Survey chapter: Kikongo-Kituba

Structure data for these languages can be found in structure dataset 58.

1. Introduction

Bantu-based Kikongo-Kituba is spoken in the southern part of the Republic of Congo, in the southwestern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in the northern part of Angola (see Map 1). It is lexified primarily by Kimanyanga, a member of the Kikongo language cluster (Bantu H16), which was already functioning as a major trade language by the time the colonization of the Congo (the present Democratic Republic of Congo) started in the late 19th century. Like Lingala, Kikongo-Kituba evolved mostly out of population movements and contacts associated with labour migrations, especially during the 1891–1898 construction of the railway connecting Kinshasa to the Atlantic Ocean. The Bakongo people’s resistance to participating in the colonial forced labor prompted the colonizers to bring labourers from as far as the eastern part of the present Democratic Republic of Congo to build the railroad (Samarin 1989). (Kikongo‑)Kimanyanga was adopted as the labourers’ lingua franca. (The reasons for this evolution are articulated below.) Gradually, it emerged as the vernacular of early colonial administration posts west, south, and east of Kinshasa (while Lingala was expanding from the North into Kinshasa and would eventually drive “Kikongo” out of the colonial capital), thanks to the colonial auxiliaries, who accompanied the colonizers and acted as their interpreters, and to the merchants and Christian missionaries. They all relied on the same language variety in their interactions with indigenous populations farther inland. The initial auxiliaries came from West Africa and were obviously no more familiar with the local languages than the Europeans. Thus, they relied on the language they had learned at the coastal gateway to the colony. (Interestingly, the relevant West African populations have typically been referred to as Sénégalais ‘Senegalese’, though they included other West Africans, some of them Anglophone.)

     The geographical location of the Kongo Kingdom (see lower shaded area on Map 2) as the gateway of colonial expeditions into the hinterlands must have been an important factor favoring the adoption of Kimanyanga as a colonial lingua franca. The need for the exogenous labour force to communicate with the local population and buy goods from them for their daily maintenance is another relevant factor. Perhaps the most important critical factor was the fact that Kimanyanga had already established itself, before the exploitation colonization of central Africa, as the trade language of the region, even east of the Kongo Kingdom (in the Teke area), along the trade routes for slaves and ivory, among other precious commodities of the time.

     Bantuists have hardly expressed any interest in Kikongo-Kituba, having focused typically on languages of the Kikongo cluster, including Kiyombe, Kintandu, Kiladi, and Kivili, among others, in addition to Kimanyanga. The oldest academic studies focusing on or mentioning this new vernacular include Fehderau (1966), Heine (1970), and Samarin (1989, 1990). Noteworthy in this particular case are studies such as Ngalasso (1984, 1989, 1993), which identify the language as Kikongo, the prevailing name among its native speakers outside the Bakongo region, particularly in the Bandundu region, east and south of Kinshasa.

2. Names

Kikongo-Kituba has also been identified by several other names, including: Kikongo ya leta (or Kileta) ‘the public administration’s Kikongo’; Kikongo ya bula-matadi or bula-matari (or Kibula-matadi or Kibula-matari) ‘the colonial agent’s Kikongo’ (lit. ‘the stone-breaker’s Kikongo’); Mono/Munu kutuba ‘I speak/say’ (whence Kituba ‘way of speaking’); Ikele ve ‘be not; it isn’t true’; and Kikongo commercial ‘trade Kikongo’. Mono kutuba and ikele ve are used particularly in the Republic of the Congo, the second alluding derisively to the invariant form of the verb, its lack of inflections, and the reduced grammar of the language relative to the Bantu morphosyntactic canon. Kikongo commercial was used in the Christian missions, during the colonial era, in opposition to Kikongo Kisantu (lit. ‘saints’ Kikongo’). The latter name appears to be associated with the mission of Kisantu, in the Lower Congo region, where the oldest senior seminary was situated and scholastic materials were produced by the Jesuit fathers.

