Swahili (or Kiswahili as it is called when one is speaking the language) is the most important and widely studied indigenous language of Africa, the National and official language of Kenya and Tanzania.
It is spoken as a native language on the East coast of Africa and the islands adjacent to the coast from Southern Somalia in the north down through the Kenyan and Tanzanian coasts.
Whatever your area of research one is in, be it linguistics, anthropology, geography, archaeology, or even sociology, knowledge of Swahili and its many varieties is essential if one is working in the East African region.
WHERE IS IT SPOKEN?
NUMBER OF SPEAKERS
THREE FUN FACTS ABOUT SWAHILI
1. It’s a rich mix of languages
Swahili is predominantly a mix of local Bantu languages and Arabic. Decades of intensive trade along the East African coast resulted in this mix of cultures. Besides Arabic and Bantu, Swahili also has English, Persian, Portuguese, German and French influences due to trade contact.
2. It developed as a coastal trading language
The word for the Swahili language is Kiswahili. Sawahili is the plural for the Arabic word sahil, which means ‘coast’. Ki- at the beginning means coastal language. This is because Swahili arose as a trade language along the coastline, and is also best spoken along the coast. In 1928, the Zanzibar dialect called Kiunguja was chosen as the standard Swahili.
3. It’s easy to learn
Thinking about learning an African language? Give Swahili a try. It’s the easiest African language for English speakers to learn, as it’s one of the few Sub-Saharan African languages without lexical tone, similar to English.