Swahili, also known by its native name , is a Bantu language and the native language of the Swahili people. It is a lingua franca of the
African Great Lakes
African Great Lakes
region and other parts of East and Southern Africa, including
Tanzania Tanzania (;This approximates the Kiswahili pronunciation. However, is also heard in English. ), officially the United Republic of Tanzania ( sw, Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania), is a country in East Africa within the African Great Lakes regi ...
Uganda Uganda (Languages of Uganda, Ugandan Languages: Yuganda ), officially the Republic of Uganda ( sw, Jamhuri ya Uganda), is a landlocked country in East Africa, East-Central Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sud ...
, Rwanda, Burundi,
Kenya Kenya, officially the Republic of Kenya ( sw, Jamhuri ya Kenya), is a country in Eastern Africa. At , Kenya is the world's 48th largest country by total area. With a population of more than 47.6 million people in the 2019 census, Kenya is the ...
, some parts of Malawi,
Somalia Somalia,; ar, الصومال, aṣ-Ṣūmāl officially the Federal Republic of Somalia, is a country in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Ethiopia to the west, Djibouti to the Northwest, the Gulf of Aden to the north, the Indian Oce ...
, Zambia,
Mozambique Mozambique (), officially the Republic of Mozambique ( pt, Moçambique or , ; ny, Mozambiki; sw, Msumbiji; ts, Muzambhiki), is a country located in Southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi ...
, and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) ( french: République démocratique du Congo (RDC) ), also known as Congo-Kinshasa, DR Congo (french: RD Congo), the DROC, or simply either Congo or the Congo, and historically Zaire, is a country in ...
(DRC). Comorian, spoken in the Comoros Islands, is sometimes considered a dialect of Swahili, although other authorities consider it a distinct language. Sheng slang, Sheng is a mixture of Swahili and English commonly spoken in Kenya and parts of Uganda. Swahili has a 16-20% Arabic loanwords in the language, including the word ''swahili'', from Arabic (, a plural adjectival form of an Arabic word meaning 'of the coast'). The Arabic loanwords date from the contacts of Arabian traders with the Northeast Bantu languages, Bantu inhabitants of the east coast of Africa over many centuries. Under Arab trade influence, Swahili emerged as a lingua franca used by Arab traders and Bantu peoples of the East African Coast. The exact number of Swahili speakers, be they native or second-language speakers, is unknown and is a matter of debate. Various estimates have been put forward, which vary widely, ranging from 50 million to 100 million. Swahili serves as a national language of the DRC, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Comorian language, Shikomor, an official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (), is closely related to Swahili. Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and of the Southern African Development Community. It is officially recognised as a of the East African Community. In 2018, South Africa legalized the teaching of Swahili in South African schools as an optional subject to begin in 2020. Botswana followed in 2020, and Namibia plans to introduce the language as well.


Swahili is a Bantu language of the Sabaki languages, Sabaki branch. In Guthrie classification of Bantu languages, Guthrie's geographic classification, Swahili is in Bantu zone G, whereas the other Sabaki languages are in zone E70, commonly under the name ''Nyika.'' Historical linguists do not consider the Arabic influence on Swahili to be significant enough to classify it as a mixed language, since Arabic influence is limited to lexical items, most of which have been borrowed only since 1500, whereas the grammatical and syntactic structure of the language is typically Bantu.



The origin of the word Swahili is its phonetic equivalent in Arabic: ''sāħil'' = "coast", broken plural ''sawāħil'' = "coasts", ''sawāħilï'' = "of coasts".


