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QUOTE Lingala is the dialect spoken around Kinshasa-Congo and Brazzaville-Congo. It has strong French influences, some Portuguese influences (butter, table, shoes) and even some English influences. Milk is Miliki and friend is Mista, for example. /QUOTE

Dialect of what language, group, family? Please put hierarchy links.

I've always been told that Lingala was originally the language of the ngala people (people of the river), or Bangala. With time the language was used as a lingua franca, was standardized (mostly by missionaries) and thus came the separation between Lingala and Bangala. The Bangala language is often referred to as Classical Lingala. Lingala being Standard Lingala. At least that's what common Congolese have told me. Written linguistic references would be great help ---moyogo
I just *found* such a reference, from 1909, online (but requiring paid access), and added it to the references (the title is proof enough) Rp (talk) 19:33, 18 December 2007 (UTC)
I’m not sure a 1909 reference will be great help since Bangala as a language name has only been used recently. --moyogo (talk) 22:05, 18 December 2007 (UTC)
The introduction to Meeuwis (1998) sketches the history of Lingala in considerable detail. I have to look it up again, but I remember him writing that Lingala has its roots in Lobangi, a trade- and fishing language along the Congo river between Kinshasa and Sisala. Bangala was what the whites came to call the language after it had come into use as a regional lingua franca. Together with an effort to standardize the language (to make it 'pure Bantu'), roman catholic missionaries came up with the name Lingala — Meeuwis states that their reason was that the noun class prefix for 'language' was 'li' in some surrounding languages. mark 14:30, 13 Mar 2005 (UTC)
It gets confusing when the Ngala people, the Bangala (ba+ngala for PL-ngala just like ba+ntu is PL-mtu for men as in people), call their language Lingala (li+ngala language-ngala). Linguists tend to call it Bangala and the person in the street calls it classical Lingala. ---moyogo
I really got confused didn't I. So there's Lingala and various variations of it (Kin, classical, etc.) and then there's Bangala, spoken in most of the Eastern part of what we flag as Lingala speaking area. ---moyogo 05:26, 2005 May 16 (UTC)
Isn't 'classical Lingala' the "purified form" of Lingala that the Belgian missionaries of the Congregatio Immaculatae Coris Mariae tried to institutionalize at the end of the 19th century? They made 'ideal', prescriptive grammars and dictionaries and tried to introduce this form through the educiational system. At that time they called the language Bangala. — mark 08:54, 16 May 2005 (UTC)
A purified Lingala called Bangala doesn't make sense. Ba- is for people, or plural of a person and that only in "purified" lingala. --moyogo (talk) 22:01, 18 December 2007 (UTC)
That's what I thought, too, so I added that to the article, but the existing article stated that "Bangala" was used, at least by missionaries and linguists, *before* the term Lingala was used. The article from 1909 I found calls the people along the Congo river Bangala (while identifying specific tribes among them) and calls the language Ngala. I will add some quotes when I have more time. Rp (talk) 11:35, 23 December 2007 (UTC)


Now that we have the beautiful tables, we don't need the lists of phonemes anymore, right? mark 15:30, 12 Mar 2005 (UTC)

I'm thinking about making tables with sample words, translations, etc. It's true that it's rather ugly right now, having both phonemes tables and lists.---moyogo 16:53, 2005 Mar 12 (UTC)

Nice map! mark 21:42, 3 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Thanks. Nice maps! Almost too nice... hard to reduced their size in kb and keep a good look ;) ---moyogo 03:19, 2005 Apr 4 (UTC)

Regional variation[edit]

Vowel harmony and CL1/3 noun class prefixes[edit]

It seems the vowels shift in some variations also occured with o -> u, or the opposite. There are lots of variations in this language. It seems each academic references is about a different variation. Also, some variations seem to respect vowel harmony consistently through a word, even affecting the noun class prefix. Some native speaker say [mɔkɔlɔ] instead of [mokɔlɔ] (day) ---moyogo 05:28, 2005 May 13 (UTC)

