Kongo language

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Kongo or Kikongo (Kongo: Kikongo) is one of the Bantu languages spoken by the Kongo people living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Angola and Gabon. It is a tonal language. It was spoken by many of those who were taken from the region and sold as slaves in the Americas. For this reason, while Kongo still is spoken in the above-mentioned countries, creolized forms of the language are found in ritual speech of Afro-American religions, especially in Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Haiti. It is also one of the sources of the Gullah language[4] and the Palenquero creole in Colombia. The vast majority of present-day speakers live in Africa. There are roughly seven million native speakers of Kongo, with perhaps two million more who use it as a second language.

Native toDRC (Kongo Central), Angola, Republic of the Congo, Gabon.
Native speakers
(c. 6.5 million cited 1982–2012)[2]
5 million L2 speakers in DRC (perhaps Kituba)
Latin, Mandombe
Official status
Official language in
National language and unofficial language:
Language codes
ISO 639-1kg
ISO 639-2kon
ISO 639-3kon – inclusive code
Individual codes:
kng – Koongo
ldi – Laari
kwy – San Salvador Kongo (South)
yom – Yombe[1]
Glottologcore1256  Core Kikongo
yomb1244  Yombe
Map of the area where Kongo and Kituba are spoken, Kituba as a lingua franca. Kisikongo (also called Kisansala by some authors) is the Kikongo spoken in Mbanza Kongo.
The Kongo language
PersonmuKongo, mwisiKongo
PeoplebaKongo, bisi Kongo, besi Kongo, esiKongo

Kikongo is the base for a creole: Kituba, also called Kikongo de l'État or Kikongo ya Leta ("The State’s Kikongo", "Kikongo of the state administration" or "Kikongo of the State" in French and Kituba (i.e. Kikongo ya Leta and Monokutuba (also Munukutuba))).[5] The constitution of the Republic of the Congo uses the name Kituba,[6] and the one of the Democratic Republic of the Congo uses the term Kikongo,[7] while Kituba (i.e. Kikongo ya Leta) is used in the administration. This can be explained by the fact that Kikongo ya Leta is often mistakenly called Kikongo (i.e. KiNtandu, KiManianga, KiNdibu, etc.).[8][5][9]

Geographic distributionEdit

Kikongo and Kituba are spoken in :

Kongo was the language of the Kingdom of Kongo prior to the creation of Angola by the Portuguese Crown in 1575 and the Berlin Conference (1884-1885) that balkanized the rest of the kingdom into three territories, which are now parts of the DRC (Kongo Central and Bandundu), the Republic of the Congo and Gabon.


Prior to the Berlin Conference, the people called themselves "Bisi Kongo" (plural) and "Mwisi Kongo" (singular); currently, they call themselves "Bakongo" (pl.) and "Mukongo" (sing.).[10]


The Hail Mary in Kikongo.

At present there is no standard orthography of Kikongo, with a variety in use in written literature, mostly newspapers, pamphlets and a few books.

Kongo was the earliest Bantu language which was committed to writing in Latin characters and had the earliest dictionary of any Bantu language. A catechism was produced under the authority of Diogo Gomes, a Jesuit born in Kongo of Portuguese parents in 1557, but no version of it exists today.

In 1624, Mateus Cardoso, another Portuguese Jesuit, edited and published a Kongo translation of the Portuguese catechism of Marcos Jorge. The preface informs us that the translation was done by Kongo teachers from São Salvador (modern Mbanza Kongo) and was probably partially the work of Félix do Espírito Santo (also a Kongo).[11]

The dictionary was written in about 1648 for the use of Capuchin missionaries and the principal author was Manuel Robredo, a secular priest from Kongo (who became a Capuchin as Francisco de São Salvador). In the back of this dictionary is found a sermon of two pages written only in Kongo. The dictionary has some 10,000 words.

Additional dictionaries were created by French missionaries to the Loango coast in the 1780s, and a word list was published by Bernardo da Canecattim in 1805.

Baptist missionaries who arrived in Kongo in 1879 developed a modern orthography of the language.

