I'm looking for a source that lists languages and gives the number of L1 speakers in Africa, but I've had no luck so far. Any recommendations?

Note, for languages such as Arabic which have many L1 speakers inside and outside Africa, I'm interested in just the number in Africa.

1 Answer 1


You can get such information from Ethnologue. I don't know of e.g. a document that lists all languages of Africa along with L1 population, but you can piece together such a list (tediously, unfortunately) from the Ethnologue info. Also, you either need to subscribe, or spend forever doing this 4 pages at a time (since free access is a thing of the past). Another source is Glottolog, and it's possible with a bit of programming to construct a list of languages from their (publicly available) data – but there aren't any population statistics.

As for a 'top 100' list, the following ought to cover Africa:

Hausa; Arabic, Algerian ; Yoruba; Arabic, Moroccan ; Amharic; Igbo; Arabic, Sudanese ; Somali; Malagasy; Arabic, Tunisian ; Rwanda; Zulu; Oromo, West-Central; Fulfulde, Nigerian; Akan; Shona; Xhosa; Afrikaans; Luba-Kasai; Rundi; Nyanja; Gikuyu; Tigrigna; Sukuma; Swahili; Moore; Oromo, Qotu; Arabic, Libyan ; Kituba; Sotho, Southern; Umbundu; Tswana; Sotho, Northern; Oromo, Borana-Arsi-Guji; Luyia (not really a single language); Tachelhit; Tamazight, Central Atlas; Kanuri, Central; Luo; Kongo; Wolof; Tsonga; Kabyle; Ganda; Mbundu, Loanda; Pulaar; Fuuta Jalon; Lomwe; Bambara; Malagasy, Southern; Jula; Hassaniyya; Makhuwa; Ewe; Kalenjin; Kamba; Maninka, Kankan; Tiv; Zarma; Bemba; Baoule; Tumbuka; Tarifit; Sidamo; Swati; Nyankore; Yao; Gusii; Afar; Luba-Shaba; Ndebele; Kongo, San Salvador; Ibibio; Fon-Gbe; Chaouia; Chiga; Soga; Meru; Gogo; Mende; Makonde; Gamo-Gofa-Dawro; Wolaytta; Teso; Themne; Haya; Mandinka; Fulfulde, Maasina; Makhuwa-Meetto; Soninke; Munukutuba; Bedawi; Zande; Tonga; Sena; Serer-Sine; Nyakyusa-Ngonde; Crioulo, Upper Guinea; Dan; Malagasy, Tsimehety; Chokwe; Songe; Anaang; Ebira; Edo; Arabic, Chadian ; Lango; Maninka, Western; Nupe; Nyamwezi; Hadiyya; Susu; Alur; Nandi; Ndau

This includes some divisions such as national versions of Arabic, where Moroccan vs. Algerian might be unified (this being the classic language / dialect problem), and some questional unifications (Luhya is not really a language, it is a family of closely related languages) – the top 100 is probably contained in this list. This is also based on total speakers, not L1 speakers.

  • 2
    Ethnologue: Just delete cookies and go on :) It's a bit annoying but takes literally only two seconds to do. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 6:06
  • True though it may take 5 minutes if one doesn't know how to block cookies on your favorite browser. Still, the lack of a unified list is kind of annoying, 'cuz manually getting the data for 2K languages is just not gonna work.
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 15:21
  • Well, one could of course write a program that systematically crawls the sites, processes the html files and extracts the relevant information to some usable format. (But unless you are experienced in such things, this probably takes more time than just selecting some by hand, plus depending on how you do it, the site providers might not be too happy about a robot sending thousands of requests within a minute.) Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 18:46
  • Thanks. I will give Ethnologue a try. I'm working on a project where I'll only need the 100 or so with the most L1 speakers. Any recommended sources which would narrow down the list of potential candidates so I don't have to look up all 2000+? Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 1:25
  • 1
    They give by-country stats, so the first would be number of speakers in this country, and under "languages of Y" you'd get the number spoken in that country.
    – user6726
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 11:03

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.