The core of the Swahili language originates in Northeast Coast Bantu languages, Bantu languages of the coast of East Africa. Much of Swahili's Bantu vocabulary has cognates in the Pokomo language, Pokomo, Taita language, Taita and Mijikenda languages and, to a lesser extent, other Northeast Bantu languages, East African Bantu languages.While opinions vary on the specifics, it has been historically purported that about 20% of the Swahili vocabulary is derived from loan words, the vast majority Arabic, but also other contributing languages, including Persian language, Persian, Hindustani language, Hindustani, Portuguese language, Portuguese, and Malay language, Malay. Omani Arabic is the source of most Arabic loanwords in Swahili. In the text "Early Swahili History Reconsidered", however, Thomas Spear noted that Swahili retains a large amount of grammar, vocabulary, and sounds inherited from the Sabaki languages, Sabaki language. In fact, while taking account of daily vocabulary, using lists of one hundred words, 72-91% were inherited from the Sabaki languages, Sabaki language (which is reported as a parent language) whereas 4-17% were loan words from other African languages. Only 2-8% were from non-African languages, and Arabic loan words constituted a fraction of the 2-8%. According to other sources, around 35% of the Swahili vocabulary comes from Arabic. What also remained unconsidered was that a good number of the borrowed terms had native equivalents. The preferred use of Arabic loan words is prevalent along the coast, where natives, in a cultural show of proximity to, or descent from Arab culture, would rather use loan words, whereas the natives in the interior tend to use the native equivalents. It was originally written in Arabic script. The earliest known documents written in Swahili are letters written in Kilwa Kisiwani, Kilwa,in
Tanzania Tanzania (;This approximates the Kiswahili pronunciation. However, is also heard in English. ), officially the United Republic of Tanzania ( sw, Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania), is a country in East Africa within the African Great Lakes regi ...
in 1711 in the Arabic script that were sent to the Portuguese of Mozambique and their local allies. The original letters are preserved in the Historical Archives of Goa, India.

Colonial period

Various colonial powers that ruled on the coast of East Africa played a role in the growth and spread of Swahili. With the arrival of the Arabs in East Africa, they used Swahili as a language of trade as well as for teaching Islam to the local Bantu peoples. This resulted in Swahili first being written in the Arabic alphabet. The later contact with the Portuguese resulted in the increase of vocabulary of the Swahili language. The language was formalised in an institutional level when the Germans took over after the Berlin conference. After seeing there was already a widespread language, the Germans formalised it as the official language to be used in schools. Thus schools in Swahili are called Shule (from German ) in government, trade and the court system. With the Germans controlling the major Swahili-speaking region in East Africa, they changed the alphabet system from Arabic to Latin. After the first World war, Britain took over German East Africa, where they found Swahili rooted in most areas, not just the coastal regions. The British decided to formalise it as the language to be used across the East African region (although in East Africa Protectorate, British East Africa [Kenya and Uganda] most areas used English and various Nilotic and other Bantu languages while Swahili was mostly restricted to the coast). In June 1928, an inter-territorial conference attended by representatives of
Kenya Kenya, officially the Republic of Kenya ( sw, Jamhuri ya Kenya), is a country in Eastern Africa. At , Kenya is the world's 48th largest country by total area. With a population of more than 47.6 million people in the 2019 census, Kenya is the ...
, Tanganyika (territory), Tanganyika,
Uganda Uganda (Languages of Uganda, Ugandan Languages: Yuganda ), officially the Republic of Uganda ( sw, Jamhuri ya Uganda), is a landlocked country in East Africa, East-Central Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sud ...
, and Zanzibar took place in Mombasa. The Zanzibar dialect was chosen as standard Swahili for those areas, and the standard orthography for Swahili was adopted.

Current status

Swahili has become a second language spoken by tens of millions in three
African Great Lakes
African Great Lakes
countries (
Kenya Kenya, officially the Republic of Kenya ( sw, Jamhuri ya Kenya), is a country in Eastern Africa. At , Kenya is the world's 48th largest country by total area. With a population of more than 47.6 million people in the 2019 census, Kenya is the ...
Uganda Uganda (Languages of Uganda, Ugandan Languages: Yuganda ), officially the Republic of Uganda ( sw, Jamhuri ya Uganda), is a landlocked country in East Africa, East-Central Africa. It is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sud ...
, and
Tanzania Tanzania (;This approximates the Kiswahili pronunciation. However, is also heard in English. ), officially the United Republic of Tanzania ( sw, Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania), is a country in East Africa within the African Great Lakes regi ...
), where it is an official or national language, while being the first language to many people in Tanzania especially in the coastal regions of Tanga, Pwani, Dar es Salaam, Mtwara and Lindi. In the inner regions of Tanzania, Swahili is spoken with an accent influenced by local languages and dialects, and as a first language for most people born in the cities, whilst being spoken as a second language in rural areas. Swahili and closely related languages are spoken by relatively small numbers of people in Burundi, Comoros, Malawi,
Mozambique Mozambique (), officially the Republic of Mozambique ( pt, Moçambique or , ; ny, Mozambiki; sw, Msumbiji; ts, Muzambhiki), is a country located in Southeastern Africa bordered by the Indian Ocean to the east, Tanzania to the north, Malawi ...
, Zambia and Rwanda. The language was still understood in the southern ports of the Red Sea in the 20th century. Swahili speakers may number 120 to 150 million in total. Swahili is among the first languages in Africa for which language technology applications have been developed. Arvi Hurskainen is one of the early developers. The applications include a spelling checker, part-of-speech tagging, a language learning software, an analysed Swahili text corpus of 25 million words, an electronic dictionary, and machine translation between Swahili and English. The development of language technology also strengthens the position of Swahili as a modern medium of communication.