Yeah I noticed that too — especially the /o - ɔ/ distinction is not always clear. I did field work with a seventeen year old from Kinshasa who was pretty decided about the different vowel qualities; but a 45 year old speaker was not so sure about it and often mixed up /e/ and /ɛ/, /o/ and /ɔ/. — mark 07:42, 13 May 2005 (UTC)
BTW, in my field work I found only five vowel qualities (i, u, e, o, a) in verb roots, whereas all seven were found in the noun roots. I think it had to do with the smallness of my corpus (75 verbs and 211 nouns, really unacceptable to draw reliable conclusions) rather than being systematic, but I wonder if you came across any verbs with /ɛ/ or /ɔ/? — mark 09:15, 13 May 2005 (UTC)
I can think right away of the kobɛta to beat or the kokɛndɛ/kokɛnda to go verbs. I've learnt to pronounce to beat that way, when in the Congo, that's one of the few things I remember, and I often hear kokɛndɛ in songs. The dictionnary I have (Edema A.), that emphasises on tones and phonetic spelling, uses those spelling too. I don't recall noticing the absence /ɔ/
Actually the verb kokɔ́tɔ to enter uses the open o. ---moyogo 12:32, 2005 May 14 (UTC)
I should also mention that, a 60 years old native speaker I talk with seems to have vowel harmony across words, not just roots, for example she pronounce the word mokɔlɔ day in this manner : [mɔkɔlɔ]. ---moyogo 12:18, 2005 May 14 (UTC)

I think a lot could be said about variations of pronounciation and grammar. Should we look for papers and more to start a section on social/age/geographic variations?---moyogo 12:26, 2005 May 14 (UTC)

Oh, another thing about variations, in my data I have no occurence of mu for CL1 in my dictionary, it is consistently mo. I do recall people saying mundɛ́lɛ́ from when I was in Kin years ago (my dictionary has it as mondɛ́lɛ́). Could this be another Kin lingala variation? ---moyogo 12:58, 2005 May 17 (UTC)

Could be, but then I would expect it to be regular in my data — instead, both mo and mu pop up on different words. The compiler of your dictionary might have smoothed out the variation, recognizing that mu/mo were the same class prefix. Any mu's for CL3? — mark 13:05, 17 May 2005 (UTC)
Hold on a minute, I'm attaching too much importance to my own incomplete field work. I'm checking out Guthrie's Lingala Grammar and I'll let you know the results. — mark 17:35, 17 May 2005 (UTC)
Guthrie (1988) only mentions mo for CL1 and CL3; the variation I recorded is probably only regional. It bordered original research anyway, so I pulled out the following paragraph:
The noun class system of Lingala is not as straightforward as the average Bantu noun class system. For example, some noun class prefixes come in several variants — the class 1 and 3 prefix can be mo or mu (mokili 'world', musapi 'finger'); and there is a relatively rare class 7a prefix ki- (kikedi 'cassava'). Irregularities like this can be attributed to the turbulent history of the language; in this case, the Lingala noun class system is probably a mixture of different sets of prefixes from several Bantu languages.
Guthrie furthermore confirms the vowel harmony issue and also notes that it affects the noun class prefix (thus, motéma 'heart' vs. mɔnɔngi 'spy' and esíká 'place' vs. ɛtɛbu 'razor'). — mark 17:58, 17 May 2005 (UTC)
That's really good information, thanks. More reasons to do a variations section. ---moyogo 05:12, 2005 May 19 (UTC)
Indeed. Do you have acces to Meeuwis' 1998 grammar? — mark 13:44, 19 May 2005 (UTC)

The variation of "mo" versus "mu" on CL1 and 3, I believe, is regional and also urban. By urban I mean Kinshasa. Natives of Equateur, Haut congo, and part of Bandundu; Bikoro areas, and the nothern Congo-Brazzaville generally use 'mo" instead of 'mu". Natives of Kinshasa use "mu" My guess is that our lingala (Kin) is heavily influenced by its proximity to Kikongo. What is so strange, is that more and more people, mostly young men natives of the areas that use "mo", tend now to use "mu" instead of "mo". this shows that Lingala urban is becoming de facto standard for lingala. So you hear in Kinshasa muluba instead of moluba, mungala instead of mongala etc....


