By Harvey Kadyanji

Adapted from Hassan O. Ali’s document “Swahili history”

Given the fact that only the vocabulary can be associated with these groups but the syntax or grammar of the language is Bantu. It has borrowed words from other languages such as Arabic probably as a result of the Swahili people using the Quran written in Arabic for spiritual guidance as Muslims. this argument has been almost forgotten. Ultimately it came to be applied to the people and the language. It is well known that any language that has to grow and expand its territories ought to absorb some vocabulary from other languages in its way. is basically of Bantu (African) origin. Regarding the history of the Swahili language. some scholars attribute these phenomena to the intercourse of African and Asiatic people on the coast of East Africa. . As regards the formation of the Swahili culture and language.Origin The Swahili language. The word "Swahili" was used by early Arab visitors to the coast and it means "the coast". the older view linked to the colonial time asserts that the Swahili language originates from Arabs and Persians who moved to the East African coast.

[8] Another ancient written document is an epic poem in the Arabic script titled Utendi wa Tambuka (The History of Tambuka). there are documents written in Swahili which are letters written in Kilwa [region] in 1711. The original letters are now preserved in the Historical Archives of Goa.A suggestion has been made that Swahili is an old language. They were sent to the Portuguese of Mozambique and their local allies. used to speak with the natives in their local language and they intermarried with them. Also. it is dated 1728. in the Arabic script. . The earliest known document recounting the past situation on the East African coast written in the 2nd century AD (in Greek language by anonymous author at Alexandria in Egypt and it is called the Periplus of Erythrean Sea) says that merchants visiting the East African coast at that time from Southern Arabia. India.

Swahilized English words include "baiskeli" (bicycle). "saba" = seven and "tisa" = nine. "basi" (bus). is also a Portuguese legacy from that period. "nane" = eight. To demonstrate the contribution of each culture into the Swahili language. The Swahili language also borrowed some words from languages of the later colonial powers on the East African coast . still popular on the Pemba island. The Swahili language also absorbed words from the Portuguese who controlled the Swahili coastal towns (c. are some of the words borrowed from Persian bearing testimony to the older connections with Persian merchants. "pesa" ('peso'. "tano" = five. "meza" (table).sayansi(science). 1500-1700AD). Some of the words that the Swahili language absorbed from the Portuguese include "leso" (handkerchief). "moja" = one. The Swahilized German words include "shule" for school and "hela" for a German coin. "diwani" = councillor. that are borrowed from Arabic. "tatu" = three. Swahili bull-fighting. "chai" = tea. money). "koti" (coat).Words from Other Languages It is an undeniable truth that Arab and Persian cultures had the greatest influence on the Swahili culture and the Swahili language. On the other hand there is "sita" = six. "achari" = pickle. The Arabic word "tisa" actually replaced the Bantu word "kenda" for "nine". In some cases the word "kenda" is still used. manuari(man of war or battleship).English (British) and German. "serikali" = government. "mbili" = two. "mashine" (machine). The Swahili words. . take an example of the numbers as they are spoken in Swahili. "nne" = four. "kumi" = ten. are all of Bantu origin. mvinyo. "gereza" (prison). "sheha" = village councillor. "penseli" (pencil).

Burundi. Christian missionaries learnt Swahili as the language of communication to spread the Gospel in Eastern Africa. . During the colonial time. The Unguja dialect (Kiunguja) was then used for all formal communication such as in schools. Swahili was used for communication with the local inhabitants. Central African Rebublic. Swahili remained as the language for the people of the East African coast. in books and other publications. in mass media (newspapers and radio).Spread into the Hinterland For centuries. therefore colonial administrators selected the dialect of the Zanzibar (Unguja) town as the standard Swahili. Zanzibar was the epicenter of culture and commerce. So. and Mozambique. Long-time interactions with other people bordering the Indian Ocean spread the Swahili language to distant places such as on the islands of Comoro and Madagascar and even far beyond to South Africa. Congo. Hence the colonial administrators pioneered the effort of standardizing the Swahili language. the missionaries also helped to spread the language. As a matter of fact the first Swahili-English dictionary was prepared by a missionary. Oman and United Arab Emirates. It also reached Uganda. Rwanda. Trade and migration from the Swahili coast during the nineteenthcentury helped spread the language to the interior of particularly Tanzania.

. during the Iddi Amin's rule Swahili was declared the national language of Uganda. but official correspondence is still conducted in English. the declaration has never been seriously observed nor repealed by the successive governments. it is the national language. For Tanzania. South Africa.Now Swahili is spoken in many countries of Eastern Africa. However. Swahili is the national as well as the official language in Tanzania . Nyerere). In Uganda. In Kenya. and other neighbouring countries to the south. the national language is English but Swahili enjoys a large number of speakers especially in the military. Malawi. Julius K. Tanzania's special relations with countries of southern Africa was the chief reason behind the spread of Swahili to Zambia. deliberate efforts were made by the independent nation to promote the language (thanks to the efforts of the former head of state. As a matter of fact.almost all Tanzanians speak Swahili proficiently and are unified by it.

"The Lion King" features several Swahili words. the word "Imzadi" used in Star Trek: The Next Generation has a derivative in Swahili. the BBC. Swahili has been used by Bungie Studios in some of its games (Halo 2). It means "beloved.“ “Surprised err?!” The promotion of the Swahili language is not only in its use but also deliberate efforts are made throughout the world to include it in education curriculum for higher institutions of learning. In addition. The Swahili phrase "hakuna matata" (No troubles or no problems) was also used in that movie. theatres. For example. Radio China International. Radio Sudan. the Voice of America (U.S.“ Also. Radio Cairo (Egypt). Gene Roddenberry took the name of Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek from the Swahili word Uhuru meaning "freedom. The well-celebrated Disney movie.A. as the names of the characters. and Radio South Africa. the lyrics for the song titled "Liberian girl" by Michael Jackson has Swahili phrases: "Nakupenda pia. nakutaka pia. Radio Japan International. Radio Moscow International (Russia). mpenzi we!" (I love you. "rafiki" (friend). movies and television programs. my dear!). It is taught in many parts of the world. It is one of the languages that feature in some world radio stations such as. The Swahili language is also making its presence in the art world in songs. for example "simba" (lion). and I want you. Swahili is the most widely spoken language of eastern Africa and many world institutions have responded to its diaspora. . Radio Deutschewelle (Germany).International Presence Thus.).

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