Lingala language: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in Democratic Republic of the Congo Democratic Republic of the Congo
Republic of the Congo Republic of the Congo
Region Central and Eastern Africa
Total speakers ca. 2 million native speakers, between 8 and 30 million second-language speakers
Language family Niger-Congo
Writing system African reference alphabet (Latin alphabet), Mandombe
Official status
Official language in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ln
ISO 639-2 lin
ISO 639-3 lin
Geographic distribution of Lingala speakers, showing regions of native speakers (dark green) and other regions of use

Lingala is a Bantu language spoken throughout the northwestern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) and a large part of the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Brazzaville), as well as to some degree in Angola and the Central African Republic. It has over 10 million speakers. It is classed C.36D under the Guthrie system for classifying Bantu languages and C.40 under the SIL system.



Lingala originated from Bobangi, a language that was spoken along the Congo River between Lisala and Kinshasa. Bobangi functioned as a regional trade language before the creation of the Congo Free State. In the last two decades of the 19th century, after the forces of Leopold II of Belgium conquered the region and opened it to commercial exploitation, Bobangi came into wider use. The colonial administration, in need of a common language for the region, started to use the language for missionary and administrative purposes, calling it Bangala to set it apart from the old Bobangi. Naturally, the language developed the typical characteristics of a common vernacular: compared to local Bantu languages, its sentence structure, word structure and sounds are much simplified, and its speakers liberally borrow words and constructs from other languages they happen to know.

Around the turn of the century, CICM missionaries started a project to 'purify' the language in order to make it 'pure Bantu' again. Meeuwis (1998:7) writes:

[M]issionaries, such as the Protestant W. Stapleton and later, and more influentially, E. De Boeck himself, judged that the grammar and lexicon of this language were too poor for it to function properly as a medium of education, evangelization, and other types of vertical communication with the Africans in the northwestern and central-western parts of the colony (..). They set out to 'correct' and 'expand' the language by drawing on lexical and grammatical elements from surrounding vernacular languages.

Meanwhile, the importance of Lingala as a vernacular has grown together with the size and importance of its main center of use, Kinshasa; e.g. Lingala has spread with the popularity of soukous music, which originates from Kinshasa.


The name Lingala first appears in a written form in a publication by the C.I.C.M. missionary Egide De Boeck (1903). It avoids confusion: the Bangala (lit. "river people") are the people who live alongside the Congo River[1], while many others use Lingala as a first, second or third language.

Characteristics and usage

Lingala has many borrowings from French, even in its basic vocabulary. The language also contains some Portuguese influence, such as its words for butter (mántéka), table (mésa), shoes (sapátu), and some English or Dutch influences; for instance, the word for milk (míliki) or book (búku).[2] In practice, the extent of borrowing varies widely with speakers, and with the occasion; e.g. Congolese rebels now use cryptic forms of the language to pass messages undecipherable by Western intelligence agencies.[citation needed]


The Lingala language can be divided in several dialects or variations. The major variations are considered to be Standard Lingala, Spoken Lingala, Kinshasa Lingala and Brazzaville Lingala.

Standard Lingala (called lingala littéraire or lingala classique in French) is mostly used in educational and news broadcastings on radio or television, in religious services in the Catholic Church and is the language taught as a subject at all educational levels. Standard Lingala is historically associated with the work of the Catholic Church and missionaries. It has a seven-vowel system /a/ /e/ /ɛ/ /i/ /o/ /ɔ/ /u/ with an obligatory tense-lax vowel harmony. It also has a full range of morphological noun prefixes with mandatory grammatical agreement system with subject-verb, or noun-modifier for each of class. Standard Lingala is largely used in formal functions.

Spoken Lingala (called lingala parlé in French) is the variation mostly used in the day-to-day lives of Lingalaphones. It has a full morphological noun prefix system, but the agreement system is more lax than the standard variation, i.e. noun-modifier agreement is reduced to two classes. Regarding phonology, there is also a seven-vowel system but the vowel harmony is not mandatory. This variation of Lingala is historically associated with the Protestant missionaries' work. Spoken Lingala is largely used in informal functions, and the majority of Lingala songs use Spoken Lingala over other variations.

