Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Official languages French
National languages Kituba, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba
Indigenous languages More than 200
Sign languages American Sign Language (Francophone African Sign Language)
Lingua franca French, Kituba, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba
The geographical distribution of the four national languages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a multilingual country where an estimated total of 242 languages are spoken. Ethnologue lists 215 living languages.[1] The official language, inherited from the colonial period, is French. Four indigenous languages have the status of national language: Kituba (called "Kikongo"), Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba.

When the country was a Belgian colony, it had already instituted teaching and use of the four national languages in primary schools, making it one of the few African nations to have had literacy in local languages during the European colonial period. During the colonial period both Dutch and French were the official languages but French was by far the most important.


Knowledge of French language in the DRC in 2005 according to the OIF.
See also: African French

French is the official language of the country since its colonial period under Belgian rule. Therefore, the variety of French used in the DRC has many similarities with Belgian French. French has been maintained as the official language since the time of independence because it is widely spoken around the educated groups in the country, it belongs to none of the indigenous ethnic groups and eases communication between them as well as with the rest of the Francophonie, which includes many African countries. According to a 2014 OIF report, 33 million Congolese people (47% of the population) can read and write in French.[2] In the capital city Kinshasa, 67% of the population can read and write French, and 68.5% can speak and understand it.[3] The Democratic Republic of the Congo is currently the most populous French-speaking country outside France.


The constitution says Kikongo is one of the national languages, but in fact it is a Kikongo-based creole, Kituba (Kikongo ya Leta "Kikongo of the government", Leta being derived from French l'État "the State") that is used in the constitution and by the administration in the provinces of Bas-Congo (which is inhabited by the Bakongo), Kwango, and Kwilu. Kituba has become a vernacular language in many urban centres including Kikwit, Bandundu, Matadi, Boma and Muanda.


Lingala is a language which gained its modern form in the colonial period, with the push of missionaries to uniformize and teach a local vehicular language. It was originally spoken in the upper Congo river area but rapidly spread to the middle Congo area and eventually became the major Bantu language in Kinshasa for many reasons.

Lingala was made the official language of the army under Mobutu, but since the rebellions the army has also used Swahili in the east. With the transition period and the consolidation of different armed groups into the Congolese Army, the linguistic policy has returned to its previous form and Lingala is again the official language of the Army.


Swahili is the most spoken vehicular language spoken in Eastern Equatorial Africa. Many variations of Swahili are spoken in the country but the major one is Kingwana, sometimes called Copperbelt Swahili, especially in the Katanga area.


The constitution does not specify which variation of Tshiluba is a national language. There are two major variations of Tshiluba: Luba-Kasai, spoken in the East Kasai Region (Luba people) and Luba-Lulua, in the West Kasai Region (Bena Lulua people). Luba-Kasai seems to be the language used by the administration. A related language, known as Luba-Katanga, is spoken in Katanga Province.

Sign languages

There are 12 deaf institutions in the country, most teach French Sign Language or variations. American Sign Language is also practiced in the country.

Other languages

The most notable other languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are Mongo, Lunda, Kilega, Tetela, Chokwe, Budza, Ngbandi, Lendu, Mangbetu, Nande, Ngbaka, Zande, Lugbara and Komo.

As of 2010 the government decided to include Portuguese as an optional language at schools as a reflex of Brazil's increasing influence in the continent.[4]

Among the slangs spoken in Congo, Indubil has been noted since around the sixties[5] and continues to evolve nowadays.[6]

External links


  1. Languages of Democratic Republic of the Congo,
  2. Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (2014). La langue française dans le monde 2014. Paris: Éditions Nathan. p. 17. ISBN 978-2-09-882654-0. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
  3. Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (2014). La langue française dans le monde 2014. Paris: Éditions Nathan. p. 30. ISBN 978-2-09-882654-0. Retrieved 2015-05-16.
  4. TSF. (July 4th). Português adoptado como língua opcional nas escolas da RD Congo, accessed on July 4, 2010
  5. "Ghetto Blaster : Et la rumba congolaise rythma les indépendances". Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  6. Georges Mulumbwa Mutambwa. "The spread of Indubil through DR Congo: context and modalities". Retrieved 20 February 2011.
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