Top 14 native languages in Uganda

Picture of an African woman

Uganda is among those few countries that don’t have a national language. As a result, people in different regions of this country speak their own desired languages such as acholi, alur, ateso, karamanjong, lango, lugbar, lugwere, lusoga, luganda, luo, rukiga, runyankore, rutooro, Swahili, English, among others. 

Here is all you need to know about these languages;

  1. Acholi: This language is used by the Luo Nilotic group located in Northern Uganda. Natives of Acholi language are referred to as ‘Acholi’ or ‘Acoli’ and the places they inhabit is commonly called Acoliland. Recent statistics show that about 1.17 million people speak Acholi. This language is closely related to Lango, Alur and Luo.

    Acoli land
  2. Alur: The ethnic group of Alur occupies areas of Northeastern Uganda. The language spoken by the Alur is also referred to as Alur and it is closely related to adhola and acholi. They live in grass thatched huts and mainly practice animal rearing and farming where they grow simsim, cassava, beans and potatoes.
  3. Ateso: This language is spoken by the Iteso people residing in the Teso-sub region of Uganda. There are about 1.57 million Iteso according to the 2002 census.
  4. Karamojong: People who speak Karamojong are also known as Karamojong  and they occupy the dry areas of Northeastern Uganda.
    Image of karamojong women
    Karamojong women

    They are believed to have migrated from Ethiopia during 1600 A.D. The name Karamojong originated from “ekar ngimojong” which means “the elderly are tired of walking/migrating.” They were originally called the Jie.                                                               

  5. Lango: Lango is spoken by 5% of the population in Uganda. That is about 1.3 million people. Natives of lango are referred to as the Langi and they live in Northern Uganda.                                                 
  6. Lugbar: The Lugbara language is spoken by the Lugbara people staying in the West Nile region of Uganda. This language came from central Sudan and it is closely related to the language of the Madi. Some of the famous Lugbara include Dorcus Inzukuru who won the 3000 metre world champion race in 2005.
  7. Lugwere: It is spoken by the Gwere people living in Eastern Uganda. It is also closely related to Lusoga and Luganda. The Gwere belong to the Bantu group.

    Image of a musoga dancing
  8. Lusoga: Also known as soga, this language is spoken by the Basoga living in Southern Uganda. It has over 3 million speakers and this means it is among the top 5 languages used in Uganda.
  9. Luganda: It is spoken by over 5 million people living in Uganda and it comes second to English. The people who speak Luganda are known as the Baganda and they occupy areas of central Buganda. The Baganda have influenced the usage of their language in most primary and secondary schools in central and Eastern Uganda. This makes it the most widely spoken native language of Uganda.
  10. Luo: The natives of Luo occupy areas of Northern Uganda. The Luo are part of the large Nilotic group which encompasses the Acholi and Alur.
  11. Rukiga: It’s spoken by the Bakiga and it can also be called the kiga language. It is closely related to runyakore language.

    Image of the Kiga dancing
    The kiga dance
  12. Runyankore: There are atleast 2 million natives who speak runyankore or nkore language in Uganda. They Nkore people stay in Busenyi, Ibanda, Mbarara and Isingiro districts where they practice farming. They also belong to the Bantu ethnic group.
  13. Rutooro: It can also be called Tooro. This language is spoken by the Batooro who reside in three mjor districts of Kyenjojo, Kabarole and Kyegegwa.
  14. Swahili: Not originally used in Uganda but the language has now been embraced by some people especially the traders. Estimated speakers are over 50 million world wide. Swahili can also be called kiswahili and it is also a Bantu language.

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