W. Holman Bentley's Dictionary and Grammar of the Kongo Language was published in 1887. In the preface, Bentley gave credit to Nlemvo, an African, for his assistance, and described "the methods he used to compile the dictionary, which included sorting and correcting 25,000 slips of paper containing words and their definitions."[12] Eventually W. Holman Bentley with the special assistance of João Lemvo produced a complete Christian Bible in 1905.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has published a translation of Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Fiote.

Linguistic classificationEdit

Kikongo belongs to the Bantu language family.

According to Malcolm Guthrie, Kikongo is in the language group H10, the Kongo languages. Other languages in the same group include Bembe (H11). Ethnologue 16 counts Ndingi (H14) and Mboka (H15) as dialects of Kongo, though it acknowledges they may be distinct languages.

According to Bastin, Coupez and Man's classification (Tervuren) which is more recent and precise than that of Guthrie on Kikongo, the language has the following dialects:

  • Kikongo group H16
    • Southern Kikongo H16a
    • Central Kikongo H16b
    • Yombe (also called Kiyombe) H16c
    • Fiote H16d
    • Western Kikongo H16d
    • Bwende H16e
    • Lari H16f
    • Eastern Kikongo H16g
    • Southeastern Kikongo H16h

NB:[13][14][15] Kisikongo is not the protolanguage of the Kongo language cluster. Not all varieties of Kikongo are completely intercomprehensible (for example, 1. Civili is better understood by Kiyombe- and Iwoyo-speakers than by Kisikongo- or Kimanianga-speakers; 2. Kimanianga is better understood by Kikongo of Boko and Kintandu-speakers than by Civili or Iwoyo-speakers).


Consonant phonemes
Labial Coronal Dorsal
Nasal m /m/ n /n/ ng /ŋ/
mp /ᵐp/ mb /ᵐb/ nt /ⁿt/ nd /ⁿd/ nk /ᵑk/
p /p/ b /b/ t /t/ d /d/ k /k/ (g /ɡ/)1
mf /ᶬf/ mv /ᶬv/ ns /ⁿs/ nz /ⁿz/
f /f/ v /v/ s /s/ z /z/
Approximant w /w/ l /l/ y /j/
Vowel phonemes
Front Back
High i /i/ u /u/
Mid e /e/ o /o/
Low a /a/
  1. The phoneme /ɡ/ can occur, but is rarely used.

There is contrastive vowel length. /m/ and /n/ also have syllabic variants, which contrast with prenasalized consonants.


Personal pronouns Translation
Mono I
Ngeye You
Yandi He or she
Kima It (for an object, examples: a table, a knife,...)
Yeto / Beto We
Yeno / Beno You
Yawu / Bawu (or Bau) They
Bima They (for objects, examples: tables, knives,...)

Conjugating the verb (mpanga in Kikongo) to be (kuena or kuwena; also kuba or kukala in Kikongo) in the present:[16]

Mono ngiena / Mono ngina I am
Ngeye wena / Ngeye wina You are
Yandi wena / Yandi kena He or she is
Kima kiena It is (for an object, examples: a table, a knife,...)
Beto tuena / Yeto tuina We are
Beno luena / Yeno luina You are
Bawu bena / Yawu bena They are
Bima biena They are (for objects, examples: tables, knives,...)

Conjugating the verb (mpanga in Kikongo) to have (kuvua in Kikongo; also kuba na or kukala ye) in the present :

Mono mvuidi I have
Ngeye vuidi You have
Yandi vuidi He or she has
Beto tuvuidi We have
Beno luvuidi You have
Bawu bavuidi They have


