Major Languages Spoken in Nigeria
It is almost impossible to achieve anything without communication. How do we communicate? Via language.
However, language goes beyond being a means of communication. It is one of the building blocks of culture. Worldwide, there are about 6,500 known languages.
Also Read: How to Apply for Visa on Arrival in Nigeria
On the list of countries with the highest number of languages, Nigeria sits in the third position. Amazing right? Well, considering the population if the country, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
It is clear that asides its vast mineral and human resources, Nigeria is blessed with a wide variety of languages. This begs us to ask this question: “How many languages are spoken in Nigeria?” So far, Nigeria has about 560 languages. Taraba State alone has about 30 languages.
We cannot show you all the languages spoken in Nigeria. However, we have made a list of the major languages spoken in Nigeria. Check it out below.
Languages Spoken in Nigeria
The lingua franca in Nigeria is the English language. This means that the Nigeria official language is English. The average Nigerian can communicate in English. There is a variation of the English language that is also very common. It is known as Pidgin English and it cuts across tribe and location all through Nigeria. Let’s take a look at the major indigenous languages spoken in the country.
This is the predominant language spoken in the Northern part of the country. It has the largest number of speakers. Around 35 million individuals speak Hausa as their first language. This includes indigenes of Sokoto, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano, Zamfara, Gombe, Bauchi, and Gombe States.
Up to 15 million Nigerians, asides the number above, speak Hausa as a second language. This means there are at least 50 million people who can speak Hausa in Nigeria. Clearly, Hausa has the highest number of speakers in Nigeria.
Hausa is a tonal language in which pitch differences add meanings to words, just like vowels and consonants. This language also has a few variations which we can refer to as dialects. As a result, it is easy for speakers to identify the Northern, Eastern Southern, Western, and Ghanaian variations.
However, Kano Hausa is regarded as the standard dialect and the foundation upon which the language is built.
Igbo is predominantly spoken in the Eastern part of Nigeria. There are at least 24 million individuals that speak Igbo as their first language. They mostly hail from Abia, Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo, and Enugu States. Igbo is also spoken as a native dialect in parts of Delta, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom States.
By way of classification, the Igbo language falls under the Niger-Congo family and a part of the Kwa sub-family. Most people regard Igbo as one of the most difficult languages to learn and speak. This is because it is made up of several low and high tones to indicate meanings and grammatical relationships.
Just like Hausa, Igbo also has several dialects, each one with distinct accents. Despite the differences, they are mutually intelligible. These variants or dialects include Idemili, Bende, Ngwa, Owerri, Nnewi, Umuahia, Abriba, and Awka dialects. Others include Onitsha, Mbaise, Nsukka, Okigwe, Ndoki/Ukwa, and Ohafia dialects.
This is the third major language in Nigeria and it spreads even beyond the shores of Nigeria. There are at least 20 million individuals that speak this language as their first language. The Yoruba language is known in the native tongue as “Ede Yoruba.”
This language is spoken in the Western part of Nigeria where the people believe they are descendants of Oduduwa. Oduduwa was the son of Oludumare, the powerful god of creation.
Just like Hausa and Igbo languages, Yoruba also has different dialects. However, the variants of Yoruba are not as many as the languages. There are three distinct dialects. The first is the North-West Yoruba spoken by people from Lagos, Oyo, Osun, and Abeokuta.
Central Yoruba is spoken by people from Ekiti, Akure, Igbomina, and Ife. The third dialect is the South-East Yoruba spoken in Owo, Ondo, and some parts of Ijebu.
Fulfulde is not a language native to Nigeria alone. It cuts across several parts of West Africa include Senegal, Niger Republic, and Cameroon. This language is also known as Fulani, Fula, or Fulatanchi.
Fulfude is one of the languages under the Niger-Congo language, of the Atlantic sub-family. The Hausa tribe of Northern Nigeria refers to speakers of this language as Fulani. However, the Mandinka call them Fula and the Wolof refer to them as Peul.
What to the speakers of Fulfude call themselves? They refer to themselves as Pullo (singular) and Fulbe (plural). Just like the languages described above, Fulfude also has a few dialects. They include Futa Jallon, Futa Toro, and Masina.
