Background and status
Lingala (Ngala) is a language from the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo language family, with approximately 5.5 million native speakers (2007) and 7 million second language speakers (1999). It is spoken mostly in the north-western region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a large area of the Republic of Congo, and partially in Angola and the Central African Republic. While not an official language of any country it is a national language of the DRC and the Republic of Congo.
The Lingala spoken today is based on Bobangi, the local trade dialectal used by the Bangala people living beside the Congo River from Lisala to Kinshasa. With the arrival of the European missionaries during the last two decades of the 19th century, Bobangi was used as the administrative language, and thus became the common vernacular of the area. The tribes living upstream mistook Bobangi for the language of the Bangala, and termed it Lingala, or “language of the Bangala”.
Since Lingala is based on a trade dialect of people with very similar native tongues, words from numerous other languages have permeated Lingala, such as French, Portuguese, English, and Dutch. Mostly, the degree to which words are borrowed from other languages depends greatly on the speaker and the occasion.
Lingala is more a spoken language than a written one and until the Société Zaïroise des Linguistes (Zairian Linguist Society) developed a writing system in 1976, there was no standard spelling system in place and the language rules were decidedly flexible, varying from one region to the next.
Lingala can be divided into several variations, namely Standard Lingala (largely used in formal functions and education), Spoken Lingala (colloquial Lingala used primarily in informal functions), and Kinshasa and Brazzaville Lingala, which are the dialects spoken in the Congo capitals.
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