Nigeria – an economy and linguistic diversity of note

Nigeria, Africa’s second-largest economy, has been one of the continent’s most consistent performers in recent years, with annual gross domestic product increases of between 5% and 8% since 2003. Ranked 30th in the world, Nigeria is the United States’ largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa and supplies a fifth of its oil (11% of oil imports). Earmarked as soon becoming the largest economy in Africa, it is worth your while to keep an eye on this country.  

The number of languages currently estimated and catalogued in Nigeria range around 521, including 510 living languages, 2 second languages (without native speakers) and 9 extinct languages. Nigeria’s current national language policy requires that mother tongue education (or the predominant language of the immediate community) is the medium of instruction at pre-primary and early primary levels. However, English replaces mother tongue education halfway through primary education.

The official language of Nigeria, English, was chosen to facilitate the cultural and linguistic unity of the country post-colonization. Yet, large parts of the country still speak only one of the three main languages namely Yoruba, Ibo (also spelled Igbo), and Hausa. 

  • Ibo is a spoken and colloquial language with about 18 million mother tongue speakers.
  • Yoruba (18.8 million mother tongue speakers) is spoken in Nigeria, Benin and Togo. It has over fifteen dialects and standard Yoruba is taught at school.
  • Hausa, found in the northern territories of Nigeria (18.5 million mother tongue speakers), is widely used as a lingua franca in many parts of West Africa (especially amongst Muslims).  It is written using the Latin alphabet, but it can also be written using the Arabic alphabet.

Even though most ethnic groups prefer to communicate in their own languages, English is widely used for education, business transactions and for official purposes.  English as a first language, remains an exclusive preserve of a small minority of the country’s urban elite, and is not spoken at all in some rural areas. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you would like to partake in one of the biggest upcoming economies in the world you would need to have your message translated into one of the above mentioned languages.

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