Kingwana or Congolese Copperbelt Kiswahili

Kiswahili spread as trade language thanks to Arab caravans during the 18th and the 19th centuries. It reached the Democratic Republic of the Congo as far as the river Congo and down to the south east. Later, with the extensive exploitation of copper mines many people of diverse tribes from neighboring provinces and countries such as Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi and Angola, poured into the area. With the pouring of linguistically disparate labor forces, the resresort to Kiswahili seemed the most practical and suitable solution. As the mines prospered, so did the use of the consolidation of a new variety of Kiswahili–E. Polomé talks about creolization–in cities such as Lubumbashi, Likasi and Kolwezi as newly multiethnic space. In the most recent time. The linguistic complexity of the Katanga province is a mere reflection of the whole country where at least two hundred and fifty languages co-exit. French was imposed as the official language and four languages among which Kiswahili, gained the status of linguae francae . The Kiswahili area comprises the Oriental province, Maniema, South Kivu, North Kivu, Katanga, Western Kasai and Easter Kasai. Till the Nineties, about half of the city populations in the Katanga provinces were from or of Kasai stock, that is, mainly native speakers of L languages such as Ciluba (L32 & L33). Their number has been diminished because of ethnic cleansing under the authority of nativist politicians of the Mobutu-era. It is estimated that about half a million people were thus displaced from Katanga to the Kasais. The Copperbelt Kiswahili was influenced a great deal by other Bantu languages represented by respective native speakers. Among the most important ones are Kiluba-Shankadi, Ciluba-Kasai, Kisanga, Kibemba, Rund’, Kihemba.

There is a range of terms used to designate this Kiswahili variant. Some refer to it as Kingwana, others as Katanga (Shaba) Kiswahili, others as Lubumbashi Kiswahili . Many other linguists–including me–prefer the term Copperbelt Kiswahili for two main reasons:

  1. Not only it is widely spoken in the Copperbelt area, but also the copper industry and its booming cities have indeed created favorable conditions to its expansion and its consolidation into a distinct language. Its homogeneity as a language is mainly due to the good–easier than generally communication network.
  2. It seems to be the most neutral terms in a context where politics does not favor stability and consistency in name giving.
  3. There is a consciousness concerning this variety rather than that of the entire province. Copperbelt Kiswahili is different from the variant spoken outside the Copperbelt–even if it is still in the Katanga province–along the railroad axis Lubumbashi-Ilebo. The variety spoken in North Katanga is closer to that used in the Kivu province and even in Tanzania.

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