We all know that there are 11 national languages in SA. But can you name them all? I couldn’t until I had researched and written this post.
So let me list them for you:
Before I delve in to the intricacies of each language above I’d like to point out a fantastic resource over at southafrica.info: A local slang word dictionary.
Here a couple that I enjoyed:
bagel (bay-gell) – An overly groomed materialistic young man, and the male version of a kugel.
hey - The popular expression hey can be used as a standalone question meaning “pardon” or “what” – “Hey? What did you say?” Or it can be used to prompt affirmation or agreement, as in “It was a great film, hey?”
is it (as one word: izit) – An expression frequently used in conversation and equivalent to “Is that so?”
just now – If a South African tells you they will do something “just now”, they mean they’ll do it in the near future – not immediately: “I’ll do the dishes just now.”
shame – Broadly denotes sympathetic feeling. Someone admiring a baby, kitten or puppy might say: “Ag shame!” to emphasise its cuteness.
Now let’s get back in to it:
The 2001 census is widely used at the moment as the main source of information relating to languages in SA.
Let’s break it down language by language:
Zulu has 10 677 000 speakers in SA and that makes up 23.8%. It is widely spoken in KwaZulu-Natal (81% of the province’s population are Zulu first language speakers), Mpumalanga (26%) and Gauteng (21%).
Xhosa is spoken by approximately 7.9 million people, or about 18% of the South African population.
Xhosa is the most widely distributed African language in South Africa, while the most widely spoken is Zulu. Xhosa is the second most common home language in South Africa as a whole. As of 2003 the majority of Xhosa speakers, approximately 5.3 million, live in the Eastern Cape, followed by the Western Cape (approximately 2 million), Gauteng (671,045), the Free State (246,192), KwaZulu-Natal (219,826), North West (214,461), Mpumalanga (46,553), the Northern Cape (51,228), and Limpopo (14,225).
Afrikaans is spoken by 5 983 000 people in SA or about 13.3% of the population.
A majority of South Africa’s population uses this as their first or second language. The language is widely spoken in Namibia and spoken partly in Zimbabwe, Botswana and other countries. According to many English South Africans, Afrikaans is said to be a language that is dying, but this language has made its mark in society and the culture backing this language is rich.
The word Afrikaans in Dutch means “African”. Afrikaans was created in Cape Town, which is home to various nationalities.
NORTHERN SOTHO / SEPEDI
Sepedi is spoken by nearly five million—4,208,980 people (2001 Census Data)—in the South African provinces of Gauteng, Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga.
English is spoken by 3 673 000 people in SA or about 8.2% of the population.
English has been both a highly influential language in South Africa, and a language influenced, in turn, by adaptation in the country’s different communities. Estimates based on the 1991 census suggest that some 45% of the population have a speaking knowledge of English.
SeSotho is spoken by 3 555 000 people in SA or about 7.9% of the population.
Sesotho, or Southern Sotho, is spoken in the country of Lesotho, which is entirely surrounded by South African territory, as well as in the Free State province, southern Gauteng, and in the vicinity of Pretoria and Brits.
XiTsonga is spoken by 1 992 000 people in SA or about 4.4% of the population.
Xitsonga is spoken in eastern Limpopo and Mumalanga, areas near the border of the country of Mozambique, as well as in southern Mozambique and southeastern Zimbabwe.
SiSwati is spoken by 1 194 000 people in SA or about 2.7% of the population. SiSwati, the language of the Swazi nation, is spoken mainly in eastern Mpumalanga, an area that borders the country of Swaziland.
Venda is spoken by 1 022 000 people in SA or about 2.3% of the population. Venda is generally regarded as a language isolate. Its is the language of the Venda people, who are culturally closer to the Shona people of Zimbabwe than to any other South African group.
Spoken mainly in northern Limpopo, an area bordering the country of Zimbabwe, Tshivenda shares features with Shona and Sepedi, with some influence from Nguni languages. The Tshipani variety of Tshivenda is used as the standard.
Ndebele is spoken by 712 000 people in SA or about 1.6% of the population.
IsiNdebele is mainly spoken in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Gauteng, around the towns of Mokopane, Polokwane, Pretoria, Bronkhorstspruit, Middelburg, Witbank, Delmas, Standerton, Marble Hall, Groblersdal, Hendrina, Belfast and Bethal.
Setswana is spoken by 3 677 000 people in SA or about 8.2% of the population. The language of the Tswana people is spoken mostly in Botswana, a country on the northwestern border of South Africa, as well as in the Northern Cape province, the central and western Free State and in North West.
And there you have it. Those are our eleven national languages. Now you should know what percentage of the population speaks which language and where those people are situated in SA!
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