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Voices of French: African Dialects

Updated: Jun 20

Congolese (Kinshasa) French

Kinshasa, Capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Congolese French, also known as Kinshasa French after the capital city, is spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries of Central Africa. As the largest Francophone country in the world, the DRC has developed its own dialect and slang throughout their use of French in business, administration, and education. 

There are several structural and linguistic differences between Congolese dialects and standard French. In Congolese French, there is a slower rhythm with a more relaxed pronunciation. Additionally, the Congolese dialect places more emphasis on tone, often using elongated vowel sounds. 


However, even the origins of this dialect are different from traditional French dialects, due to the area’s history as a Belgian colony. Because of this, the Congolese dialect is often considered by linguists an offshoot of Belgian French. One example of an expression derived from Belgian French is the expression “casser le Bic.” In standard Parisian French, le Bic has no translation, however in Belgian French le Bic means ballpoint pen. The expression thus means, literally, “to break the ballpoint pen.” In Congolese French, however, the expression means “to stop going to school.” The use of Casser le Bic is a clear linguistic indication that Congolese French is derived, at least in part, from Belgian French. 

Democratic Republic of Congo Map

Other unique attributes of the Congolese dialect arise from its mixing with the local languages. The DRC has four official languages, but the most common is Lingala.  Often, French phrases and words are mixed with Lingala phrases.


One common example is “Merci mingi,” which uses the French merci (thank you) and the Lingala mingi (very much). Another cultural saying specific to the Congolese dialect is a Kinshasan euphemism: “avoir un deuxième bureau.” Literally, this would translate to “to have a second office,” but it is used in a figurative manner to mean “having a mistress.” While a Francophone speaking a different dialect may not understand the reference, Congolese French has incorporated the saying into their unique dialect.


Maghreb (Algerian) French

Map fo Maghreb Region

Maghreb French, sometimes referred to as Algerian French, is from the region of North Africa. This French dialect exists across the nations of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia; all former colonies of France. Algeria is the second most populous Francophone nation in the world (in terms of speakers of French). More educated citizens in the region are often bilingual in French and Arabic. 


The influence of Arabic language and culture has become a critical part of Maghreb French. Compared to sub-Saharan dialects, Maghreb French is more similar to Parisian French. One of the most common examples of Maghreb French is the verb kiffer, which is akin to aimer (to like) in Parisian French. This verb is borrowed from the Arabic word kif, which has a similar meaning. Kiffer has become a common Parisian slang word, demonstrating the ability of French dialects to transcend national borders.

Algeria

Algerian politics recently banned the use of French as an official correspondence. The use of the language is said to remind citizens of their colonial history. As such, the nation is seeking to promote its own local languages as well as English. The ban, coming from the Ministry of Culture, came into effect around April 2022. 


Dialects and Language

Overall, the French language has many different forms across the world. These are just two of the copious quantities of African French dialects that I will share in later blog posts. Just remember: dialects make a language interesting and unique. We must celebrate diversity and promote dialectical differences. 














Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence

High School Intern

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