Languages of Zimbabwe

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Languages of Zimbabwe
Official languagesChewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, Sign Language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, and Xhosa
Main languagesShona (~70%), Ndebele (~20%), English
Sign languagesZimbabwean sign languages, American Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
KB United States.svg

Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, namely Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, and Xhosa. Due to its history as both a British Colony and as the State of Rhodesia, English, Shona and Ndebele are the most widely spoken languages in the country. Approximately 70% of the population is Shona speaking and speaks Shona as their first language.[1] Also it is said that around 20% are Ndebele and speak IsiNdebele as their first language. These statistics have not been officialised yet because Zimbabwe has never conducted a census that enumerated people according to languages.

Official language status[edit]

Since the adoption of the 2013 Constitution, Zimbabwe has 16 official languages, namely Chewa, Chibarwe, English, Kalanga, Koisan, Nambya, Ndau, Ndebele, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda, and Xhosa. Prior to independence in 1980, English had been the official language of Zimbabwe's antecedents since the arrival of white rule in the region. During the Company-rule period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, English was established as Rhodesia's official language by the British South Africa Company.[2] In a 1918 letter written in response to an Afrikaner settler who complained about the Rhodesian policy of not allowing the teaching of Afrikaans in schools, the Secretary to the Administrator of Southern Rhodesia wrote that "the official language of Southern Rhodesia has ever since the occupation of the country been English and ... no provision exists in the legislation of the territory for the recognition of a second official language."[2]

English remained the official language when Southern Rhodesia was established as a self-governing Crown colony in 1923. During the UDI period from 1965 to 1979, English was retained as the official language of the unrecognised state of Rhodesia.[3] Rhodesia's successor, the short-lived unrecognized state of Zimbabwe Rhodesia, designated English the "only official language" of the country.[4] Zimbabwe Rhodesia was succeeded by Zimbabwe in 1980. Zimbabwe's original constitution, drafted in 1979 at the Lancaster House Agreement, did not name any official languages.[5] By the time the new 2013 constitution was being drafted, English, Shona, and Ndebele had become the country's official languages.[6]

Sign languages[edit]

Alongside numerous oral languages, sign languages are also used in Zimbabwe. Sign languages in Southern Rhodesia first developed independently among deaf students in different schools for the deaf beginning in the 1940s. It is unclear how many sign languages there are in Zimbabwe, and to what extent each is used, as little research has been done. The Glottolog, a language database maintained by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, lists seven varieties of indigenous Zimbabwean sign language: Manicaland Sign, Mashonaland Sign, Masvingo School Sign, Matabeleland Sign, Midlands Sign, Zimbabwe Community Sign, and Zimbabwe School Sign.[7] American Sign Language is also reportedly used, though it is not clear to what extent.[8] "Sign language", without further specificity, became one of Zimbabwe's official languages in the 2013 Constitution.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ndebele". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  2. ^ a b Mambo, Alois S. (February 2000). ""Some Are More White Than Others": Racial Chauvinism As A Factor of Rhodesian Immigration Policy, 1890-1963". Zambezia. 27: 150 – via ResearchGate.
  3. ^ Vianna, Fernando de Mello (1979-06-17). The International Geographic Encyclopedia and Atlas. Springer. p. 646. ISBN 9781349050024.
  4. ^ "1979 Constitution No. 12, Rhodesia, Act to Provide for a New Constitution for Zimbabwe Rhodesia" (PDF). 1979. p. 360. Retrieved 2018-11-12.
  5. ^ "Zero to sixteen in record time". The Economist. 2012-07-21. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  6. ^ "16 official languages for Zimbabwe". NewsDay Zimbabwe. 2012-07-21. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  7. ^ "Zimbabwe Sign Language". Glottolog. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  8. ^ American Sign Language at Ethnologue (16th ed., 2009)
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 28, 2013. Retrieved May 31, 2013.

External links[edit]