According to the 2011 census, isiZulu is the mother tongue of 22.7% of South Africa’s population, followed by isiXhosa at 16%, Afrikaans at 13.5%, English at 9.6%, Setswana at 8% and Sesotho at 7.6%.
The remaining official languages are spoken at home by less than 5% of the population each.
Besides the 11 official languages, scores of others – African, European, Asian – are spoken in South Africa, as the country lies at the crossroads of southern Africa.
Languages spoken here, and mentioned in the Constitution, are the Khoi, Nama and San languages, sign language, Arabic, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu. There are also a few indigenous creoles and pidgins.
English is generally understood across the country, being the language of business, politics and the media, and is regarded as the country’s lingua franca. But it only ranks a joint fifth (with Setswana) as a home language.
South Africa’s linguistic diversity means all 11 languages have had a profound effect on each other. South African English, for example, is littered with words and phrases from Afrikaans, isiZulu, Nama, and other African languages.
|SOUTH AFRICAN LANGUAGES 2011|
|Language||Number of speakers*||% of total|
|Afrikaans||6 855 082||13.5%|
|English||4 892 623||9.6%|
|isiNdebele||1 090 223||2.1%|
|isiXhosa||8 154 258||16%|
|isiZulu||11 587 374||22.7%|
|Sepedi||4 618 576||9.1%|
|Sesotho||3 849 563||7.6%|
|Setswana||4 067 248||8%|
|SiSwati||1 297 046||2.5%|
|Tshivenda||1 209 388||2.4%|
|Xitsonga||2 277 148||4.5%|
|TOTAL||50 961 443**||100%|