     All these names are quite descriptive of the language’s identity and/or origins in opposition to what was construed outside the Lower Congo River area as a unified Kikongo language and a unified Bakongo population. In reality people in the Lower Congo identify themselves by separate ethnic and language names, viz. Ki-/Ba-Yombe, Ki-/Ba-Manyanga, Ki-/Ba-Ntandu, Ki-/Ba-Fioti, Ki-/Ba-ladi, etc. (with the prefix ki- used for the language and the plural prefix ba- used for members of the ethnic group, the singular prefix being mu-). Interestingly, the term Bakongo is not used for speakers of Kikongo-Kituba, apparently because of its origins as a lingua franca between populations speaking their own separate ethnic vernaculars and maintaining their diverse ethnic identities.

     Kikongo ya leta is due to the fact that the contact language was adopted by the Belgian colonial administration in the regions where it is now spoken. For more on this, see Mufwene (2009). Kikongo-Kituba also serves as the medium of instruction in the region, a practice fostered by the fact that it functions as the region’s urban vernacular, although it still alternates (and therefore competes) in many families with an ethnic vernacular, especially when the parents have migrated recently from a rural area.

     Kikongo-Kituba’s (native) speakers outside the Bakongo area do not think they speak the same language as the “Bakongo”, regardless of whether or not they are aware that there is no single unified Kikongo language spoken by the latter. For one thing, Kikongo-Kituba’s speakers hardly understand what is said in any of the languages of the Kikongo cluster. They also know that their language is not an ethnic one, a peculiarity which distinguishes it from traditional Bantu languages which also serve to distinguish one ethnic group from another. They are caught in a perversion created by the colonial administrators and Christian missionaries who invented a “Bakongo” ethnic group, perhaps by association with the precolonial Kongo Kingdom, and spread a derivative of Kimanyanga, under the same Kikongo label, into the Kwango-Kwilu area, where it was more meaningfully adopted as the natural name for the new “language” brought to the region by the Europeans and their auxiliaries. As the colonization of the area progressed, more and more of these auxiliaries included natives of the Lower Congo. Later on, the speakers of the imported language would discover that the Bakongo people actually do not speak like them but kept the name anyway.

     Overall, the names tell us a history of the emergence of a new language (variety). They also make evident the extent to which it has diverged and autonomized from its lexifier. Some of them refer to the kinds of contact situations either in which Kikongo-Kituba originated or which contributed to spreading it, while some others such as Kikwango and Kikwilu (Mufwene 1997) identify a geographical area where it serves as a major urban vernacular and has developed its own regional peculiarities.

3. Phonology

Table 1. Vowels












Table 2. Consonants
































j <y>

Kikongo-Kituba has five vowels: /i, e, a, o, u/ and sixteen consonants /p, b, t, d, k, g, f, v, s, z, m, n, l, r, w, j/ (cf. Tables 1–2). The liquids /l/ and /r/ merge to /l/ in the speech of some, especially those whose ethnic languages have no /r/. Thus some French words such as bureau ‘office, desk’ and secrétaire ‘secretary’ that have been borrowed into Kikongo-Kituba are realized, respectively, as bilo ~ biro and sekeletele ~ sekeretere.  The only consonant clusters consist of nasals and obstruents, as in mbombó ‘nose’ and nkísi ‘medicine’. Such combinations can also be followed by a glide, as in nkwéso ‘rubber (ball)’. The voiced velar stop /g/ typically occurs in combination with a nasal. Vowels do not nasalize before nasal consonants, probably because, as should be evident from the examples above, the nasal forms a syllabic unit with the following, rather than the preceding, segment. Thus, mbombó ‘nose’ is normally syllabified as mbo$mbó, not as *mbom$. Finally, Kikongo-Kituba has none of the phonetically complex segments that appear in Lumwamu’s (1973) “diasystem” of “ethnic Kikongo”, e.g. /pf, ts, dz/.

     The dominant syllabic structure in a Kikongo-Kituba word is CVCV. However, as noted above, the structure NCV is common, even word-initially, such as in the greeting mbóte ‘hello’, and the nouns nzilá ‘road, way’ and ­ńti ‘tree, stick’. In the latter case (but not in the former two), the initial nasal is syllabic and the tone pattern is indeed HL (see below). There are also CGV syllables, as in bwátu ‘canoe’, and mádya ‘food’ (usually spelled madia) and fyóti ‘small, a little’ (also spelled fioti). Unlike the other Bantu languages of the area, which belong in the B group, Kikongo-Kituba has no closed syllables. (Kiyansi, B85, has words such as mbwúl ‘rain’, mbiin ML ‘peanut’, and mbor ML ‘hello’.) The nasal is homorganic with the following consonant. In the latter two respects, Kikongo-Kituba’s syllabic structures are closer to those of Kimanyanga and related language varieties of the Kikongo cluster.

