Mapping Languages of the World: China and Africa

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China and Africa are two very important places in the world right now. Home to a combined total of roughly 2.2 billion of the world’s nearly 7 billion inhabitants, these two locations play a critical role societally and politically in the world. The combined nations of Africa continue to struggle to help the continent recover from the horrors of slavery that resulted in millions of its native inhabitants being forcibly removed from their homes and shipped around the world in the 17th  and 18th  centuries.


In China, the rise of the world’s #2 economy has given the planet’s most populous nation a new profile on the international stage. When most people look at either the nation of China or the continent of Africa, they have little understanding for the diversity that exists in both places. Just like other corners of the world, these two locations possess vast cultural differences. In this post, you can see the diversity of native tongues that exist in both places on maps that include modern-day borders.


The Languages of China

In a nation with 1.3 billion residents, there is bound to be some diversity. Although most call themselves Chinese, to classify their language using a singular term such as “Chinese” would be a disservice to the rich cultural heritage that exists. China’s history is one dominated by expansion and contraction over time. As such, various languages rose and fell in use and influence.


This map takes a wider look at China and the surrounding areas that once fell within its ancient empires to separate the various languages that were and/or still are commonly spoken in China. In total, there are roughly 13 different languages on the map, each shaded a different color. Most surprising is the spread of these languages, with some dialects existing across the map in varying pockets of concentration.


Some languages are classified as part of the SinoTibetan language family, while others are entirely different dialects. For example, Mongolian tongues are common in the north, the Turkic tongue of Uighur in China’s western regions, and in the southern province of Guangxi, locals have long used the Zhuang tongue that is much closer to Thai than SinoTibetan.


The Languages of Africa

Many of the divisions in modern-day Africa stem from its colonial era. Its colonial borders create a lot of tension between people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, many of whom have divisions that date back thousands of years, but who have been forced to live side by side regardless.


In this intriguing map from World Mapping Systems, the languages of Africa are mapped out overlaying the modern national borders most are familiar with. Each color represents a different language family, with varying shades existing within each to denote different dialects within a specific family. In total, seven different language families are represented, with countless dialects diverging within those families.


Many central and southern nations consist of countless languages and cultures crammed into one nation, but Nigeria is a perfect example of the struggles facing African nations due to diverse populations. The nation of Nigeria is home to five of the continent’s seven language families, with various shades denoting divergent tongues.


Maps are more than pieces of paper with national names and state capitals listed on them. You can learn more about any region of the world by applying data to maps to provide a different outlook on culture, religion, history, and language that have shaped the world today.

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