Mozambique: How many languages are spoken in the country?

There are 20 languages spoken in Mozambique, according to the government website, apart from the official Portuguese. Carlos Serra [pt] wonders if there are more, according to two renowned linguists: “One told me that there were between 20 and 26; the other told me that there were 17 written and some yet to be spelled out”.


  • A better question is how many mutually unintelligible languages are spoken in Mozambique. Linguists like to divide linguistic traits as much as possible, which leads to claims in areas of the world without politically strong indigenous languages that they have very many languages. After a while in the field, this tendency begins to feel like a ‘divide and conquer’ approach to indigenous culture.

    Bear in mind that some geographical areas, ethnic groups and other common criteria for grouping people speak mutually intelligble speech, although the speech may be termed as a different language. Also note that missionaries, while contributing much to bringing languages into written forms (and therefore increased political power in our era), also decided what were the ‘different’ languages – and made errors in differentiating speech that in the UK or China, for example, would be considered strong accents – compunded by the fact that different missionaries located closely did not necessarily cooperate – leading to categorisation of ‘different’ languages for mutually intelligible speech.

    Be very conservative when counting languages – impressive numbers make for interesting academics and fertile political fodder, but rarely aid the speakers themselves in gaining a more powerful voice in society.

  • Phil

    Wow. Super interesting. Thnx.

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