     One important structural difference between, on the one hand, Kikongo-Kituba and, on the other, different “ethnic Kikongo” varieties and the Bantu B languages of the area, lies in the lexical tone patterns and the absence of grammatical tone (Mufwene 1989, 1997; Ngalasso 1989). Kikongo-Kituba has a predominantly fixed accent system, with the accent/tone borne by the penultimate syllable, as in any of its names. The majority of the words have only one accent (high tone) borne by the penultimate syllable (e.g. dísù HL ‘eye’, kwísà HL ‘come.imp’, kàpítà LHL ‘foreman’, bábà HL ‘mute’). Derivative words and conjugated verbs are especially subject to this accent/tone placement rule, e.g. kù-sál-à LHL ‘to work’ > sàl-á(k)à LHL [work-ant] ‘(had) worked’, kù-sàd-ís-à LLHL ‘help’ (lit. ‘cause to work’) > n-sád-ì LHL ‘helper’, kù-pés-à LHL ‘give’ > kù-pès-íl-à LLHL ‘give on the behalf, or for the benefit, of’.

     However, Kikongo-Kituba also has a significant proportion of polysyllabic words either with only low tones (e.g. mùntù LL ‘person’, mùnòkò LLL ‘mouth, opening’, dìkùlù LLL ‘leg, foot’, mbàlà LL ‘time’ as in ‘five times’) or with a high tone on the last syllable or on both the penultimate and last syllables (e.g. nzìlá LH ‘way, road’, mbàlá LH ‘yam’, dìlálá LHH ‘citrus fruit’, and màbélé LHH ‘breasts, milk’). In this group also fit some deverbal derivatives that also involve partial reduplication, such as bì-lómbà-lòmbà L-HL-LL ‘habit of asking for things’ and bì-túbà-tùbà L-HL-LL ‘habit of talking too much (thus, being indiscrete)’.

     These are in contrast with reduplications such as pòló-pòló LH-LH ‘characteristic of a person that talks too much, indiscrete’, màlémbè-màlémbè LHL-LHL ‘very slowly’, and mbángù-mbángù ‘very fast’, which have identical tonal patterns in both parts of the compound. For more on reduplication in Kikongo-Kituba, see Ngalasso (1993). Kikongo-Kituba also has a floating tone as in the imperative form ‘d́ia ‘eat’. Several words (such as ńda ‘long, tall’, ḿbi HL ‘bad’, and ńti ‘tree, stick’) that start with a NC cluster and contain only one vowel (thus have the segmental structure NCV) count as disyllabic, because the nasal bears the high tone (consistent with the tone-on-the-penultimate-syllable pattern) and becomes syllabic. Words with a floating tone are also disyllabic, at least from the point of view of duration, although there is no segment bearing the high tone with which the word starts. Below, low tones will be indicated by the absence of a high tone, also identified in this case as pitch accent in African linguistics, in the case of languages such as Kikongo-Kituba and Swahili.

4. Morphosyntax

4.1 Pronouns and nouns

Personal pronouns are invariant. They are given in Table 3.

Table 3. Personal pronouns in Kikongo-Kituba













Kikongo-Kituba maintains noun class prefixes, which serve primarily to designate number opposition, as it no longer requires subject-verb and noun-modifier agreement, nor does it require pronominal elements to vary according to the nominal class of the antecedent noun. The distinction is now based on the opposition ±human and on number (singular/plural). However, Kikongo-Kituba continues to show derivations and noun-class shifts for augmentative or diminutive functions in a discourse. Thus:

(1)  a.  mw-ána      ya           Ø-bakála          

            cl1-child   conn      cl1a-man/male


       b. b-ána         ya           Ø-bakála    

            cl2-child   conn      cl1a-man/male


(2)  a.  Ø-bakála    na          yándi 

            cl1a-man  conn      3sg    

            ‘her husband’

       b. ba-bakála   na           

            cl2-man    conn      3pl    

            ‘their husbands’

