Kituba language: Wikis


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Kituba, Kikongo ya leta
Spoken in Central Africa
Total speakers 5-15 million
Language family Creole language
  • Kongo-based
    • Kituba
Official status
Official language in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3 mkw – Munukutuba (Congo-Brazzaville)

Kituba is a widely used lingua franca in Central Africa. It is a creole language[1] based on Kikongo, a family of closely related Bantu languages (some of which are not mutually intelligible). It is an official language in Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa.

Sometimes Kituba is called a creole language but this is not entirely accurate, because it lacks the distinction between superstrate and substrate influence that is typical of creole development.



Kituba is known by many names among its speakers. In the Republic of Congo it is called Munukutuba or Kituba. The former is a grammatically incorrect phrase which means literally "I to speak". The latter means simply "speech". The name Kituba is used in the constitution of the Republic of Congo.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo it is called Kikongo ya leta (i.e. Kikongo of the state administration), but it is often called in short Kikongo, especially out of the region of ethnic Bakongo people. The constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo lists Kikongo as one of the national languages. In fact, it refers to Kikongo ya leta (i.e. Kituba), because a translation of the constitution itself is written in Kituba but no translation exists in Kikongo!

There are also other historical names such as Kibulamatadi, Kikwango, Ikeleve, and Kizabave but they have largely fallen out of use. In the academic circles the language is called Kikongo-Kituba.

Geographic distribution

Dialect map of Kikongo and Kituba

The majority of Kituba speakers live in Congo-Kinshasa. It is spoken as the primary lingua franca in the provinces of Kongo Central, Kwango and Kwilu and to a lesser extent in Kinshasa, Mai-Ndombe and Kasai.

Kituba is the largest language of Congo-Brazzaville. It is spoken in the southern half of the country, in regions of Kouilou (especially in Pointe-Noire), Niari, Bouenza, Lékoumou, Pool and in the capital Brazzaville. Lingala is more popular in the north.

The status of Kituba in Angola is not known. It is probable that it is understood by some of the Bakongo people there, especially those who have lived in Congo-Brazzaville or Congo-Kinshasa as refugees or otherwise.

Official status

Kituba is a national language in Congo-Brazzaville and Congo-Kinshasa. In practice the term national language means that it is a language of regional administration and elementary education.

A national language is also one that is used for public and mass communication. National public radios and televisions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Congo-Brazaville use Kituba as one of their main languages for evening news.


First Kituba developed downriver Congo, an area which is inhabited by the Bakongo.

There are several theories on how Kituba came into being. One theory claims that it had already evolved at the time of the Kongo Kingdom as a simplified interdialectal trade language, which the European colonists subsequently took into use for regional administration. Another theory claims that a simplified trade language called Kifyoti was developed at the Portuguese coastal trading post and it was later spread upstream by the Christian missionaries to the region between the Kwango and the Kasai rivers where it evolved further (hence the name Kikwango). Yet another theory emphasizes the construction of the Matadi-Kinshasa railroad at the end of the 19th century, which involved forced labour from West Africa, lower Congo, and the neighbouring Bandundu region. The workers had diverse linguistic backgrounds which gave birth to a grammatically simplified language.

Regardless of the genesis, Kituba has established itself in the large towns that were found during the colonial period between 1885 and 1960. Kituba is spoken as the primary language in the large Bakongo cities of Moanda, Boma, Matadi, Pointe-Noire, Dolisie, Nkayi, and Brazzaville and also in large non-Bakongo cities of Bandundu, Kikwit, and Ilebo.




Kituba has five vowel phonemes: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/. They are very similar to the vowels of Spanish and Italian. Vowels are never reduced, regardless of stress. The vowels are pronounced as follows:

  • /a/ is pronounced like the "a" in father
  • /e/ is pronounced like the "e" in bed
  • /i/ is pronounced like the "i" in ski or ring
  • /o/ is pronounced like the first part of the "o" in home, or like a tenser version of "o" in "lot"
  • /u/ is pronounced like the "ue" in blue


bilabial labiodental dental alveolar postalveolar palatal velar glottal
plosive p, b t, d k, ɡ
prenasalized mp, mb mf mv nt, nd ns nz ŋk, ŋɡ
nasal m n ŋ
fricative f v s z (h)
lateral l
approximant w j


  • Word-initial voiceless prenasalized consonants are reduced to simple consonants in some dialects. For example mpimpa and nkento become pimpa and kento in Kituba of Pointe-Noire.
  • Some dialects add stop to prenasalized alveolar fricatives so that for example Kinsasa and nzila become Kintsasa and ndzila.
  • Alveolar fricatives may become postalveolar before /i/.



