The different languages spoken in Nigeria

Language is a very fascinating subject in any community. It is a way of communication between people of different background and social status. The language a person speaks gives you an instant definition of the person and his/her origin. Language is one of the most significant features of mankind.

It is quite interesting to know that among the 6500 spoken languages in the world, Nigeria takes the number 3 spot on the list of countries that have the most spoken languages. There are about 560 languages spoken in Nigeria. The country is ranked 3rd after after Indonesia and Papua New Guinea which has 742 and 820 human languages respectively.

Major languages spoken in Nigeria

languages spoken in Nigeria

1. Hausa

This is the most common language spoken in Nigeria. This is a Chadic language (a branch of the Afroasiatic language family) with the largest number of speakers, spoken as a first language by about 35 million people from Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Bauchi, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Gombe states and as a second language by 15 million in Nigeria; and millions more in other countries, for a total of at least 50 million speakers.

Hausa is a tone language, a classification in which pitch differences add as much to the meaning of a word as do consonants and vowels. The Hausa language is not just the states’ local dialect. It is used for broadcasting on international radio stations, such as the BBC.

2. Igbo

This is the native language spoken by about 24 million people from Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states. In some parts of Akwa Ibom, Delta and Rivers states, the Igbo language is also spoken. The language belongs to the Niger-Congo language family. It is part of the Kwa subfamily.

3. Yoruba

languages spoken in Nigeria

Yoruba is the language spoken by a set of people in Western Africa. Its native name is ‘Ede Yoruba’, that is the Yoruba language. It is spoken by an estimated 20 million people. The Yoruba language is a major language spoken in Nigeria.

The main areas that speak this language are Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Ogun, Ondo, and Lagos states and some parts of Kogi State. The language has its origins in the Yoruba people, who are believed to be descendants of Oduduwa, the son of a powerful god called Oludumare.

Yoruba is also widely spoken outside Nigeria. Same as the Igbo language, it is so widespread abroad due to Nigerian immigrants in the UK and the USA. This makes the Yoruba language the top most spoken Nigerian language in the world.

4. Fulfude

The Fula or Fula, Fulani, Fulatanchi is a language of West Africa, spoken by the Fula people also known as the Fulbe or Peuls from Senegal to Cameroon and Sudan.

According to the year 2000 population report, it is said that about 11.5 million Nigerians speak this language and the number is increasing ( 340,000 in Sokoto). Fulfulde are scattered in states like Sokoto, Adamawa, Kano, Jos, Katsina, Maiduguri and part of Bauchi state.

5. Kanuri

One of the most spoken languages in Nigeria is Kanuri. Most than 3 million people speak Kakuri. Kanuri is unrelated to Hausa which is the most commonly spoken language in northern Nigeria.

The speakers are mainly located in Borno, Yobe and Jigawa States. However, there are also about 500,000 people, who although do not speak Kanuri every day but use it as a second language occasionally.

6. Ijaw

ijaw people

The Ijaw language consists of nine closely related Niger-Congo languages, all of which belong to the Ijoid branch of the Niger-Congo tree. More than 2 million people in Delta, Ondo Bayelsa, and Ekiti states speak it. Egbema, Ikibiri Arogbo, and West Tarairi languages are considered to be this language’s dialects.

They are notable for their subject–object–verb basic word order, which is otherwise an unusual feature in Niger–Congo, shared only by such distant potential branches as Mande and Dogon.

7. Tiv

This is part of the Southern Bantoid Tivoid family, a branch of Benue–Congo and ultimately of the Niger-Congo family. It is another major and at the same time minor language spoken in Nigeria. Tiv is spoken by over 2 million people in Nigeria concentrated mainly in Benue State (Makurdi, Gwer, Gboko Kwande, Vandeikya, and Katsina-Ala LGAs). It is also widely spoken in Plateau State (Lafia LGA) and Taraba State (Bali, Takum, and Wukari LGAs).

8. Ibibio

The Ibibio language is said to probably be the most ancient of all the semi Bantu languages.   Ibibio (proper) is the native language of the Ibibio people of Akwa Ibom State. 1.5 million native speakers consider this language as their first, while 4.5 million of Nigerians speak Ibibio as their second language.

This language which was once regarded a dialect of what is called the Efik-Ibibio language has developed and spread quite much to have its own sub-dialects and variations. The speakers can be found in Abia, Rivers, and Cross River states. The local language of Akwa Ibom state is used for broadcasting on radio and television programs.

9. Urhobo

This is one of the Edoid languages that is largely spoken by the major ethnic group in Delta state of southern Nigeria. Urhobo language has more than 10 subdialects namely: Orogun, Udu, Agbarha, Ofoni, Ughievwien, and even Isoko among others.

Although this language is mostly spoken by a given set of people, many Nigerians learn it as a slang. About 1 million people or more speak Urhobo in Nigeria.

10. Edo

The Edo language is a Volta–Niger language spoken primarily in Edo State. It is the primary language of the Edo people of Igodomigodo. The language is mainly spoken by at least 1 million people.

There is a lack of common language in Edo state, so from time to time some efforts are put by the government to regulate the situation. It is said that the Edoid language invariably the Bini language belongs to the most wide-spread of the five great language families of Africa. Edo language is also spoken in Ondo and Delta states.