status. In general terms, the diversity of dances in Africa can be broadly conceived as all the ways in which people are different: Including both visible and invisible differences that exist between people both at individual and group level. Dance expression and linguistic diversity were common features of most African countries even before the arrival of European colonizers. Nevertheless, European colonization influenced the ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity of most African nations.

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  1. Cultural Diversity in Africa – All the Cultures and Languages in Africa
  2. Cultures & Languages in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, and Cameroon
  3. Cultures & Languages in Central Africa Republic, Chad, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, and Equatorial Guinea
  4. Cultures & Languages in Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau
  5. Cultures & Languages in Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, and Mauritania
  6. Cultures & Languages in Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe
  7. Cultures & Languages in Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, and Swaziland
  8. Cultures & Languages in Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe