Using data on more than 800 home languages identified during Afrobarometer Round 5 (2011/2013) surveys in 35 countries, as well as information on multilingualism gathered in 20 countries in Round 4 (2008/2009), this paper explores linguistic diversity and multilingualism at the individual level, within communities, and across countries. Afrobarometer data offer a unique perspective on the distribution of languages and language capabilities from the viewpoint of the users of language rather than those who study it. The paper also identifies some of the challenges encountered in collecting public opinion data in linguistically diverse environments.
The findings reveal that even in many rural zones, many Africans are living within ethnically and linguistically diverse communities, and preliminary analysis suggests this may have important implications for social and political attitudes. The data have untapped potential for understanding language evolution and for studying language both as a product and as a variable driving attitudes and outcomes.