What is the Swahili language?
The Swahili language is the national official language spoken in Kenya and Tanzania and is commonly used in other regions like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Comoros Islands, Mozambique, Burundi, and Northern Zambia. It is the most widely spoken language and is recognized as the lingua franca in East Africa. The Swahili language is spoken by more than 5 to 15 million people as the native language and over 30 million as a second language. “Kiswahili” is the term used for the Swahili language, the word is derived from the plural form of the Arabic word “Sahil” meaning Coast. The Ki- is added in the beginning is added to denote “costal language.”
Swahili language origin:
The Swahili language is part of the Bantu language group. It is hugely influenced by Arabic and Persian merchants who fled to the East African Coast. The syntax and grammar in Swahili are still Bantu, but some vocabulary is still linked to Arabic. Other words of Swahili come from European powers that colonized the East African Coast like the Portuguese, as well as English, German, and French through trade. An argument has been made that Swahili is a very old language, as a known document in the 2nd century implied that merchants who visited East Africa used to speak their native language.
Learning the Swahili language:
Learning the Swahili language is not challenging, but before you get into it and spend time in East African countries, it should be noted that there are 15 different Swahili dialects. For example, there is a difference between the Swahili spoken in Kenya and Tanzania, or even when you compare urban cities to rural villages.
According to this source (http://www.kiswahili.net/5-information/general-info/swahili-dialects.html) the main Swahili dialects are:
- Kimrima [around Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania]
- Kimvita [around Mombasa, Kenya]
- Kiunguja [in Zanzibar and Pemba Islands]
- Kiamu [around Lamu, Kenya]
- Kingwana [in south-eastern Congo]
- Kingazija [Comorian dialect: this dialect is significantly different from the other ones]
Kimtang'ata [to the north of Dar-es-Salaam and south of the Kenyan border]