The official language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is French, though there are over 200 languages spoken there.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is commonly referred to only as the Congo (or sometimes just Congo) is located in central Africa. It was colonized by Belgium under King Leopold II at the beginning of the twentieth century. As a result, French became the country’s lingua franca, as it was the language of the colonial power. However, many indigenous languages were already spoken there and continue to be spoken today. The Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960 and has been engaged in civil war for much of the time since then, at least in part due to foreign powers trying to exert influence on the country. Foreign influence in the Congo is heavily reflected in the languages that are spoken there.
Though French is today the official language of the Congo, Lingala, Kituba (also known as Kikongo), Tshiluba, and Swahili are recognized as national languages. The four national languages were initially identified by the Belgian government as national languages of the Congo, which enabled them to be taught in schools across the country. As a result, the Congo was one of the only colonized countries in Africa that taught literacy in indigenous languages.
Today, at least 215 languages are spoken throughout the Congo, most of them local, regional languages. Even within major urban centers, such as the capital of Kinshasa, many different language groups are represented. The languages that are spoken in the Congo are primarily from the Bantu language group of the Niger-Congo language family.
The Official Language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo The Congo is the largest Francophone country in the world, as over 33 million Congolese people – one-third of the country’s population – are literate in the French language. In the capital city of Kinshasa, two-thirds of the population speaks French. Though a significant minority does not speak French, it is used as a lingua franca across different ethnic languages. The dialect of French that is expressed in the Congo bears more resemblances to Belgian French, the language of the country’s colonizers, than it does to Parisian French.
The constitution of the Congo recognizes Kikongo as a national language. There are different dialects of Kikongo, though, and the one that is officially known is Kituba. Kituba is a creole language hybrid of Kikongo and French. Many people in the country’s urban centers speak Kituba, while Kikongo is more commonly expressed in rural areas.
The Lingala language developed in the upper region of the Congo and rapidly spread to the Middle Congo under colonial rule, mainly under the influence of missionaries who wanted to establish institutions like schools and healthcare centers. It became a lingua franca amongst different ethnic groups, particularly in the north, that spoke many different languages. In Kinshasa, it is the primary Bantu language. The Congolese army recognizes Lingala as its official language.
Swahili, another Bantu language, is generally the primary language of the large Swahili ethnic group. It is the lingua franca of Africa’s Great Lakes region as well as east and southeast Africa. It is considered to be indigenous to the Congo, Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Mayotte, Comoros, Zambia, Madagascar, and Malawi.
There are multiple dialects of Swahili that are spoken in the Congo. The most common is Kingwana, also known as Copperbelt Swahili.
The Tshiluba language, also known as Luba-Kasai or Western Luba, is also recognized by the constitution as a national language of the Congo. It is the language of the Luba people, and its dialects include Luba-Kasai and Luba-Lulua. However, the structure does not specify which dialect it recognizes. Luba-Katanga is also spoken and is very common to Tshiluba.
Unlike many other countries, the Congo does not have its own version of sign language for its deaf population. The two primary varieties of sign language used there are French Sign Language and American Sign Language.
Over 200 languages are spoken throughout the Congo, many of which are confined to small people groups. The most widely spoken minority languages include Ngbaka, Budza, Lendu, Ngbandi, Mangbetu, Zande, Nande, Komo, Lugbara, Chokwe, Tetela, Kilega, Lunda, Mongo, and Mashie.
In addition to French and the national languages, the government of the Congo intends to introduce Portuguese as part of the learning curriculum for children. This is probably due at least in part to the fact that Portuguese is the language of the neighboring country of Angola. Dutch is also commonly spoken as a foreign language.
“Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Wikipedia. “Democratic Republic of the Congo.” CIA World Factbook. “Swahili Language.” Wikipedia. “Democratic Republic of the Congo.” Wikipedia.