The widespread use of Swahili as a national language in Tanzania came after Tanganyika gained independence in 1961 and the government decided that it would be used as a language to unify the new nation. This saw the use of Swahili in all levels of government, trade, art as well as schools in which primary school children are taught in Swahili, before switching to English (medium of instruction) of in Secondary schools (although Swahili is still taught as an independent subject) After Tanganyika and Zanzibar unification in 1964, ''Taasisi ya Uchunguzi wa Kiswahili'' (TUKI, Institute of Swahili Research) was created from the Interterritorial Language Committee. In 1970 TUKI was merged with the University of Dar es salaam, while ''Baraza la'' ''Kiswahili la Taifa'' (BAKITA) was formed. BAKITA is an organisation dedicated to the development and advocacy of Swahili as a means of national integration in Tanzania. Key activities mandated for the organization include creating a healthy atmosphere for the development of Swahili, encouraging use of the language in government and business functions, coordinating activities of other organizations involved with Swahili, standardizing the language. BAKITA vision are:1.To efficiently manage and coordinate the development and use of Kiswahili in Tanzania 2.To participate fully and effectively in promoting Swahili in East Africa, Africa and the entire world over. Although other bodies and agencies can propose new vocabularies, BAKITA is the only organisation that can approve its usage in the Swahili language.


In Kenya, ''Chama cha Kiswahili cha Taifa'' (CHAKITA) was established in 1998 to research and propose means by which Kiswahili can be integrated to a national language and made compulsory in schools the same year., however most young people today speak a variety called "Sheng (linguistics), Sheng" in their day-to-day conversations and it has become so popular and widespread that the standard variety of Swahili now sounds archaic and literary.

Religious and political identity


Swahili played a major role in spreading both history of Christianity, Christianity and history of Islam, Islam in East Africa. From their arrival in East Africa, Arabs brought Islam and set up madrasas, where they used Swahili to teach Islam to the natives. As the Arab presence grew, more and more natives were converted to Islam and were taught using the Swahili language. From the arrival of rape of Africa, Europeans in East Africa, Christianity was introduced in East Africa. While the Arabs were mostly based in the coastal areas, European missionaries went further inland spreading Christianity. But since the first missionary posts in East Africa were in the coastal areas, missionaries picked up Swahili and used it to spread Christianity since it had a lot of similarities with many of the other indigenous languages in the region.


During the struggle for Tanganyika independence, the Tanganyika African National Union used Swahili as language of mass organisation and political movement. This included publishing pamphlets and radio broadcasts to rally the people to fight for independence. After independence, Swahili was adopted as the national language of the nation. Till this day, Tanzanians carry a sense of pride when it comes to Swahili especially when it is used to unite over 120 tribes across Tanzania. Swahili was used to strengthen solidarity among the people and a sense of togetherness and for that Swahili remains a key identity of the Tanzanian people.



Standard Swahili has five vowel phonemes: , , , , and . According to Ellen Contini-Morava, vowels are never vowel reduction, reduced, regardless of stress (linguistics), stress.Contini-Morava, Ellen. 1997. Swahili Phonology. In Kaye, Alan S. (ed.), Phonologies of Asia and Africa 2, 841–860. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns. However, according to Edgar Polomé, these five phonemes can vary in pronunciation. Polomé claims that , , , and are pronounced as such only in stressed syllables. In unstressed syllables, as well as before a prenasalized consonant, they are pronounced as , , , and . ''E'' is also commonly pronounced as mid-position after ''w''. Polomé claims that is pronounced as such only after ''w'' and is pronounced as in other situations, especially after (''y''). ''A'' can be pronounced as in word-final position. Swahili vowels can be Vowel length, long; these are written as two vowels (example: , meaning "sheep"). This is due to a historical process in which the Voiced alveolar lateral approximant, L became deleted between two examples of the same vowel ( was originally pronounced ''kondolo'', which survives in certain dialects). However, these long vowels are not considered to be phonemic. A similar process exists in Zulu language#Vowels, Zulu.