Kituba has subject and object pronouns. The object pronouns are used in place of subject pronouns when the subject is being emphasized.

Person Singular Plural
Subject Object Subject Object
1st mu munu, mono beto beto
2nd nge nge beno beno
3rd yandi ba bau


Kituba has kept by and large the noun classes of ethnic Kikongo with some modifications. The classes 9 and 11 have in effect merged with the singular class with zero prefix, and their plural is formed with generic plural class prefix ba-.

singular plural
class prefix example class prefix example
0 - mama ('mother) 2 ba- bamama (mothers)
1 mu- muntu (person) 2 ba- bantu (people)
3 mu- mulangi (bottle) 4 mi- milangi (bottles)
5 di- dinkondo (banana) 6 ma- mankondo (bananas)
7 ki- kima (thing) 8 bi- bima (things)
9 n-/m- nkosi (lion) 2+9 ba-n- bankosi (lions)
11 lu- ludimi (tongue) 2+11 ba-lu- baludimi (tongues)
12 ka- kakima (trifle) 13 tu- tubima (trifles)
14 bu bumbote (goodness)
15 ku- kubanza (to think, thinking)


Kituba has well developed verbal system involving tense and aspect. Most verb forms have long and short versions. The long forms are used in formal written communication whereas the short forms have developed for spoken communication.

The irregular conjugation of the verb kuvanda or kuvuanda (to be) is presented in the table below. It is the only irregular verb in Kituba.

Tense Long form Short form Example Translation
Present and immediate future kele ke Yau kele nkosi. It is a lion.
Future kele/ata kuv(u)anda ke/ta v(u)anda Mu ta vuanda tata. I will be a father.
Present progressive kele kuv(u)andaka ke v(u)andaka Nge ke vuandaka zoba. You are being stupid.
Future progressive ata kuv(u)andaka ta v(u)andaka Beno ta vuandaka ya kukuela. You will be married.
Past v(u)andaka Yandi vuanda kuna. He was there.
Past progressive v(u)andaka Beto vuandaka banduku. We used to be friends.
Past perfect mene kuv(u)anda me v(u)anda Yandi me vuanda na Matadi. He was in Matadi.
Past perfect progressive mene kuv(u)andaka me v(u)andaka Yandi me vuandaka mulongi. She has been a teacher.

All other verbs are conjugated with the help of auxiliary verbs. The conjugation of the verb kusala (to do) is presented in the table below.

Tense Long form Short form Example Translation
Present and immediate future kele kusala ke sala Yandi ke sala. He works. / He will work.
Present progressive kele kusalaka ke salaka Yandi ke salaka. He is working.
Past salaka salaka Yandi salaka. He worked.
Immediate past mene sala me sala Yandi me sala. He has worked.
Immediate past progressive mene salaka me salaka Yandi me salaka. He has been working.
Past progressive vuandaka kusala va sala Yandi vuandaka kusala. He used to work.
Narrative sala sala
Future ata sala ta sala Yandi ta sala. He will work.
Future progressive ata salaka ta salaka Yandi ta salaka. He will be working.


The bulk of Kituba words come from Kikongo. Other Bantu languages have influenced it as well, including Kiyaka, Kimbala, Kisongo, Kiyansi, Lingala, and Swahili. In addition, many words have been borrowed from French, Portuguese, and English. These include:

  • sandúku (Swah. sanduku)
  • matáta (Swah. matata)
  • letá (Fr. l'état)
  • kamiyó (Fr. camion)
  • sodá/solodá (Fr. soldat)
  • masínu (Fr. machine)
  • mísa (Port. missa)
  • kilápi (Port. lápis)
  • katekisimu (Eng. catechism)
  • bóyi (Eng. houseboy)
  • sapatu (Port. sapato)
  • mesa (Port./Sp. mesa)
  • dikopa (Sp. copa)
  • simisi (Fr. chemise)


  1. ^ Pidgins and Creoles: an introduction by Jacques Arends, Pieter Muysken, Norval Smith (page 17)

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