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The language

With over 10 million speakers, Lingala is a Bantu language spoken throughout the north-western part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a small part of the Republic of the Congo, and to some degree in Angola and the Central African Republic. Lingala is one of the four national languages spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, along with Swahili, Kikongo and Tshiluba. Lingala was named by European missionaries after the Bangala people who lived along the Congo River. It was intended to mean ‘the language of the Bangala people’ or ‘the language of the river’.

Basankusu collecting firewood, Democratic Republic of Congo

The dialects

The Lingala language can be divided in several dialects or variations. The major variations are considered to be Standard Lingala, Spoken Lingala, Kinshasa (DRC) Lingala and Congo-Brazzaville Lingala. All these variations are mutually intelligible. Standard Lingala is the formal variety used for educational and religious purposes, and in the media. Spoken Lingala is the variation used in the day-to-day lives of Lingalaphones. Modern spoken Lingala is increasingly influenced by French. Kinshasa (DRC) Lingala and Congo-Brazzaville Lingala have a significant number of borrowings from French and other Bantu languages.

The script

Lingala uses an adapted version of the Latin alphabet.


When translating from Lingala to English, the word count increases. This is because Lingala is traditionally a spoken language; expressing an idea often requires a definition instead of a single word. For example, ‘widow’ is translated as mwasi akufela mobali, meaning ‘the woman whose husband died or who has lost her husband’.

Lingala music

A huge part of the Congolese culture is music and dance. One popular style of music is Soukous, also referred to as Lingala or Congo music. Soukous comes from the French verb secouer, meaning to shake. The distinct sound of Soukous was created by jazz and rumba bands in the 1940s and 1950s, and gained popularity in France in the 1980s. Most Soukous lyrics are in Lingala and a variety of instruments are used, including brass horns, various kinds of percussion, and multiple guitars.