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Lingala language

Lingala language

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For other uses, see Lingala (disambiguation).
Spoken in: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo 
Region: Central and Eastern Africa
Total speakers: 2 million native speakers, 10 million with second-language speakers
Language family: Niger-Congo
      Narrow Bantu
Writing system: African reference alphabet (Latin alphabet), Mandombe 
Official status
Official language of: Republic of the Congo
Regulated by: no official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1: ln
ISO 639-2: lin
ISO/FDIS 639-3: lin 
Image:LanguageMap-Lingala-Larger Location.png
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.


[edit] History

The origins of Lingala lie in Bobangi, a language that was spoken along the Congo River between Lisala and Kinshasa. Bobangi functioned as a regional trade language before the genesis of Congo Free State. In the last two decades of the 19th century, after King Leopold II of Belgium stimulated the exploration and occupation of the area, Bobangi came into wider use. The language was learned and influenced by intermediaries and interpreters of the Westerners, brought to the area from other parts of central and east Africa (e.g. (Zanzibar, Comoros and the Tanganyikan inland). 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. 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 the following:

[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.

In the process of this 'purification', the term Bangala was replaced with Lingala, borrowing a prefix from one of the surrounding languages. The term first appears in a written form in a publication by the C.I.C.M. missionary Egide De Boeck (1903).

Lingala's vocabulary has borrowed much French. There is also some Portuguese influence, such as in the words for butter (mántéka), table (mésa), shoes (sapátu), and some English or Dutch influences: for instance, the word for milk (míliki), or book (búku). Congolese rebels now use the cryptic forms of the language to pass messages undecipherable by Western intelligence agencies.

[edit] Variations

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 that 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, a majority of Lingala songs use Spoken Lingala over the 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.

[edit] Sounds

[edit] Vowels

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 /eloŋgi/ elongi face
o /mobáli/ mobáli masculine pronounced slightly higher than the cardinal o,
realized as [o̝]
ɛ /lɛlɔ́/ lɛlɔ́ today
ɔ /mbɔ́ŋgɔ/ mbɔ́ngɔ money
a /áwa/ áwa here

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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 mbɔ́tɛ [ᵐbóte] compared to a more traditional pronunciation [ᵐbɔ́tɛ].

[edit] Consonants

Bilabial Labio-
Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar
Plosive p b t d k ɡ
Nasal m n ɲ
Fricative f v s z ʃ (ʒ)
Approximant j
Lateral Approximant l

IPA Example (IPA) Example (written) Meaning
p /napési/ napésí I give
mp /mmbɛ́ni/ mpɛmbɛ́ni near
b /boliŋgo/ bolingo love
mb /mbɛlí/ mbɛlí knife
t /litéja/ litéya lesson
ⁿt /ⁿtɔ́ŋgɔ́/ ntɔ́ngó dawn
d /daidai/ daidai sticky
ⁿd /ⁿdeko/ ndeko brother
k /mokɔlɔ/ mokɔlɔ day
ŋk /ŋkóló/ nkóló owner
g /galamɛ́lɛ/ galamɛ́lɛ grammar
ŋg /ŋgáí/ ngáí I, me
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) /ⁿzámbe/ nzámbe god
ʃ /ʃakú/ cakú or shakú African grey parrot
l /ɔ́lɔ/ ɔ́lɔ gold
j /jé/ him
w /wápi/ wápi where

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

[edit] 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 ⁿtɔ́ŋ but in some variations [tɔ́ŋgó]
  • /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/, /ŋg/, /ⁿz/ do not vary.

[edit] Tones

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.

[edit] 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-seL</sub>pelH-aH (you-SG would enjoy)
    • present L-iH:
      osepelí oL-seL</sub>pelL-iH (you-SG have been enjoying)

[edit] Grammar

Main article: Lingala grammar

[edit] 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 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.

7eelokójar, stone bottle
8bibilokójars, stone bottles
10Nntabasheep (pl.)
10aØsánzámoon (pl.)
15kokotálato see, to visit

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 'sheep', 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.

[edit] Verb inflections and morphology

[edit] 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. Passive (-am-)
    e.g. : koboma to kill and kobomama to be killed
  4. Applicative (-el-)
    e.g. : kobíka to heal (self), to save (self) and kobíkela to heal (someone else), to save (someone)
  5. Reciprocal or stationary (-an-, sometimes -en-)
    e.g. : kokúta to find and kokútana to meet

[edit] 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)

[edit] Writing system

The Lingala language has several different writing systems, being a spoken language more than a written language. Most of those writing systems are ad hoc. Due to the low literacy of Lingala speakers in written Lingala (in the Congo-Brazzaville literacy rate in Lingala as first language is between 10% to 30%), its popular orthograpy 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, "aï", 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); "nyonso", "nyoso", "nionso", "nioso" 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 to easily use 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.

[edit] Alphabet

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

[edit] Sample

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.

[edit] See also

[edit] Bibliography

  • 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.

[edit] External links

am:ሊንጋላ de:Lingala es:Idioma lingala eo:Lingala fr:Lingala ko:링갈라어 kg:Kingala ln:Lingála nl:Lingala ja:リンガラ語 pt:Lingala fi:Lingala sv:Lingala

Lingala language

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