Languages of Tanzania

Tanzania is a multilingual country. There are many languages spoken in the country, but no one language is spoken natively by a majority or a large plurality of the population. The Bantu Swahili language and English, the latter of which was inherited from colonial rule (see Tanganyika Territory), are widely spoken as lingua francas. They serve as working languages in the country, with Swahili being the official national language. [1] There are more speakers of Swahili than of English in Tanzania.[2]

Languages of Tanzania
OfficialSwahili[1] and English (de facto)
RegionalArabic (in Zanzibar), Chaga, Makonde, Datooga
SignedTanzanian sign languages
Keyboard layout


Bundesarchiv Bild 105-DOA0075, Deutsch-Ostafrika, Einheimisches Mädchen
The Bantu Swahili language written in the Arabic script on the clothes of a Tanzanian woman (early 1900s).

According to Ethnologue, there are a total of 126 languages spoken in Tanzania. Two are institutional, 18 are developing, 58 are vigorous, 40 are endangered, and 8 are dying. There are also three languages that recently became extinct.[3]

Most languages spoken locally belong to two broad language families: Niger-Congo (Bantu branch) and Nilo-Saharan (Nilotic branch), spoken by the country's Bantu and Nilotic populations, respectively. Additionally, the Hadza and Sandawe hunter-gatherers speak languages with click consonants, which have tentatively been classified within the Khoisan phylum (although Hadza may be a language isolate). The Cushitic and Semitic ethnic minorities speak languages belonging to the separate Afro-Asiatic family, with the Hindustani and British residents speaking languages from the Indo-European family.[4]

Tanzania's various ethnic groups typically speak their mother tongues within their own communities. The two official languages, English and Swahili, are used in varying degrees of fluency for communication with other populations. According to the official national linguistic policy 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.[5] The government announced in 2015 that it would discontinue the use of English as a language of education as part of an overhaul of the Tanzanian schools system.[6]

Additionally, several Tanzanian sign languages are used.

Language families

Major languages

Lord's Prayer in Swahili, a Bantu language that alongside English serves as a lingua franca for many in Tanzania.

Major languages spoken in Tanzania include:

Minor languages

Languages spoken by the country's ethnic minorities include:

Perusing Papers at a Newsstand - Near Mwenge - Tanzania
Newspapers in Tanzania

See also


  1. ^ a b "Tanzania Profile". Tanzania Gov. Tanzanian Government. Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  2. ^ "Tanzania".
  3. ^ "Tanzania". Ethnologue. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  4. ^ "Languages of Tanzania". Ethnologue. Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  5. ^ J. A. Masebo & N. Nyangwine: Nadharia ya lugha Kiswahili 1. S. 126, ISBN 978-9987-676-09-5
  6. ^ "Tanzania Ditches English In Education Overhaul Plan". AFK Insider. 17 February 2015. Retrieved 23 February 2015.

External links

Alagwa language

Alagwa is a Cushitic language spoken in Tanzania in the Dodoma region. Some Alagwa have shifted to other languages such as Sandawe.

Asa language

The Asa (Aasá) language, commonly rendered Aasax, was spoken by the Asa people of Tanzania. The language is extinct; ethnic Assa in northern Tanzania remember only a few words they overheard their elders use, and none ever used it themselves. Little is known of the language; what is recorded was probably Aasa lexical words used in a register of Maasai like the mixed language Mbugu.

Chaga languages

Chaga, also Kichaga or Kichagga, is a Bantu dialect continuum spoken by the Chaga people of northern Tanzania, south of Mount Kilimanjaro.

They also speak 9 different dialects which are Kivunjo, Kimarangu, Kirombo, Kimachame, Kisiha, Kikibosho, Kiuru, Kioldimoshi and Kingassa.

The Chaga languages are,

West Kilimanjaro (West Chaga), including Meru and Machame

Central Kilimanjaro (Central Chaga), including Mochi (Old Moshi) and Wunjo


Rusha (Arusha-Chini)



Gorowa language

Gorowa is a Cushitic language spoken in Tanzania in the Dodoma and Manyara Regions.It is also known as Fiome, Goroa, Gorwaa, Ufiomi.

