Languages of South Africa

At least thirty-five languages indigenous to South Africa are spoken in the Republic, ten of which are official languages of South Africa: Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venḓa, Xhosa, Zulu and Afrikaans. The eleventh official language is English, which is the primary language used in parliamentary and state discourse, though all official languages are equal in legal status, and unofficial languages are protected under the Constitution of South Africa, though few are mentioned by any name. South African Sign Language has legal recognition but is not an official language, despite a campaign and parliamentary recommendation for it to be declared one.
Unofficial and marginalised languages include what are considered some of Southern Africa's First Nation languages: Khoekhoegowab, !Orakobab, Xirikobab, Nǁng language|N|uuki, !Xunthali, and Khwedam; and other African languages, such as SiPhuthi, IsiHlubi, SiBhaca, SiLala, SiNhlangwini, SiNrebele, IsiMpondo/IsiMpondro, KheLobedu, SePulana, HiPai, SeKutswe, SeṰokwa, SeHananwa, SiThonga, SiLaNgomane, SheKgalagari, XiRhonga and others. Most South Africans can speak more than one language, and there is very often a diglossia between the official and unofficial language forms for speakers of the latter.

Language demographics

The most common language spoken as a first language by South Africans is Zulu, followed by Xhosa, and Afrikaans. English is the fourth most common first language in the country, but is understood in most urban areas and is the dominant language in government and the media.
The majority of South Africans speak a language from one of the two principal branches of the Bantu languages that are represented in South Africa: the Sotho–Tswana branch, or the Nguni branch. For each of the two groups, the languages within that group are for the most part intelligible to a native speaker of any other language within that group.
The indigenous African languages of South Africa which are official, and therefore dominant, can be divided into two geographical zones, with Nguni languages being predominant in the south-eastern third of the country and Sotho-Tswana languages being predominant in the northern third of the country located further inland, as also in Botswana and Lesotho. Gauteng is the most linguistically heterogeneous province, with roughly equal numbers of Nguni, Sotho-Tswana and Indo-European language speakers, with Khoekhoe influence. This has resulted in the spread of an urban argot, Tsotsitaal or S'Camtho/Ringas, in large urban townships in the province, which has spread nationwide.
Tsotsitaal in its original form as "Flaaitaal" was based on Afrikaans, a language derived from Dutch, which is the most widely spoken language in the western half of the country. It is spoken as first language by approximately 61 percent of whites and 76 percent of Coloureds. This racial term is popularly considered to mean "multiracial", as it represents to some degree a creole population, however most of whom are in fact Khoekhoen in heritage, and many are also descendants of slave populations imported by the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie from slaving posts in West and East Africa, and from its colonies of the Indian Ocean trade route.
Political exiles from the VOC colony of Batavia were also brought to the Cape, and these formed a major influencing force in the formation of Afrikaans, particularly in its Malay influence, and its early Jawi literature. Primary of these was the founder of Islam at the Cape, Sheikh Abadin Tadia Tjoessoep. Hajji Yusuf was an Indonesian noble of royal descent, being the nephew of the Sultan Alauddin of Gowa, in today Makassar, Nusantara. Yusuf, along with 49 followers including two wives, two concubines and twelve children, were received in the Cape on 2 April 1694 by governor Simon van der Stel. They were housed on the farm Zandvliet, far outside of Cape Town, in an attempt to minimise his influence on the VOC's slaves. The plan failed however; Yusuf's settlement soon became a sanctuary for slaves and it was here that the first cohesive Islamic community in South Africa was established. From here the message of Islam was disseminated to the slave community of Cape Town, and this population was foundational in the formation of Afrikaans. Of particular note is the Cape Muslim pioneering of the first Afrikaans literature, written in Arabic Afrikaans, which was an adaptation of the Jawi script, using Arabic letters to represent Afrikaans for both religious and quotidian purposes. Afrikaans, however, originates in the Dutch varieties spoken in Khoekhoe communities of ǁHuiǃgaeb, as a trade language before and during the early stages of the VOC occupation. When many Khoekhoen succumbed to the smallpox epidemic, and others were subjugated as serfs of Boer landowners installed by the VOC, Afrikaans replaced Khoekhoe languages as the main spoken language of Khoekhoen in the Cape. It also became the de facto national language of the Griqua nation, which was also primarily a Khoekhoe group.
Afrikaans is also spoken widely across the centre and north of the country, as a second language by Black South Africans living in farming areas.
The 2011 census recorded the following distribution of first language speakers:
Northern Sotho9.1%9.4%
SA Sign Language0.5%
Other languages1.6%0.5%

