What is Swahili and Kiswahili (كِسوَهِل) ?

Posted in CategoryDiscussions about African languages
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    Mohamed Essam Bakry 1 year ago

    For starters, the word Swahili is a term used for both the Swahili language and the people who speak the language. The term Swahili is derived from the plural form of the Arabic word “Sahil” meaning Coast. However, the term Kiswahili is general for many language varieties that are spoken on the Eastern coast of Africa. Kiswahili has the same meaning as Swahili but it only indicates the language spoken by the Swahili people. The Ki- in Kiswahili is added as a prefix to denote “costal language.”

    Although the exact number of people who speak Swahili is still unknown, it is estimated that it is spoken by over 100 million people in Eastern and Central Africa. Swahili is spoken as a first language by over 16 million people, they are usually found in the Eastern African coast, starting from Southern Somalia to Tanzania and Mozambique. It is considered the official language of Kenya and Tanzania and is also Africa’s lingua franca. In addition to that, a lot more speak Swahili fluently as their second language. There are also many native Swahili speakers in Lamu, Comoro Islands, the Indian Ocean islands of Unguja and Pemba (Zanzibar), and the Northwestern portion of Madagascar, and is mostly spoken as a second language in Uganda and East Zaire. Swahili is also spoken in Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and even some Southern Arabic countries like Oman and Yemen, but not as common.

    Swahili People and Brief History:

    The people of Swahili are truly interesting, with a rich culture that is still a mystery for people outside of Eastern Africa. This goes from their language to their ways of living. An interesting fact about speakers of Swahili language is that they like to refer to themselves as to where they originated. E.g. Swahili speakers from Tanzania will refer to themselves as “Watanzania,” or people from Kenya as “Wakenya.”

    In the second century A.D, Arabs and Persians visited the East African coast. They settled and married local people in Africa. This led to many locals adapting and embracing the customs and culture of these visitors. The Islamic religion was also introduced by later visits by Arabs, and nowadays a lot of Swahili people are Muslims. Later on, people traveled to East Africa from Portugal, Germany, England, and different countries from Asian, they all ended up leaving traces and marks on the Swahili culture and language.

    More about the Swahili language and culture:

    In the Niger-Congo language family, Swahili is a Bantu language. Regardless of the vocabulary that was influenced by other languages, Swahili reserves the traditional, complex Bantu grammar and structure.

    Several languages have influenced the Swahili language, which includes Arabic, Portuguese, and German, which explains the existence of several foreign Swahili words.

    In the Indian Ocean off Kenya’s North coast, there is Lamu, an ancient Swahili state. It is considered the mainland of the Swahili tradition, the true core and crucible of Swahili culture. In 2001, because Lamu preserved its history for over 1000 years, UNESCO awarded Lamu’s Old Town World Heritage status.

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