Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

John C. Crawford


This thesis, based on two language surveys conducted in 1988 and 1989, addresses the question “What language do you speak?” for the people of the district of Epena in the Likouala Region of the People’s Republic of the Congo. The goals of the study were to: 1) inventory all the languages and dialects spoken in the district; 2) clarify their relationships with each other and neighboring languages; 3) measure the degree of intelligibility between speakers of different language varieties, specifically among the Bomitaba people; 4) investigate in what situations the people use which languages; and 5) provide bases for making a recommendation concerning the need and desirability for a vernacular literacy project in one or more of the languages of the district, and propose where to locate such a project, if needed.

Three research tools were used: 1) word lists were collected and analyzed to determine the apparent cognate percentages between language varieties, 2) short stories recorded in four varieties of Bomitaba and tested for comprehension in seven Bomitaba villages, and 3) sociolinguistic questionnaires completed by individuals in each village and by village officials.

The results of the word list analysis indicate that there are five village languages spoken in the district: Bomitaba, Babole, Bambenga, Bongili, and Yaswa. The first two are much larger, each having three or four distinct dialects. The scores from the recorded tests show that there is a high degree of intelligibility among the Bomitaba of both the Northern and Central dialects, with the former being generally understood a little better.

The questionnaires indicate that the Bomitaba use almost exclusively their own language in their daily lives in the home and the village. The official language, French, is mostly used in school and in contacts with some government officials. Lingala, the national (trade) language for northern Congo, is spoken by the Bomitaba more than French in their contacts with non-Bomitaba. However, it is still not used very often by most Bomitaba.

It was concluded that a single vernacular literacy project for the Bomitaba, in the Northern (Matoko) dialect, or alternatively the Central (Epena) dialect, would be useful and desirable.