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See also the final report


The role of language in national development cannot be overemphasized. Communication is crucial in any development process in that it is concerned with the transfer of ideas and knowledge in ways that enable the recipient to understand, react and act upon the information received and language is central to that communication process. In Malawi, language as an essential aspect of communication, has not been given the prominence it deserves in the fight against poverty and various other issues of national development.

Up until the present study was conducted, Malawi did not have up to date and reliable statistics on various linguistic matters in the country. For instance, there were no accurate statistics on the number of languages spoken in Malawi and their actual geographical distribution. Available data on Malawi’s linguistic situation was collected by the National Statistical Office during population censuses. This data was flawed in many ways as the methods used in collecting the data were not appropriate to language research. The lack of such important linguistic information for the country has hampered the formulation of a comprehensive language policy for Malawi. Similarly, the implementation of the local language education policy for primary education (Ministry of Education: Malawi Primary Curriculum and Assessment Procedures Framework, 2004) is being held back by, among other things, the lack of reliable data on the geographical distribution of Malawian local languages.

In order for Malawi to achieve its overall goals of national development as stipulated in the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (MPRSP), the Vision 2020 and The Policy and Investment Framework (PIF), policy makers and development planners working on various issues that have a bearing on language matters need to be guided by reliable language data.

It is against this background that the Centre for language Studies proposed to conduct the present study. The investigation was conducted over a period of 30 days from 15th May – 13th June 2006, covering all the districts of the Northern region except Likoma Island due to problems encountered during the survey (see section 4). Below we present the findings of the survey in terms of the languages spoken in the northern region and their dialects.


The main objective of the study was to determine the number of languages spoken in the northern region, where they are spoken and number of speakers of these languages. Specific objectives include: = To determine the number of languages/dialects spoken in the northern of Malawi.

  • To determine the geographical distribution of these languages/dialects.
  • To develop an accurate linguistic atlas for Malawi
  • To establish the various patterns of language choice and use
  • To establish peoples’ language attitudes and identities
  • To establish degrees of language loyalty and attachment in order to predict future tendencies towards language shift and or maintenance
  • To guide government in the formulation of a comprehensive language policy for Malawi.
  • To facilitate the standardization of Malawi languages
  • To guide the Ministry of Education in the implementation of its policy of local language instruction at primary level.

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Page last modified on November 02, 2009, at 05:01 PM