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Key findings
  • In every round, Afrobarometer has asked respondents to identify their “home language, … that is, the language of your group of origin.” The findings presented here regarding home language draw from Afrobarometer Round 5 surveys, conducted with 53,973 respondents in 35 countries between 2011 and 2013.
  • In addition, in Round 4 (2008/2009) only, Afrobarometer asked individuals, “What languages do you speak well?” This question was asked of 27,713 respondents across the 20 countries covered in Round 4.
  • Every interview also captures the “language of interview.” We use findings on “language of interview” from Round 5 to test success in matching interviewers and respondents and from Round 4 to check and correct each respondent’s list of languages spoken.

Using data on more than 800 home languages identified during Afrobarometer Round 5 (2011/2013) surveys in 35 countries, as well as information on multilingualism gathered in 20 countries in Round 4 (2008/2009), this paper explores linguistic diversity and multilingualism at the individual level, within communities, and across countries. Afrobarometer data offer a unique perspective on the distribution of languages and language capabilities from the viewpoint of the users of language rather than those who study it. The paper also identifies some of the challenges encountered in collecting public opinion data in linguistically diverse environments.

The findings reveal that even in many rural zones, many Africans are living within ethnically and linguistically diverse communities, and preliminary analysis suggests this may have important implications for social and political attitudes. The data have untapped potential for understanding language evolution and for studying language both as a product and as a variable driving attitudes and outcomes.

Carolyn Logan

Carolyn is the director of analysis at Afrobarometer