Languages of Namibia

Namibia, despite its scant population, is home to a wide diversity of languages, from multiple language families: Indo-European, Bantu, and the various Khoisan families. During apartheid, Afrikaans, German and English held the position of official language; however, after independence from South Africa, Namibia's new government made English the sole official language in the constitution of Namibia. German and Afrikaans were stigmatised as having colonial overtones,[1] while the rising of Mandela's Youth League and the 1951 Defiance Campaign spread English among the masses as the language of the campaign against apartheid.[2]

Language demographics

The most widely spoken languages used in households are Oshiwambo dialects, by 48% of the population, the Khoekhoe language by 11%, Afrikaans by 11%, Kwangali language by 10% and Herero by 10%.[3] Other native languages include the Bantu languages Tswana, Gciriku, Fwe, Kuhane, Mbukushu, Yeyi; and the Khoisan Naro, ǃXóõ, Kung-Ekoka, ǂKxʼauǁʼein and Kxoe.[4] English, the official language, is spoken by less than 1% of people as their native language. Portuguese is spoken by 4–5% of the total population, i.e. 100,000 people, made up mostly of the Angolan community.[5] Among the white population, 60% speak Afrikaans, 32% German, 7% English, and 1% Portuguese.

Indigenous languages are included in the school syllabus at primary level. From secondary level English is the medium of instruction. Afrikaans is the only language that comes close to a lingua franca, and is spoken by most black townspeople together with English and their native language.[6]

Percentage distribution of households by main language spoken

Main language 2001 2011
Oshiwambo 48.5 48.9
Nama/Damara 11.5 11.3
Afrikaans 11.4 10.4
Otjiherero 7.9 8.6
Kavango 9.7 8.5
Caprivi 5.0 4.8
English 1.9 3.4
German 1.1 0.9
San 1.2 0.8
Other 1.8 2.4

Source: 2001 Census[7] and 2011 Census[8]

See also


  1. "Namibia Travel Guide". Retrieved 8 July 2010.
  2. Brutt-Griffler, J. (2002). World English: a study of its development. Multilingual Matters, p.165. ISBN 1853595772
  3. "Languages Spoken in Namibia". About Namibia. Retrieved 8 July 2010.
  4. Lewis, M. Paul (ed.) (2009). Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. SIL International.
  5. "Portuguese to be introduced in schools". The Namibian. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
  6. Pütz, Martin (1995). Discrimination through language in Africa?: perspectives on the Namibian experience. Walter de Gruyter, p. 315. ISBN 311014817X
  7. 2001 Census
  8. 2011 Census
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