Some dialects of Swahili may also have the aspirated phonemes though they are unmarked in Swahili's orthography. Multiple studies favour classifying prenasalization as consonant clusters, not as separate phonemes. Historically, nasalization has been lost before voiceless consonants, and subsequently the voiced consonants have devoiced, though they are still written ''mb, nd'' etc. The /r/ phoneme is realised as either a short trill or more commonly as a single tap by most speakers. exists in free variation with h, and is only distinguished by some speakers. In some Arabic loans (nouns, verbs, adjectives), emphasis or intensity is expressed by reproducing the original emphatic consonants and the uvular , or lengthening a vowel, where aspiration would be used in inherited Bantu words.


Swahili is now written in the Latin alphabet. There are a few digraph (orthography), digraphs for native sounds, ''ch'', ''sh'', ''ng'' and ''ny''; ''q'' and ''x'' are not used, ''c'' is not used apart from the digraph ''ch'', unassimilated English loans and, occasionally, as a substitute for ''k'' in advertisements. There are also several digraphs for Arabic sounds, which many speakers outside of ethnic Swahili areas have trouble differentiating. The language used to be written in the Arabic script. Unlike adaptations of the Arabic script for other languages, relatively little accommodation was made for Swahili. There were also differences in orthographic conventions between cities and authors and over the centuries, some quite precise but others different enough to cause difficulties with intelligibility. and , and and were often conflated, but in some spellings, was distinguished from by rotating the ''kasrah, kasra'' 90° and was distinguished from by writing the ''damma'' backwards. Several Swahili consonants do not have equivalents in Arabic, and for them, often no special letters were created unlike, for example, Urdu script. Instead, the closest Arabic sound is substituted. Not only did that mean that one letter often stands for more than one sound, but also writers made different choices of which consonant to substitute. Here are some of the equivalents between Arabic Swahili and Roman Swahili: That was the general situation, but conventions from Urdu were adopted by some authors so as to distinguish aspiration and from : 'gazelle', 'roof'. Although it is not found in Standard Swahili today, there is a distinction between dental and alveolar consonants in some dialects, which is reflected in some orthographies, for example in ' 'to meet' vs. ' 'to be satisfied'. A ''k'' with the dots of ''y'', , was used for ''ch'' in some conventions; ''ky'' being historically and even contemporaneously a more accurate transcription than Roman ''ch''. In Mombasa, it was common to use the Arabic emphatics for Cw, for example in ' (standard ') 'we' and ' (standard ') 'head'. Particles such as ' are joined to the following noun, and possessives such as ' and ' are joined to the preceding noun, but verbs are written as two words, with the subject and tense–aspect–mood morphemes separated from the object and root, as in ' "he who told me".


Noun classes

Swahili nouns are separable into classes, which are roughly analogous to Grammatical gender, genders in other languages. For example, just as suffix <-o> in Spanish grammar, Spanish and Italian grammar, Italian marks masculine objects, and <-a> marks feminine ones, so, in Swahili, prefixes mark groups of similar objects: marks single human beings (''mtoto'' 'child'), marks multiple humans (''watoto'' 'children'), marks abstract nouns (''utoto'' 'childhood'), and so on. And just as adjectives and pronouns must agree with the gender of nouns in Spanish and Italian, so in Swahili adjectives, pronouns and even verbs must agree with nouns. This is a characteristic feature of all the Bantu languages, and traces of it are found in many of the other branches of the Niger-Congo language family in West Africa.