Kinshasa Lingala and Brazzaville Lingala are the dialects from the capitals of both Congos. They are both heavily influenced by other Bantu languages as well as French (the official language of both countries). They both have lots of borrowed words from those languages, as well as a simplified phonology and grammar.




Front Back
Close i u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a
IPA Example (IPA) Example (written) Meaning Notes
i /lilála/ lilála orange
u /kulutu/ kulutu oldest child
e /eloŋɡi/ elongi face
o /mobáli/ mobáli masculine pronounced slightly higher than the cardinal o,
realized as [o̝]
ɛ /lɛlɔ́/ lɛlɔ́ today
ɔ /mbɔ́ŋɡɔ/ mbɔ́ngɔ money
a /áwa/ áwa here

Vowel harmony

Lingala words show vowel harmony to some extent. The close-mid vowels /e/ and /o/ normally do not mix with the open-mid vowels /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ in words. For example, the words ndɔbɔ 'fishhook' and ndobo 'mouse trap' are found, but not *ndɔbo or *ndobɔ.

Vowel shift

The Lingala spoken in Kinshasa shows a vowel shift from /ɔ/ to /o/, leading to the absence of the phoneme /ɔ/ in favor of /o/. The same occurs with /ɛ/ and /e/, leading to just /e/. So in Kinshasa, a native speaker will say mbóte as /mbóte/, compared to the more traditional pronunciation of /mbɔ́tɛ/.


Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive p b t d k ɡ
Fricative f v s z ʃ (ʒ)
Approximant l j
IPA Example (IPA) Example (written) Meaning
p /napɛ́si/ napɛ́sí I give
mp /mmbɛ́ni/ mpɛmbɛ́ni near
b /boliŋɡo/ bolingo love
mb /mbɛlí/ mbɛlí knife
t /litéja/ litéya lesson
nt /ntɔ́ŋɡɔ́/ ntɔ́ngó dawn
d /daidai/ daidai sticky
nd /ndeko/ ndeko sibling, cousin, relative
k /mokɔlɔ/ mokɔlɔ day
ŋk /ŋkóló/ nkóló owner
ɡ /ɡalamɛ́lɛ/ galamɛ́lɛ grammar
ŋɡ /ŋɡáí/ ngáí I, me; sour
m /mamá/ mamá mother
n /bojini/ boyini hate
ɲ /ɲama/ nyama animal
f /fɔtɔ́/ fɔtɔ́ photograph
v /veló/ veló bicycle
s /sɔ̂lɔ/ sɔ̂lɔ truly
ns /ɲɔ́nsɔ/ nyɔ́nsɔ all
z /zɛ́lɔ/ zɛ́lɔ sand
nz (1) /nmbe/ nzámbe God
ʃ /ʃakú/ cakú or shakú African grey parrot
l /ɔ́lɔ/ ɔ́lɔ gold
j /jé/ he, him; she, her (object pronoun)
w /wápi/ wápi where

(1) ɲʒ is allophonic with ʒ depending on the dialect

Prenasalized consonants

The prenasalized stops formed with a nasal followed by a voiceless plosive are allophonic to the voiceless plosives alone in some variations of Lingala.

  • /mp/: [mp] or [p]
    e.g.: mpɛmbɛ́ni is pronounced [mmbɛ́ni] but in some variations [pɛmbɛ́ni]
  • /nt/: [nt] or [t]
    e.g.: ntɔ́ngó is pronounced ntɔ́ŋɡó but in some variations [tɔ́ŋɡó]
  • /ŋk/: [ŋk] or [k]
    e.g.: nkanya (fork) is pronounced [ŋkaɲa] but in some variations [kaɲa]
  • /ns/: [ns] or [s] (inside a word)
    e.g.: nyɔnsɔ is pronounced [ɲɔ́nsɔ] but in some variations [ɲɔ́sɔ]

The prenasalized voiced occlusives, /mb/, /nd/, /ŋɡ/, /nz/ do not vary.


Lingala being a tonal language, tone is a distinguishing feature in minimal pairs, e.g.: moto (human being) and motó (head), or kokoma (to write) and kokóma (to arrive). There are two tones possible, the normal one is low and the second one is high.

