Africa – language

There are approximately 1800 different languages ​​in Africa, but the number is uncertain. This is because dialect can be limited to independent language in different ways. The languages ​​can be divided into four categories: European languages, variants of European languages, Indian languages ​​and actual African languages.

The first category is the languages ​​of the colonial powers: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and German, of which the first four are languages ​​of administration in one or more African countries.

The second category includes Afrikaans in South Africa and Namibia, Krio in Sierra Leone, West African Pidgin English and others. See COUNTRYAAH for all countries in southern Africa listed by population.

The third category includes Gujarati, Hindi and Konkani in South and East Africa.

The actual African languages, fourth category, can be divided into five groups: Austronesian languages, Afro-Asian languages, Niger-Kordofan languages, Nilo-Saharan languages ​​and Khoisan languages.

Austronesian languages

The Austronesian languages are represented only by Malagasy, spoken in Madagascar.

Afro-Asian languages

The Afro-Asian languages, formerly called Hamito-Semitic languages, are a language genus with six branches: Semitic with Arabic and Amharic, Egyptian with the extinct ancient Egyptian and Coptic, Berber, Cushitic with Somali, Omotic and Chadian languages with hausa. Common to these languages ​​are the consonant t as a grammatical marker of the feminine and the consonant k as a marker of another person. Typologically, they are strongly fusing, cf. Arabic kitâb ‘book’ and kutub ‘books’, where one cannot isolate the stem of the word from the plural.

Niger-Kordofan languages

Niger-Kordofan language (or niger-congo language) is a language genus with the branches Kordofan, male language with manding, west atlantic with fulfulde and wolof, ijoide language with IJO, Kru languages including bassa and krahn, kwa language with akan and ewe, gur language with more, adamawa-ubangi-language with Zande and Benue-Congo languages ​​with Yoruba, Igbo and Bantu languageswith Swahili and Zulu. The number of branches and the relationship between these are debated. A feature is those between 10 and 25 nominal classes, which are expressed with etymologically related elements in all branches except in the male languages, which do not have nominal classes.

Nilo-Saharan languages

The Nilo-Saharan languages are divided into six groups, which may form one language group: Chari-nil languages ​​with shilluk, dinka, nuer, luo, karamojong, maasai and nubisk, maba, fur, koma, songhai and saharisk with kanuri. The group is very heterogeneous.


The Khoisan languages are divided into three groups and it is discussed whether they are related: northern, central and southern Khoisan. The Khoisan-speaking peoples are culturally divided into cattle people (khoikhoi) and hunter-gatherer peoples (san). Most important is the khoikhoi language nama, which is a language of the central khoisan group spoken in Namibia. A common feature of the Khoisan languages ​​is the so-called click sounds.

Africa – religion (Christianity)

In the early 100 centry, Christianity reached Egypt and at the end of the same century the then Roman province of Africa (see map under Roman Empire); in the middle of 200-t. there were Christian congregations throughout the North African area. The church experienced strong growth in the period leading up to the persecution of Christians under Emperor Diocletian in 303-05; it is estimated that at this time there were between 250 and 300 dioceses in North Africa outside Egypt.

The Church in North Africa was the spiritual center of Western Christianity; and 200-t. The Latinization of the Western Church took place here, which meant that the Bible was translated into Latin and that Latin became the language of worship. North Africa was home to such influential theologians as Tertullian, Cyprian and Augustine. I 300-400-t. the North African church was split into resp. a Catholic and a Donatist direction; the Roman state power intervened in the conflict at certain periods, almost exclusively for the benefit of the Catholics.

Arab conquest of North Africa in 600-t. had the consequence that the vast majority of dioceses disappeared, and in the 700-t. had the majority of the population converted to Islam. From the following centuries, information about Christian congregations has spread, but in the 1000’s. Christianity seems to have completely disappeared from North Africa.

The Nubian church also existed after antiquity, and some denominations have existed unbroken from the ancient ecclesiastical centuries to the present, namely the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.


