Democratic Republic of the Congo Languages

From FamilySearch Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Democratic Republic of the Congo Wiki Topics
Flag Democratic Republic of the Congo.png
Beginning Research
Record Types
Democratic Republic of the Congo Background
Local Research Resources

Description[edit | edit source]

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a multilingual country where an estimated total of 242 languages are spoken. The official language is French. Four indigenous languages have the status of national language: Kituba (called "Kikongo"), Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba.

When the country was a Belgian colony, it had already instituted teaching and use of the four national languages in primary schools, making it one of the few African nations to have had literacy in local languages during the European colonial period. During the colonial period Dutch and French were the official languages but French was by far the more important and so it has stayed the official language. [1]

Creole language
When talking about Democratic Republic of the Congo languages, we have to first understand the principle of Creole language. A creole language, or simply creole, is a stable natural language that develops from the mixing and simplifying of different languages at a fairly sudden point in time. While the concept is similar to that of a mixed or hybrid language, a creole is often additionally defined as being highly simplified when compared to its parent languages. However, a creole is still complex enough that it has a consistent system of grammar, possesses a large stable vocabulary, and is acquired by children as their native language, all of which distinguishes a creole as a language.

About one hundred creole languages have arisen since 1500. These are mostly based on European languages such as English and French due to the European Age of Discovery and the Atlantic slave trade that arose at that time. With the improvements in ship-building and navigation, traders had to learn to communicate with people around the world, and the quickest way to do this was to develop a bridge, or simplified language suited to the purpose. In turn, full creole languages developed from these bridges. In addition to creoles that have European languages as their base, there are, for example, creoles based on Arabic, Chinese, and Malay. The creole with the largest number of speakers is Haitian Creole, with almost ten million native speakers. An example of the language migration would be "run" but not "running" for the creole with the words largely supplied by the parent language. [2]

Kikongo or Kituba[edit | edit source]

The constitution says Kikongo is one of the national languages, but in fact it is a Kikongo-based creole, Kituba that is used in the constitution and by the administration in the provinces. Kituba has become a language used in everyday life by the common people. It is usually native, mostly spoken rather than written and is usually seen as of lower status of communication.

Kikongo is one of the Bantu languages spoken by the Kongo and Ndundu people living in the tropical forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo and Angola. It is a tonal language. It was spoken by many of those who were taken from the region and sold as slaves in the Americas. For this reason, while Kikongo still is spoken in these countries, creolized forms of the language are found in ritual speech of Afro-American religions, especially in Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Haiti. The vast majority of present-day speakers live in Africa. There are roughly seven million native speakers of Kongo, with perhaps two million more who use it as a second language, for a total of over ten million speakers worldwide.

Kikongo-Kituba is a creole language that is based on some Bakongo languages. It is known with various names, such as Kikongo ya leta, Munukutuba, Ikeleve and sometimes plainly as Kituba and even Kikongo. [3]

English words of Kongo origin[4]

  • The Southern American English word "goober", meaning peanut, comes from Kongo nguba.
  • The word "zombie" comes from Kongo nzombie, meaning "dead.". "Nfumu ya nzombie" is "Chief of the dead", or God.
  • The word funk, or funky, in American popular music has its origin, some say, in the Kongo word Lu-fuki.
  • The name of the Cuban dance mambo comes from a Bantu word meaning "conversation with the gods".
  • In addition, the roller coaster Kumba at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in Tampa, Florida gets its name from the Kongo word for "roar".
Lingala[edit | edit source]

Lingala is a language which gained its modern form in the colonial period, with the push of missionaries to standardize and teach a local lingua franca or a bridge language. It was originally spoken in the upper Congo river area but rapidly spread to the middle Congo area and eventually became the major Bantu language in Kinshasa for many reasons. It is estimated that there are over 70 million people who can speak Lingala world wide. [5]

In its basic vocabulary, Lingala has many borrowings from different other languages such as in French, Spanish, Portuguese, and English.

Lingala was made the official language of the army under Mobutu, but since the rebellions, the army has also used Swahili in the east. With the transition period and the consolidation of different armed groups into the Congolese Army, the linguistic policy has returned to its previous form and Lingala is again the official language of the Army.