Currently, there are more than 12 million Fulfude speakers in Nigeria. Even though they are mostly nomads, they reside mostly around Sokoto, Kano, Adamawa, Maiduguri, Katsina, Jos, and Bauchi.
At least 3 million individuals speak Kanuri in Nigeria. This language is also not native to Nigeria alone. It spreads across Cameroon, Chadians, and Niger Republic.
Even though Kanuri is spoken in the Northern part of Nigeria, it is not related to Hausa, the predominant language here. Kanuri falls under the Central Saharan Language family and it has the largest number of speakers of this family.
People who speak Kanuri are mostly indigenes of Yobe, Borno, and Jigawa States. All these States are in the Northern part of Nigeria.
This is one of the most spoken languages of the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria. It is spoken mostly in Delta, Rivers, and Bayelsa States. You will also find a few towns where Ijaw is spoken in Ondo State.
Ijaw is made up of nine related languages of the Niger-Congo family. All these languages fall under the Ijoid sub-division. There are two main dialects in Nigeria namely the Izon and Kalabari dialects.
This language is also predominant in the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria. It falls under the Edoid family and it is largely spoken in Delta State.
Urhobo has several dialects and has suffered breakouts of some dialects to form new languages in the past. Currently, there are over 10 dialects under the Urhobo language division. They include Orogun, Agbarha, Udu, Ughievwien, Isoko, Ofoni, amongst others.
It is not uncommon to hear Nigerians from other dialects speak Urhobo as a slang. At least a million individuals speak Urhobo in the country.
Efik language prides itself as the first African language to go into print in 1862. It is the native tongue of the Efik people located in the South-South region of Nigeria. The Efiks are mostly indigenes of Cross River State.
Unlike other neighboring languages, this language possesses language contact. One of the reasons why this language enjoyed early development was the first contact with slave traders and Christian missionaries.
Most indigenes of Cross River State speak Efik. If they don’t, they are likely to speak Ibibio, the second most popular language in the region. Despite the differences in the languages, they seem to be variants of each other. This is because individuals from each side understand when others speak in their native tongue.
Edo language is predominantly spoken in Edo State, Nigeria. It falls under the Volta-Niger language family. It is mostly spoken by the Igodomigodo people of Edo.
At least 1 million individuals speak this language which makes it the most popular in this region. A few years ago, there was a cry for renewed speaking of this language in the homes of indigenes. This is because of the fear of the language going extinct.
Tiv Language is mostly spoken in Benue State which is located in the North-Central region of Nigeria. It falls under the Southern Bantoid Tivoid language sub-family of the Benue-Congo family.
Speakers hail from Makurdi, Gboko Kwande, Katsina-Ala, Vandeikya, and Gwer local government areas of Benue State. You’ll also find a handful in Lafia local government area of Plateau State and in Taraba State as well.
The Igala people are predominantly indigenes of Kogi State in the North-Central region of Nigeria. They claim to be more than 2 million in number. Igala falls under the Defoid language family, the Yoruboid sub-division.
It is in the same broad family as Itsekiri and Yoruba. Asides Kogi State, Igala is also spoken in Benue, Anambra, Edo, and Delta States. It has a couple of dialects including Ebu, Ankpa, Ogugu, Ibaji, Idah, and Dekina.
This is another language that falls under the Yoruboid sub-division. It is mostly spoken in Delta State even though there are a handful of speakers in Ondo, Rivers, and Bayelsa States.
Itsekiri is closely related to the Yoruba, Ilaje, and Igala languages. As a result of close interaction with the English, Portuguese, and Bini, this language has been largely influenced. Despite this fact, at least, a million individuals hail from Itsekiri speaking parts of Nigeria.
We can only take so much. There are so many other languages in Nigeria such as Nupe, Ebira, Okun, Jorto, Eggon, Ibilo, Boko, etc. If you are visiting Nigeria, you don’t need to learn any of these languages. As we stated above, most Nigerians converse fluently in English. This means you should be able to conduct business without stress or language hindrances.
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