Word Translation
kiambote, yenge (kiaku, kieno) / mbot'aku / mbotieno (mbot'ieno) / mbote zeno / mbote / mboti / mboto / bueke / buekanu [17] hello, good morning
malafu, malavu alcoholic drink
diamba hemp
binkuti clothes
mutoto, m'toto, ttoto soil, floor, ground
nsi, tsi, si country, province, region
vata, gâta (here the letter g can also be pronounce r), divata, bwala (or buala), bwal' (or bwale), bula, hata village
mavata, magâta (here the letter g can also be pronounce r) villages
nzo house
zulu, yulu sky, top, above
maza, masa, mamba, masi, nlangu, mazi, maampa water
tiya, mbasu, mbawu fire
makaya leaves (example : hemp leaves)
bakala, yakala man, husband
nkento, mukento, m'kento, nkiento, ncyento, ntchiento, ntchientu, ntchetu woman
mukazi, m'kazi, nkazi, nkasi spouse (wife)
mulumi, m'lumi, nnuni spouse (husband)
ndumba young girl, single young woman
nkumbu / zina / li zina / ligina [18] name
kudia, kudya, kulia, kulya to eat
kunua to drink
nene big
fioti small
mpimpa night
lumbu day
kuvana, kugâna (here the letter g can also be pronounce r), kuhana to give
nzola, luzolo love
kutanga, kutaangë to read
kusoneka, kusonikë, kusonika to write
kuvova, kuta, kuzonza, kutuba, kutub, kugoga, utuba [19] to say, to speak, to talk
kuzola, kutsolo, uzola to love
ntangu time, sun, hour
nzambi god
luzitu the respect
lufua, lufwa the death
yi ku zolele / i ku zolele / ngeye nzolele / ni ku zololo (Ladi) / minu izoleze (Ibinda) / mi ya ku zola (Vili) / minu i ku tidi (Cabindan Yombe) / mê nge nzololo (Ladi) / minu i ku zoleze (Cabindan Woyo) / minu i ba ku zola (Linji, Linge) / me ni ku tiri (Beembe) / minu itili i love you
Days of the week in English Kisikongo Congolese  Yombe Ladi (Lari) Vili[20] Ibinda
Monday Kyamosi Un'tône Buduka / Nsila (N'sila) / M'tsila Un'tône Tchikunda
Tuesday Kyazole N'silu Nkênge N'silu Tchimuali / Tchimwali
Wednesday Kyatatu Un'duka Mpika Un'duk Tchintatu
Thursday Kyaya N'sone Nkôyi N'sone Tchinna
Friday Kyatanu Bukonzu Bukônzo Bukonz' Tchintanu
Saturday Kyasabala Sab'l Tsaba / Saba / Sabala Sab'l Tchisabala
Sunday Kyalumingu Lumingu Lumîngu / Nsona / Ntsona Lumingu Tchilumingu

NB: The Kongo people had their own calendar. However, due to the worldwide use of the Gregorian calendar they had to adapt.

Numbers 1 to 10 in English Kisikongo Ladi (Lari) Ntandu Solongo Yombe Beembe Vili Kisingombe / Kimanianga Ibinda
One Mosi Mosi Mosi Kosi Mosi Mosi Muek' Mosi Mueka / Tchimueka
Two Zole Zole Zole Zole Wadi Biole Wali / Bioli Zole Wali
Three Tatu Tatu Tatu Tatu Tatu Bitatu Tatu Tatu Tatu
Four Ya Ya Ya Ya Ya Bina Na Ya Na
Five Tanu Tanu Tanu Atanu Tanu Bitane Tanu Tanu Tanu
Six Sambanu Sambanu Sambanu Nsambanu Sambanu Samne Samunu Sambanu Sambanu
Seven Nsambwadi (Nsambuadi) / Nsambwadia Nsambwadi (Nsambuadi) Sambwadi (Sambuadi) Nsambaadi Tsambwadi (Tsambuadi) Tsambe Sambwali (Sambuali) Nsambwadi (Nsambuadi) Sambwali (Sambuali)
Eight Nana Nana / Mpuomô Nana Nana Dinana Mpuomô Nana Nana Nana
Nine Vwa (Vua) Vwa (Vua) Vwa (Vua) Vwa (Vua) Divwa (Divua) Wa Vwa (Vua) Vwa (Vua) Vwa (Vua)
Ten Kumi Kumi Kumi dimosi Kumi Dikumi Kumi Kumi Kumi Kumi

English words of Kongo originEdit

In addition, the roller coaster Kumba at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay in Tampa, Florida gets its name from the Kongo word for "roar".