Classes 1/1a–2, 3–4, 5/5a–6, and 7 are the most productive, having attracted many nouns from Bantu classes 9 or higher, through reanalysis into 1a–2, as in Ø-ndeke LL ‘bird’ vs. ba-ndeke LLL ‘birds’. (Originally the form n-deke was in class 9/10, with the invariant prefix N- governing different agreement markers on the verb depending on whether the subject is singular or plural.) The productivity of the 1/1a–2 noun class has led to cases of double prefixation in the plural, as in mu-ndélé/mi-ndélé (cl3/4) ‘European(s)’ vs. mu-ndélé/ ba-mi-ndélé, which suggests that the speaker has not completely reassigned the item to the cl1a–2, because *ba-mu-ndélé is ill-formed (Bokamba 1993).

     This change has led to a smaller number of class distinctions than in “ethnic Kikongo,” although this peculiarity is not unlike in Kiyansi and Kiteke (two of the major ethnic languages in the Bandundu region which have contributed to its development). These languages are also like Kikongo-Kituba in exhibiting no subject-verb and noun-modifier agreement (Mufwene 2006). In the third person, Kikongo-Kituba’s personal pronouns are yándi ‘he/him/she/her’ (hum-sg), with no gender distinctions, ‘they, them’ (hum-pl), and ‘it, them’ (-hum). There is no case marking on nouns, just like in Bantu. Noun class prefixes carry no tone/pitch accent unless they combine with monosyllabic stems with a floating tone as in má-dia (cl6a-eat) ‘food’ and kí-ma (cl7-thing) ‘a/the thing’ vs. bí-ma (cl8-thing) ‘(the) things’. The distinction with regard to definiteness is contextually determined. The context may consist of the contextual domain of the discourse or of the syntactic environment, as in kí-ma yína [cl7-thing distal.dem] ‘that/the thing’.

4.2 Clauses

The major-constituent order in Kikongo-Kituba is SVO throughout, even in questions and in relative clauses, unlike in Kiyansi, for instance, where SOV and OSV orders are also attested in main clauses, and OVS in relative clauses (Mufwene 2006). In questions, the WH constituent remains in situ, as in (3a–c).

(3)  a. Ngé     mon-áka         náni?   

            2sg      see-pst            who

            ‘Whom did you see?’

       b. Ngé     kwis-áka         na          náni?   

            2sg      come-pst        conn      who

            ‘Who did you come with?’

       c.  Ngé     vand-áka        wápi?   

            2sg      be/sit-pst        where  

            ‘Where were you?’ or ‘Where did you sit?’

Yes/no questions start with the question marker ńki (keti in some varieties), with the sentence in the standard SVO order, as in ńki Pételo kwis-áka? [Q Peter come-pst] ‘did Peter come?’ The maker ńki (or keti) is simply omitted when there is a WH constituent, which remains in situ, in the sentence.

4.3 Negation

The negation marker occurs phrase finally, as in (4).

(4)  a.  Móno    kwis-áka       .

            1sg        come-pst      neg 

            ‘I did not come.’

       b. Muntu     mósi                 kwis-áka. 

            person     one        neg        come-pst 

            ‘Nobody came.’

       c.  Muntu     mósi       kwis-áka      .

            person     one        come-pst     neg    

            ‘One person did not come.’ ~ ‘Nobody came.’

       d. Móno  mon-áka  kíma      mósi                     na            ńzo.

            1sg      see-pst     thing     one           neg          conn        house  

            ‘I saw nothing in the house.’

       e.  Móno    mon-áka    muntu/kíma    yína       na                 ńzo             vé. 

            1sg        see-pst       man/thing      dem       conn             house         neg

            ‘I did not see that/the man/thing in the house.’

Since the scope of negation can be ambiguous in (4e), with wide scope over the sentence or narrow scope over na ńzo, it is acceptable to guarantee the wide-scope interpretation by positioning before na ńzo.

4.4 Focus

Focus constructions too keep the same standard SV order, although the focused constituent occurs sentence-initially, bracketed by the marker si and the connective ya (the same one that is used in relative clauses). Examples include (5a–b):

(5)  a.  Si         ngé           ya          béto        mon-áka.   

            foc      2sg           conn      1pl        see-pst

            ‘It’s you that we saw.’

       b. Si      kúna   ya           béto     kwend-áka.

            foc   there   conn      1pl      go-pst

            ‘It’s there that we went.’

