The Constitution of Sudan identifies 2 official languages: English and Arabic. English belongs to the Indo-European language family and is written in the Latin alphabet. Arabic, however, belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family and is written in the Arabic alphabet, which is script-like and runs right to left. English serves primarily as a language of government, public education, and, in some case, business. Most public announcements or signs are in both Arabic and English. Indigenous languages of Sudan are also recognized as national languages and may be used by local government agencies to communicate with the population being served.

Although English and Arabic are the official languages, they are not the most widely spoken. Standard Arabic, for example, is the first language of around 26.9 million individuals. It is not, however, understood by people who only speak Sudanese Arabic, which is the most widely spoken native language in the country. It is the first language of around 28.87 million people. In fact, linguists believe that nearly all of the population here speaks this language as a second tongue if it is not the first.

Traveling to Sudan requires learning a few phrases in Sudanese Arabic, in order to be able to get around on a daily basis. This dialect is mutually intelligible with Egyptian Arabic, so familiarity with that language is also helpful in this country. To ask a new acquaintance their name, “ismik mino?” is said. Asking for help may also come in handy. This phrase in Sudanese Arabic is: “Momkin tsaidni min fadlak?” (Can you help me?). Other important phrases include: please (min fadlak), thank you (shukran), and welcome (afwan).

Linguists have identified at least 114 native languages in Sudan. Each of these is recognized as a national language, despite also being spoken by a minority population within the country. The most widely spoken minority language here is Beja, which belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family and Cushitic subgroup. An estimated 2 million people (1.2 million of which are native speakers) speak this language, the only Cushitic language native to Sudan. Speakers of this language are primarily concentrated along the coastal area of the Red Sea. Another minority language is Fur, which is believed to be spoken by 744,000 people in the Darfur region. The Dilling language is an example of one that is slowly decreasing in use. All of the 11,000 speakers are able to speak another language besides Dilling.

This page was last modified on May 1st, 2018

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