Index / Languages
Thanks to Sudan's ethnic diversity, Ethnologue has counted 134 living languages, more than 400 if dialects are counted. In addition are 8 extinct languages located to Sudan.
Figures in 1000.
A closer look at these 134 languages show that the actual present number cannot exceed 100: Several of the living languages were very, very small, counting less than 1,000 speakers, and have not been researched into, nor recorded, since the 1970's and 1980's
The languages of Sudan belong to either of 3 families: Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo.
Arabic is the totally dominating language of Sudan, spoken only in one dialect, the Sudanese Arabic. It belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family.
There has since long been a large project to replace the original languages of many ethnic groups with Arabic. Also, Arabic is also widely used as a second language, bridging the gap between the many peoples of this country.
A small variant of Arabic is the Sudanese Creole, with a recorded 20,000 speakers back in 1987. It is also a lingua franca (for communication between peoples). It was used in the Equatoria region, into Bahr al-Ghazal and Upper Nile regions. Also called Juba Arabic; Pidgin Arabic; or Southern Sudan Arabic.
In addition to Arabic, the Afro-Asiatic family include Beja (also called Bedawi) spoken by 1.8 million. This language group has its main regions in the north, but Arabic is today spoken in almost all corners of Sudan.
The third, and smallest language, is Hausa, spoken by 80.000 in the west. Tigré is listed as spoken language in Sudan, but there are no data for how many. Tigré is mainly a language of Eritrea.
The language group of Sudan counting the largest number of unique languages is the Nilo-Saharan. Almost a quarter of Sudanese has one of the ca. 70 languages of this group as daily tongue. This language group dominates the south up to the regions south of Khartoum.
The largest of this group, is Dinka, which spoken by the 3 million large Dinka people in southern Sudan, divided into 5 dialect zones, named northeastern and so on.
Nuer is a major language of the southeastern regions spoken by the Nuer people near the border to Ethiopia. Across this border, another 100,000 speaks Nuer.
Fur is a major language of Sudan, native to the Darfur region, spoken by the Fur people. Presently, there are many in Chad.
The two dialects of Nubian are often considered independent languages. They are spoken in the north, and crosses the border to Egypt, where another 370,000 has it as their daily language.
Shilluk is spoken by the 600,000 large Shilluk people in the flat area to the west of the White Nile.
Bari is the major language of the southernmost part of Sudan's Nile, spoken by the Bari people.
There are several Nuba languages, most counting from less than one thousand to rarely more than 50,000. Ethnologue counts 27 such languages. The largest Nuba language is Katcha-Kadugli-Miri with 75,000 speakers (2004).
The Niger-Congo family includes languages that are common in neighbouring countries. This group dominates in the west of Sudan.
Zande is by far the largest of the Niger-Congo languages. It is spoken in western Sudan by the Zande people, in addition to in Congo and Central African Republic.
Fulfulde, or Fulani as is the wider more common name, is spoken in North, Blue Nile and Kordofan regions by about 120,000. Fulani is spoken in a region stretching as far west as Mauritania (see Fulani).
English is the principal language in the south, serving is a lingua franca in areas where Sudanese Creole Arabic is not used.