Presence in the AmericasEdit

Many African slaves transported in the Atlantic slave trade spoke Kongo, and its influence can be seen in many creole languages in the diaspora, such as Palenquero (spoken by descendants of escaped black slaves in Colombia), Habla Congo/Habla Bantu (the liturgical language of the Afro-Cuban Palo religion), Saramaccan language in Suriname and Haitian Creole.


  1. ^ Maho 2009
  2. ^ Kongo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Koongo at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Laari at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    San Salvador Kongo (South) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Yombe[1] at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  4. ^ Adam Hochschild (1998). King Leopold's Ghost. Houghton Mifflin. p. 11.
  5. ^ a b "Kikongo-Kituba". Britannica. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  6. ^ "Constitution de 2015". Digithèque matériaux juridiques et politiques, Jean-Pierre Maury, Université de Perpignan (in French). Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  7. ^ "Constitution de la République Démocratique du Congo" (PDF). Organisation mondiale de la propriété intellectuelle ou World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) (in French). p. 11. Retrieved 14 December 2020.
  8. ^ Foreign Service Institute (U.S.) and Lloyd Balderston Swift, Kituba; Basic Course, Department of State, 1963, p.10
  9. ^ Godefroid Muzalia Kihangu, Bundu dia Kongo, une résurgence des messianismes et de l’alliance des Bakongo?, Universiteit Gent, België, 2011, p. 30
  10. ^ Wyatt MacGaffey, Kongo Political Culture: The Conceptual Challenge of the Particular, Indiana University Press, 2000, p.62
  11. ^ François Bontinck and D. Ndembi Nsasi, Le catéchisme kikongo de 1624. Reeédtion critique (Brussels, 1978)
  12. ^ "Dictionary and Grammar of the Kongo Language, as Spoken at San Salvador, the Ancient Capital of the Old Kongo Empire, West Africa: Preface". World Digital Library. Retrieved 2013-05-23.
  13. ^ Jasper DE KIND , Sebastian DOM, Gilles-Maurice DE SCHRYVER et Koen BOSTOEN, Fronted-infinitive constructions in Kikongo (Bantu H16): verb focus, progressive aspect and future, KongoKing Research Group, Department of Languages and Cultures, Ghent University, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 2013
  14. ^ Koen Bostoen et Inge Brinkman, The Kongo Kingdom: The Origins, Dynamics and Cosmopolitan Culture of an African Polity, Cambridge University Press, 2018
  15. ^ Raphaël Batsîkama Ba Mampuya Ma Ndâwla, L'ancien royaume du Congo et les Bakongo, séquences d'histoire populaire, L'harmattan, 2000
  16. ^ "Kikongo grammar, first part". Ksludotique. Retrieved 25 November 2020.
  17. ^ Kiambote kiaku / mbot'aku (hello/good morning to you (second person singular)), kiambote kieno / mbote zeno / mbotieno / buekanu (hello/good morning to many people)
  18. ^ The family name and first name were not part of the Kongo culture, meaning the Kongo people gave the children a name based on the circumstances surrounding their birth, significant events, etc. The rule of giving a surname, a first name and a middle name to the children was introduced by the Westerners (Portuguese, French and Belgians).
  19. ^ The ku prefix is used to mark verbs in the infinitive. Verbs in the infinitive can also be written as follows: ku vova, ku goga, ku ta, ku zonza, ku tuba, ku tub', ku tanga, etc.
  20. ^ Old version of the days of week in Vili: Ntoonu (Monday), Nsilu (Tuesday), Nkoyo (Wednesday), Bukonzo (Thursday), Mpika (Friday), Nduka (Saturday), Sona (Sunday).
  21. ^ "Bartleby.com: Great Books Online -- Quotes, Poems, Novels, Classics and hundreds more". www.bartleby.com. Archived from the original on 2008-03-28. Retrieved 2017-07-21.
  22. ^ Farris Thompson, in his work Flash Of The Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy

External linksEdit

Kongo learning materialsEdit