official languages of South Africa

South Africa has 11 official spoken languages, corresponding roughly to the most widely-spoken languages in the country. (There is also South African Sign Language.) There are the colonial languages, English and Afrikaans; then there are the nine official languages which are indigenous to South Africa, which are all Bantu languages. Listed below with the proportion of South Africans who speak them natively, and grouped together by language subfamily where possible, the 11 official languages are:

  • Western Germanic
    • Afrikaans (13.5%)
    • English (9.6%)
  • Nguni
    • Zulu, aka. isiZulu (22.7%)
    • Xhosa, aka. isiXhosa (16%)
    • Swati, aka. siSwati (2.5%)
    • Ndebele, aka. isiNdebele (2.1%)
  • Sotho-Tswana
    • Northern Sotho, aka. Sepedi or Pedi (9.1%)
    • Tswana, aka. Setswana (8%)
    • Sotho, aka. Sesotho (7.6%)
  • Tsonga, aka. Xitsonga (4.5%)
  • Venda, aka. Tshivenda (2.4%)

As of 2011, 1.6% of South Africans’ native lang­uage was none of the above, nor SA Sign Language. Some of these lang­uages include immigrant lang­uages like Portuguese, Tamil or Hindi, as well as less widely-spoken African lang­uages. A very high proportion of South Africans are multilingual. Eng­lish serves more or less as the lingua franca of South Africa, and is the dominant lang­uage of media and the government.

Map of South Africa where the populated parts are covered in coloured dots signifying the most-spoken language

A map showing the dominant languages across different parts of South Africa. As for what the colours represent: teal is Afrikaans, red is Xhosa, blue is Zulu, lime green is Sotho, pink is Tswana, orange is Northern Sotho, light purple is Southern Ndebele, dark purple is Swazi, dark yellow is Tsonga, light green is Venda, and light yellow is English (only little dots where various cities are).

Public domain image from Wikimedia.(external link).

See Also / References