In the MCU, the inhabitants of the nation of Wakanda largely speak English (although other languages, such as Xhosa, Zulu, and Igbo, are also heard). It's not simply that they are cosmopolitan and happen to know English: this is the case even when people are speaking among themselves, not foreigners. That said, in real life, countries where English is the dominant everyday language tend to be either the UK or former colonies of the UK, for obvious reasons. Wakanda was highly insular, never colonized, and quite independently wealthy, which would seem to disfavor most reasons to adopt English as an everyday language.

Obviously, out-of-universe, most of the actors were American, and most American audiences would not understand the other Wakandan languages (to say nothing of a conlang). However, in-universe, why is English the predominant language in Wakanda?


1 Answer 1


They aren't speaking English, they're speaking Wakandan, as confirmed in this interview with Entertainment Weekly. We're hearing them in English because it's convenient for the audience not to have to read subtitles and for the actors not to have to speak extensively in an unfamiliar language. This is referred to in films as a 'translation convention'.

Apart from a handful of terms, T’Challa’s fictional African nation had no differentiated language in the Marvel canon. But its people wouldn’t exactly be speaking English, since part of Wakanda’s lore was that the technologically advanced land had never been conquered.

Chadwick Boseman’s character does speak English throughout the movie to other English-speakers, of course. He’s a statesman, and presumably knows many other languages, too. But for intimate scenes between T’Challa, the prince of Wakanda, and his father, King T’Chaka, directors Joe and Anthony Russo felt the two men should communicate in a native tongue, one that rose up from the continent itself, free of interference from outsiders.

“The language we used for Wakandan is called Xhosa,” Joe Russo tells EW. “John Kani, the actor who plays T’Challa’s father in the movie, speaks the language and taught it to Chadwick. It’s spoken by 7.6 million people in South Africa.”

Black Panther language: Where Captain America: Civil War found the words of Wakanda

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    @Adamant - My take is that when there are people around who speak English, they're speaking English. When there's nobody around except Wakandans, they speak Wakandan. That makes perfect sense and is what would happen in reality too.
    – Valorum
    Dec 4, 2022 at 12:19
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    I agree that your interpretation seems most plausible, but all those sources seem to just establish that Xhosa is actually spoken in Civil War (which we already know) and that it represents the official language of Wakanda (but not necessarily that the "English" that people seem to be speaking is actually Xhosa). Without some statement or proof that the English is actually Xhosa, we don't know that the directors didn't change their mind about the worldbuilding before Black Panther and say (for instance) "people speak English because it borders Uganda" (which it does on the maps).
    – Adamant
    Dec 4, 2022 at 12:49
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    I suppose that Wakandan is a fictional language, and both Xhosa and English are used to stand in for it as called for by the director for verisimilitude and convenience. It would be strange for Wakandans to speak a language that is native to a region thousands of miles to the south, but most world audiences would not know the difference. Presumably, the numerous South African speakers of Xhosa were as pleased to hear their own language spoken in the theater as Kenyan speakers of Kikuyu were to hear their native tongue in Return of the Jedi. Dec 4, 2022 at 16:21
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    @Adamant in a more science fiction sense I remember for Babylon 5 jms explaining the Centauri are really speaking Centauri between themselves just like WWII film Germans don't speak English between themselves. If there's an artistic reason a movie will switch to native language mode for a special scene - but for the most part subtitles are inconvenient for both actors and audiences. Ironically this happens so much for Klingon that one is forced to conclude the universal translators are polite and don't translate klingon when the speaker really wants the message to be especially Klingon. Dec 4, 2022 at 19:43
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    @lucasbachmann - This will forever be the example I point to; youtube.com/watch?v=uEvwbxcRaCQ
    – Valorum
    Dec 4, 2022 at 19:53

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