Swahili Language and Alphabet (alfabeti ya kiswahili)

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Swahili is one of the Bantu languages (of which there are many including Zulu, Xhosa and Shona). It is spoken widely throughout East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and north Mozambique). It is the official language of only Tanzania.  The name for Swahili is Kiswahili and means coastal language.  It is hard to find out the number of Swahili speakers as estimates range from 50-100 million people.

The language began in the first century A.D. to use in trade. The language was influenced by Arabic. About one in every three words is Arabic.  When the Cushitic herdsman were joined by the Bantu tribes and other groups who came to the East African coast like Arab, Hindi, Portuguese and Indonesian traders, they mixed into a new culture, people and language and became the Swahili tribe.  Eventually, they spread along the entire East African coast and formed different cultural groups who spoke dialects of the Swahili language.  Today the Swahili tribe lives in many of the coastal towns in Kenya and Tanzania and on the Indian Ocean island of Lamu, Pemba and Zanibar. There are approximately 1.5-2 million speakers.

swahili alphabet

In Kenya, Swahili is the national language, but official correspondence is still handled in English. In Uganda, the national language is English but Swahili is spoken by a large number of speakers especially those in the military.

Swahili is one of the languages that is featured in some world radio stations such as the BBC, Radio Cairo (Egypt), the Voice of America (USA), Radio Deutschewelle (Germany), Radio Moscow International (Russia), Radio Japan International, Radio China International, Radio Sudan and Radio South Africa. The Swahili language is also in songs, theaters, movies and television programs. For example, the song lyrics Liberian Girl by Michael Jackson has Swahili has the phrases, Nakupenda pia, nakutaka. The Disney movie The Lion King features several Swahili words, for example simba (lion) and rafiki (friend) as the names of two main characters. The Swahili phrase hakuna matata (no troubles or no problems) is also used in that movie.

The Swahili language is also taught in many parts of the world.  The alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet of 26 letters.  There are additional letter combinations.

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