The syntactic structure of si … ya is nothing at all like that of it’s … that in English cleft constructions. Constructions such as si ngé muntu ya béto mon-áka [foc 2sg person conn we see-pst] include no copula. Si appears to be a general emphatic marker, which is also used sentence initially in exhortative constructions (discussed in §4.7 under deontic modality).

4.5 Connectives

One of the most distinctive features of Kikongo-Kituba relative to the Bantu canon is the absence of subject-verb and noun-modifier agreement, as noted above. Examples include Mwána méne kwísa [ prf arrive] ‘The child has arrived’ vs. Bána méne kwísa [ prf arrive] ‘The children have arrived’ and mwána ya bakála [ conn man/male] ‘boy’ vs. bána ya bakála [ conn man/male] ‘boys’, in which the connective remains the same, unlike in the Bantu canon. This invariance of the connective is also typical of Kiyansi (Mufwene 2006). In Kikongo-Kituba, the form of the connective changes only when the modifier is pronominal, as in bakála na/*ya yándi ‘her husband’ and babakála na/*ya bó ‘their husbands’. The dominant form of the connective inside the NP is ya, which also introduces relative clauses, as (6a–b):

(6)  a.  mwána     ya           ngé      monáka 

     conn      2sg      see.pst

            ‘the child that you saw’

       b. mwána     ya        ngé      kwisáka      na          yándi   

     conn    2sg      come.pst    conn      3sg

            ‘the child that you came with’

A resumptive pronoun is required when the relative NP is the object of a preposition. Compared to the Bantu canon, the simplification lies in not changing the form of the connective, by agreement, according to the head noun.

     Na is an all-purpose preposition, so to speak, which is identified as a connective in Bantu linguistics. Its interpretations vary according to its object and the construction it is used in. Thus Móno kwisáka na bwála ‘I came to the village’, Móno kwisaka na Petelo ‘I came with Peter’, Móno tuláka yó na ńzo ‘I put it in the house’, Móno kée na mukandá yína ‘I have that book’ (lit. ‘I am with that book’), Móno méne katúka na bwála ‘I have come from the village’, and yándi méne kóta na ńzo ‘he has gone/come into the house’. (Literally, katúka means ‘originate’ and kóta means ‘enter’, both of which incorporate origin and direction, respectively. Variants of the relevant constructions are also attested without the connective na.) This low-tone na should not be confused with the high-tone ‘and’ (though the latter is more like avec in nonstandard French, which can also have the meaning of ‘and’), María ná Yoséfu méne balána ‘Mary and Joseph have got married’ (lit. ‘married each other’, see below regarding reciprocal verbs).

4.6 Verbal derivation

Kikongo-Kituba has maintained the canonical Bantu verb extension system whereby new verbs are derived from a particular verb base by suffixing an applicative, causative, reciprocal, or passive suffix. Normally, except for the passive, a verb extension increases the argument valence of the base verb by one. Thus from (7a) one can derive the causative in (7b), or the applicative in (7c). The applicative suffix may also follow the causative, as in (7d), but a verb cannot have more than two objects even if it carries more than one extension, so the patient/causee ‘somebody’ is simply implied here. (7e) shows a passive with unspecified agent.

(7)  a.  Pételo  méne     fúta        mbóngo   míngi.    

            Peter   prf        pay        money     much

            ‘Peter has paid a lot of money.’

       b. Pételo  méne     fut-ís-a            móno     mbóngo   míngi.    

            Peter   prf        pay-caus-fv   1sg        money     much

            ‘Peter has made me pay a lot of money.’

       c.  Pételo  méne     fut-íl-a            móno     mbóngo   míngi.

            Peter   prf        pay-appl-fv   1sg        money     much

            ‘Peter has paid a lot of money on my behalf.’

       d. Pételo  méne     fut-ís-íl-a                  móno  mbóngo      míngi.

            Peter   prf        pay-caus-appl-fv   1sg      money     much

 ‘Peter has made [somebody] pay a lot of money on my behalf.’

       e.  Pételo  méne     fut-ám-a              mbóngo        míngi.

            Peter   prf        pay-pass-fv        money          much

            ‘Peter has been paid a lot of money.’

From (8a) one can derive the reciprocal in (8b):

(8)  a.  María    méne   búla     Pételo mbatá.  