Semantic motivation

The ''ki-/vi-'' class historically consisted of two separate genders, artefacts (Bantu class 7/8, utensils and hand tools mostly) and diminutives (Bantu class 12/13), which were conflated at a stage ancestral to Swahili. Examples of the former are ''kisu'' "knife", ''kiti'' "chair" (from ''mti'' "tree, wood"), ''chombo'' "vessel" (a contraction of ''ki-ombo''). Examples of the latter are ''kitoto'' "infant", from ''mtoto'' "child"; ''kitawi'' "frond", from ''tawi'' "branch"; and ''chumba'' (''ki-umba'') "room", from ''nyumba'' "house". It is the diminutive sense that has been furthest extended. An extension common to diminutives in many languages is ''approximation'' and ''resemblance'' (having a 'little bit' of some characteristic, like ''-y'' or ''-ish'' in English). For example, there is ''kijani'' "green", from ''jani'' "leaf" (compare English 'leafy'), ''kichaka'' "bush" from ''chaka'' "clump", and ''kivuli'' "shadow" from ''uvuli'' "shade". A 'little bit' of a verb would be an instance of an action, and such ''instantiations'' (usually not very active ones) are found: ''kifo'' "death", from the verb ''-fa'' "to die"; ''kiota'' "nest" from ''-ota'' "to brood"; ''chakula'' "food" from ''kula'' "to eat"; ''kivuko'' "a ford, a pass" from ''-vuka'' "to cross"; and ''kilimia'' "the Pleiades", from ''-limia'' "to farm with", from its role in guiding planting. A resemblance, or being a bit like something, implies marginal status in a category, so things that are marginal examples of their class may take the ''ki-/vi-'' prefixes. One example is ''chura'' (''ki-ura'') "frog", which is only half terrestrial and therefore is marginal as an animal. This extension may account for disabilities as well: ''kilema'' "a cripple", ''kipofu'' "a blind person", ''kiziwi'' "a deaf person". Finally, diminutives often denote contempt, and contempt is sometimes expressed against things that are dangerous. This might be the historical explanation for ''kifaru'' "rhinoceros", ''kingugwa'' "spotted hyena", and ''kiboko'' "hippopotamus" (perhaps originally meaning "stubby legs"). Another class with broad semantic extension is the ''m-/mi-'' class (Bantu classes 3/4). This is often called the 'tree' class, because ''mti, miti'' "tree(s)" is the prototypical example. However, it seems to cover vital entities neither human nor typical animals: trees and other plants, such as ''mwitu'' 'forest' and ''mtama'' 'millet' (and from there, things made from plants, like ''mkeka'' 'mat'); supernatural and natural forces, such as ''mwezi'' 'moon', ''mlima'' 'mountain', ''mto'' 'river'; active things, such as ''moto'' 'fire', including active body parts (''moyo'' 'heart', ''mkono'' 'hand, arm'); and human groups, which are vital but not themselves human, such as ''mji'' 'village', and, by analogy, ''mzinga'' 'beehive/cannon'. From the central idea of ''tree'', which is thin, tall, and spreading, comes an extension to other long or extended things or parts of things, such as ''mwavuli'' 'umbrella', ''moshi'' 'smoke', ''msumari'' 'nail'; and from activity there even come active instantiations of verbs, such as ''mfuo'' "metal forging", from ''-fua'' "to forge", or ''mlio'' "a sound", from ''-lia'' "to make a sound". Words may be connected to their class by more than one metaphor. For example, ''mkono'' is an active body part, and ''mto'' is an active natural force, but they are also both long and thin. Things with a trajectory, such as ''mpaka'' 'border' and ''mwendo'' 'journey', are classified with long thin things, as in many other languages with noun classes. This may be further extended to anything dealing with time, such as ''mwaka'' 'year' and perhaps ''mshahara'' 'wages'. Animals exceptional in some way and so not easily fitting in the other classes may be placed in this class. The other classes have foundations that may at first seem similarly counterintuitive. In short, *Classes 1–2 include most words for people: kin terms, professions, ethnicities, etc., including translations of most English words ending in ''-er.'' They include a couple of generic words for animals: ''mnyama'' 'beast', ''mdudu'' 'bug'. *Classes 5–6 have a broad semantic range of groups, expanses, and augmentatives. Although interrelated, it is easier to illustrate if broken down: **Augmentatives, such as ''joka'' 'serpent' from ''nyoka'' 'snake', lead to titles and other terms of respect (the opposite of diminutives, which lead to terms of contempt): ''Bwana'' 'Sir', ''shangazi'' 'aunt', ''fundi'' 'craftsman', ''kadhi'' 'judge' **Expanses: ''ziwa'' 'lake', ''bonde'' 'valley', ''taifa'' 'country', ''anga'' 'sky' ***from this, mass nouns: ''maji'' 'water', ''vumbi'' 'dust' (and other liquids and fine particulates that may cover broad expanses), ''kaa'' 'charcoal', ''mali'' 'wealth', ''maridhawa'' 'abundance' **Collectives: ''kundi'' 'group', ''kabila'' 'language/ethnic group', ''jeshi'' 'army', ''daraja'' ' stairs', ''manyoya'' 'fur, feathers', ''mapesa'' 'small change', ''manyasi'' 'weeds', ''jongoo'' 'millipede' (large set of legs), ''marimba'' 'xylophone' (large set of keys) ***from this, individual things found in groups: ''jiwe'' 'stone', ''tawi'' 'branch', ''ua'' 'flower', ''tunda'' 'fruit' (also the names of most fruits), ''yai'' 'egg', ''mapacha'' 'twins', ''jino'' 'tooth', ''tumbo'' 'stomach' (cf. English "guts"), and paired body parts such as ''jicho'' 'eye', ''bawa'' 'wing', etc. ***also collective or dialogic actions, which occur among groups of people: ''neno'' 'a word', from ''kunena'' 'to speak' (and by extension, mental verbal processes: ''wazo'' 'thought', ''maana'' 'meaning'); ''pigo'' 'a stroke, blow', from ''kupiga'' 'to hit'; ''gomvi'' 'a quarrel', ''shauri'' 'advice, plan', ''kosa'' 'mistake', ''jambo'' 'affair', ''penzi'' 'love', ''jibu'' 'answer', ''agano'' 'promise', ''malipo'' 'payment' ***From pairing, reproduction is suggested as another extension (fruit, egg, testicle, flower, twins, etc.), but these generally duplicate one or more of the subcategories above *Classes 9–10 are used for most typical animals: ''ndege'' 'bird', ''samaki'' 'fish', and the specific names of typical beasts, birds, and bugs. However, this is the 'other' class, for words not fitting well elsewhere, and about half of the class 9–10 nouns are foreign loanwords. Loans may be classified as 9–10 because they lack the prefixes inherent in other classes, and most native class 9–10 nouns have no prefix. Thus they do not form a coherent semantic class, though there are still semantic extensions from individual words. *Class 11 (which takes class 10 for the plural) are mostly nouns with an "extended outline shape", in either one dimension or two: **mass nouns that are generally localized rather than covering vast expanses: ''uji'' 'porridge', ''wali'' 'cooked rice' **broad: ''ukuta'' 'wall', ''ukucha'' 'fingernail', ''upande'' 'side' (≈ ''ubavu'' 'rib'), ''wavu'' 'net', ''wayo'' 'sole, footprint', ''ua'' 'fence, yard', ''uteo'' 'winnowing basket' **long: ''utambi'' 'wick', ''utepe'' 'stripe', ''uta'' 'bow', ''ubavu'' 'rib', ''ufa'' 'crack', ''unywele'' 'a hair' ***from 'a hair', singulatives of nouns, which are often class 6 ('collectives') in the plural: ''unyoya'' 'a feather', ''uvumbi'' 'a grain of dust', ''ushanga'' 'a bead'. *Class 14 are abstractions, such as ''utoto'' 'childhood' (from ''mtoto'' 'a child') and have no plural. They have the same prefixes and concord as class 11, except optionally for adjectival concord. *Class 15 are verbal infinitives. *Classes 16–18 are locatives. The Bantu nouns of these classes have been lost; the only permanent member is the Arabic loan ''mahali'' 'place(s)', but in Mombasa Swahili, the old prefixes survive: ''pahali'' 'place', ''mwahali'' 'places'. However, any noun with the locative suffix ''-ni'' takes class 16–18 agreement. The distinction between them is that class 16 agreement is used if the location is intended to be definite ("at"), class 17 if indefinite ("around") or involves motion ("to, toward"), and class 18 if it involves containment ("within"): ''mahali pazuri'' 'a good spot', ''mahali kuzuri'' 'a nice area', ''mahali muzuri'' (it's nice in there).