Swahili[edit | edit source]

Swahili is the most widespread bridge language spoken in Eastern Equatorial Africa. Many variations of Swahili are spoken in the country but the major one is Kingwana, sometimes called Copperbelt Swahili, especially in the Katanga area.
Swahili includes quite a bit of vocabulary of Arabic origin as a result of contact with Arabic-speaking traders and and inhabitants of the Swahili Coast - the coastal area of Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, and islands such as Zanzibar and Comoros. There are also words of German, Portuguese, English, Hindi and French origin in Swahili due to contact with traders, slavers and colonial officials.

The earliest known pieces of writing, in the Arabic script, in Swaihili are letters dating from 1711, and the earliest known manuscript, a poetic epic entitled Utendi wa Tambuka (The History of Tambuka), dates from 1728. During the the 19th century Swahili was used as the main language of administration by the European colonial powers in East Africa and under their influence the Latin alphabet was increasingly used to write it. The first Swahili newspaper, Habari ya Mwezi, was published by missionaries in 1895.[6]

Tshiluba[edit | edit source]

The constitution does not specify which of the two major variations of Tshiluba is the national language. Luba-Kasai is spoken in the East Kasai Region (Luba people) and Luba-Lulua is used in the West Kasai Region among the Bena Lulua people. Luba-Kasai seems to be the language used by the administration.

Tshiluba is a member of the Bantu language family spoken by about six million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it is one of the national languages along with Lingála, Kiswahili and Kikongo. It is spoken mainly in Western and Eastern Kasai. Other names for the language include Cilubà, Luba, Luba-Kasai and Luba-Lulua.[7]

The Tshiluba word, Ilunga, is apparently the world's most difficult word to translate, according to this article. It means "a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time".

Word List(s)[edit | edit source]

For a word list and help researching in Democratic Republic of the Congo records, see:

Swahili Language Resources

Kikongo Language Resources

Lingala Language Resources

Tshiluba Language Resources

Alphabet and Pronunciation[edit | edit source]

Lingala Alphabet
The Lingala language has 35 Letters (alphabet) and digraphs (orthography). The digraphs each have a specific order in the alphabet, for example mza will be expected to be ordered before mba, because the digraph mb follows the letter m. The letters r and h are rare but present in borrowed words. The accents indicate the tones :

  • no accent for default tone, the low tone
  • acute accent for the high tone
  • circumflex for descending tone
  • caron for ascending tone
Variants Example
a A á â ǎ nyama, matáta, sâmbóle, libwǎ
b B bísó
c C ciluba
d D madɛ́su
e E é ê ě komeka, mésa, kobênga
ɛ Ɛ ɛ́ ɛ̂ ɛ̌ lɛlɔ́, lɛ́ki, tɛ̂
f F lifúta
g G kogánga
gb Gb gbagba
h H bohlu (bohrium)
i I í î ǐ wápi, zíko, tî, esǐ
k K kokoma
l L kolála
m M kokóma
mb Mb kolámba, mbwá, mbɛlí
mp Mp límpa
n N líno
nd Nd ndeko
ng Ng ndéngé
nk Nk nkámá
ns Ns nsɔ́mi
nt Nt ntaba
ny Ny nyama
nz Nz nzala
o o ó ô ǒ moto, sóngóló, sékô
ɔ Ɔ ɔ́ ɔ̂ ɔ̌ sɔsɔ, yɔ́, sɔ̂lɔ, tɔ̌
p P pɛnɛpɛnɛ
r R malaríya
s S kopésa
t T tatá
u U ú butú, koúma
v V kovánda
w W káwa
y Y koyéba
z Z kozala


Tshiluba Alphabet

Tshiluba uses the Classical Latin alphabet.

Classical Latin alphabet
Letter A B C D E F G H I K L M N O P Q R S T V X Y Z
Latin name (majus) á é ef gé há el em en ó q v́ er es ix ꟾ graeca zéta
Latin name ā ē ef ī el em en ō er es ū ix ī Graeca zēta
Latin pronunciation IPA beː keː deː ɛf ɡeː haː kaː ɛl ɛm ɛn peː kuː ɛr ɛs teː iks iː ˈɡraɪka ˈdzeːta


Swahili Alphabet

Upper Case Lower Case Name
A a a
B b be
CH ch che
D d de
E e e
F f ef
G g ge
H h he
I i i
J j je
K k ka
L l le
M m em
N n ne
O o o
P p pe
R r re
S s se
T t te
U u u
V v ve
W w we
Y y ye
Z z ze

