What is Swahili?

Swahili is an agglutinative Bantu language mainly spoken in East and Central Africa. Waswahili refers to the speakers of this coastal language, while Kiswahili is the Language itself.

 What is the origin of the word Swahili?

Swahili is derived from Arabic word sawahil which means "coast" and has been "Swahilinised" as Swahili. Kiswahili is linguistically affiliated with the Sabaki subgroup of northeastern coast Bantu languages. It is closest, however, to the Kenyan Bantu languages such as Ilwana, Pokomo, Mijikenda, Digo, Giryama and Duruma, which are spoken in the Kenyan coastal hinterland. Swahili is also close to the Comorian Bantu languages, such as Ngazija,Nzuani, Mwali, and Maore, spoken in the Comoro Islands.

How does Swahili relate with the other languages of the world?

Swahili is a cosmopolitan language, infusing many loan words from a variety of languages. Arabic, Portuguese, English, German, Farsi (Persian) and Indian words have all found their way into Swahili. This is due to numerous interactions between the Waswahili and coastal visitors who speak said languages. The lexical and cultural concepts of the visitors have been infused into the Swahili language over a long period of time.

Where is Swahili spoken?

Swahili is the mother tongue of the Waswahili people who inhabit 1500 km strip in the East African Coast. It is the official and national language of both Kenya and Tanzania. Recently, Uganda has put measures in place to promote its official use as has its immediate neighbors. Swahili is one of the four national languages of the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). Other countries where Swahili is widely used include Rwanda, Burundi, some parts of Somalia, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and the Comoro Islands. Swahili is also used as a Lingua Franca for Eastern Africa and the neighboring countries.

Who speaks Swahili?

Today, Swahili has touched each and every corner of the world. So much so that its speakers are advised not to speak ill of other people anywhere because you never know who is listening. In fact, many Swahili speakers have been approached in Asia, Europe, and the Americas by the people they least expected to know a word they were saying.

Why should one learn Swahili? What are the benefits of learning it?

Though people have different reasons for learning Swahili, the most common interests in the language have been: its usefulness for research and travel purposes in East and Central Africa; meeting foreign language requirements in foreign academic institutions; and retracing the roots for the East African people living in Diaspora.

What are the other benefits of learning Swahili besides the ability to communicate?

Swahili has been called a window for accessing East African culture. Many who have studied Swahili as a foreign language are continuously finding it useful in voluntary work and in the job market, especially among the many organizations that are getting involved in several projects in Africa. Many who go ahead to establish organizations working in East and Central Africa, either driven by social entrepreneurial goals or the traditional Aid Organizations, have also attested to its usefulness in penetrating the region.

Where is Swahili taught?

Swahili has developed into a very popular African language, taught in many leading academic institutions in Africa, Europe, America and Asia. It is offered as a subject of study in prestigious universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and many others. It is estimated that close to a hundred institutions teach Swahili in the U.S. alone. Swahili has been taught in S.O.A.S. at the University of London since the 1930s. It is also taught in Canada, Germany, Poland, Mexico, Russia, Japan, India, and many other countries.

Who should learn Swahili?

Anyone who may benefit from the many advantages already discussed should seriously consider learning Swahili. However, Swahili should not just be limited to these people. Any person with an ear for language and an appetite for exotic cultures would enjoy the many joys of learning Swahili.

 Describe Swahili culture.

Swahili culture is very interesting and Swahili speakers have always embraced it with lots of passion and enthusiasm. Its speakers are welcoming, hospitable and always out to market their language and culture. Swahili culture has been one of the key pillars of East African tourism, along with wildlife. Those who have ever visited Swahili-speaking cities like Mombasa, Unguja, Dar-es-Salaam, Lamu, Malindi and Pate have had wonderful experiences, living testimonies to their people back home.

Is learning Swahili enjoyable?

Learning Swahili is one of the most fun experiences to be had at the University. Swahili culture is so evident in the classroom that students who once came in simply trying to fulfill a language requirement find themselves wanting to visit Kenya for themselves. The classroom is laidback and fun: students sing Swahili songs and tell stories in Swahili. Of course, it is a very easy language to use for a language requirement, but it is also much more.

For more information about Swahili language, it's culture and speakers, additional links have been included to supplement the learning materials  in this website.


This Website has been created by Michael Wairungu