Swahili or Kiswahili is the most widespread indigenous language in Africa in the 21st century. It has 150 million speakers in East and Central Africa. Currently it is either the official or national language of Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Swahili is also spoken in some regions of Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Congo.
Where was Swahili born? The name Swahili has its origin in “sahis –awahil”, an Arabic term that referred to the East African coast and the islands along it. This is the region where Swahili language was born. Incidentally, it is not an ethnic language and neither is it patronized by a single ethnic group. This creates a fundamental and interesting difference with other native African tongues.
Some communities along the East African coast adopted Swahili as their native language and they are referred to as the Swahili people. They include the Bajun, Fundi, Ozi, Pate, Vumba, Mvita, Shela, Amu and Siyu. These communities were a result of integration between Africans, Arabs and Persians (who arrived 1,000 years before the Arabs). This fusion gave rise to a culture, a people and a language, all bearing the same name.
Dating the origin of Swahili is not easy. We know, however, that it was spoken during the 13th century. Some authors propose a more ancient origin. In his work, “Journey through the Erithraean Sea”, a Greek trader named Diogene visited the East African coast in 110 AD and wrote that the Arab traders spoke to the natives in their local language. This could represent the first historical reference to Swahili.
Since native Africans did not know how to write, Swahili was initially transcribed in Arabic and became enriched with Arabic terms - possibly when the Swahili population started reading the Koran. Along the centuries it adopted terms from other languages such as Hindi, Persian, Portuguese, English and German. However, an analysis of Swahili grammar and syntax shows its origin lies in Bantu language.
In the 19th century, European missionaries learnt Swahili in order to communicate with the natives. Johann Ludwig Krapf, the first European and missionary to describe Mount Kenya, authored the first translation of the Bible to Swahili, the first Swahili dictionary and the first Swahili grammar book. As the missionaries moved inland, they contributed to the spread of Swahili to other ethnic communities. It spread around the Indian Ocean to the Comoros Islands, Madagascar, South Africa, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. It is also spoken in Rwanda, Burundi and Central African Republic.
During the colonization of Africa, the European rulers made an effort to standardize Swahili. The result of this attempt was the birth of Kiswahili or standardized Swahili. It was derived from the Kiunguja dialect which was native to the town of Zanzibar (Unguja), nucleus of the Swahili culture and cradle of the dialect, and therefore considered the purest form of Swahili.
Swahili as a language has since then evolved based on geographical factors. In Kenya, Swahili has seven dialects and three sub-dialects. Cosmopolitan urban youth in Nairobi, Kenya speak Swahili with a mixture of English and other ethnic languages called Sheng.
Swahili culture too has not been spared from external influences. A form of bull fighting practiced in the island of Pemba is of Portuguese origin.
Now please join me below and have fun as you learn some Kiswahili words.
LEARN KISWAHILI WITH US
Kiswahili language is important to people interested in doing business and touring the East and Central African region, with a population of over 150 million people.
It is gaining popularity all over the continent and in this website we will endeavor to teach basic Kiswahili which would enable communication with business people and the local folk.
We will also translate common names from English to Kiswahili.
As we advance, we will learn more words and phrases.
Some useful Kiswahili expressions: (misemo muhimu ya Kiswahili)
|| Thank you
|Jina lako ni nani
||What is your name
|| Help me
|| You are welcome
||Where are you from?
|Habari ya asubuhi
||I love you very much
All Kiswahili words end with vowels (vokali) which are a,e,i,o,u unlike the English words which end with either the vowels ( vokali) or consonants ( konsonanti)
Isaac Njau Gachomo
www. ajabuafrica.com/Swahili section