Monday, December 8, 2014

Country Profile: Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In this week's country profile, we're focusing on the languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (which we'll refer to as "the DRC" to make things easier) is the second largest country in Africa, and is home to over 77 million people who speak a total of over 200 different languages.

The Official Language

The official language of the DRC is French, the most important of the country's two former colonial languages, the other being Dutch. French was selected as the country's official language because it was considered to be a neutral language that would not favor any of the indigenous ethnic groups.

The DRC has the second largest Francophone population in the world after France, with approximately 28 million speakers. The language is widely used in areas of life such as secondary education, and is also an important lingua franca used to facilitate communication between the speakers of the DRC's four national languages.

A lava lake that existed for decades at Mount Nyiragongo,
a volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The National Languages

There are four official national languages in the DRC: Lingala, Kikongo, Tshiluba, and Swahili. All four are Bantu languages, which is a branch of the Niger-Congo language family. Most children in the DRC are educated in the Bantu language native to their region in primary school, and then switch to the French language for further instruction.

Lingala is primarily spoken in northwestern areas of the DRC, as well as much of the neighboring Republic of the Congo. It has approximately 5.5 million native speakers worldwide, with around 7 million people in the DRC speaking it as a second language.

Kikongo, also known as Kongo, is also widely spoken by people residing in the tropical forests of west central Africa. Kituba, a creole based on Kikongo, is used throughout the region as an important lingua franca, especially in urban areas. The Swahili language is another important lingua franca in this region, as well as throughout larger sections of Africa. Finally, there is Tshiluba, which has around 6 million native speakers, primarily in the Kasai region of the DRC.

Other Languages

Several other languages are spoken in the DRC by smaller numbers of speakers. Most of these are Bantu languages such as Mongo, Nande, Chokwe, Lunda, Budza, Tetela, and Kilega. The Lendu and Mangbetu languages also have some speakers residing in the DRC, and are thought to be members of the Nilo-Saharan language family.