            Mary     prf      hit       Peter  slap 

            ‘Mary has slapped Peter.’

       b. María           Pételo  méne   bul-án-a            mbatá.   

            Mary     and     Peter   prf      hit-recp-fv       slap

            ‘Mary and Peter have slapped each other.’

In principle one can also combine the causative and the reciprocal, as in (9), but such constructions are not common.

(9)     Mpya     méne     bul-is-ána                   María            Pételo    mbáta.

         Mpya    prf        hit-caus-recp-fv       Mary     and     Peter     slap

         ‘Mpya has made/caused Mary and Peter (to) slap each          other.’

In all the applicative and causative constructions, the object of the extension precedes the direct object. When both extensions are used, only the applicative argument position is filled (cf. example (7d)).

4.7 Tense, aspect, and mood

As explained in Mufwene (1990), Kikongo-Kituba has a clear morphosyntactic division of labour between, on the one hand, tense markers and, on the other, aspect and mood markers. The former are suffixed to the verb, whereas the latter are free morphemes, some of them clearly verbal, that precede the verb. The tense markers are -Ø (null suffix) for narrative and -áka for past or anterior, as is evident from various examples given above. The tense system is relative. The narrative tense makes possible what may be considered serial verb constructions, as in (10a–b).

He/she took [a] stick [and] hit me..
I bought [a] book [and] gave him.

These serial(-like) constructions (see §5) are more descriptive and dramatized discourse alternatives to the following, which are also attested:

He hit me with a stick.
I bought him a book.

They are not a by-product of the restructuring of Kimanyanga; they are a legacy of “ethnic Kikongo” and languages such as Kiyansi out of whose contact Kikongo-Kituba has evolved. They too produce serial(-like) constructions in the narrative tense only.

     Kikongo-Kituba has two primary grammaticized aspectual markers, viz. ké(l)e ‘be’ for the durative, which is realized as va(nd)á (sit-pst < vand-áka) in the past/anterior, and mé(n)e ‘finished’ for perfect. The latter appears to be related to the intransitive verb mána ‘finish’ and the causative/transitive alternative manísa ‘finish’, though it is difficult to explain why its form is different. In Kiyansi, the maker has the form ma, while the related verbs have the form ówa ‘finish/end’ (intransitive) and omaayí ‘finish’ (transitive). Examples of the constructions include yándi kée ‘dia ‘he/she is eating’, yándi vaá ‘dia ‘he/she was eating’, and yándi mée ‘dia ‘he/she has eaten’.

     There is also a habitual aspect, which is doubly marked by the durative preverbal marker and by the past/anterior suffix áka, as in yándi kée dia-áka míngi ‘he/she eats a lot’. Sometimes the main verb is in the infinitive, which is less common, and the aspectual marker tends to have a fuller, non-contracted form in this case. In fact, to this native speaker and writer the alternatives yándi vandá kúdia and yándi vaá kúdia sound awkward compared to the maybe less grammaticized yándi vandáka kúdia. The durative combines with stative and non-stative predicates alike.

     However, one must note that many of the relevant constructions are not syntactic parallels of their English translations. Examples include

(12)   a.  Móno    kée       wa              madídi.   

              1sg        dur      perceive     cold   

               ‘I feel cold.’

         b.  Móno  kée    wa            nzala.  

              1sg      dur   perceive   hunger

               ‘I feel/am hungry.’

         c.  Móno    kée       na       maládi.

              1sg        am       with    ailment

               ‘I am sick.’

As is evident from an earlier example regarding the connective na, the latter construction is fundamentally a possessive one, which needs a copula to satisfy the requirement that there be a verb in a sentence. Kikongo-Kituba does not allow verbless clauses. It so happens that the copula also functions as a durative marker. In the past/anterior, ké(l)e is replaced by vandá(k)a [sit-pst], as in other copular constructions.1 The function of ké(l)e as a durative marker is more evident where it modifies a verb, as in (12b). Durative constructions such as yándi kée lála ‘he is sleeping’ and yándi kée béla ‘he is ailing/sick’ alternate with the resultative/perfect constructions yándi mée lála and yándi mé béla, which have the same respective interpretations, although they literally mean ‘he has fallen asleep’ and ‘he has taken sick’.