Letter Pronunciation

Aaa as in far
Bb be as in best
Cc ch as in church
Dd de as in desk
Ee e as in bed
Ff ef as in far
Gg ge as in get
Hh h as in hint
Ii ee as in feel
Jj je as in jelly
Kk ka as in cup
Ll le as in let
Mm em as in men
Nn en as in net
Oo o as in ox
Pp pe as in pen
Rr re as in rep
Ss se as in set
Tt te as in take
Uu oo as in cool
Vv ve as in vet
Ww we as in went
Yy ye as in yet
Zz ze as in zoo



A a B b D d E e F f G g I i K k
a ba da e fa ga i ka
[a] [b] [d] [e] [f] [g] [i] [k]
L l M m Mb mb Mf mf Mp mp Mv mv N n Nd nd
la ma mba mfa mpa mva na nda
[l] [m] [ᵐb] [ᶬf] [ᵐp] [ᶬv] [n] [ⁿd]
Ng ng Nk nk Nt nt Ns ns Nz nz O o P p S s
nga nka nta nsa nza o pa sa
[ᵑɡ] [ᵑk] [ⁿt] [ⁿs] [ⁿz] [o] [p] [s~ɕ]
T t U u V v W w Y y Z z
ta u va wa ya za
[t] [u] [v] [w] [j] [z~ʑ]


Language Aids and Dictionaries[edit | edit source]

Kikongo or Kituba




Additional Resources[edit | edit source]


  • Beth Severn.Kikongo language manual [Place of publication not identified][American Baptist Foreign Mission Society] 1956.Available on WorldCat
  • Givashi Mwanga.A survey of Bible translation into Kikongo ya Leta : a comparison of two translations of the New Testament into this language1988. Available on WorldCat
  • Koen A G Bostoen; Inge Brinkman.The Kongo Kingdom : the origins, dynamics and cosmopolitan culture of an African polity[ Cambridge : Cambridge University Press] 2018.Available on WorldCat



  • Paul Pimsleur; Recorded Books, LLC.; Simon & Schuster Audio (Firm); Playaway Digital Audio.; Findaway World, LLC.Swahili. The short course. [Solon, Ohio] : Findaway World, LLC ; Prince Frederick, MD : [Distributed exclusively by] Recorded Books, LLC, [2012], ℗2011.Available on WorldCat
  • Catherine Chambers.Swahili[London] [Raintree] 2013.Available on WorldCat
  • Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research.Swahili[ London] [Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research] 1986.WorldCat
  • Sandra Stotsky.Losing our language : how multicultural classroom instruction is undermining our children's ability to read, write, and reason[New York] [Free Press] ©1999.WorldCat


  • Kayembe Nzongola.Tshiluba proverbs : with English equivalents[Kananga, Kasai occidental][République du Zaïre]1992.Available on WorldCat
  • Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. American Presbyterian Congo Mission.A textbook in the Tshiluba language for new missionaries.[Luebo], [Belgian Congo], 195?Available on WorldCat
  • Charles Sprunger.Tshiluba radio : new arm of the Congo church [Newton, Kan.] : [Board of Missions of the General Conference Mennonite Church], 1966.Available on WorldCat
  • Eyamba G Bokamba.Language in African culture and society[Urbana, Ill. : Dept. of Linguistics, University of Illinois] 1984.Available on WorldCat
  • Robert Benedetto; Winifred Kellersberger Vass;Presbyterian reformers in Central Africa : a documentary account of the American Presbyterian Congo mission and the human rights struggle in the Congo, 1890-1918[ Leiden : Brill] 1996.Available on WorldCat

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  2. Creole language
  3. Kituba English access 4 Feb 2019
  4. Wikipedia
  5. Wikipedia, accessed 28 Jan 2019
  6. Swahili Alphabet access 30 Jan 2019.
  7. Wikipedia accessed 2 Feb 2019.
  8. Wikipedia, accessed 28 Jan 2019
  9. Wikipedia access 30 Jan 2019
  10. A Guide to Swahili - The Swahili alphabet access 31 Jan 2019.
  11. Omniglot accessed 4 FEb 2019