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Languages of Gabon

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Languages of Gabon
Sign in French at the Musée National in Libreville
RecognisedFang, Mbete, Myene, Nzebi
IndigenousBaka, many Bantu languages
ForeignEnglish, Portuguese, Spanish
SignedFrancophone African Sign Language
Keyboard layout

French is the official language in Gabon, however 32% of the people speak Fang as a mother tongue.[1] French is the medium of instruction. Before World War II very few Gabonese learned French, nearly all of them working in either business or government administration. After the war, France worked for universal primary education in Gabon, and by the 1960-61 census, 47% of the Gabonese over the age of 14 spoke some French, while 13% were literate in the language. By the 1990s, the literacy rate had risen to about 60%.

It is estimated that 80%[2] of the country's population can speak the language competently and one-third of residents of Libreville, the capital city, had become native French speakers.[1] More than 10,000 French people live in Gabon, and France predominates the country's foreign cultural and commercial influences. Outside the capital, French is less commonly spoken, though it is used by those who have completed a secondary or university education.

Per research conducted in 2011 at the University of Western Cape:

"It has been noted that French is increasingly be-coming the mother tongue and the initial language of the younger generations in urban Gabon (Pambou, 1998:147; Ndinga-Koumba-Binza, 2005a:72 & 2005b:141; Idiata, 2008:85; cf. Blanchon, 1994). In fact, studies by Ntong Amvame (1984), Bouché (1998), Mbondzi (1998), Ompoussa (1998), Itembo (1999) and Mouloungui Nguimbyt (2002) have shown that pupils of various ages and grades at schools learn French more efficiently than any other Gabonese language. Idiata (2008:200 & 2009:126) has also noted that some pupils do not speak any of the Gabonese native languages at all. One of the reasons for this phenomenon (i.e. French being the mother tongue of younger generations) is cross-ethnic marriages.

In fact, many couples of mixed ethnicity prefer French rather than Gabonese native languages as the code for better communication within the family. Children from a family of this kind have no choice but to acquire French as their first language. The children learn the language at home from the parents before they even get to school, therefore lessening the chances of learning any of the Gabonese native languages.

This urbanisation is also to be considered as a cause for French being the initial language of Gabonese younger generations. In fact, “in certain urban contexts there is a large degree of learning by contact at an early age” (Lafage, 1993:216)."[3]

Ethnologue reported that there were a growing number of native speakers as well:

"1,515,000 [French-speakers] in Gabon, all users. L1 users: 265,000 in Gabon (2021). L2 users: 1,250,000 (Marcoux et al 2022)."

The indigenous languages are all members of the Bantu family, estimated to have come to Gabon about 2,000 years ago, and differentiated into about 40 languages. They are generally spoken but not written; while missionaries from the United States and France developed transcriptions for a number of languages based on the Latin alphabet starting in the 1840s, and translated the Bible into several of them, French colonial policy officially promoted the study of French and discouraged African languages. The languages continue to be transmitted through family and clan, and individuals in cities and other areas where different people may learn several Bantu languages.

The Gabonese government sponsored research on the Bantu languages starting in the 1970s.

The three largest languages are Fang, Mbere, and Sira (Eshira), each with about 25–30% of the speakers. The remainder of the languages (including Teke, Vili, Punu, Myene and Kota) are single-digit percentages, and some have only a few thousand speakers.

Education for the deaf in Gabon uses American Sign Language, introduced by the deaf American missionary Andrew Foster. (See Francophone African Sign Language.)

List of languages[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ouellon, Conrad. "Gabon" (in French). Archived from the original on 2010-05-29. Retrieved 2012-11-19.
  2. ^ (in French) La Francophonie dans le monde 2006-2007 published by the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. Nathan, Paris, 2007
  3. ^ Ndinga-Koumba-Binza, Hugues Steve. "From foreign to national: a review of the status of French in Gabon". University of the Western Cape.

External links[edit]