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Here are 10 of the rarest languages in Africa

10 rarest languages in Africa

Africa is home to over 2,000 languages. Amid this diversity, some languages are so rare that they are on the brink of extinction, spoken by only a handful of people.

Understanding the communities that speak these languages and the challenges they face in the modern world is crucial.

The preservation of these rare African languages is vital for maintaining the continent’s rich cultural and linguistic heritage.

Each language holds unique cultural, historical, and ecological knowledge, making their protection essential for future generations.

Read also: 10 Most spoken local languages in Africa

Here are 10 rarest languages in Africa

1. Shabo

In Ethiopia, the Shabo language, also known as Mikeyir, is spoken by approximately 400 people. Shabo is a language isolate influenced by both Nilo-Saharan and Afro-Asiatic languages, featuring unique vocabulary and grammatical structures that distinguish it from neighbouring languages. Currently, Shabo is severely endangered as the majority of speakers are older adults and younger generations are increasingly shifting to more dominant regional languages.

2. Hadza

The Hadza language, spoken by around 1,000 people in Tanzania, is a language isolate used by the Hadzabe, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer communities in Africa. Characterized by complex sounds, including clicks, Hadza is vulnerable despite being actively used in daily life. Modernization and external cultural pressures threaten its continued use among the Hadzabe.

Read also: Top 10 countries with the most languages

3. Ik

In the mountains of northeastern Uganda, the Ik language is spoken by approximately 14,000 people. Belonging to the Kuliak language family, Ik has distinct phonetic and grammatical features unique to its family. Although the number of speakers is relatively larger, Ik is severely endangered and faces threats from dominant regional languages and socio-economic changes that encourage the adoption of other languages.

4. Akum

The Akum language is a Plateau language spoken by fewer than 1,400 people in northwestern Cameroon and across the border in Nigeria. As a Bantu language, Akum has unique phonological and syntactic characteristics. However, it is critically endangered due to limited documentation and increasing adoption of other local languages by its speakers, diminishing the use of Akum.

Read also: 6 African countries with high proficiency in English – Report

5. Bakpinka

In Upper Cross River, the Bakpinka language or Iyongiyong is spoken by fewer than 4000 people. The language is critically endangered as the community shifts to a more dominant language Efik, Ibibio putting Bakpinka at high risk of disappearing.

6. Soo

The Soo language, also known as Tepes, is spoken by approximately 50 people in Uganda’s Karamoja region. As part of the Kuliak language family, Soo features unique phonological elements distinct from neighbouring languages. The language is critically endangered due to its limited number of speakers and the influence of dominant languages such as Karamojong.

7. Komo

In the northern region of Ethiopia, Sudan and South Sudan, the Komo language is spoken by approximately 10,000 people. As a Nilo-Saharan language, Komo has distinct phonetic and syntactic structures. The spread of more dominant languages in the region poses a risk to its continued use, making it definitely endangered.

Read also: 10 African countries have very low proficiency in English – Report

8. Beeke

The Beeke language is a Bantu language of uncertain affiliation spoken by fewer than 1,000 people in central Nigeria, a part of the Benue-Congo family and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Beeke has unique tonal and grammatical features. However, it is severely endangered as the dominance of other regional languages leads to the decline of Beeke.

9. Danisi

In Botswana, the Danisi language is spoken by fewer than 2000 people. As a language isolate, Danisi has unique phonetic properties and a distinct vocabulary. The language is critically endangered and spoken fluently only by adults over about thirty years of age, due to limited documentation and cultural shifts that are leading to its gradual disappearance.

10. Bolo

The Bolo language is spoken by fewer than 2600 people in Angola. As part of the Bantu family, Bolo features a rich system of noun classes and verb conjugations. The language is definitely endangered due to the encroachment of dominant languages and socio-economic changes that threaten its survival.