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Languages indigenous to Africa that belong to the Niger-Congo, Nilo-Saharan, Khoisan, and Afro-Asiatic language phyla. Africa is the most polyglot continent; estimates of the number of African languages range from 1,000 to more than 1,500. Many have numerous dialects. Distinctions in tone play a significant role in nearly all sub-Saharan languages. Contact between people who do not speak the same language has necessitated the development of lingua francas such as Swahili in East Africa, Lingala in the Congo River basin (seeBantu languages), Sango in the Central African Republic (seeAdamawa-Ubangi languages), and Arabic across much of the Sahel.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on African languages, visit Britannica.com.
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