Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The official language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is French. Four other languages have the status of national language: Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba.There is an estimated total of 242 languages spoken ( lists 214 living languages). When the country was a Belgian colony, the four national languages were already used in primary schools, which makes the country one of the few to have had literacy in local languages during the occupation by Europeans.


French is the official language of the country since its colonial period under Belgian rule. The colonial language has been kept as the official language since the time of independence because it's widely spoken around the educated groups in the country, it's ethnically neutral, and eases communication between all the different ethnic groups of the Congo.

See also: French in Africa


The constitution says Kikongo is one of the national languages, but the term "Kikongo" can mean different languages. According to Ethnologue, Kikongo is a macrolanguage that consists of several languages which may or may not be mutually intelligible.

It is commonly accepted that the Kituba variant, also called "Kikongo ya Leta" (Kikongo of the government) is the language used in the administration in the provinces of Kongo Central (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.

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 noticeable other languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are Mongo, Lunda, Tetela, Chokwe, Budza, Lendu, Mangbetu, Nande, Ngbaka.

See also

External links

* [ Linguistic map of the Democratic Republic of the Congo] from
* [ Ethnologue report for the Democratic Republic of the Congo]
* [ PanAfrican L10n: Democratic Republic of Congo] , languages and software localization
* [ Linguistic situation in RDC]
* [ New Technologies and languages of both Congos]
* [ "ONG Éveil du Congo"] , NGO working in localization and translations in Congolese national languages

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