PhD research: The Commission for African Linguistics in the Belgian Congo (1950-1960) and its role in the relation between Kikongo and Lingala in Leopoldville/Kinshasa

October 2016 to October 2022
language policy
Belgian Congo
Research fields
Languages and Literatures

The point of departure of my research is the Commission of African Linguistics, which was established in 1950 by the then minister of colonies, André Dequae as an advisory body concerned with language-political decision making in the Belgian Congo. It was composed of prominent linguists involved in colonial language debates, mostly missionaries. In 1952, the Commission handled a peculiar proposition: some of its members had suggested to replace Lingala by Kikongo as the main language of the Congolese capital, Léopoldville (now Kinshasa). The discussion that accompanied this Kikongo-Lingala debate was marked by 'the typical colonial blind faith in the top-down malleability of African society' (Meeuwis 2011: 199): the Commission's members were more interested in convincing one another of their opinion than in listening to that of the Congolese. By the time of independence in 1960, however, urban elites had appropriated Kongo linguistic and cultural repertoires to achieve political emancipation, and they continue to do so in current day Kinshasa.

Through archival research and fieldwork, I try to answer the following research questions: How can the diachronic study of ideological and attitudinal patterns surrounding the presence of Kikongo in Kinshasa inform us about the (re) production and contestation of colonial normativity? How has this (re)production and contestation shaped and been shaped by (religiously inspired) language ideologies? And how is the relation between the capital and the province activated and manipulated within/through these negotiations?