Friday, June 3, 2016

Language facts: Swahili

Swahili (or Kiswahili) is a language from the Niger-Congo branch, included in the group of Bantu languages. It is spoken in several East African countries, even reaching across the Mozambique Channel to northern Mozambique and is considered a lingua franca in the area of the African Great Lakes as well as other parts of Southeast Africa. 

Kilimanjaro mountain, Tanzania.
Source: AdobeStock.com

Swahili is the official language in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Comoros. It is spoken by tens of million of people, possibly even by more than one hundred million people, either as a primary or secondary language. 

Lingua franca of Southeast Africa

This language dates back at least 1,000 years, being in fact the first language of the Swahili people, and originally spread mainly in coastal region by fishermen. During the colonial period, it has been much influenced by German, English, Portuguese, French and even Arabic. It was in fact the German colonists who declared Swahili as the general administrative language in mainland Tanzania (back then Tanganyika). English colonists had similar plans with Swahili in Kenya, but without any official conclusion. However, after the British took over Tanzania – the former colony of the defeated Germany – they instituted Swahili as a common language for lower levels of education and administration in all British colonies in the area (while secondary education and governance would be in English only).
Since 1928, when a conference in Mombasa was held in order to standardize Swahili language and provide it also with a written form (the language uses the Zanzibar Swahili dialect Kiunguja as a basis for standardization), the language has been regulated by the National Swahili Council in Tanzania. Today, Arabic language is gaining influence in Swahili language evolution due to the large amount of Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants in the region's east coast.

Alphabet

Swahili has two writing systems: Latin and Arabic. While it used to be based on the Arabic scripts, Latin script is common today.


Latin version:
A B CH D E F G H I J K L M N O P R S T U V W X Y Z
a b ch d e f g h i j k l m n o p r s t u v w x y z

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