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yângâ tî sängö
Spoken in Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Total speakers 400,000 native speakers, 1.6 to 5 million second-language speakers
Language family Creole
Language codes
ISO 639-1 sg
ISO 639-2 sag (B)  sag (T)
ISO 639-3 sag

Sango (also spelled Sangho) is the primary language spoken in the Central African Republic: it has 1.6 to 5 million second-language speakers, but only 400,000 native speakers, mainly in the towns. Some linguists, following William J. Samarin, classify it as a Ngbandi-based creole; others, however (eg Marcel Diki-Kidiri, Charles H. Morrill) reject this classification, saying that changes in Sango structures (both internally and externally) can be explained quite well without a creolization process.



Originally used by river traders, Sango arose as a vehicular language based on the Northern Ngbandi dialect of the Sango tribe, part of the Ngbandi language cluster, with some French influence.

The rapid growth of the city of Bangui since the 1960s has had significant implications for the development of Sango, with the creation, for the first time, of a population of first-language speakers. Whereas rural immigrants to the city spoke many different languages and used Sango only as a lingua franca, their children use Sango as their main (and sometimes only) language. First, this has led to a rapid expansion of the lexicon, including both formal and slang terms. Second, its new position as the everyday language of the capital city has led to Sango gaining greater status and being used increasingly in fields where it was previously the norm to use French.


A study by Taber (1964) indicates that some 490 native Sango words account for about 90% of colloquial speech; however, while French loanwords are much more rarely used, they account for the majority of the vocabulary, particularly in the speech of learned people. The situation might be compared to English, where most of the vocabulary - particularly "learned" words - is derived from Latin, Greek, or French, while the basic vocabulary remains strongly Germanic. However, more recent studies suggest that this result is specific to a particular sociolect - the so-called "functionary" variety. Morrill's work, completed in 1997, revealed that there were three sociologically distinct norms emerging in the Sango language: an urban "radio" variety which is top-ranked by 80% of his interviewees, and has a very few French loan words, a so called "pastor" variety, which is scored 60%, and a "functionary" variety, spoken by learned people who make the highest use of French loan words while speaking Sango, and this variety scores 40% of the interviewees.


The official orthography of Sango contains the following consonants: ‹p, b, t, d, k, g, kp, gb, mb, mv, nd, ng, ngb, nz, f, v, s, z, h, l, r, y, w›, to which some add ‹’b› for the implosive /ɓ/. Sango has seven oral vowels, /a e ɛ i o ɔ u/, of which five, /ĩ ã ɛ̃ ɔ̃ ũ/, occur nasalized. In the official orthography, ‹e› stands for both /e/ and /ɛ/, and ‹o› stands for both /o/ and /ɔ/; nasal vowels are written ‹in, en, an, on, un›.

Sango has three tones: low, mid, and high. In standard orthography, low tone is unmarked, ‹e›, mid tone is marked with dieresis, ‹ë›, and high tone with circumflex, ‹ê›. So do-re-mi would be written ‹do-rë-mî›.


The word order is Subject Verb Object, as in English. The pronouns are: mbï "I", mo "you (sg.)", lo "he, she, it", ë "we", âla "you (pl.)", âla "they". Verbs take a prefix a- if not preceded by a pronoun; thus mo yeke "you are", but Bêafrîka ayeke "Central Africa is". Particularly useful verbs include yeke "be", bara "greet" (> bara o "hi!"), hînga "know". Possessives and appositives are formed with the word "of": ködörö tî mbï "my country", yângâ tî sängö "Sango language". Another common preposition is na, covering a variety of locative, dative, and instrumental functions.

Learning Sango

Being a vehicular language, Sango is considered unusually easy to learn; according to Samarin, "with application a student ought to be able to speak the language in about three months." However, reaching true fluency takes much longer, as with any language.

For English-speakers there are two main difficulties. First, one must remember not to split double-consonants. The place name Bambari, for example, must be pronounced ba-mba-ri and not bam-ba-ri. Second, as with any tonal language, one must learn not to vary the tone according to the context. For example, if one pronounces a question with a rising tone as in English, one may inadvertently be saying an entirely different and inappropriate Sango word at the end of the sentence.


  • Charles Taber, 1964. French Loanwords in Sango: A Statistical Analysis. (MA thesis, Hartford Seminary Foundation.)
  • William Samarin, 1967. Lessons in Sango.
  • Marcel Diki-Kidiri, 1977. Le sango s'écrit aussi...
  • Marcel Diki-Kidiri, 1978. Grammaire sango, phonologie et syntaxe
  • Luc Buquiaux, Jean-Marie Kobozo et Marcel Diki-Kidiri, 1978 Dictionnaire sango-français...
  • Charles Henry Morrill, 1997. Language, Culture and Sociology in the Central African Republic, The Emergence and Development of Sango
  • Pierre Saulnier, 1994. Lexique orthographique sango
  • SIL (Centrafrique), 1995. Kêtê Bakarî tî Sängö : Farânzi, Anglëe na Yângâ tî Zâmani. Petit Dictionaire Sango, Mini Sango Dictionary, Kleines Sango Wörterbuch
  • Christina Thornell, 1997. The Sango Language and Its Lexicon (Sêndâ-yângâ tî Sängö)
  • Marcel Diki-Kidiri, 1998. Dictionnaire orthographique du sängö

External links

Sango language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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