Borrowings may or may not be given a prefix corresponding to the semantic class they fall in. For example, Arabic ''dūd'' ("bug, insect") was borrowed as ''mdudu'', plural ''wadudu'', with the class 1/2 prefixes ''m-'' and ''wa-'', but Arabic ''fulūs'' ("fish scales", plural of ''fals'') and English ''sloth'' were borrowed as simply ''fulusi'' ("mahi-mahi" fish) and ''slothi'' ("sloth"), with no prefix associated with animals (whether those of class 9/10 or 1/2). In the process of naturalization of borrowings within Swahili, loanwords are often reinterpreted, or reanalysed,See pp. 11 and 52 in Ghil'ad Zuckermann (2003), ''Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew''
Palgrave Macmillan
/ .
as if they already contain a Swahili class prefix. In such cases the interpreted prefix is changed with the usual rules. Consider the following loanwords from Arabic: #The Swahili word for "book", ''kitabu'', is borrowed from Arabic ''kitāb(un)'' "book" (plural ''kutub''; from the Arabic root ''k.t.b.'' "write"). However, the Swahili plural form of this word ("books") is ''vitabu'', following Bantu grammar in which the ''ki-'' of ''kitabu'' is reanalysed (reinterpreted) as a nominal class prefix whose plural is ''vi-'' (class 7/8). #Arabic ''muʿallim(un)'' ("teacher", plural ''muʿallimīna'') was interpreted as having the mw- prefix of class 1, and so became ''mwalimu'', plural ''walimu''. #Arabic ''madrasa'' school, even though it is singular in Arabic (with plural ''madāris''), was reinterpreted as a class 6 plural ''madarasa'', receiving the singular form ''darasa''. Similarly, English ''wire'' and Arabic ''waqt'' ("time") were interpreted as having the class 11 prevocalic prefix ''w-'', and became ''waya'' and ''wakati'' with plural ''nyaya'' and ''nyakati'' respectively.