     One can also say something inchoatively, albeit in a less grammaticized construction where both the marker yantíka ‘begin’ is in full narrative form and the verb, which is its complement, is normally in the infinitive, as in yándi yantíka kúdia ‘he begins/began to eat’. Unlike the other aspectual constructions, this one can also be used in the future, viz. yándi ata yantíka kúdia ‘he/she will begin eating’. The less grammaticized durative with the full form vánda ‘sit’ and the full verb can also be used in the future, viz. yándi ata vánda kúdia ‘he will be eating’. The constructions *yándi ata vaá/ké(l)e d́ia ‘he/she will be eating’ are definitely ill-formed, though one can say yándi ata vánda na káti ya kúdia ‘he/she will be busy eating’ (lit. ‘he/she will be in the middle of eating’), in which the infinitive behaves definitely like a noun.

     The basic mood is deontic, in a form similar to the narrative tense, but easily recognizable as imperative in the second person, regardless of number, viz. (ngé) ‘d́ia [eat-sg] vs. béno ‘d́ia [eat-pl]. In the third person, it is interpreted as a permission or an invitation, viz. yandi/bó ‘d́ia ‘let him/her/them eat’. The invitation is often preceded with the emphatic marker si, as in si yandi/bó ‘d́ia. Prohibition is expressed by adding the negation marker to the end of the construction, as in ‘d́ia vé ‘don’t eat’ and yandi/bó ‘d́ia vé ‘don’t let them eat’/‘they should/must not eat’.

     Another deontic modality is the marking of obligation with the auxiliary verb fwéte ‘must’, as in (13).

(13)   Ngé     fwéte        tánga     mukándá      yáyi.  

         you      must        read       book             dem   

         ‘You must read this book.’

It is used only in the present, but it can be embedded in a past or future context, since the tense system is relative. Possibility is expressed with the auxiliary lénda as in ngé lénda báka yó ‘you can/may take it’ (i.e. ‘you are capable of taking it’ or ‘you have permission to take it’ or ‘it is possible for you to take it’.). In all these deontic constructions, negation occurs clause-finally.

     There is no grammaticized epistemic modality. This is expressed in a complex sentence, such as mú bánza yándi kée béla ‘he must be sick’ and mú bánza yándi mée kwénda ‘he must have left’. Literally, these sentences mean ‘I think [that] S’. Clearly, it’s not that epistemic meaning cannot be expressed in Kikongo-Kituba; it’s simply that there is no grammaticized, less complex way of expressing it.

5. Other structural characteristics

Kikongo-Kituba relies exclusively on constituent order to express syntactic functions. Pronouns have invariant forms, regardless of whether they are used as subjects, objects, or possessives. In the latter case, they follow the head noun, to which they are linked by the connective na, as in mwána na móno ‘my child’, ndínga na yándi ‘his/her language’, and lupusu na yó ‘its skin’. Thus, pronouns behave syntactically like nouns, except that their forms change by suppletion according to their grammatical number.

     Kikongo-Kituba has no true class of adjectives worth discussing. To be sure, there are some predicative constructions such as María kée kitóko ‘Mary is beautiful’, béto kée ngólo ‘we are strong’, and yó kée ńda ‘it is long’. On the other hand, these predicates are not attested in attributive constructions, which, as a matter of fact, Kikongo-Kituba does not have. Instead one finds them in the following constructions, which are typical of the modification of a noun by another noun: nkénto ya kitóko ‘beautiful woman’, bantu ya ngólo ‘strong persons’, and nsinga ya ńda ‘long string’, lit. ‘N with attribute’.

     In Kikongo-Kituba, the comparative is expressed with the above property items typically in predicative constructions, using the verb ku-lúta ‘(sur)pass’ in the narrative tense, as in (14).

(14)   Yándi     kée    ńda      (ku)lúta     móno.

         3sg        be     tall       surpass     1sg

         ‘He/she is taller than me’

The alternative yándi lúta móno na ńda (lit. ‘he/she surpasses me in height’) is also attested, but the former is more common. However, nominal constructions such as (15a–b) are also attested:

(15)   a.  nkénto   ya      kitóko       kulúta      María  

              woman of      beauty     surpass   Mary   

               ‘a more beautiful woman than Mary’

         b.  muntu   ya      mayéle      *(ku)lúta    móno

              person  of      wisdom   surpass      1sg    

               ‘a wiser person than me’

The subject of kulúta in this uncommon infinitival clause is understood to be the property item. Elliptical alternatives are often interpreted as superlatives, as in muntu ya kulúta mayéle ‘a/the more/most intelligent person’. There are no comparative or superlative constructions corresponding to ‘less than’ or ‘the least’ in English.

