Swahili (also called Kiswahili) is the Bantu language and the most widely spoken non-european language in Africa. Swahili is the mother tongue of the Swahili people who inhabit a 1500 km stretch of the East African coast from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique. It is spoken by over 50 million people, of whom there are approximately five million first-language speakers and thirty to fifty million second-language speakers. It is the Sub-Saharan African language with the most speakers and has become a lingua franca for East Africa and surrounding areas.

The name 'Kiswahili' comes from the plural of the Arabic word sahel ????: sawahil ????? meaning "boundary" or "coast" (used as an adjective to mean "coastal dwellers" or, by adding 'ki-' ["language"] to mean "coastal language"). The word "sahel" is also used for the border zone of the Sahara ("desert"). The incorporation of the final "i" is likely to be the nisba in Arabic (of the coast ??????), although some state it is for phonetic reasons.

Swahili is a national and/or official language in Tanzania, Kenya, Congo (DRC) and Uganda. It is also a local language in Burundi, Comoros Islands (including Mayotte), Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, some parts of southern Sudan and Somalia.Most traders, security personels, and the defense forces in the region use kiswahili to communicate effectively among themselves. Swahili belongs to the Sabaki subgroup of the Northeastern coast Bantu languages. It is closely related to the Mijikenda group of languages, Pokomo, Ngazija, etc. Over a thousand years of intense and varied interaction with the Middle East, Arabia, Persia, India, China, Portugal, and England has given Swahili a rich infusion of loanwords from a wide assortment of languages.

The Comorian languages, spoken in the Comoros and Mayotte, are closely related to Swahili. Despite the substantial number of loanwords present in Swahili, the language is in fact Bantu. In the past, some have held that Swahili is variously a derivative of Arabic, that a distinct Swahili people do not exist, or that Swahili is simply an amalgam of Arabic and African language and culture, though these theories have now been largely discarded.

The distinct existence of the Swahili as a people can be traced back over a thousand years, as can their language. In structure and vocabulary Swahili is distinctly Bantu and shares far more culturally and lingustically with other Bantu languages and peoples than it does with Arabic, Persian, Indian etc. In fact, it is estimated that the proportion of non-African language loanwords in Swahili is comparable to the proportion of French, Latin, and Greek loanwords in the English language.

One of the earliest known documents in Swahili is an epic poem in the Arabic script titled Utendi wa Tambuka ("The History of Tambuka"); it is dated 1728. The Latin alphabet has since become standard under the influence of European colonial powers. As in English, the proportion of loan words changes as the speaker is communicating at a "lower" or "higher class" situation. In English, a discussion of say, body functions, sounds much nicer if you use Latin-derived words with occasional French terms rather than Germanic-derived words (so-called four-letter words); an educated Swahili speaker will likewise use many more Arabic-derived words with English terms in polite circumstances, though the same phrase could usually be said in Swahili using only words of Bantu origin.

One of the most famous phrases in Swahili is "hakuna matata" from Disney's "The Lion King" and "Timon and Pumbaa" cartoon series. It means "no problem" or "no worries" (literally: "there are no problems"). Disney's characters Simba and Rafiki also owe their names to Swahili, meaning 'lion' and 'friend' respectively. Nala means "gift." Also Pumbaa means "careless" and Shenzi (one of the hyenas) means "barbarous". The African American holiday of Kwanzaa derives its name from two Swahili words kwanza which means "first" or "beginning." and zaa which means "bear fruit". Safari (meaning "journey") is another Swahili word that has spread worldwide.


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