Swahili is of the Niger-Congo language family, specifically of the Bantu language group. The earliest documents that have been preserved that were written in the Swahili language are a series of letters written in 1711. These letters were written in Kilwa, to the Portuguese of Mozambique. They were written using the Arabic alphabet, while these days the Latin alphabet is more commonly used.
The Swahili word for Swahili is “Kiswahili”, which comes from the Arabic word meaning coast. In this context, it is used to mean coastal dwellers, and when referring to the language it means coastal language. There are many dialects of the Swahili language, and it is difficult to say when or where exactly the language emerged as the defined language that we know today. However, it has been in the last two hundred years that the Swahili language has become so widely used.
There are between 5 to 15 million native speakers of the Swahili language, with a lack of census data and the frequency with which this language is used by various ethnic groups hindering the available data. In general, the speakers of the Swahili language live along the Indian Ocean coast line, from Northern Mozambique to Northern Kenya. Tanzania, Kenya and Congo all keep the Swahili language as their official or national languages.
However, despite the lack of information available as to how many people speak the Swahili language as their first language, it is known that there are over 50 million speakers of the Swahili language by people throughout the world. Thus we can see that there are many more people who use the Swahili language as a second language in order to speak to each other. It is considered to be the lingua franca within much of East Africa, and is also spoken widely in Burundi, Comoros, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, Uganda and Malawi. Uganda has made the language of Swahili a required subject to be taught in primary schools, as it is such a vital and useful language in this part of the world.
There have been many influences to the Swahili language. The Arabic language has clearly had an impact on the vocabulary of the Swahili language, which is unsurprising as there has been much contact between the East African coast line and Arabic-speaking inhabitants along the Zanj coast. Persian, German, French, Portuguese and English have also given many loanwords to the Swahili language through trade and travel contact over the last five hundred centuries.
Any teacher of the Swahili language will sooner or later mention to you Methali. Methali is risqué wordplay, often using puns or suggestive language, and it has been an ingrained part of the culture for centuries. Originally in poems and parables, now Methali is used primarily in Swah rap music.
The Swahili language has five vowels, the same as the English language. However, regardless of the stress of the word, they are always pronounced the same way, similar to Asian languages. Swahili has lost the feature of lexical tone, making it one of the easier African languages to learn for people who are originally English speakers.
Why Learn The Swahili Language?
The Swahili language is incredibly widely spoken in the area of East Africa, and has an estimated 50 million speakers altogether, though this is probably more towards the 100 million mark. As such, this makes the Swahili language one of the most useful languages to learn for this part of the world, as there are many countries that use this language.
This whole area of the world is particularly fascinating if you have an interest in wildlife. There are beautifully scenic plains and mountains, and many diverse groups of animals, such as elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhinoceros. As well as the Swahili language being one of the most useful for this area, if you have a strong interest in the natural world, then this would be a wonderful place to visit.