     Degrees of properties expressed by such items as ngólo, kitóko, and mayéle are expressed by quantification, with the quantifier following the modifier, as in mayéle míngi ‘very wise/intelligent’ and ngólo fióti ‘somewhat strong/hard’. These quantifiers mean literally ‘a lot’ and ‘a little/few/small’. The modifiers can be reduplicated in habitual contexts or in reference to pluralities to express repetition of the state of affairs over a period of time or its distribution across the set of entities referred to with the head noun.

     There is no clear distinction between the above property items and some other items that may be considered adverbs, such as mbángu ‘fast/quickly’ and malémbe ‘slowly’, except that these items are not attested predicatively. Thus, one hears yándi kée tambúla mbángu/malémbe ‘he/she is walking fast/slowly’ but not *yándi kée mbangu/malémbe ‘he is fast/slow’. On the other hand, one can say that María kée sála ngólo/mbángu ‘Mary works hard/fast’ and Wivine kée tambúla mbóte/kitóko ‘Wivine is walking well/beautifully’. There are adverbial constructions that are fundamentally comitative, such as béto mée sála yó na nsóni/makási ‘we did it shamefully/angrily’ (lit. ‘with shame/anger’) and yándi kée tambúla na luléndo ‘he/she is walking boastfully’ (lit. ‘with exaggerated pride’). Thus, it is not evident that one can speak of a clear class of adverbs any more than we can speak of a clear class of adjectives in Kikongo-Kituba.

     There are no sentences with unspecified subjects in Kikongo-Kituba. Constructions corresponding to the subject on in French, man in German, or the agentless passive in English typically have the plural pronominal subject ‘they’ with an unspecified referent. Although is it usually agentless, the passive is seldom used in Kikongo-Kituba. For instance, the English sentence John has been fired/laid off work is normally translated as (16):

(16)          mée     katúla      Jean    na          kisálu.

         3pl      prf      remove    John   conn      work/job

         ‘John has been fired/laid off work.’

There are no syntactic parallels to English constructions with expletive subjects such as it’s raining/hot, which are translated as mvúla kée nóka (lit. ‘rain be fall’, although the verb is specific to rain) and ntángu kée makási (lit. ‘the sun is strong’). (The word makási also means ‘anger’, as in Yándi mé wa makási [he prf perceives anger] ‘he is angry’.) Likewise, there are no sentences with expletive subjects corresponding to it seems/appears that S, nor are there any corresponding to NP seems/appears to + infinitive. There are no existential constructions either on the model of English there be or French il y a. However, Kikongo-Kituba presents a rare case of subject-verb inversion in this case. Corresponding to there is a man in the house, one can say kée na muntu na ńzo. There are no subjectless clauses. The translation of tell him to come is tub-íla yándi yándi kwísa [tell-appl 3sg 3sg come-sbjv].

     Serial verb constructions (SVCs) are not as developed in Kikongo-Kituba as in creoles of the Atlantic, for instance, which are more similar to Kwa languages in this respect. Just to show that SVCs are not a default option of Universal Grammar, or the bioprogram, as some hypotheses of the emergence of creoles may suggest, Kikongo-Kituba shares its SVC-related peculiarities with languages out of whose contact it has evolved. As noted above, Kikongo varieties too, as well as Kiyansi, have SVC-like structures in the narrative tense only. They have no SVCs involving a serial verb ‘say’, let alone involving ‘give’. As also noted above, such constructions are used especially to dramatize one’s narrative (Mufwene 1991).

6. Closure

As the survey indicates, Kikongo-Kituba has a number of structural peculiarities that set it apart from true creoles, those lexified by European languages in plantation settlement colonies with non-European population majorities. All the properties can be related in one way or another to those of the languages out of whose contact it has evolved, except regarding the regular pitch-accent on the penultimate syllable. They are all worth discussing, hopefully in a forthcoming book, because practical space limitations preclude this option now.