Swahili phrases agree with nouns in a system of Agreement (linguistics), concord but, if the noun refers to a human, they accord with noun classes 1–2 regardless of their noun class. Verbs agree with the noun class of their subjects and objects; adjectives, prepositions and demonstratives agree with the noun class of their nouns. In Standard Swahili ''(Kiswahili sanifu)'', based on the dialect spoken in Zanzibar, the system is rather complex; however, it is drastically simplified in many local variants where Swahili is not a native language, such as in Nairobi. In non-native Swahili, concord reflects only animacy: human subjects and objects trigger ''a-, wa-'' and ''m-, wa-'' in verbal concord, while non-human subjects and objects of whatever class trigger ''i-, zi-''. Infinitives vary between standard ''ku-'' and reduced ''i-.'' ("Of" is animate ''wa'' and inanimate ''ya, za.'') In Standard Swahili, human subjects and objects of whatever class trigger animacy concord in ''a-, wa-'' and ''m-, wa-,'' and non-human subjects and objects trigger a variety of gender-concord prefixes.

Dialects and closely related languages

This list is based on ''Swahili and Sabaki: a linguistic history''.


Modern standard Swahili is based on ''Kiunguja,'' the dialect spoken in Zanzibar Town, but there are numerous dialects of Swahili, some of which are mutually unintelligible, such as the following:

Old dialects

Maho (2009) considers these to be distinct languages: *''Kimwani'' is spoken in the Kerimba Islands and northern coastal Mozambique. *''Bravanese dialect, Chimwiini'' is spoken by the ethnic minorities in and around the town of Barawa on the southern coast of Somalia. *''Kibajuni dialect, Kibajuni'' is spoken by the Bajuni people, Bajuni minority ethnic group on the coast and islands on both sides of the Somali–Kenyan border and in the Bajuni Islands (the northern part of the Lamu archipelago) and is also called ''Kitikuu'' and ''Kigunya''. *Socotra Swahili (extinct) *Sidi language, Sidi, in Gujarat (extinct) The rest of the dialects are divided by him into two groups: *Mombasa–Lamu Swahili **Lamu ***''Kiamu'' is spoken in and around the island of Lamu (Amu). ***''Kipate'' is a local dialect of Pate Island, considered to be closest to the original dialect of Kingozi. ***''Kingozi'' is an ancient dialect spoken on the Indian Ocean coast between Lamu and Somalia and is sometimes still used in poetry. It is often considered the source of Swahili. **Mombasa ***''Chijomvu'' is a subdialect of the Mombasa area. ***''Kimvita'' is the major dialect of Mombasa (also known as "Mvita", which means "war", in reference to the many wars which were fought over it), the other major dialect alongside Kiunguja. ***''Kingare'' is the subdialect of the Mombasa area. **''Kimrima'' is spoken around Pangani, Vanga, Dar es Salaam, Rufiji District, Rufiji and Mafia Island. **''Kiunguja'' is spoken in Stone Town, Zanzibar City and environs on Zanzibar, Unguja (Zanzibar) Island. Kitumbatu (Pemba) dialects occupy the bulk of the island. **Mambrui, Malindi **''Chichifundi'', a dialect of the southern Kenya coast. **Chwaka **''Kivumba'', a dialect of the southern Kenya coast. **Nosse Be (Madagascar) *Pemba Swahili **''Kipemba'' is a local dialect of the Pemba Island. **''Kitumbatu'' and ''Kimakunduchi'' are the countryside dialects of the island of Zanzibar. Kimakunduchi is a recent renaming of "Kihadimu"; the old name means "serf" and so is considered pejorative. **Makunduchi **Mafia, Mbwera **Kilwa (extinct) **''Kimgao'' used to be spoken around Kilwa District and to the south. Maho includes the various Comorian dialects as a third group. Most other authorities consider Comorian to be a Sabaki languages, Sabaki language, distinct from Swahili.

