The two officially recognized languages of Burundi are French and Kirundi. French is considered a Romance language, which is a subgroup of the larger Indo-European language family. It is written with the same Latin alphabet as the English language, although some vowels are expressed with an accent mark to denote a specific pronunciation. Kirundi is a Bantu language of the Niger-Congo language family. This language also uses the Latin alphabet, although linguists dispute the number of consonants utilized. The estimate of consonant use ranges from 19 to 26, while most believe Kirundi speakers make use of 5 vowels.

Despite being one of the official languages of Burundi, French is spoken by only between 3% and 10% of the population. This language is primarily used by government officials and the most highly educated individuals. The French used in Burundi has been influenced by loanwords from indigenous languages like Lingala and Kirundi. Kirundi is the most widely spoken language in this country and is believed to be used by 98% of the population. Burundi is one of the only nations in Africa where the vast majority of the population speaks a single indigenous language. This widespread use is in part due to actions taken by the Belgian colonial government to promote public education in Kirundi between 1919 and 1962. The government today continues this practice.

Visiting Burundi can present a unique challenge to travelers, who may not be familiar with the Kirundi language. Some of the most important phrases to know before arriving in the country include: “yes” (ego), “no” (oya), “welcome” (karibu, a Swahili phrase), “thank you” (urakoze), and “how much does it cost?” (amahera angahe). Brushing up on some French phrases may also prove useful in case interacting with the consulate becomes necessary.

The most commonly spoken minority language in Burundi is Swahili, a Bantu language of the Niger-Congo language family. Under the German colonial rule, Swahili was largely promoted throughout the country and even taught in the public school systems between 1894 and 1916. Today, it is most commonly heard in the African Great Lakes region of Burundi. Swahili is primarily used by immigrants for trade and business negotiations.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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