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The Language of

Swahili
Brooke Hove

Language Change

Swahili is basically of Bantu (African) origin.


Swahili means the coast.
Bantu means the people.
It is dated back several thousands of years ago and
originates from Arabs and Persians who moved to the
East African coast (500-1000 AD).
For centuries, Swahili remained as the language for
the people of the East African coast.
Now Swahili is spoken in many countries of Eastern
Africa.
It is estimated that around 70 million people speak
Swahili.
It is the most widely spoken language of Eastern
Africa.

Language Change
The Swahili languages are characterized by heavy
word borrowing from Arabic, Persian and Portuguese,
with more recent borrowings from Hindi and English.
It contains an enormous number of words borrowed
from Arabic due to east Africas long history of
contact with the Arab-speaking world.
Most of the loanwords taken from Arabic deal with
areas such as business, trade and religion.
Although most of these Arab language loanwords
still exist in the language, English has come to
replace Arabic as the primary source for borrowed
words in the Swahili language.

Language Change

(continued)

It was initially written in an Arabic script during the


early 18th century from African peoples contact with
Arab traders.
Then efforts to standardize the language were
undertaken by British colonial authorities in the 1930s.
It was determined by British authorities that the
Kiunguja dialect of Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania
should serve as the basis for standard Swahili, both
spoken and written.
Standard Swahili has been written using a Latin
alphabet, and this script is still utilized in education
today.

Standard vs.
Variant Languages
Kiswahili Sanifu is a standardized interlanguage based
heavily on Zanzibari forms.
The most prestigious form of Swahili in Kenya seems to
be Mvita, a literary language.
There are notable differences in words between the
different dialects of Swahili.
The language of each town or island, usually named
after the place, has its own characteristics.
There are about 15 major dialects of Swahili, as well as
several pidgin forms in use.
The 3 most important dialects are Kiunguja, Kimvita,
and Kiamu.
There are various up-country pidgin forms of Swahili
used in market areas and along trade routes.
Swahili originated as a lingua franca used by several

Official Languages
Swahili is the official language in Tanzania, and
though only recognized as a national language
in Kenya, it already functions as a second
official language and structures to make it an
official language are being put in place.
It is one of the four national languages of the
Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire),
Kikongo, Tshiluba and Lingala.
Swahili is also widely used in Uganda, Rwanda,
Burundi, and in parts of Somalia, Zambia,
Malawi, Mozambique, and the Comoro Islands.

Language & Territory


Kiswahili assumed a major roe as a
lingua franca when politics became a
nationalistic movement.

Toponyms
Swahili is spoken in these places:
Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Uganda,
Democratic Republic of Congo,
Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi,
Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, and the
Compro Islands.

Geographic Patterns
The merchants visiting the East African coast at the time from
Southern Arabia used to speak with the natives in their local
language and they intermarried with them.
Interactions with people bordering the Indian Ocean spread the
language to places like the islands of Comoro and Madagascar,
and even far beyond South Africa, Oman and United Arab
Emirates.
Trade and migration in the 19th century spread the language to
the interior of particularly Tanzania and reached Uganda, Rwanda,
Burundi, Congo, Central African Republic, and Mozambique.
Christian missionaries used Swahili in Eastern Africa which helped
spread the language and they also created the first SwahiliEnglish dictionary.
European colonialists chose to adopt the language and both
German and British colonial administrations tended to encourage
the use of Swahili in public schools, civil service and other
government areas which spread the language more.

Development & Spread


Language
Absorbed
Trade and
Now spoken
originates
words from
migration
in many
from Arabs
the
from the
countries of
and Persians
Portuguese
coast during
Eastern
who moved
who
the 19th
Africa by
to the East
controlled
century
about 50
African
the Swahili
spread the
million
coast
coastl towns
language
people
Interactions
Missionaries
The word
The
(1500-1700
with Indian
learned
Swahili
merchants
AD)
Ocean
Swahili and
was used by
visiting the
bordering
spread
early Arab
East African
people
around
visitors to
coast at the
spread the
Eastern
the coast
time from
language to
Africa and
Southern
distance
also helped
Arabia used
places
prepare the
to speak
first Swahiliwith the
English
natives in
dictionary
their local

Isogloss
The geographical distribution of such
isoglosses for Swahili reflects the
Northsouth dimension of the historical
spreading of this language.
During the 19th century, when trade routes
developed from the coast towards central
African regions, additional dialects
emerged between coastal varieties and
Swahili dialects such as Kingwana in
Congo (Zaire).

Results/Consequences
The spread of Swahili has helped
improve the trade and migration.

Current
Struggles/Disagre
March 5, 2015Tanzania is set to become
ements
the first sub-Saharan African country to use
an African language (Kiswahili) as the
medium of instruction throughout the
schooling years instead of English. They had
had many struggles and had lost their
confidence and sense of who they are so
this bold assertion of cultural self-affirmation
could act as a clarifying force on what it
means to be Tanzanian once again.