Congo’s Special K

Over at Coding in the Congo, colleague and friend Peter van der Windt asks why do so many places in the Eastern Congo begin with the letter K? Analyzing a sample of 8,000 villages in four province in the East, he provides the following visualization of letter-beginnings (LLUs correspond to villages):

So, why all the K’s?I recruited professor Brent Henderson, a leading specialist in Bantu linguistics, to determine whether Congo’s deep love of places that begin with K really might have to do with a national appeal to development aid in the form of healthy cereal. His response:

As for the question, I have two related guesses.

One would be that the very word for ‘village’ starts with ki- (kijiji) and this is a diminuntive of the word for city (mji). One can imagine people naming their villages in an alliterative way (Kijiji Kivu, Kijiji kitanga, etc. ) and this catching on as a trend. This might also explain why the runner up is the sound /m/ since ‘mji’ is in class 3 and one can imagine something similar happening (Mji matanga, etc. )

A related idea is simply that ki- is the endearing diminutive and people tend to love their home towns and have a lot of affinity for them.

Finally (OK, this makes three ideas), your friends stats are interesting, but probably only meaningful when checked against a statistical analysis of non-animate words in the language. Villages are named for things and perhaps the distribution here simply reflects the fact that most non-animate things that one would think to name a village after (a product, a tool, a languages) are in class 7. And maybe this is slightly less true for words starting with /m/.

So, Congo’s special-K problem solved: villages are definitely named after klondike bars.


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