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Lingala 

lingala

Introduction

Mbóte – Hello 

Lingala is a Bantu language that belongs to the Niger-Congo language family. It is spoken in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the Republic of the Congo. There are also Lingala speakers in Angola and in the Central African Republic. It is thought that Lingala originated from Bobangi (Bangi), a language that has historically functioned as a trade language along the Congo River. With Belgian colonization of the area in the latter part of the 19th century, Bobangi spread into other areas. The colonial administration, needed a common language for missionary and administrative purposes, and Bobangi fit their purpose. This common language was called Bangala, as distinct from Bobangi. Catholic missionaries attempted to standardize the language and expand its vocabulary. In the process, the language was renamed Lingala, a term that first appeared in 1903.

Status

Congo Map
Congo Map

Lingala is spoken by 2.1 million people as a first language and an additional 5 million people as a second language in theDemocratic Republic of the Congo and in the Republic of the Congo (Ethnologue).

Lingala is used as a lingua franca among speakers of different languages mostly in urban centers, such as Kinshasa and Brazzaville. Lingala-French code-switching is frequent, particularly among the educated.

Dialects

Lingala can be divided in two major varieties: Standard Lingala and Spoken Lingala.

  • Standard Lingala is the literary variety of the language used in formal contexts, such as in education, religious practice and the print and electronic media. It is taught at all levels of education. It is historically associated with the work of Catholic missionaries.
  • Spoken Lingala is the variety that is used in informal everyday situations. It has a full morphological noun prefix system, but the agreement system is more lax than in Standard Lingala. In addition, there are differences between Spoken Lingala of Kinshasa and that of Brazzaville. Both varieties have a significant number of borrowings from French and other Bantu languages.

Structure

Sound system
The following description is of Standard Lingala, i.e., the literary variety of the language used in formal contexts.

All syllables in Standard Lingala end in a vowel. There are no consonant clusters, except [mw]. Borrowed words are adapted, so that English milk, for instance, becomes miliki.

Vowels 
Standard Lingala has 7 vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. However, Lingala spoken in Kinshasa has only five vowels. It lacks the vowels /ε / and /ɔ/.

Standard Lingala exhibits vowel harmony. For instance, words in Brazzaville Lingala may have all close-mid back vowels, e.g., ndobo ‘mouse trap’ or all midback vowels, e.g., ndɔbɔ ‘fishhook’ but it is not possible to mix /o/ and /ɔ/ in the same word. Vowel harmony in Spoken Lingala is not obligatory.

Close
i
u
Close-mid
e
o
Mid
ε
ɔ
Open
a

Consonants
The consonant system of Standard Lingala is distinguished by the presence of prenasalized voiced consonant phonemes /mb/, /nd/, /ŋg/ and /nz/. Prenasalized consonants are sequences of nasal plus consonant that behave like a single consonant.

Stops voiceless
p
xxx
t
k
x
voiced plain
b
x
d
g
g͡b
voiced prenasalized
ᵐb
xx
ⁿd
ᵑg
x
Fricatives voiceless
f
s
x
voiced plain
v
z
x x
voiced prenasalized
ⁿz
x x x
xxx
m
n
x
xxx
l
xxx xxx x
Semivowels xx
w
xxx xxx
j
xxx x
  • /ᵐb,ⁿd, ᵑk, ᵑg,ⁿʒ/ are prenasalized consonants consisting of a nasal plus another consonant that are produced together as a single phonological unit.
  • /g͡b/ is a doubly articulated consonant produced with two simultaneous places of articulation:bilabial and velar, both produced in the same manner, e.g., both produced as stops. To pronounce this sound, try saying [[g], but close your lips as you would for or [b].
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /ʒ/ = s in measure.
  • /ɲ= first n in canyon.
  • /j/ = y in yet

Tones
Lingala has two tones: high and low. They are used to distinguish between otherwise identical pairs of words and to mark grammatical functions. High tone is represented with an acute accent, while low tone is unmarked. However, tone is not always marked in writing.

Grammar
The grammar of Lingala shares many features with other Bantu languages. A major feature of Lingala is classification of nouns into various classes and an elaborate verb system.

Nouns

  • Standard Lingala has 15 noun classes. Noun classes are only partially based on meaning, e.g., classes 1/2 contain mostly words denoting human beings, while classes 9/10 contain mostly words denoting animals. Assignment to all the other classes appears to be fairly arbitrary.
  • Noun classes come in singular/plural pairs, e.g., mopesi ‘servant’ and bapesi ‘servants.’
  • Typical nouns consist of a class prefix and a stem.The class of a particular noun requires that modifiers and verbs have the same prefix as the noun, as in these examples from Wikipedia.
molakisi
molai
‘tall teacher’
(class 1) teacher
(class 1) tall
bato
bakumisa
‘people praise
(class 2) people
(class 2) praise

Verbs
As is common in Bantu languages, Lingala verbs are highly agglutinative. Below are some of their main features:

  • At a minimum, verbs consist of a root, a subject prefix agreement marker that varies according to the noun class of the subject.
  • All verbs are marked for number, person, tense, mood, and voice.
  • There are also derivational affixes that represent causativepassivereflexive, and reciprocal verbs.
  • Lingala has three tenses: past, present, and future.
  • There are four moods: indicativesubjunctiveconditional, and imperative.
  • Infinitive and finite verbs have different negative markers.

Word order
The basic word order in Lingala is Subject-Verb-Object. However, the subject may follow the verb if the latter is being emphasized.

Vocabulary
Prolonged contact with French has resulted in the infusion of many French words into Lingala. Words related to modern living, especially science and technology, are generally borrowed from French. There are also borrowings from Portuguese, e.g., manteca ‘butter’ and English, e.g., buku ‘book,’ as well as from neighboring languages such as Koongo, Kituba and Swahili.

Below are a few common words and phrases in Lingala.

Hello Mbóte
Good bye Kendeke malamu
Thank you Botóndi
Please Palado
Thank you Melesi
Yes Iyo
No
Man Mobáli, moto
Woman Mwásí

Below are Lingala numerals 1-10.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
mókó
míbalé
mísáto
mínei
mítáno
motóbá
sambo
mwambi
libwá
zómi

Writing

Lingala was first reduced to writing in the early 1900s. Today, it is written with an adapted version of the Latin alphabet, but there is no standard orthography and literacy rates among Lingala speakers are very low.

A a
B b
C c
D d
E e
F f
G g
Gb
H h
I i
K k
L l
M m
Mb mb
Mp mp
N n
Nd nd
Ng ng
Nk nk
Ns ns
Nt nt
Ny ny
Nz nz
O o
P p
R r
S s
Sh sh
T t
V v
W w
Y y
Z z
  • /e/ and /ε / are both represented by e, while /o/ and /ɔ/ are represented by o.
  • mb, mp, nd, ng, nk, ns, nt, nz represent prenasalized consonants.
  • ny represents a palatal /n/ as ny in canyon.
  • c = ch in chop

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Lingala.

ETENI YA yambo (1)
Bato nyonso na mbotama bazali nzomi pe bakokani na limemya pe makoki. Bazali na mayele pe base, geli kofanda na bondeko okati na bango.
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Did You Know?

Difficulty

Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Lingala?
There is no data on the difficulty of Lingala for speakers of English.

One Response to Lingala

  1. Emmanuel

    What can I do to learn or study lingala language?

     

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