Other significant languages in South Africa

Other languages spoken in South Africa not mentioned in the Constitution, include many of those already mentioned above, such as KheLobedu, SiNrebele, SiPhuthi, as well as mixed languages like Fanakalo, and Tsotsitaal or S'Camtho, an argot that has found wider usage as an informal register.
Many unofficial languages have been variously claimed to be dialects of official languages, which largely follows the Apartheid practice of the Bantustans, wherein minority populations where legally assimilated towards the official ethnos of the Bantustan or "Homeland".
Significant numbers of immigrants from Europe, elsewhere in Africa, and the Indian subcontinent means that a wide variety of other languages can also be found in parts of South Africa. In the older immigrant communities there are: Greek, Gujarati, Hindi, Portuguese, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Yiddish, Italian and smaller numbers of Dutch, French and German speakers.
These non-official languages may be used in limited semi-official use where it has been determined that these languages are prevalent. More importantly, these languages have significant local functions in specific communities whose identity is tightly bound around the linguistic and cultural identity that these non-official SA languages signal.
The fastest growing non-official language is Portuguese – first spoken by immigrants from Portugal, especially Madeira and later black and white settlers and refugees from Angola and Mozambique after they won independence from Portugal and now by more recent immigrants from those countries again – and increasingly French, spoken by immigrants and refugees from Francophone Central Africa.
More recently, speakers of North, Central and West Africa languages have arrived in South Africa, mostly in the major cities, especially in Johannesburg and Pretoria, but also Cape Town and Durban.

Constitutional provisions

Chapter 1, Section 6 of the Constitution of South Africa is the basis for government language policy.
The English text of the constitution signed by president Nelson Mandela on 16 December 1996 uses the names of the languages expressed in those languages themselves. Sesotho refers to Southern Sotho, and isiNdebele refers to Southern Ndebele. Controversy surrounds the designation of Northern Sesotho as Sepedi instead of the comprehensive Sesotho sa Leboa. The spelling of Venda is also incorrectly rendered as Tshivenda instead of the correct Tshivenḓa.
The constitution mentions "sign language" in the generic sense rather than South African Sign Language specifically.

