Malagasy is the predominantly spoken language family in Madagascar.

About 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:

  1. Antaifasy
  2. Antemoro
  3. Antaisaka
  4. Antambahoaka
  5. Antandroy
  6. Antankarana
  7. Antanosy
  8. Bara
  9. Beosi
  10. Betsileo
  11. Betsimisaraka
  12. Bezanozano
  13. Mahafaly
  14. Makoa
  15. Masikoro
  16. Merina
  17. Mikea
  18. Sakalava
  19. Sihanaka
  20. Tanala
  21. Tsimihety
  22. Vezo
  23. Zafimaniry
  24. Zafisoro


Serva, M., & Pasquini, M. (2020). Dialects of Madagascar. PLoS ONE, 15(10), e0240170.

Sipa, M. (n.d.). Tribes of Madagascar.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages Copyright © by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.