If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
– Nelson Mandela
Happy International Mother Language Day!
We use language every day to communicate with each other, but our mother language is something that connects us with our culture. Let’s embrace and speak our mother languages with pride.
In 1999, UNESCO declared 21 February as International Mother Language Day to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The day commemorates the death of several members of the Bengali Language Movement who died during a demonstration for the recognition of their mother language as an official language in Bangladesh.
Today, there are 7 139 known spoken languages in the world. Of these, 3 018 are classified as endangered (with less than 1 000 speakers).
South Africa has 36 established languages. Of these, 20 are indigenous, 11 are non-indigenous and 5 are extinct. Furthermore, 12 are institutional, 8 are developing, 3 are vigorous, 1 is in trouble, and 7 are dying. Also listed are 16 unestablished languages.
Number of speakers per official language in South Africa and worldwide:
South Africa Worldwide
Afrikaans 17 160 000 17 631 780
English 15 890 000 1 348 145 850
Ndebele 2 490 000 –
Setswana 11 770 000 –
Sesotho 11 750 000 –
Swati 3 700 000 –
Sepedi 13 720 000 13 731 000
Tsonga 5 680 000 10 003 500
Venda 2 910 000 3 001 400
Xhosa 19 150 000 19 183 300
Zulu 27 300 000 27 770 100
Did you know?
The 10 most spoken languages in the world are:
English 1 348 million
Mandarin Chinese 1 120 million
Hindi 600 million
Spanish 543 million
Standard Arabic 274 million
Bengali 268 million
French 267 million
Russian 258 million
Portuguese 258 million
Urdu 230 million
Greetings from our multilingual PEG members!
Hallo! My naam is Coen en ek woon in Pretoria, Suid Afrika. My moedertaal is Afrikaans.
(Thank you also to: Marianne, Cliff, Magda, Laetitia, Carin)
Hallo! Mijn naam is Reinoud. I woon in Sandton, Zuid-Afrika. Mijn moedertaal is Nederlands.
Hi! My name is Babara Basel and I currently live in Cape Town, South Africa. My mother language is English.
(Thank you also to: Kelly-May)
Hallo! Ich heiße Karin und ich wohne zur Zeit in Johannesburg, Südafrika. Meine Muttersprache ist Deutsch.
(Thank you also to: Barbara and Paul)
Molweni! Igama lam ngu Andisile Best kwaye ndihlala eMonti, eMzantsi Africa. Ulwimi lwam lwenkobe sisiXhosa.
Ola! Meu nome é Maria e moro em Joanesburgo, África do Sul. A minha lingua materna e Português.
Dumelang; ke nna Leloba Molema. Ke nna mono Gaborone, mo Botswana. Puo ya gaetsho ke Setswana.
Salü, i bi d’Caroline u i läbe i Johannesburg, Südafrika. Myni Muetersproch isch Schwyzerdütsch.
You can find out more about International Mother Language Day at https://www.un.org/en/observances/mother-language-day and https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/motherlanguageday.
The statistics quoted are taken from Ethnologue (https://www.ethnologue.com/).