Kituba language

Kikongo ya leta
Native speakers
(5.4 million cited 1987–1990)[1]
Several million L2 speakers
Official status
Official language in
Democratic Republic of the Congo (de facto), Republic of the Congo
Language codes
ISO 639-3 Either:
mkw  Kituba (RC)
ktu  Kituba (DRC)
Glottolog kitu1246  DRC[2]
kitu1245  RC[3]

Kituba is a widely used lingua franca in Central Africa. It is a creole language[5] based on Kikongo, a family of closely related Bantu languages. It is an official language in Republic of the Congo and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is not entirely accurate to call Kituba a creole language as it lacks the distinction between superstrate and substrate influence that is typical of creole development.


Kituba is known by many names among its speakers. In the Republic of Congo it is called Munukutuba or Kituba. The former is a grammatically incorrect phrase which means literally "I to speak". The latter means simply "speech". The name Kituba is used in the constitution of the Republic of Congo.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo it is called Kikongo ya leta (i.e. Kikongo of the state administration), but it is often called in short Kikongo, especially out of the region of ethnic Bakongo people. The constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo lists Kikongo as one of the national languages. In fact, it refers to Kikongo ya leta (i.e. Kituba), because a translation of the constitution itself is written in Kituba but no translation exists in Kikongo.

There are also other historical names such as Kibulamatadi, Kikwango, Ikeleve (literally: He is not here), and Kizabave but they have largely fallen out of use. In the academic circles the language is called Kikongo-Kituba.

Geographic distribution

The majority of Kituba speakers live in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is spoken as the primary lingua franca in the provinces of Bas-Congo, Kwango and Kwilu and to a lesser extent in Kinshasa, Mai-Ndombe and Kasai-Occidental.

Kituba is the largest language of the Republic of Congo. It is spoken in the southern half of the country, in regions of Kouilou (especially in Pointe-Noire), Niari, Bouenza, Lékoumou, Pool and in the capital Brazzaville. Lingala is more popular in the north.

The status of Kituba in Angola is not known. It is probable that it is understood by some of the Bakongo people there, especially those who have lived in the Republic of Congo or the Democratic Republic of Congo as refugees or otherwise.

Official status

Kituba is a national language in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In practice the term national language means that it is a language of regional administration and elementary education.

A national language is also one that is used for public and mass communication. National public radios and televisions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the Republic of Congo use Kituba as one of their main languages for evening news.


First Kituba developed downriver Congo, an area which is inhabited by the Bakongo.

There are several theories on how Kituba came into being. One theory claims that it had already evolved at the time of the Kongo Kingdom as a simplified interdialectal trade language, which the European colonists subsequently took into use for regional administration. Another theory claims that a simplified trade language called Kifyoti was developed at the Portuguese coastal trading 18 post and it was later spread upstream by the Christian missionaries to the region between the Kwango and the Kasai rivers where it evolved further (hence the name Kikwango). Yet another theory emphasizes the construction of the Matadi-Kinshasa railroad at the end of the 19th century, which involved forced labour from West Africa, lower Congo, and the neighbouring Bandundu region. The workers had diverse linguistic backgrounds which gave birth to a grammatically simplified language.

Regardless of the genesis, Kituba has established itself in the large towns that were found during the colonial period between 1885 and 1960. Kituba is spoken as the primary language in the large Bakongo cities of Moanda, Boma, Matadi, Pointe-Noire, Dolisie, Nkayi, and Brazzaville and also in large non-Bakongo cities of Bandundu, Kikwit, and Ilebo.

A translation of the New Testament in Kituba was completed and published in 2005.[6]



Kituba has five vowel phonemes: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/. They are very similar to the vowels of Spanish and Italian. Vowels are never reduced, regardless of stress. The vowels are pronounced as follows:

  • /a/ is pronounced like the "a" in father
  • /e/ is pronounced like the "e" in bed
  • /i/ is pronounced like the "i" in ski or ring
  • /o/ is pronounced like the first part of the "o" in home, or like a tenser version of "o" in "lot"
  • /u/ is pronounced like the "oo" of fool


Labial Alveolar
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Stop plain pb td kg
prenasal. ᵐpᵐb ⁿtⁿd ᵑkᵑg
Fricative plain fv sz (h)
prenasal. ᶬfᶬv ⁿsⁿz
Approximant w l j


  • Word-initial voiceless prenasalized consonants are reduced to simple consonants in some dialects: mpimpa and nkento become pimpa and kento in Kituba of Pointe-Noire.
  • Some dialects add stop to prenasalized alveolar fricatives: Kinsasa and nzila become Kintsasa and ndzila.
  • Alveolar fricatives may become postalveolar (ʃ or ʒ) before /i/.



Kituba has subject and object pronouns. The object pronouns are used in place of subject pronouns when the subject is being emphasized.

Person Singular Plural
1stmumunu, monobetobeto


Kituba has kept by and large the noun classes of ethnic Kikongo with some modifications. The classes 9 and 11 have in effect merged with the singular class with zero prefix, and their plural is formed with generic plural class prefix ba-.

