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SWAHILI


Swahili language, also called kiSwahili, or Kiswahili, Bantu language spoken either as a mother tongue or as a fluent second language on the east coast of Africa in an area extending from Lamu Island, Kenya, in the north to the southern border of Tanzania in the south. (The Bantu languages form a subgroup of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo language family.)

 

People who speak Swahili as their sole mother tongue are usually referred to as Waswahili, but this name refers to their language only and does not denote any particular ethnic or tribal unit. Swahili is widely used as a lingua franca in: (1) Tanzania, where it is the language of administration and primary education; (2) Kenya, where it is, after English, the main language for these purposes; (3) Congo (Kinshasa), where a form of Swahili is one of the four languages of administration, the main language for this purpose being French; and (4) Uganda, where the main language is again English. Swahili has been greatly influenced by Arabic; there are an enormous number of Arabic loanwords in the language, including the word swahili, from Arabic sawāḥilī (a plural adjectival form of an Arabic word meaning “of the coast”).

 

Table of Contents

 

Origin

The Swahili language, is basically of Bantu (African) origin. It has borrowed words from other languages such as Arabic probably as a result of the Swahili people using the Quran written in Arabic for spiritual guidance as Muslims.

 

As regards the formation of the Swahili culture and language, some scholars attribute these phenomena to the intercourse of African and Asiatic people on the coast of East Africa. The word "Swahili" was used by early Arab visitors to the coast and it means "the coast". Ultimately it came to be applied to the people and the language.

 

Regarding the history of the Swahili language, the older view linked to the colonial time asserts that the Swahili language originates from Arabs and Persians who moved to the East African coast. Given the fact that only the vocabulary can be associated with these groups but the syntax or grammar of the language is Bantu, this argument has been almost forgotten. It is well known that any language that has to grow and expand its territories ought to absorb some vocabulary from other languages in its way. A suggestion has been made that Swahili is an old language.

 

History

The earliest known document recounting the past situation on the East African coast written in the 2nd century AD (in Greek language by anonymous author at Alexandria in Egypt and it is called the Periplus of Erythrean Sea) says that merchants visiting the East African coast at that time from Southern Arabia, used to speak with the natives in their local language and they intermarried with them. Those that suggest that Swahili is an old language point to this early source for the possible antiquity of the Swahili language.

 

Swahili belongs to the Bantu family of languages spoken throughout east, central and southern Africa. It has absorbed words from non-Bantu languages such as Arabic, Persian, Portuguese and English. Swahili is known by its speakers as Kiswahili and is spoken by approximately 80 million people in several states of East Africa, chiefly in Tanzania, Kenya, eastern Congo (DRC), and in the Comoro Islands.

 

Swahili is also widely spoken in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, and is a national and official language in Tanzania and Kenya which means that it is used as a language of correspondence in government and commerce alongside English. The language also has a significant presence in major cities of Europe and the United States where African Diaspora communities are found, and in the Gulf states such as Oman.

 

Words from Other Languages

It is an undeniable truth that Arab and Persian cultures had the greatest influence on the Swahili culture and the Swahili language. To demonstrate the contribution of each culture into the Swahili language, take an example of the numbers as they are spoken in Swahili. "moja" = one, "mbili" = two, "tatu" = three, "nne" = four, "tano" = five, "nane" = eight, "kumi" = ten, are all of Bantu origin. On the other hand there is "sita" = six, "saba" = seven and "tisa" = nine, that are borrowed from Arabic. The Arabic word "tisa" actually replaced the Bantu word "kenda" for "nine". In some cases the word "kenda" is still used. The Swahili words, "chai" = tea, "achari" = pickle, "serikali" = government, "diwani" = councillor, "sheha" = village councillor, are some of the words borrowed from Persian bearing testimony to the older connections with Persian merchants.

 

The Swahili language also absorbed words from the Portuguese who controlled the Swahili coastal towns (c. 1500-1700CE). Some of the words that the Swahili language absorbed from the Portuguese include "leso" (handkerchief), "meza" (table), "gereza" (prison), "pesa" ('peso', money), etc. Swahili bull-fighting, still popular on the Pemba island, is also a Portuguese legacy from that period. The Swahili language also borrowed some words from languages of the later colonial powers on the East African coast - English (British) and German. Swahilized English words include "baiskeli" (bicycle), "basi" (bus), "penseli" (pencil), "mashine" (machine), "koti" (coat), etc. The Swahilized German words include "shule" for school and "hela" for a German coin.

 

Spread into the Hinterland

Swahili is the most widely spoken African Language in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is the national language of Tanzania and Kenya, and is also spoken widely in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Comoros. Current estimates place the number of speaker at 100 million people. Swahili is the only language from Africa included among the official languages of the African Union and its status as a lingua franca in the east and central African region makes it an important language to learn. It is taught in more than 50 universities in US. It is also taught in many universities in Europe and Asia

 

For centuries, Swahili remained as the language for the people of the East African coast. Long-time interactions with other people bordering the Indian Ocean spread the Swahili language to distant places such as on the islands of Comoro and Madagascar and even far beyond to South Africa, Oman and United Arab Emirates. Trade and migration from the Swahili coast during the nineteenth-century helped spread the language to the interior of particularly Tanzania. It also reached Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Central African Rebublic, and Mozambique.

