Malagasy is the predominantly spoken language family in Madagascar.
Often called “The Great Island” and “The Red Island” – and formerly “The Golden Island”, Madagascar is home to an unparalleled biodiversity on earth, the product of its unique isolation from the rest of continental Africa because of the Mozambique Channel and the Indian Ocean. Malagasy has 16 major regional dialect families, as well as hundreds of sub-dialects. It also exists in conversation with French (the source of many loan words) and a growing influence from English and the commercial interests from China and France. Almost the entire population of the country (26 million people) speaks one or more dialects of Malagasy. The next most commonly spoken language is French.
Major Dialect Families
Although opinions differ, Madagascar is generally said to have 16-20 major ethnic groups, most of which correspond directly to one of the major dialect families of Malagasy. Some groups that have been historically aggregated together are now asserting their separate identities, leading to 24 distinct groups now contending for major recognition:
Serva, M., & Pasquini, M. (2020). Dialects of Madagascar. PLoS ONE, 15(10), e0240170. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0240170
Sipa, M. (n.d.). Tribes of Madagascar. https://www.madamagazine.com/en/volksgruppen-madagaskars/