6 indigenous African languages that are on the verge of extinction

Katrina Esau
84-year-old Katrina Esau is working hard to make sure that the language of her childhood outlives her

Have you ever thought about how life would be without indigenous languages?

Languages are a huge part of human culture and existence, hence, the downward spiral of a particular language is largely tantamount to the death of the culture.

With more than 7,000 living languages in the world, UNESCO predicts that more than half will be extinct by the end of the century. It recently stated that Africans as a whole speak a combined total of around 2,000 different languages, which roughly equates to about one-third of the entire world’s linguistic heritage.

Recent studies have shown a steady decline in the use of indigenous African languages, and there are fears that most African countries will soon speak English as a first, and perhaps the only language, leading to a loss of culture and identity.

Human rights experts have advised countries to “recognize, protect and promote indigenous languages through legislation, policies and other strategies in full cooperation with indigenous peoples.”

The advice comes as the world commemorates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population

On the back of the above concerns, We Africa shares a spotlight on 6 indigenous languages that are on the verge of extinction.

Massai and Samburu people
The Massai and Samburu people speak Maa

Maa language

Maa language is a language spoken in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania by the Maasai people. This language is regarded as one of those closely guarded in the region, however, the language is fast dwindling due to inter-tribal marriages between the Massai men who took wives from neighbouring communities.

Xiri tribe
Xiri tribe


With an estimated 87 people able to speak the Xiri languagin South Africa, this traditional South African language is on the verge of extinction. It is used near the Namibian Border and around 100 people speak it in other countries. Despite this, the dialect is facing a big fight for survival.

Jilbe man
A Jilbe man addressing a group of women


Spoken across the Cameroon border from the Dabanga town, this Afro-Asiatic language is spoken in a single village in Borno State in Nigeria.

Katrina Esau
84-year-old Katrina Esau is working hard to make sure that the language of her childhood outlives her

N|uu Language

N|uu is considered to be one of the most original languages spoken in Southern Africa. It is spoken by South Africa’s San community, also known as Bushmen.

According to the BBC, there are only 3 fluent speakers of the language as of 2017. With no other fluent speakers in the world apart from a family of 84-year-old, Katrina Esau, the language is recognized by the UN as “critically endangered”.

Baldenu Tribesman
The Baldenu Tribesman


With a language status of nearly extinct, the Baldemu language is gradually fading away as speakers migrate surrounding mountains to villages around, including, Fulfulde, Kaele, and Mundang.

The language is known as Baldemu or Baldare to its speakers and it is native to Northern Cameroon.

Suba tribe
The people of the Suba tribe


Suba is definitely one of the few languages on the brink of extinction. Spoken by the ethnic tribe of Abasuba in Kenya, it was dominant in the colonial and pre-colonial era as only a few people can now speak the language.

According to reports, it is confined to the two Islands of Lake Victoria, Mfangano and Rusinga and parts of Gwasi. With over 100,000 in 1992, their numbers have dwindled with death and migration.