 

International Presence

Thus, Swahili is the most widely spoken language of eastern Africa and many world institutions have responded to its diaspora. It is one of the languages that feature in some world radio stations such as, the BBC, Radio Cairo (Egypt), the Voice of America (U.S.A.), Radio Deutschewelle (Germany), Radio Moscow International (Russia), Radio Japan International, Radio China International, Radio Sudan, and Radio South Africa. The Swahili language is also making its presence in the art world - in songs, theatres, movies and television programs. For example, the lyrics for the song titled "Liberian girl" by Michael Jackson has Swahili phrases: "Nakupenda pia, nakutaka pia, mpenzi we!" (I love you, and I want you, my dear!). The well-celebrated Disney movie, "The Lion King" features several Swahili words, for example "simba" (lion), "rafiki" (friend), as the names of the characters. The Swahili phrase "hakuna matata" (No troubles or no problems) was also used in that movie.

 

The promotion of the Swahili language is not only in its use but also deliberate efforts are made throughout the world to include it in education curriculum for higher institutions of learning. It is taught in many parts of the world.

 

The language dates from the contacts of Arabian traders with the inhabitants of the east coast of Africa over many centuries. Under Arab influence, Swahili originated as a lingua franca used by several closely related Bantu-speaking tribal groups. In the early 19th century, the spread of Swahili inland received a great impetus from its being the language of the Arab ivory and slave caravans, which penetrated as far north as Uganda and as far west as Congo. Swahili was later adopted by European colonialists, especially the Germans, who used it extensively as the language of administration in Tanganyika, thus laying the foundation for its adoption as a national language of independent Tanzania. In Kenya and Uganda, other local languages also received official encouragement during the colonial period, but the tendency in these countries is now to emphasize the use of Swahili. The oldest preserved Swahili literature, which dates from the early 18th century, is written in the Arabic script, though the language is now written in the Roman alphabet.

 

Dialects

There are about 15 main Swahili dialects, as well as several pidgin forms in use. The three most important dialects are kiUnguja (or Kiunguja), spoken on Zanzibar and in the mainland areas of Tanzania; kiMvita (or Kimvita), spoken in Mombasa and other areas of Kenya; and kiAmu (or Kiamu), spoken on the island of Lamu and adjoining parts of the coast. Standard Swahili is based on the kiUnguja dialect.

 

Swahili is characteristically Bantu in its grammar, and it has a large vocabulary of word roots traceable to a common Bantu stock. Swahili nouns are divided into classes on the basis of their singular and plural prefixes; prefixes are also used to bring verbs, adjectives, and demonstrative and possessive forms into agreement with the subject of a sentence. Thus, in a sentence with wa-tu, “people” (singular m-tu, “person”), all the words begin with the w-/wa- prefix; e.g., wa-tu w-etu wa-le wa-kubwa wa-mekuja: “those big people of ours have come.” Verb stems may be extended by means of varying suffixes, each one with its particular nuance of meaning; e.g., funga (“shut”), fungwa (“be shut”), fungika (“become shut”), fungia (“shut for”), fungisha (“cause to shut”), and so on.

 

First written record

Letters written in 1711 in the region of Kilwa are believed to be the first ever documents to be written in Swahili. These letters were sent to the Portuguese people of Mozambique, as well as local allies. The original copies of the letters are preserved in the Historical Archive of Goa in India.

 

An ancient document dated 1728 shows an epic poem called  Utendi wa Tambuka, History of Tambuka which is in Swahili, but written in the Arabic script. Due to the influence of European colonial rule, Latin script (the same script used in English and other European languages) is now used for writing Swahili.

 

Spoken in

Swahili has official language status in Tanzania and Kenya and is also widely spoken in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Comoros Islands. It’s also spoken by smaller numbers in Burundi, Rwanda, Northern Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.

 

The word for the Swahili language is Kiswahili. The name comes from the plural sawahili of the Arabic word sahil, which means boundaries or coast. With ki- at the beginning of the word, Kiswahili means coastal language.

 

Regulatory body

Baraza la Kiswahili la Taifa(Tanzania)

 

Swahili language on websites

Swahili is used by less than 0.1% of all the websites

 

Number of speakers

The number of its native speakers has been conservatively placed at just under 2 million. Majority of the 100 million plus speakers of Swahili speak other first languages. It is, therefore, largely a second or third language to many of its speakers.

 

References

http://www.glcom.com/hassan/swahili_history.html

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/576136/Swahili-language

http://www.soas.ac.uk/languagecentre/languages/swahili/

 http://www.bakita.go.tz/

http://www.african.ohio.edu/African%20Languages/swahili.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/other/swahili/guide/facts.shtml

http://swahililanguage.stanford.edu/

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