Tonal morphology

Tense morphemes carry tones.

  • koma (komL-a : write) inflected gives
    • simple present L-aL :
      nakoma naL-komL-aL (I write)
    • subjunctive H-aL :
      nákoma naH-komL-aL (I would write)
    • present:
      nakomí naL-komL-iH (I have been writing)
  • sepela (seLpel-a : enjoy) inflected gives
    • simple present L-aL :
      osepela oL-seLpelL-aL (you-SG enjoy)
    • subjunctive H-aL :
      ósepéla oH-seLpelH-aH (you-SG would enjoy)
    • present L-iH:
      osepelí oL-seLpelL-iH (you-SG have been enjoying)


Noun class system

Like all Bantu languages, Lingala has a noun class system in which nouns are classified according to the prefixes they bear and according to the prefixes they trigger in sentences. The table below shows the noun classes of Lingala, ordered according to the numbering system that is widely used in descriptions of Bantu languages.

class noun prefix example translation
1 mo- mopési servant
2 ba- bapési servants
3 mo- mokíla tail
4 mi- mikíla tails
5 li- liloba word
6 ma- maloba words
7 e- elokó jar, stone bottle
8 bi- bilokó jars, stone bottles
9 m-/n- ntaba goat
10 m-/n- ntaba goat (pl.)
9a Ø sánzá moon
10a Ø sánzá moon (pl.)
11 lo- lolemo tongue
14 bo- bosoto dirt
15 ko- kotála to see/seeing

Individual classes pair up with each other to form singular/plural pairs, sometimes called 'genders'. There are seven genders in total. The singular classes 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 take their plural forms from classes 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, respectively. Additionally, many household items found in class 9 take a class 2 prefix (ba) in the plural: lutu > balutu 'spoon', mesa > bamesa 'table', sani > basani 'plate'. Words in class 11 usually take a class 10 plural. Most words from class 14 (abstract nouns) do not have a plural counterpart.

Class 9 and 10 have a nasal prefix, which assimilates to the following consonant. Thus, the prefix shows up as 'n' on words that start with t or d, e.g. ntaba 'goat', but as 'm' on words that start with b or p (e.g. mbisi 'fish'). There is also a prefixless class 9a and 10a, exemplified by sánzá > sánzá 'moon(s) or month(s)'. Possible ambiguities are solved by the context.

Noun class prefixes do not show up only on the noun itself, but serve as markers throughout the whole sentence. In the sentences below, the class prefixes are underlined. (There is a special verbal form 'a' of the prefix for class 1 nouns.)

  • molakisi molai yango abiki (CL1.teacher CL1.tall that CL1:recovered) That tall teacher recovered
  • bato bakúmisa Nkómbó ya Yɔ́(CL2.people CL2.praise name of You) (Let) people praise Your name (a sentence from the Lord's Prayer)

Only to a certain extent, noun class allocation is semantically governed. Classes 1/2, as in all Bantu languages, mainly contain words for human beings; similarly, classes 9/10 contain many words for animals. In other classes, semantical regularities are mostly absent or are obscured by many exceptions.

Verb inflections and morphology

Verbal extensions

There are 4 morphemes modifying verbs. They are added to some verb root in the following order :

  1. Reversive (-ol-)
    e.g.: kozinga to wrap and kozingola to develop
  2. Causative (-is-)
    e.g. : koyéba to know and koyébisa to inform
  3. Applicative (-el-)
    e.g. : kobíka to heal (self), to save (self) and kobíkela to heal (someone else), to save (someone)
  4. Passive (-am-)
    e.g. : koboma to kill and kobomama to be killed
  5. Reciprocal or stationary (-an-, sometimes -en-)
    e.g. : kokúta to find and kokútana to meet

Tense inflections

The first tone segment affects the subject part of the verb, the second tone segment attaches to the semantic morpheme attached to the root of the verb.

