Today, Swahili or Kiswahili, is spoken throughout East Africa, although usually in conjunction with other languages. It is the most widely-spoken African language, with approximately 50 million speakers in East and Central Africa. Swahili is now used throughout the region, in settings ranging from everyday communication to government and commerce.
Interesting Facts About Swahili
- Safari is a Swahili word meaning ‘journey’ and originally came from the Arabic ‘safarly’ which also means ‘trip’!
- The African-American holiday ‘Kwanzaa’ is named for the Swahili word meaning ‘to begin’.
- The Walt Disney film ‘The Lion King’ is the most famous example of Swahili in pop culture. Many characters have Swahili names including Simba (lion), Rafiki (friend), Sarabi (mirage), Timon (absentmindedness), Pumbaa (careless) and Shenzi (savage).
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Where is Swahili Spoken?
Swahili is spoken in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. Of these, it is recognized as an official national language in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, although only in Tanzaniais it both spoken and used in government as a language of correspondence.
Additionally, citizens of Comoros speak Comoran (a mixture of Swahili and Arabic), and Kingwana (a dialect of Swahili) is spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Swahili is also used as a language of business in commercial centers in Rwanda.
About the Swahili Language
Swahili (or Kiswahili) belongs to the Benue-Congo family, Bantu group, but was strongly influenced by Arabic and Persian. “Swahili” is an Arabic word which means “of (from) the coast” or “people of the coast”. As a matter of fact many Swahili words derived from Arabic and Persian languages, especially as a result of Persians and Arabs sailing to East Africa for trade many centuries ago.Some even assert that the Swahili culture and language actually have their roots from Persians and Arabs, but most recent archaeological discoveries show that the Swahili culture existed well before the arrival of Persians and Arabs to East Africa. Other languages, too, influenced Swahili: Portuguese, English and German, due to colonial influence. The later migration to the South of the Swahili people helped further spread the language to present-day Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique.