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Recruiting a nonlocal language for performing local identity: Indexical appropriations of Lingala in the Congolese border town Goma

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 October 2013

Karen Büscher
Conflict Research Group, Ghent University, Universiteitsstraat 8, B-9000 Ghent,
Sigurd D'hondt
Centre for Studies in African Humanities, Ghent University, Rozier 44, B-9000 Ghent,
Michael Meeuwis
Centre for Studies in African Humanities, Ghent University, Rozier 44, B-9000 Ghent,


This article describes discursive processes by which inhabitants of the Congolese border town Goma attribute new indexical values to Lingala, a language exogenous to the area of which most Goma inhabitants only possess limited knowledge. This creative reconfiguration of indexicalities results in the emergence of three “indexicalities of the second order”: the indexing of (i) being a true Congolese, (ii) toughness (based on Lingala's association with the military), and (iii) urban sophistication (based on its association with the capital Kinshasa). While the last two second-order reinterpretations are also widespread in other parts of the Congolese territory, the first one, resulting in the emergence of a Lingala as an “indexical icon” of a corresponding “language community,” deeply reflects local circumstances and concerns, in particular the sociopolitical volatility of the Rwandan-Congolese borderland that renders publicly affirming one's status as an “autochthonous” Congolese pivotal for assuring a livelihood and at times even personal security. (Lingala, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Goma, orders of indexicality, language community, autochthony, Kiswahili)*

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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