I think I've inserted some errors abot nasal allophones, it turns out to be just variations (mostly Equateur vs Kinshasa pronounciation). Mwana Kin send me a message to notify me of the possible mistake. How was/is the teenager from Kinshasa differentiating them? ---moyogo 12:18, 2005 May 14 (UTC)
Incidentally, the term 'nasal diphthong' is generally used for contractions of vowels and nasals, so it might be confusing to use it here. The common phonemic term would be 'prenasalized consonants' or indeed 'prenasalization', a common phenomenon in Bantu languages.
prenasalization is the proper term indeed. ---moyogo
In my data there is no variation at that point: the prenasalization is always there no matter if there is a voiceless stop or a voiced stop — mbala [mbala] 'sweet potato', mpese [mpese] 'duck', ntaba [ntaba] 'sheep', ndoto [ndoto] 'dream', ntshosi [ntʃosi] 'frog', ngando [ŋgando] 'crocodile', nkoba [ŋkoba] 'tortoise'. — mark 08:54, 16 May 2005 (UTC)
Variation of prenasalized voiceless can be observed in the variation of spelling of nyɔ́nsɔ (nionso or nioso), text on the web show this. I've spoken to native speaker and they confirmed this variation. It seems to be a Kinshasa variation, probably due to the big mix of people there. ---moyogo 12:55, 2005 May 16 (UTC)
Is there a difference between [ŋ] and [ⁿg] ? ---moyogo 07:00, 2005 May 19 (UTC)
Yes there is. The difference is that in the latter case, the main articulation is that of the voiced velar plosive [g], merely preceded by a prenasalization, whereas in the former case the nasal articulation is all there is. As far as I know, plain [ŋ] is not found in Lingala. Guthrie doesn't list it in his phoneme inventory and I didn't have it in my data either.
By the way, Guthrie, too, notes that some speakers tend to drop the prenasalization (1988:5) — thus, [ⁿg] ~ [g] etc. Examples he gives: dáko ~ ndáko 'house', pasi ~ mpasi 'pain, hardship', kásá ~ nkásá 'leaves, papers'. — mark 13:44, 19 May 2005 (UTC)
A native (Kin) speaker described pasi to me as standard Lingala, mpasi as "dialect" (i.e. from another Bantu language). From the Lingala I've heard, prenasalization is very common but not required. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:19, 15 December 2007 (UTC)

Noun Classes[edit]

I'm really uncomfortable with the 15 noun classes. I don't like splitting singular and plural that way. This paper on Lingala grammar (pdf in galician) uses a more natural set of noun classes (see page 11) :

  • 1st [1,1b,2] mo-,∅/ba-
  • 2nd [3,4] mo-/mi-
  • 3rd [5.6] li-/ma-
  • 4th [7.7b.8] e-,ki-/bi
  • 5th [9,10] ∅/∅
  • 6th [11,6] lo-/ma-
  • 7th [14] bo-
  • 8th [15] ko-

What do you think about using this system instead? ---moyogo 05:18, 2005 May 19 (UTC)

I think that's a good idea. It is more in line with other treatments of grammatical gender. I went by the Bantuist linguistic tradition to separate singular from plural classes, mainly motivated by the fact that there's not always a nice one-to-one mapping, cf. examples like 11>6, 11>2, but on second thought I agree that it makes more sense to make the gender the main 'presentational unit', so to say. — mark 14:06, 19 May 2005 (UTC)
I agree with the way the class is presented in this study.. This is the way I learned lingala in elementary school 35 years ago. The association of the singular class with their plural class makes it easy for people to learn. By the way this study is spanish.
Funny enough, the language that paper was written in, is neigther portuguese nor spanish, it's galician. ---moyogo 15:54, 2005 May 22 (UTC)
I don't understand why ko- is included with noun classes when it's the prefix for verbs 16:42 2010 Jan 03 francish7 —Preceding undated comment added 16:46, 3 January 2010 (UTC).

