Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2020
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Lingala Franca: Language, Political Power, and Conflict in Mobutu's Congo/Zaire 1965-1997

This research project asks how the Mobutu regime used language, particularly Lingala, to rule Congo/Zaire from 1965 to 1997, and how Congolese navigated the regime's approach to language across Congo's four regional language zones. My project uses an interdisciplinary approach drawing from Linguistic Anthropology, Political Science and Sociolinguistics within a historical framework to interrogate the informal process through which the Mobutu regime imposed Lingala as the regime's langue du pouvoir (language of political power). Methodologically, I will combine archival research, oral histories, and sociolinguistic evidence within a multi-sited research approach in order to understand how the Mobutu regime's use of Lingala contributed to its longevity in power, efforts to establish a national identity, and in the Swahili zone, to armed conflict and resistance to the regime. My oral history interviews in French, Kikongo (Kituba), Lingala, and Swahili will form the core of this research due to the informality and orality of Lingala under Mobutu. I particularly on the language practices rather than formal language policies through which the Mobutu regime promoted Lingala. I have conducted preliminary archival and oral history research in Belgium and Congo during the summer of 2019. This research contributes to the literature on language policy by grounding recent theory exploring how states influence their subjects linguistically beyond formal policy. The project extends African history's engagement with language into the post-colonial period using methods from linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics. This novel approach can inform both researchers and policymakers of the subtle yet influential ways through which states impose their political power through language.