Language endangerment

Nsambaan (B85F), Ngong (B864) and Nsong (B85d) are all Bantu languages spoken in the vicinity of Kikwit Town (5°2'S 18°48'E, Kwilu District, Bandundu Province, DRC) and belong to the 'B80' or 'Tiene Yanzi' group in Maho's updated version of Guthrie's referential classification. The B80 group is a diverse cluster of about 20 languages, predominantly spoken in DRC's Bandundu province.

These languages are closely related and part of a larger dialect continuum furthermore including languages such as Mpiin, Mbuun, Yansi, Ding, Mpur, Lwel, and Ngwii. The internal and external historical relationships of these languages have been examined during a previous research project carried by Joseph Koni Muluwa and Koen Bostoen at the RMCA and funded by Belgian Science Policy, i.e. 'Language history and population dynamics in the Kwilu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo' (2011-2012).

Typologically, all these languages represent an interesting transition stage between the highly agglutinative Eastern Bantu languages and the more isolating North-Western Bantu languages of the 'Kwa type'. They share peculiar phonological, morphological and syntactic features which are rarely found - or at least rarely described - in Bantu languages, such as particular vowel harmonies, umlaut effects, diphthongization, final vowel loss, 9 and more vowel systems, fusions of verb suffixes producing abnormal verbal bases and rare polysemies, e.g. causative/applicative syncretism, absence of passive morphology producing non-canonical passivisation strategies, pre-verbal object focus, etc.

Nsambaan, Nsong and Ngong are unmistakably severely endangered. They score low (2 or 1) on all nine UNESCO criteria for assessing language vitality.

UNESCO criteria for assessing language vitality


Bantu languages of the Kwilu area -
click to enlarge

Wise old Ngong speakers in Kimbimbi village
(JKM, 2009)

Travelling with a canoe on the Kwilu river
(JKM, 2006).