Ha language

Ha, also known with the Bantu language prefix as Giha, Ikiha, or Kiha, is a Bantu language spoken by the Ha people of the Kigoma Region of Tanzania, spoken on the eastern side of Lake Tanganyika up to the headwaters of the Mikonga. It is closely related to the languages of Rwanda and Burundi; neighboring dialects are reported to be mutually intelligible with Kirundi.

Isanzu language

Isanzu is a Bantu language of spoken by the Isanzu people south of Lake Eyasi in Tanzania.

The position of Isanzu within the Bantu family is uncertain. It is rather distinct in certain features from other Bantu languages of the area, such as Nyaturu, but is quite close in others. One easily recognizable feature is /h/ in words where neighboring languages have /s/ or /tʃ/, as in the name Isanzu ~ Ihanzu, a feature it shares with Iramba, and a reason it is commonly classified with Iramba.

Kinga language

Kinga is a Bantu language of Tanzania. Magoma is ethnically distinct, and mutual intelligibility with the Magoma variety is low.

Kuria language

Kuria is spoken by the Kuria peoples of Northern Tanzania, with some speakers also residing in Kenya.

Maho (2009) treats the Simbiti, Hacha, Surwa, and Sweta varieties as distinct languages.

Kwʼadza language

Kwʼadza (Qwadza), or Ngomvia, is an extinct Afroasiatic language formerly spoken in Tanzania in the Mbulu District. The last speaker died sometime between 1976 and 1999.

Luguru language

Luguru is a Bantu language spoken by the Luguru people of the Morogoro region of Tanzania. The name is also spelled Lughuru, Lugulu, Ruguru. It is closely related to Gogo and Zaramo, but is not intelligible with other languages.

Ndamba language

Chindamba is classified as a Bantu language. It is one of 87 languages spoken in Tanzania. Most Chindamba speakers are bilingual in Swahili and Chindamba.

Ngasa language

Ongamo, or Ngas, is a probably extinct Eastern Nilotic language of Tanzania. It is closely related to the Maa languages, but more distantly than they are to each other. Ongamo has 60% of lexical similarity with Maasai, Samburu, and Camus. Speakers have shifted to Chagga, a dominant regional Bantu language.

Nilotic languages

The Nilotic languages are a group of Eastern Sudanic languages spoken across a wide area between South Sudan and Tanzania by the Nilotic peoples, who traditionally practice cattle-herding.

Nyambo language

The Nyambo, or Ragwe, are a Bantu ethnic and linguistic group based in the Karagwe District of Kagera Region in far northwestern Tanzania. In 2003 the Nyambo population was estimated to number 400,000.

Nyika language

Nyika (Nyiha) is a Bantu language of Tanzania and Zambia.

Rusa language

The Rusa (Rusha) language, also known as Arusha-Chini, is one of the Bantu languages of Tanzania spoken by the Chaga people. It is spoken in the Chaga area of the Kilimanjaro region, and forms a dialect continuum with other Chaga languages.

Safwa language

Safwa is a Bantu language spoken by the Safwa people of the Mbeya Region of Tanzania. Dialects are Guruka, Mbwila, Poroto, Songwe.

Subi language

Subi is a minor Bantu language of Tanzania, spoken on the southern shore of Lake Victoria. It is not listed in most sources, including Linguasphere. It has at times been confused with Shubi, though the two are not especially closely related.

Tanzanian sign languages

Around seven Tanzanian sign languages were developed independently among deaf students in separate Tanzanian schools for the deaf starting in 1963, though use of several are forbidden by their schools. In 1984, a standardized Tanzanian Sign Language was proposed by the Tanzania Association for the Deaf, using common or similar signs where these exist in the schools which allowed research, but it has not been officially implemented, and there remains little influence between the languages. A dictionary has been produced.The common Swahili term in Tanzania for these languages is lugha ya alama (ya Tanzania), lit. '(Tanzanian) sign language'. The term lugha ya bubu 'mute/dumb language' is also used, but is pejorative.

Languages of Tanzania
Official languages
Sovereign states
States with limited
Dependencies and
other territories

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