Uganda has forty indigenous languages and they fall into three main families—Bantu, Nilotic and Central Most Ugandans speak Luganda than English

English, the language of the colonizing power, was introduced in government and public life by way of missionary work and the educational system. During the first decades of the twentieth century, Swahili gained influence as it was not only used in the army and the police, but was also taught in schools.

Upon Uganda’s independence in 1962, English was maintained as the official language, as it was already rooted deeply in administration, media and education. Also, Uganda’s ethno linguistic diversity made it difficult to choose another language as the official language of Uganda.

After independence, there were efforts to choose an indigenous official language, with Swahili and Luganda as the most considered candidates. Although Luganda was the most geographically spread language, people outside Buganda were opposed to having it as a national language as were those of the Buganda kingdom because they felt other tribes’ mispronunciation and grammar errors would ruin their language. English remained the official language.

English is spoken mostly by literate Ugandans .The English dialect spoken in Uganda is sometimes called Uglish or Ugandan English, and a rich local flavor characterizes the language. The language is strongly influenced by native languages and speakers in Uganda always alter non-native words so that they sound more euphonic.

Today, English in Uganda is prominently spoken in the spheres of government, education, and politics.

Access to economic and political power is almost impossible without having mastered that language. Swahili, the East African lingua franca, is relatively widespread as a trade language and was made an official national language in September 2005.

In all of the Bantu speaking areas of Uganda, dialect continua are very common. For example, people around Mbarara speak Runyankore and people from Fort Portal and Tooro Kingdom speak Rutooro, but in the area between those towns, there are villages where most of the people speak a dialect that is best characterized as intermediate between Runyankore and Rutooro.

In recognition of the closeness of four of these languages (Runyankore, Rutooro, Rukiga and Runyoro), and to facilitate work in them such as teaching, a standardized version called “Runyakitara” was developed.

In south central Uganda, the Bantu languages of Luganda and Lusoga are largely interintelligible. This dialectic similarity also extends to the Lussese language spoken in the Ssese Islands of Lake Victoria with the neighboring Islands.

Eastern Nilotic languages include Karamojong of eastern Uganda, the Bari languages in the extreme north-western corner and Teso south of Lake Kyoga Alur Acholi, Lango, Adhola and Kuman of eastern Uganda are Western Nilotic Luo languages.

Acholi and Lango are interintelligible, and sometimes the term “Luo” is used to cover them.

Some southern Nilotic Kalenjin languages are spoken along the border with Kenya, including Pokot and the Elgon languages near Kupsabiny. The eastern Ugandan Kuliak languages Ik and Soo are also members of the Eastern Sudanic branch. Lugbara, Aringa, Ma’di and Ndo of north-western Uganda are languages of the Central Sudanic branch of Nilo-Saharan.

Swahili in Uganda

There was a need to give a native language official status, and Swahili and Luganda were identified as potential candidates. The Swahili language is foreign, so it was deemed to be neutral, and in 2005 it was proposed to be Uganda’s second official language.

The spread of Swahili within the country was facilitated by the country’s participation in the East African Community, which involves its Swahili-speaking neighbors of Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda’s language policy directs its use in schools, although most institutions do not meet this requirement.

Uganda is home to numerous other Bantu communities apart from the Baganda. Bantu languages in the country include: Nyoro, used by the Bunyoro; Tooro, used by the Tooro people; Runyankore, used by the Nkore community; Rukiga, heard among the Kiga people; and Lunyole, used by the Banyole people. Several Western Nilotic Luo languages are used in the eastern part of Uganda, such as Lango, Alur, Kuman, Acholi, and Adhola. The Eastern Nilotic languages include Teso, Karamojong, and Bari. The Eastern Sudanic languages used in Uganda are Soo, Pokot, Kuliak languages, and Elgon. The languages Ndo, Lugbara, Ma’di, and Aringa are Central Sudanic languages.

Sign Language in Uganda

In 1995, Uganda became the world’s second nation to include sign language in its constitution. The Ugandan Sign Language is used by Ugandan deaf communities, although its knowledge is mostly limited to urban localities. The language was influenced by Kenyan Sign Language, as well as American and British Sign Languages.