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Rwanda -- Language

The nation's official languages are French and Kinyarwanda; Swahili is commonly used in commerce. Kinyarwanda is part of the Bantu sub-group of the central branch of the Niger-Congo language family. It is closely related to Kirundi, the language of Burundi. Kinyarwanda-Kirundi speakers comprise the third largest group of all the Bantu languages. All Rwandans speak Kinyarwanda, but there is some variation in pronunciation. The forms spoken by the Tutsi and Hutu are very similar. There are also dialectical differences between regions. The length and tone of Kinyarawanda vowels can be changed, and such changes can significantly alter the meaning of a word or sentence. Like other Bantu languages, Kiyarawanda has different noun classes, but it has over 20 different noun classes. As a note of comparison, English has only two noun classes, singular and plural.

In addition to Kinyarwanda, a small number of educated Rwandans have adopted French as a second language. In some areas Swahili is also spoken. Recently, English has gained ground and is becoming more common due to the leadership of the Rwanda Patriotic Front which was educated in anglophone Uganda. Also, many Rwandans are taking English classes in the cities, especially Kigali.

Source: Taylor, C.C. 1995. Rwandans. In Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life.

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