Splitting into deeper articles[edit]

I think that at the pace were going, we should split the article into more detailed ones pretty soon. I have some seriours references about grammar and writing system, I'll try to fork at some point later on. ---moyogo 05:22, 2005 May 19 (UTC)

Sounds great, which ones do you have? — mark 14:09, 19 May 2005 (UTC)
The Rosetta Project [1] has some interesting pieces, it seems to be from Meeuwis. The paper in Portuguese has lot's on grammar (phrase structure, nouns and nominal phrases, verbal catergories and complexe phrases), has Meeuwis and Bwantsa-Kafungu in its bibliography. ---moyogo 22:33, 2005 May 19 (UTC)
Oh, I've also received some papers in French by Edama about the writing system. If you're interested, let me know. ---moyogo 22:46, 2005 May 19 (UTC)


This article classifies Lingala as a Bantu language. Is this unambiguously right? From what I have heard Lingala is more like a white creole: a black idiom corrupted by whites who where unable to pick up the grammatical rules. Since English and French creoles are rarely classified as Indo-European languages, why should we classifie Lingala as a Bantu language then? Caesarion 12:34, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

I would tend to agree with the position that Lingala is a creole, but not with your characterization of the creolization process. It's certainly not a white creole — Lingala grammar and morphology show cross language compromises indicating different sources, but those sources are mainly other Bantu languages (not European languages). Its history reflects this. So I'd say it is possible to classify Lingala as Bantu and at the same time call it a creole. Hardly unambiguous, I admit; but creolization is all about the borders of genetic classification. — mark 14:35, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

OK then, this will do, I think. Caesarion 15:10, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

Hmmm many Congolese linguists disagree with that statement, they do not consider Lingala as a creole, no more than English is. ---moyogo 14:43, 7 April 2006 (UTC)
I bet this also has something to do with prestige. Anyway, here's another source arguing for Lingala being a creole: Samarin, William J. 1990. ‘The origins of Kituba and Lingala.’ Journal of African Languages and Linguistics, 12:47-77. On the other hand, Meeuwis (1998) manages to remain agnostic about the issue. — mark 17:57, 13 May 2006 (UTC)
Sure Lingala is a language that has evolved from a natural language heavily borrowing from many surrounding languages, with the influence of the missionary's normalization. But my understanding of a Creole is a "language that came from a first generation pidgin and became a creole at the second generation". Is William J. talking about Lingala in general or a specific variation? ---moyogo 19:08, 14 May 2006 (UTC)
Judging by their present Wikipedia descriptions, Lingala definitely started out as a pidgin language, and is a creole language. I have added some text to make this clearer, please correct if necessary. -- (talk) 15:23, 15 December 2007 (UTC)


Influenc from English: míliki, búku. Are you shure? Couldn't it be dutch/flemish? because Congo was at this time privat proprety of the King of Belgium and then a Belgish Colony. As you can see in the table, this emprunts could be english, dutch/flemish, german or alemannic (all languages from the germanic languague family). From history, it seems logic that it coms from flemish (belgian name for dutch). -- Etienne 14:11, 9 January 2006 (UTC)