Other regions

Somalia Somalia,; ar, الصومال, aṣ-Ṣūmāl officially the Federal Republic of Somalia, is a country in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Ethiopia to the west, Djibouti to the Northwest, the Gulf of Aden to the north, the Indian Oce ...
, where the Afroasiatic languages, Afroasiatic Somali language predominates, a variant of Swahili referred to as Bravanese dialect, Chimwiini (also known as Chimbalazi) is spoken along the Benadir coast by the Bravanese people. Another Swahili dialect known as Kibajuni dialect, Kibajuni also serves as the mother tongue of the Bajuni people, Bajuni minority ethnic group, which lives in the tiny Bajuni Islands as well as the southern Kismayo region. In Oman, there are an estimated 22,000 people who speak Swahili. Most are descendants of those repatriated after the fall of the Sultanate of Zanzibar.Beate Ursula Josephi, ''Journalism education in countries with limited media freedom'', Volume 1 of Mass Communication and Journalism, (Peter Lang: 2010), p.96.

Swahili poets

* Shaaban bin Robert * Mathias E. Mnyampala * Euphrase Kezilahabi * Fadhy Mtanga * Christopher Mwashinga * Tumi Molekane * Dotto Rangimoto * Mohammed Ghassani * Sayyid Abdallah

See also

*Mandombe script *Swahili literature *UCLA Language Materials Project *Languages of Africa



*Ashton, E. O. ''Swahili Grammar: Including intonation.'' Longman House. Essex 1947. . *Irele, Abiola and Biodun Jeyifo. ''The Oxford encyclopedia of African thought, Volume 1''. Oxford University Press US. New York City. 2010.
Blommaert, Jan: Situating language rights: English and Swahili in Tanzania revisited
(sociolinguistic developments in Tanzanian Swahili) – ''Working Papers in Urban Language & Literacies'', paper 23, University of Gent 2003 * *Chiraghdin, Shihabuddin and Mathias E. Mnyampala. ''Historia ya Kiswahili''. Oxford University Press. Eastern Africa. 1977. *Contini-Morava, Ellen.
Noun Classification in Swahili
'. 1994. *Lambert, H.E. 1956. ''Chi-Chifundi: A Dialect of the Southern Kenya Coast''. (Kampala) *Lambert, H.E. 1957. ''Ki-Vumba: A Dialect of the Southern Kenya Coast''. (Kampala) *Lambert, H.E. 1958. ''Chi-Jomvu and ki-Ngare: Subdialects of the Mombasa Area''. (Kampala) *Marshad, Hassan A. ''Kiswahili au Kiingereza (Nchini Kenya)''. Jomo Kenyatta Foundation. Nairobi 1993. . *Nurse, Derek, and Hinnebusch, Thomas J. ''Swahili and Sabaki: a linguistic history''. 1993. Series: University of California Publications in Linguistics, v. 121.
Ogechi, Nathan Oyori: "On language rights in Kenya
(on the legal position of Swahili in Kenya)", in: ''Nordic Journal of African Studies'' 12(3): 277–295 (2003) *Prins, A.H.J. 1961. "The Swahili-Speaking Peoples of Zanzibar and the East African Coast (Arabs, Shirazi and Swahili)". ''Ethnographic Survey of Africa'', edited by Daryll Forde. London: International African Institute. *Prins, A.H.J. 1970. ''A Swahili Nautical Dictionary''. Preliminary Studies in Swahili Lexicon – 1. Dar es Salaam. *Sakai, Yuko. 2020. ''Swahili Syntax Tree Diagram: Based on Universal Sentence Structure''. Createspace. *Whiteley, Wilfred. 1969. ''Swahili: the rise of a national language''. London: Methuen. Series: Studies in African History.

External links

UCLA report on Swahili
*John Ogwana (2001

*[http://www.glcom.com/hassan/dictionary/swahili_dictionary.html List of Swahili Dictionaries] * {{Authority control Swahili language, Swahili culture Languages written in Latin script Northeast Coast Bantu languages Non-tonal languages in tonal families Agglutinative languages Languages of Kenya Languages of Burundi Languages of Uganda Languages of Tanzania Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Languages of the African diaspora