Blog 3: Portuguese, Italian, Spanish and French…oh my!

Languages. There are roughly 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. When the colonial powers entered Africa, they brought theirs with them. The British put into place English-speaking institutions in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Somaliland, Tanzania, Sudan, etc. The French put into place French-speaking institutions into West Africa and Equatorial Africa. The Portuguese put into place Portuguese-speaking institutions in Mozambique, Angola, Sao Tome e Principe, and Ginea-Bissau. The Spanish put into place Spanish-speaking institutions in Equatorial Guinea and the Italians in Somalia.

Each census is written by the colonial administrators who took them thereby they are in one of the 5 colonial languages (English, British, Portuguese, French, and Italian). Take a look at the one below. It says, “The Colony of Mozambique Department  of Statistics Census of the Non-Indigenous Population” for 1945. I’m no Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian expert but I’ve learned some cool things such as how to say non native in all these languages and how to say province town, district, etc. These wouldn’t help me very much if I was to have a conversation but it’s still pretty cool.



  1. jonahabraham says:

    This is really neat! I love historical documents like this. This sort of thing generated during the colonial period is especially fascinating, seeing how the European powers dealt with the challenging of administrating cultures that they were often totally unfamiliar with. Did you find any interesting or surprising facts within the census?

  2. Hi Layla,

    I took a class at William and Mary called “African Colonialism and Independence” so I learned a lot about how the colonial languages have affected the continent and the current state of African nations today. One really interesting thought I had look at this census is that at the end of 1945, World War II was over and many believe that this was the spark that led to African nations seeking independence (which many got by 1960). Mozambique was a Portuguese colony and the Portuguese were not at all receptive to the idea of independence. They were particularly cruel to the people of Mozambique as well as their other colonies (namely, Angola). Portugal wanted to hang on to its colonies as a source of wealth for as long as possible which resulted in Mozambique not getting its independence until 1974. Portugal then pulled most Portuguese citizens out of the country which caused a pretty substantial destabilization which was one of the many straws that led to the civil war of the 80s’. Anyway, I think its interesting that this census took account of only the “non-indigenous” population. Were there quite a few settlers there at the time? There had to be a decent amount for them pulling out to destabilize the nation.

    Dana B.