Sample text

The following is from the preamble to the Constitution of South Africa:
We, the people of South Africa,Ons, die mense van Suid-Afrika,Thina, abantu beSewula Afrika,Thina, bantu baseMzantsi-Afrika,Thina, bantu baseNingizimu Afrika,Tsine, bantfu baseNingizimu Afrika,Rena, batho ba Afrika Borwa,Rona, batho ba Afrika Borwa,Rona, batho ba Aforika Borwa,Riṋe, vhathu vha Afrika Tshipembe,Hina, vanhu va Afrika Dzonga,
Recognise the injustices of our past;Erken die ongeregtighede van ons verlede;Siyakwazi ukungakaphatheki kwethu ngokomThetho kwesikhathi sakade;Siyaziqonda iintswela-bulungisa zexesha elidlulileyo;Siyazamukela izenzo ezingalungile zesikhathi esadlula;Siyakubona kungabi khona kwebulungiswa esikhatsini lesengcile;Re lemoga ditlhokatoka tša rena tša bogologolo;Re elellwa ho ba le leeme ha rona nakong e fetileng;Re itse ditshiamololo tsa rona tse di fetileng;Ri dzhiela nṱha u shaea ha vhulamukanyi kha tshifhinga tsho fhelaho;Hi lemuka ku pfumaleka ka vululami ka nkarhi lowu nga hundza;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;Huldig diegene wat vir geregtigheid en vryheid in ons land gely het;Sihlonipha labo abahlukumezekako ngerhuluphelo yokobana kube khona ubulungiswa nekululeko enarhenekhethu;Sibothulel’ umnqwazi abo baye bev’ ubunzima ukuze kubekho ubulungisa nenkululeko elizweni lethu;Siphakamisa labo abahluphekela ubulungiswa nenkululeko emhlabeni wethu;Setfulela sigcoko labo labahlushwa kuze sitfole bulungiswa nenkhululeko eveni lakitsi;Re tlotla bao ba ilego ba hlokofaletšwa toka le tokologo nageng ya gaborena;Re tlotla ba hlokofaditsweng ka lebaka la toka le tokoloho naheng ya rona;Re tlotla ba ba bogileng ka ntlha ya tshiamo le kgololosego mo lefatsheng la rona;Ri ṱhonifha havho vhe vha tambulela vhulamukanyi na mbofholowo kha shango ḽashu;Hi xixima lava xanisekeke hikwalaho ko hisekela vululami na ntshunxeko etikweni ra hina;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; andRespekteer diegene wat hul beywer het om ons land op te bou en te ontwikkel; enSihlonipha labo abasebenzileko ekwakhiweni nekuthuthukisweni kwephasi lekhethu; begoduSiyabahlonela abo baye basebenzela ukwakha nokuphucula ilizwe lethu; kwayeSihlonipha labo abasebenzele ukwakha nokuthuthukisa izwe lethu; futhiSihlonipha labo labaye basebentela kwakha nekutfutfukisa live lakitsi; futsiRe hlompha bao ba ilego ba katanela go aga le go hlabolla naga ya gaborena; mmeRe tlotla ba ileng ba sebeletsa ho aha le ho ntshetsa pele naha ya rona; mmeRe tlotla ba ba diretseng go aga le go tlhabolola naga ya rona; mmeRi ṱhonifha havho vhe vha shuma vha tshi itela u fhaṱa na u bveledzisa shango ḽashu; naHi hlonipha lava tirheke ku aka no hluvukisa tiko ra hina; no
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.Glo dat Suid-Afrika behoort aan almal wat daarin woon, verenig in ons verskeidenheid.Bakholwa bona iSewula Afrika ingeyabo boke abahlala kiyo, sibambene ngokwahlukahlukana kwethu.Sikholelwa kwelokuba uMzantsi-Afrika ngowabo bonke abahlala kuwo, bemanyene nangona bengafani.Sikholelwa ukuthi iNingizimu Afrika ingeyabo bonke abahlala kuyo, sibumbene nakuba singafani.Sikholelwa ekutseni iNingizimu Afrika yabo bonkhe labahlala kuyo, sihlangene ngekwehlukahlukana kwetfu;Re dumela gore Afrika-Borwa ke ya batho bohle ba ba dulago go yona, re le ngata e tee e nago le pharologanoRe dumela hore Afrika Borwa ke naha ya bohle ba phelang ho yona, re kopane le ha re fapane.Re dumela fa Aforika Borwa e le ya botlhe ba ba tshelang mo go yona, re le ngata e le nngwe ka go farologanaU tenda uri Afrika Tshipembe ndi ḽa vhoṱhe vhane vha dzula khaḽo, vho vhofhekanywaho vha vha huthihi naho vha sa fani.Tshembha leswaku Afrika Dzonga i ya vanhu hinkwavo lava tshamaka eka rona, hi hlanganile hi ku hambana-hambana ka hina.