Burkina Faso – General Linguistic Information

For a country its size, 274 300 km2, roughly three times the size of the state of Indiana in the United States and a population of 17 million inhabitants according to the 2011 demographic projection, Burkina Faso is one of the most linguistically diverse country. Of about the 200 countries the world counts, Burkina Faso ranks 37th in terms of its linguistic diversity. About 65 languages are natively spoken on its territory. 

Linguistic Map of Burkina with languages, language families, and areas they are spoken

“He who loses his language loses his dignity;” that is a popular widely agreed upon saying among the Burkinabè. Colonized by the French toward the end of the 19th century, the Burkinabe saw his language lose status in the face of French, the then language of power, prosperity, and prestige. Even though it is widely agreed upon that no people can “develop” on basis of the language of another, not much has been done to preserve and promote the language of the Burkinabè on the political and administrative spheres.  

The notion of ethnic identity has, however, been one of the driving factors in preserving the language of the Burkinabè thus far. For most Burkinabè, speaking one’s ethnic language is certainly the most important sign of belonging to that ethnic group. For example, upon encountering an individual for the first time and realizing that you are from the same ethnic group, most Burkinabè will automatically shift the conversation into their ethnic language to authenticate that the other is indeed a member of the ethnic group. That said, language in and of itself is ethnic groups’ ID. Given this fact, the Burkinabè usually ensures that his progeny speaks his language. However, given the limited settings in which some of these languages are used, their survival remains at stake. 

French is the official language and this implies that it is the language used in schools, the army, the media, etc. It is also commonly used among those who have developed fluency in it through school instruction in informal settings. Since many people have not attended school, they have some, little, to no knowledge of French. However, they are able to communicate with others from a different ethnic group using certain languages that have come to be known as lingua franca. Examples of languages used as lingua franca include Moore in the north and the center of the country and Jula in the West and South. 

The use of French as the official language in Burkina Faso does not only represent a threat to its national ones; it also has some advantages. In fact, the advantages of using French as the official language is not just limited to its status as an international language allowing the Burkinabè to communicate to a certain extent beyond his boarders, but it also answers the question of which ethnic language should have been made official given the imbroglio of choices and the risk of alienating the language of the other ethnic groups.


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