Languages of Tanzania

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Swahili in Arabic script on the clothes of an African woman from East Africa, Tanzania Early 1900s

There are many languages spoken in Tanzania, but no one language is spoken natively by a majority or a large plurality of the population. Swahili and English are the official languages; however the former is the national language.[1] English is still the language of higher courts,[2] and can be considered a de facto official language. Tanzanians see themselves as having two "official" languages, English and Swahili. Swahili is seen as the unifying language of the country (lingua franca) between different tribes, who each have their own tribal language; English serves the purpose of providing Tanzanians with the ability to participate in the global economy and culture. Over 100 different (tribal) languages are spoken in Tanzania, including Maasai, Sukuma and Makonde.[3] The first language typically learned by a Tanzanian is that of his or her tribe, with Swahili and English learned thereafter.

According to the official linguistic policy of Tanzania, as announced in 1984, Swahili is the language of the social and political sphere as well as primary and adult education, whereas English is the language of secondary education, universities, technology, and higher courts.[2] Though the British government financially supports the use of English in Tanzania,[2] its usage in the Tanzanian society has diminished over the past decades: In the seventies Tanzanian university students used to speak English with each other, whereas now they almost exclusively use Swahili outside the classroom. Even in secondary school and university classes, where officially only English should be used, it is now quite common to use a mix of Swahili and English.

Other spoken languages are Indian languages, especially Gujarati, and Portuguese (spoken by Indians and Mozambican blacks, respectively) and to a lesser extent French (from neighbouring Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of the Congo). Historically German was widely spoken during that colonial period, but this practice is already forgotten. Arabic is widely spoken on Zanzibar. There are also several Tanzanian sign languages.

Not counting the Arabic, Indian, European and sign languages, and various mixed or creole languages, Tanzanian languages fall into five language families: Bantu, such as Swahili, Chaga, and Sukuma; Nilotic, such as Maasai; Cushitic, such as Iraqw; Sandawe, which may be related to the Khoe family, and Hadza.

Other languages:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kiswahili Tanzania National Website
  2. ^ a b c J. A. Masebo & N. Nyangwine: Nadharia ya lugha Kiswahili 1. S. 126, ISBN 978-9987-676-09-5
  3. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version: Retrieved 11 October 2012

External links[edit]