Swahili language

PronunciationSwahili: [kiswɑˈhili]
Native toMainly in Tanzania, Kenya and, Comoros, Mayotte, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Bajuni Islands (part of Somalia), southern Somalia (see Bravanese dialect),[1] Zambia, Malawi, Madagascar and Oman
SpeakersL1: 18 million (2012–2019)[2]
L2: 55 million (2015–2019)[2]
Early form
Official status
Official language in
4 countries
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by
Language codes
ISO 639-1sw
ISO 639-2swa
ISO 639-3swa – inclusive code
Individual codes:
swc – Congo Swahili
swh – Coastal Swahili
ymk – Makwe (?)
wmw – Mwani (?)
  • G.42–43;
  • G.40.A–H (pidgins & creoles)
Geographic-administrative extent of Swahili. Dark: native range (the Swahili coast). Medium green: Spoken by a majority alongside indigenous languages. Light green: Spoken by a minority.
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Swahili, also known by its local name Kiswahili, is a Bantu language spoken by the Swahili people, who are found primarily in Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique (along the East African coast and adjacent littoral islands).[6]

Swahili has a high number of loanwords from other languages, mainly Arabic, as well as from Portuguese, English and German. Around fifteen percent of Swahili vocabulary consists of Arabic loanwords,[7] including the name of the language (سَوَاحِلي sawāḥilī, a plural adjectival form of an Arabic word meaning 'of the coast'). The loanwords date from the era of contact between Arab slave traders and the Bantu inhabitants of the east coast of Africa, which was also the time period when Swahili emerged as a lingua franca in the region.[8] The number of Swahili speakers, be they native or second-language speakers, is estimated to be over 200 million.[9]

Due to concerted efforts by the government of Tanzania, Swahili is one of three official languages (the others being English and French) of the East African Community (EAC) countries, namely Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. It is a lingua franca of other areas in the African Great Lakes region and East and Southern Africa, including some parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Malawi, Mozambique, the southern tip of Somalia, and Zambia.[10][11][12] Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and of the Southern African Development Community. The East African Community created an institution called the East African Kiswahili Commission (EAKC) which began operations in 2015. The institution currently serves as the leading body for promoting the language in the East African region, as well as for coordinating its development and usage for regional integration and sustainable development.[13] In recent years South Africa,[14] Botswana,[15] Namibia,[16] Ethiopia,[17] and South Sudan[18] have begun offering Swahili as a subject in schools or have developed plans to do so.

Shikomor (or Comorian), an official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (Shimaore), is closely related to Swahili and is sometimes considered a dialect of Swahili, although other authorities consider it a distinct language.[19][20] In 2022, based on Swahili's growth as a prominent international language, the United Nations declared Swahili Language Day as 7 July to commemorate the date that Julius Nyerere adopted Swahili as a unifying language for African independence struggles.[21]

  1. ^ Thomas J. Hinnebusch, 1992, "Swahili", International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, Oxford, pp. 99–106
    David Dalby, 1999/2000, The Linguasphere Register of the World's Languages and Speech Communities, Linguasphere Press, Volume Two, pp. 733–735
    Benji Wald, 1994, "Sub-Saharan Africa", Atlas of the World's Languages, Routledge, pp. 289–346, maps 80, 81, 85
  2. ^ a b Swahili at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) closed access
    Congo Swahili at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) closed access
    Coastal Swahili at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) closed access
    Makwe (?) at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) closed access
    Mwani (?) at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) closed access
  3. ^ Nurse, Derek; Spear, Thomas (10 June 2017). The Swahili: Reconstructing the History and Language of an African Society, 800-1500. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 50. ISBN 9781512821666.
  4. ^ "Sadc Adopts Kiswahili as 4th Working Language". European Commission. 30 August 2019. Archived from the original on 18 October 2020. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  5. ^ Jouni Filip Maho, 2009. New Updated Guthrie List Online
  6. ^ Mugane, John (21 June 2022). "The Story of Swahili" (PDF). Center for International Studies,Ohio University. Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  7. ^ "'It's time we move from the coloniser's language'". BBC News. 17 February 2022.
  8. ^ "Swahili language". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 23 July 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  9. ^ "World Kiswahili Language Day". UNESCO. 5 November 2021. Archived from the original on 23 May 2022. Retrieved 4 November 2023. Kiswahili is one of the most widely used languages of the African family, and the most widely spoken in sub-Saharan Africa. It is among the 10 most widely spoken languages in the world, with more than 200 million speakers.
  10. ^ Mazrui, Ali Al'Amin. (1995). Swahili state and society : the political economy of an African language. East African Educational Publishers. ISBN 0-85255-729-9. OCLC 441402890.
  11. ^ Prins 1961
  12. ^ "Development and Promotion of Extractive Industries and Mineral Value Addition". East African Community. Archived from the original on 21 October 2016. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
  13. ^ Press Release on EAKC
  14. ^ Sobuwa, Yoliswa (17 September 2018). "Kiswahili gets minister's stamp to be taught in SA schools". The Sowetan. Archived from the original on 18 September 2018. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  15. ^ "Botswana to Introduce Swahili Language in Local Schools". 12 October 2020. Archived from the original on 22 March 2021. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  16. ^ "Pandemic disrupts Kiswahili adoption plans". Archived from the original on 5 December 2020. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
  17. ^ "AAU to Start Teaching Kiswahili Language – Ethiopian Monitor". 9 February 2022. Retrieved 8 April 2022.
  18. ^ Mbamalu, Socrates (13 March 2019). "Tanzania to send Kiswahili teachers to South Sudan". This is africa. Retrieved 8 April 2022.
  19. ^ Nurse and Hinnebusch, 1993, p.18
  20. ^ Nurse and Hinnebusch, 1993
  21. ^ "UNESCO declares July 7 World Kiswahili Language Day". unesco.org. 24 November 2021. Archived from the original on 30 July 2022. Retrieved 9 August 2022.

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