Swahili or the Kiswahili Language

Etymologically, Kiswahili is the language spoken by east African coastal societies (Arabic Saw hil, plural of S hil which means coast) on a wide, extending from Southern Somalia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania to Northern Mozambique; and eastward to Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is also used on the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, Mafia, Lamu, and on the Comoro Islands. It is one of the first growing language, spreading southward and eastward. It is a language spoken, understood and used by by between fifty and one hundred million people. In many of these countries, Swahili has been selected out of many languages as one of the official languages.

In a comparative and historical study entitled Swahili & Sabaki: A Linguistic History, University of California Publications in Linguistics: Volume 121, Mzee Thomas Hinnebusch and Derek Nurse describe Kiswahili as part of what they call the Sabaki Bantu sub-group. They describe the latter as following: "The Sabaki languages form a major Bantu subgroup and are spoken by 35 million East Africans in Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and the Comoro Islands. The authors provide a historical/comparative treatment of Swahili (and other Sabaki languages), an account of the relationship of Swahili to Sabaki and to other Bantu languages, and some data on contemporary Sabaki languages. Data sets, appendices, maps, and figures present essential information on phonology, lexical makeup, and tense/aspect morphology. The final chapter is a synthesis describing the linguistic and historical relationship of the Sabaki dialects to each other and to hypothetical proto-stages." For more information go to this site

Given the wide area of Kiswahili is spoken, there are several local variations. The variety known as the refined form is Sarufi is the dialect of Zanzibar. It is taught in school, used in church, and by the mass media. The borrowings from European languages have mainly been from English and French as it is in the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex-Zaire).

In comparison with Indo-European languages such as English, French, Spanish, German, Hindi or Urdu, Swahili is a Bantu language and shares a stock vocabulary, word building processes, and syntactic structure with languages such as Kikuyu (Kenya), Kikongo (in the two Congos and Angola), Zulu (South Africa), Shona (Zimbabwe) ... Though the core of its vocabulary is Bantu, a great amount of borrowing mainly from Arabic has considerably enlarged its lexicon. Contrary to most Bantu languages, however, Swahili is one of the few that have lost the linguistic relevance of the tone. The main structural peculiarity for English speaking learners are: the noun system and the complex verb formation. Professor Ellen Contini-Morava from the University of Virginia has an extensive online explanation on the noun classification which is worth seeing.

The noun system (Links to Contini Morova). As a Bantu language, the noun-system distinguishes Swahili from European languages in a very distinct way. Nouns are arranged as classes associated with certain semantic characteristics in sets which have distinct singular and plural forms as prefixes on common stems. For example:

Adjective and verb agreements are determined by the category in which the name is classified.

The complex verb formation. Many grammatical functions such as the subject, the tense, the verbal aspect, the object or the relative pronouns are fulfilled by the verbal affixes.

Writing and pronunciation are less complicated than in English or French. There is a constant correspondence between the graph and the sound. Swahili has five vowel phonemes that are much similar to the Spanish a, e, i, o, u. Consonants have English values.

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