Lingála     English  Dutch  German  Alemannic
mbúku       book        boek     Buch       Buech
mbeto        bed           bed        Bett         Bett
míliki         milk         melk     Milch      Milch
kobeta       beat                   
koluka       look                                        luege
kopo           cup          kop
kobanga                    bang      Bang        Bang            from als:lingala
Verbs like kobanga makes me think Dutch has probably some influence on Lingala too, due to the Flemish missionaries. But there were Protestant missionaries (Anglo-Saxons) around too. ---moyogo 14:41, 7 April 2006 (UTC)
Mgr E. De Boeck, the first catholic bishop of Lisala, may have have had some influence on Lingala. (understatement). It happens that he was a native speaker of dutch. Deps 18:55, 12 May 2006 (UTC)
There were Protestant missionaries around (Weeks, Stapleton) but they used Boloki and not the trade language for their religious texts.Deps 19:20, 12 May 2006 (UTC)
The claim for English is not documented,so I changed "English" to "Dutch". Is it true? Nayebi te.Deps 17:17, 13 May 2006 (UTC)
It will have to be documented in any case, according to the cite sources policy. — mark 17:52, 13 May 2006 (UTC)
actually kobánga probably just comes from libánga (stone). --moyogo 10:59, 12 December 2006 (UTC)
I think a Bantu source is more probable anyway. What is its meaning in Lingala again? I still find most of the etymologies given here highly unlikely, especially in the absence of good translations and example sentences of the Lingala words (anyone can put together a table of a few words that look similar). — mark 11:25, 12 December 2006 (UTC)

Does wikipedia have any Lingala speakers?[edit]


Mbote! (but that's about it, for me). I'm not aware of any native speakers editing here; I know Moyogo speaks some Lingala. — mark 17:23, 5 April 2006 (UTC)

Thank you. Where I can get a hold of him/her? (sorry, don't know the gender)
It seems he's mostly active on the French Wikipedia nowadays; his userpage also has a link to his personal homepage. — mark 19:33, 5 April 2006 (UTC)
hi there, what's the fuss about? :) User:Themalau speaks better than I do, I've just been studying Lingala's orthography and a bit of vocabulary, my grammar is pretty bad. He would be a better help for spoken Lingala. ---moyogo 14:46, 7 April 2006 (UTC)

numbers of speakers[edit]

The Britannica mentions about 36 millions speakers (vehicular), SIL ethnologue mentions 10 millions. Kinshasa itself is above 7 millions. The Equator Province has above 7 millions too. Bandundu is 5 millions. Orientale is 5 millions. Congo-Brazza is about 3 millions. Suppose half of those people would speak Lingala as a 2nd language (or 3rd) it's about 13.5 millions. Even if all the people of those regions spoke Lingala, it would be 27 millions. Give or take the people from other regions or Congolese expats, people in neighbouring countries, does 36 millions make sense? --moyogo 14:56, 24 September 2006 (UTC)

I find it very high, and would like to know where they got this number from. — mark 16:42, 24 September 2006 (UTC)
Lingala is also spoken outside the Congos, at least in Angola. (talk) 15:28, 15 December 2007 (UTC)

Reference needed[edit]

Can we have some evidence to back up the assertion that 'the cryptic forms of the language [are] undecipherable by Western intelligence agencies.' I doubt that a good spook couldn't find a translator if needed.

About those noun classes... + tones and wishful thinking[edit]

I wanted to suggest changing the noun class list to a table like: mopési (new column) bapési showing singular and plural side by side, but I see that suggestion has been made. Are you waiting to get a round tuit? Can I go ahead and give it a shot?

Also, in the Spoken Lingala paragraph, it says "noun-modifier agreement is reduced to two classes." Can someone specify which two classes? My guess is mo/ba and e/bi. Although, I remember in the "Bangala" I spoke in Haut-Congo, it was mozande/ba-mozande (a Zande person/Zande people).

In the tone section, it says, "There are two tones possible, the normal one is low and the second one is high." I seem to remember learning that there were three tones. The third one was used in words like "âwa" and "mâwa," with the first a having a falling tone (high to low). However, my little Lingala-Français dictionary disagrees with me, and I don't have my other resources to back me up. Mawa!

In the Tonal morphology section, what do the little superscript L's mean? Let me guess: Low, and H means High. I think it would be clearer to use superscripts and subscripts, so nákoma could look like nakoma. What do you think, bandeko?

