Although the languages of Europe were established by 1000 BC, African language families contain languages that are so different from one another that they must have been spoken many centuries before Indo-European languages were known in western Europe for as a general rule, the older a language family, the greater the differences among its individual languages.
The languages currently used in Africa are derived from four families: the Hamito-Semitic language group, from which present day Hebrew and Arabic are also derived; Niger-Congo-Kordofanian; Nilo-Saharan; and Khoisan. From these four families there are hundreds of languages and dialects native to Africa.
There also are non-native languages used in Africa that are derived from the Finno-Ugric and Indo-European language family. Languages such as English and Afrikaans are essentially colonial languages that were imported from Europe.
Since there are so many languages used in Africa, a lingua franca is generally established within regions to ease communication and business between people of different cultures. A lingua franca acts as a common language through which various peoples can communicate even though it may not be the native language of many of its users. Swahili, for example, is the lingua franca of East Africa even though it is not the native language of most people.
Just as there are hundreds of languages and dialects in Africa, there are hundreds of different cultures and, thus, a wide variety of naming practices.
This page was last modified on 16 May 2003.
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