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Number of Speakers: Over 10 million

Key Dialects: Mankanza, Mangala, Bangala, urban Lingala

Geographical Center: Northwestern area of Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire), from Kinshasa to Kisangani; northern area of Popular Republic of Congo, west of the Congo River.

Upwards of two million people speak Lingala natively in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it is the official language. An additional seven million people speak Lingala as their second language. Within the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lingala is spoken widely in the Bandundu, Equateur, and Orientale provinces. Lingala is also spoken in the Central African Republic of the Congo by upwards of 100,000 speakers. The language is occasionally referred to as Ngala.

Lingala is a Bantu language of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family.

Lingala is written with the Latin alphabet. The seven vowels are represented by five symbols. The orthographic symbols 'e' and 'o' each represent two sounds. There are two tones in Lingala. High tone is represented with an acute accent, while low tone is unmarked.

As in many Bantu languages, consonant clusters consist mainly of a nasal followed by a non-nasal consonant. Some verbal inflections and certain nouns are only distinguished by tone. In many other aspects of the language, however, tone plays only a minor role.

Lingala nouns generally consist of a prefix and a nominal root. The prefix indicates the class of the noun, of which there are twelve. There is one preposition in Lingala, na. Other prepositional notions are expressed by means of noun-possessor constructions.

Lingala verbal morphology is highly agglutinating and with the exception of a few impersonal forms, all verbs are marked for number, person, tense, mood, and voice. The subject prefix/agreement marker varies according to the noun class of the subject. The verb may also have derivational affixes such as causative, applicative, passive, reflexive, and reciprocal. Lingala has three tenses: past, present, and future. Four moods are attested in the language, namely, indicative, subjunctive, conditional and imperative.

The basic word order of Lingala is SVO, although depending on pragmatic or discourse factors, the subject may follow the verb.

Lingala is the national language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is concentrated in urban centers, where speakers of many different languages are most likely to encounter one another. In the cities of Kinshasa and Brazzaville especially, Lingala is widely used in popular music and as a lingua franca. Long contact with French, the colonial language, has facilitated borrowing and Lingala-French language mixing is frequent, particularly among the educated. Vocabulary related to modern living, especially technology is generally taken from French. Lingala has also borrowed from indigenous sources such as Kikongo/Kituba and Swahili.

Modern Lingala arose during the late 19th or early 20th century. It appears to have developed from Bobangi, a Bantu language that was a lingua franca along the Congo River south of the northwestern bend. Lingala spread as a result of being used in popular music coming from Kinshasa and Brazzaville, where it functioned as a vernacular.

Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.

Guthrie, Malcolm. 1935. Lingala Grammar and Dictionary. Léopoldville (Kinshasa): Conseil Protestant du Congo.

Guthrie, Malcolm and John F. Carrington. 1988. Lingala: Grammar and Dictionary. London: Baptist Missionary Society.

Meeuwis, Michael. 1998. Lingala. Munich, Germany: Lincom Europa.

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