Lastly, wishful thinking: is there any website that includes lyrics in Lingala? That would be a useful link, especially if it showed translations, which makes me think of something else. This article is very dry; you have to be a grammarhead like me to want to read through it. Something that would make it more interesting is to have a section explaining vocabulary, especially idioms. I was relatively fluent in Lingala but I could never make head or tail of song lyrics. Lingala vocabulary is very small, so people create words with expressions; for example, "child of the lock" (mwana ya lifúngula) meant "key" and "pocket of the letter" (linanisa ya mokanda) meant "envelope" where I lived. Or else they use French and end up speaking Frangala (kle<--clé, anverope<--envelope).

P.S. Hey, I just found an example of the third tone: "Moto óyo ayébí koloba lingála mwâ mokɛ́"! --Dblomgren 05:06, 20 December 2006 (UTC)

One quick response about the tone issue: most Bantu languages have a system of two level tones (High and Low), and falling and rising tones are usually analysed as combinations of these two tones. That's why you'll often find statements about two tones while at the same time you can find that there are more tonal patterns. So what you call the 'â' tone is analysed as being composed of a High and a Low tone underlyingly.
The article definitely needs a vocabulary section, and the patterns you mention are interesting (though by no means limited to Lingala -- the 'child of' construction is found in many more African languages). — mark 19:41, 20 December 2006 (UTC)
That's a lot of questions and good suggestions in one go.
It would probably be helpful to a certain degree to have the classes paired up in their most common groups, however there are many exceptions. 1-2, 1a-2, 9-2, 1-10, 7-10, 9-10, 11-10, 5-6, 11-6 and 14-6 are found according to [2] which seems to be correct looking in the Kawata Ashem Tem dictionary. Either way commons pairs should be indicated.
For the H and L for tones, I'm not sure what would be the best way to write it. We should probably try to use whatever is used in linguistics paper, if that's accessible. -moyogo 01:21, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
Oh, for lyrics, try --moyogo 01:22, 21 December 2006 (UTC)
I added a third tonal sound a couple of years ago - perhaps it's been removed. It's what I would call a wobbley one. In the word "bongo" (therefore) and "solo" (truly/really) the tone starts high - dips low and ends high. Francis Hannaway (talk) 13:48, 15 September 2015 (UTC)

Imported from Zanzibar?[edit]

In History, the text said: The language was learned and influenced by intermediaries and interpreters of the Westerners and brought to the area from other parts of Central and East Africa (e.g., Zanzibar, Comoros and the Tanganyikan inland). This doesn't make any sense: those areas aren't situated between Kinshasa and Lisala. The remark does apply to Swahili. I've taken it out. Rp (talk) 22:50, 11 March 2010 (UTC)

bangi or losengo?[edit]

How can Lingala descend from Bangi if it's more closely related to Losengo? I've seen both claimed as the ancestor: is there more going on than we're covering? — kwami (talk) 21:17, 10 May 2012 (UTC)

Mu. I don't know about these languages specifically, but I think we can assume that all of these languages exist in a dialect continuum and freely split and mix as they develop. No language has a single ancestor. For instance, English is a mostly old Anglo-Saxon core sprinkled with Danish/Norwegian, lots of French from various periods, and local British characteristics. The nice discrete boxes and arrows you see in historical grammars are vast oversimplifications. Rp (talk) 08:43, 15 May 2012 (UTC)

Vowel shift[edit]

While ɔ has shifted to o, o has shifted to u. Are these changes specific to Kinshasa? Are there any more vowel shifts? Rp (talk) 08:42, 29 June 2012 (UTC)

Yes these vowel shifts are mainly in Kinshasa. People who have spent time living in Kinshasa tend to carry this change back to their home area and may influence others. Similary kozi:la is often kozela and general tonality of phrases is lost in Kinshasa. Kinshasa probably have more people who were born in the provinces than were born in Kinshasa - my experience is that people born in Kinshasa corrupt the language with abreviations (nazoya instead of nazali koya [=I'm coming]) so much that it can only be considered a dialect. Francis Hannaway (talk) 13:39, 15 September 2015 (UTC)

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