The later spread of Christianity is closely linked to Europe’s other connections to Africa. With the Portuguese explorers establishing supply points along the west coast of Africa, Catholic missionaries often accompanied, and in several places it came to incipient church formations. The best known is the Kingdom of Congo at the mouth of the Congo River, where from approximately In 1550 and a few hundred years later, a Christian kingdom existed, founded by Alfonso 1. Also on the east coast of Africa, especially in present-day Mozambique, Catholic missionaries acted in the wake of Portuguese influence.

The first Protestant initiative came around 1700 in connection with the Dutch emigration (the later Boers) to South Africa. Later in the 1700’s. In several cases, European trading posts became the starting point for a limited Protestant mission, for example from the Danish fort Christiansborg on the Gold Coast (later Ghana). But the Christian presence remained a coastal phenomenon and gradually died out, not least due to the destructive effects of the slave trade.

The 19th century became the great missionary era in Africa with the fight against slavery as a major motivation. On the Protestant side, this led to the formation of the great known mission societies, while within the Catholic Church several new mission orders were established, such as Cardinal Lavigerie’s White Fathers in Algiers.

The Christian struggle against slavery made the West and East African coasts the first important mission areas. The opening to Inner Africa took place in the latter half of the 1800’s, partly prompted by European explorers such as Livingstone and Stanley, partly in connection with the colonial expansion. Africa’s division into colonies often led to a coincidence in nationality and confession between mission and colonial power, which reinforced the impression of Christianity as a representative of European political and cultural dominance. In several places, there was a strong rivalry between Catholic and Protestant missions with the Kingdom of Buganda as a characteristic example.

From the beginning of the 1900’s, the choice of mission areas was often determined by the desire to stem the further spread of Islam; it was thus the stated purpose of the Danish United Sudan Mission, which was founded in 1911 and operated in Northern Nigeria from 1913. After World War I, missionaries of German nationality had to be withdrawn, which made room especially for American companies, but also for Danish missionaries, e.g. Tanzania. The missionary activity and subsequent church formations have through the 1900’s. led to a significant growth in the number of Christians (often under strong rivalry with Islam), so that Africa is now considered a significant Christian continent, especially within the Catholic Church.

The growth must be seen in the context of the missions ‘and since then the churches’ efforts in the health and education sectors. In the field of disease, there was a pioneering effort, which resulted in the establishment of numerous clinics and hospitals. Through the establishment of schools and other educational institutions, the mission had a revolutionary impact on the development of African societies. In several countries, churches gained almost a monopoly, especially in primary schools. After independence around 1960, there was a nationalization of schools in some places, for example in Tanzania, but under the impression of the general crisis in Africa, in recent years there has been a tendency to re-involve the churches in the education system. An important feature of the spread of Christianity has been the translation of the Bible into African languages. partly the development of independent – often national – churches under African leadership. It began from below with the education and ordination of African priests, with the Protestant churches prioritizing breadth, while the Catholic Church emphasized a thorough theological education; in 1923 there were thus 88 African Catholic priests, while there were 300 in 1939. On the other hand, the Africanisation of the leadership during the colonial period was very slow. First from approximately In 1960, African bishops were ordained in large numbers under the influence of political and national independence. In 1963, for example, there were 78 African bishops in Africa’s 312 Catholic dioceses; in 1993, almost all bishops were Africans. The first African cardinal was appointed in 1960; by 1993, the number had grown to 11.

The identification of Christianity with European civilization and the slow Africanization of both leadership and preaching led to clashes with mission dominance in several places, not least in South Africa. There were many especially Protestant churches, who goes by the name of independent churches, and the trend was also reflected in the prophet movements as aladura in West Africa and kimbanguisme in the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the phenomenon is also known within the Catholic Church, such as the Legio Mariae in Kenya and from the healing services of Archbishop Milingo of Zambia.

In general, Christianity has often stood in some opposition to African religion. Many, especially Protestant missionaries, have been influenced by the legacy of pietism and have often attached great importance to individual conversion (see abalokole), where traditional African religion, on the contrary, emphasizes community and group affiliation. In recent years, a special African theology has emerged, which in South Africa in particular has become a form of liberation theology. The so-called inculturation debate is fully topical: how is a genuine African Christianity created that has liberated itself from Western European models?

While Protestant churches are generally organized as independent, often national, churches, it is an important question among Catholic bishops, priests, and lay people how the independence of African churches as local churches can be reconciled with the supremacy of the Vatican.