Singular Plural
0mama ('mother)2ba-bamama (mothers)
1mu-muntu (person)2ba-bantu (people)
3mu-mulangi (bottle)4mi-milangi (bottles)
5di-dinkondo (banana)6ma-mankondo (bananas)
7ki-kima (thing)8bi-bima (things)
9n-/m-nkosi (lion)2+9ba-n-bankosi (lions)
11lu-ludimi (tongue)2+11ba-lu-baludimi (tongues)
12ka-kakima (trifle)13tu-tubima (trifles)
14bubumbote (goodness)
15ku-kubanza (to think, thinking)


Kituba has a well-developed verbal system involving grammatical tense and aspect. Most verb forms have long and short versions. The long forms are used in formal written communication whereas the short forms have developed for spoken communication.

The irregular conjugation of the verb kuvanda or kuvuanda (to be) is presented in the table below. It is the only irregular verb in Kituba.

TenseLong formShort formExampleTranslation
Present and immediate futurekelekeYau kele nkosi.It is a lion.
Futurekele/ata kuv(u)andake/ta v(u)andaMu ta vuanda tata.I will be a father.
Present progressivekele kuv(u)andakake v(u)andakaNge ke vuandaka zoba.You are being stupid.
Future progressiveata kuv(u)andakata v(u)andakaBeno ta vuandaka ya kukuela.You will be married.
Pastv(u)andaYandi vuanda kuna.He was there.
Past progressivev(u)andakaBeto vuandaka banduku.We used to be friends.
Past perfectmene kuv(u)andame v(u)andaYandi me vuanda na Matadi.He was in Matadi.
Past perfect progressivemene kuv(u)andakame v(u)andakaYandi me vuandaka mulongi.She has been a teacher.

All other verbs are conjugated with the help of auxiliary verbs. The conjugation of the verb kusala (to do) is presented in the table below.

TenseLong formShort formExampleTranslation
Present and immediate futurekele kusalake salaYandi ke sala.He works. / He will work.
Present progressivekele kusalakake salakaYandi ke salaka.He is working.
PastsalakasalakaYandi salaka.He worked.
Immediate pastmene salame salaYandi me sala.He has worked.
Immediate past progressive mene salakame salakaYandi me salaka.He has been working.
Past progressivevuandaka kusalava salaYandi vuandaka kusala.He used to work.
Futureata salata salaYandi ta sala.He will work.
Future progressiveata salakata salakaYandi ta salaka.He will be working.


The suffix indicating voice is adding after the verb root and before the suffix indicating tense.

The most common forms are "ila", indicating action to or toward someone, and "ana", indicating mutual or reciprocal action:

Kutanga "to read", Tangila "read to", Tangilaka "read to" (past)

Sadisa "to help", Sadisana "help one another", Sadisanaka "helped one another (past)[7]


A Kituba-English-French dictionary compiled by linguist Harold W. Fehderau, Ph.D., was published in 1969. It is not widely available.[8]


The bulk of Kituba words come from Kikongo. Other Bantu languages have influenced it as well, including Kiyaka, Kimbala, Kisongo, Kiyansi, Lingala, and Swahili. In addition, many words have been borrowed from French, Portuguese, and English. These include:

  • sandúku (Swah. sanduku)
  • matáta (Swah. matata)
  • letá (Fr. l'état)
  • kamiyó (Fr. camion)
  • sodá/solodá (Fr. soldat)
  • masínu (Fr. machine)
  • mísa (Port. missa)
  • kilápi (Port. lápis)
  • katekisimu (Eng. catechism)
  • bóyi (Eng. houseboy)
  • sapatu (Port. sapato)
  • mesa (Port./Sp. mesa)
  • dikopa (Sp. copa)
  • simisi (Fr. chemise)

See also


  1. Kituba (RC) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
    Kituba (DRC) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kituba (Democratic Republic of Congo)". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Kituba (Congo)". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  5. Pidgins and Creoles: an introduction by Jacques Arends, Pieter Muysken, Norval Smith (page 17)
  6. Kituba Ethnologue
  7. Harold W. Fehdereau, Ph.D., Dictionnaire Kikonga (ya Leta)-Anglais-Francais, (Kinshasa: Editions LECO, 1969) p. xxxvi
  8. Harold W. Fehdereau, Ph.D., Dictionnaire Kikonga (ya Leta)-Anglais-Francais, (Kinshasa: Editions LECO, 1969


  • Diener, Ingolf; Maillart, Diana.(1970).Petit vocabulaire Francais-Anglais-Munukutuba. Pointe-Noire.
  • Khabirov, Valeri.(1990). Monokutuba. Linguistic Encyclopedic Dictionary. Moscow. "Soviet Encyclopedia". P. 309-310 (In Russian)
  • Fehderau, H., 1966. The Origin and Development of Kituba. PhD dissertation, Cornell University.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.