  • present perfect (LH-í)
  • simple present (LL-a)
  • recurrent present (LL-aka)
  • undefined recent past (LH-ákí)
  • undefined distant past (LH-áká)
  • future (L-ko-L-a)
  • subjunctive (HL-a)

Writing system

Lingala is more a spoken language than a written language, and has several different writing systems. Most of those are ad hoc. Due to the low literacy of Lingala speakers in Lingala (in the Congo-Brazzaville literacy rate in Lingala as a first language is between 10% to 30%), its popular orthography is very flexible and varies from one Congo to the other. Some orthographies are heavily influenced by the French language orthography; including double S, ss, to transcribe [s] (in Congo-Brazzaville); ou for [u] (in Congo-Brazzaville); i with umlaut, , to transcribe [áí] or [aí]; e with acute accent, é, to transcribe [e]; e to transcribe [ɛ], o with acute accent, ó, to transcribe [ɔ] or sometimes [o] in opposition to o transcribing [o] or [ɔ]; i or y can both transcribe [j]. The allophones are also found as alternating forms in the popular orthography; sango is an alternative to nsango (information or news); nyonso, nyoso, nionso, nioso (every) are all transcriptions of nyɔ́nsɔ.

In 1976 the Société Zaïroise des Linguistes (Zairian Linguists Society) adopted a writing system for Lingala, using the open e (ɛ) and the open o (ɔ) to write the vowels [ɛ] and [ɔ], and sporadic usage of accents to mark tone. Also, the limitations of input methods prevents Lingala writers from easily using the ɛ and ɔ and the accents. For example, it is almost impossible to type Lingala according to that convention with a common English or French keyboard. The convention of 1976 reduced the alternative orthography of characters but did not enforce tone marking. The lack of consistent accentuation is lessened by the disambiguation due to context.

The popular orthographies seem to be a step ahead of any academic based orthography. Many Lingala books, papers, even the translation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and more recently, Internet forums, newsletters, and major websites, such as Google's Lingala, do not use Lingala specific characters (ɛ and ɔ). Tone marking is in most literary works.


The Lingala language has 35 letters and digraphs. The digrams each have a specific order in the alphabet, for example mza will be expected to be ordered before mba, because the digram 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
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


Lord's Prayer

The Lord's Prayer

Tatá wa bísó, ozala o likoló,
bato bakúmisa Nkómbó ya Yɔ́,
bandima bokonzi bwa Yɔ́, mpo elingo Yɔ́,
basálá yangó o nsé,
lokóla bakosalaka o likoló
Pésa bísó lɛlɔ́ biléi bya mokɔlɔ na mokɔlɔ,
límbisa mabé ma bísó,
lokóla bísó tokolimbisaka baníngá.
Sálisa bísó tondima masɛ́nginyá tê,
mpe bíkisa bísó o mabé.

See also


  • Edama, Atibakwa Baboya (1994) Dictionnaire bangála - français - lingála. Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique SÉPIA.
  • Etsio, Edouard (2003) Parlons lingala / Tobola lingala. Paris: L'Harmattan. ISBN 2-7475-3931-8
  • Bokamba, Eyamba George et Bokamba, Molingo Virginie. Tósolola Na Lingála: Let's Speak Lingala (Let's Speak Series). National African Language Resource Center (May 30, 2005) ISBN 0-9679587-5-X
  • Guthrie, Malcolm & Carrington, John F. (1988) Lingala: grammar and dictionary: English-Lingala, Lingala-English. London: Baptist Missionary Society.
  • Meeuwis, Michael (1998) Lingala. (Languages of the world vol. 261). München: LINCOM Europa. ISBN 3-89586-595-8
  • Samarin, William J. (1990) 'The origins of Kituba and Lingala', Journal of African Languages and Linguistics, 12, 47-77.
  • Bwantsa-Kafungu, J'apprends le lingala tout seul en trois mois'. Centre de recherche pédagogique, Centre Linguistique Théorique et Appliquée, Kinshasa 1982.
  • Weeks, John H. (Jan/Jun 1909). "Anthropological Notes on the Bangala of the Upper Congo River" ( – Scholar search). The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 39: 97–136. doi:10.2307/2843286. weeks1909. Retrieved 2007-12-18. 

External links

Lingala language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Notes and references

  1. ^ #Reference-weeks1909
  2. ^ Le grand Dzo : nouveau dictionnaire illustré lingala-français / Adolphe Dzokanga. - 3e éd. Bonneuil sur Marne : A. Dzokanga, 1995


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address