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Learn Swahili: Face-to-Face and Online Classes Offered

About Learning Swahili with Berlitz

Swahili, more correctly called Kiswahili, is the dominant language of East Africa. It is one of the official languages of both Tanzania and Kenya, and is also widely spoken in Uganda and Congo-Kinshasa. (In Congo-Kinshasa there is a separate dialect, known as Kingwana.) It also serves as a language of trade in Rwanda and Burundi. It is the mother tongue of only 5 million people, but perhaps as many 50 million others speak it fluently as a second language. No other native language of Africa can compare to Swahili in terms of number of speakers or in international standing.

Swahili is one of the Bantu languages, which form a branch of the Niger-Congo family. Its vocabulary has many words borrowed from Arabic. The name Swahili is derived from an Arabic word meaning “coastal,” as the language developed among Arabic-speaking settlers of the African coast beginning about the 7th century. During the 19th century it was carried inland by Arab tradesmen, and later was made the language of administration in the German colony of Tanganyika. In 1964 Tanganyika, together with Zanzibar, became Tanzania.

The Swahili alphabet lacks the letters c, q, and x (though there is a ch), but it contains a number of its own. The letter dh is pronounced like th of “this” (e.g., dhoruba – hurricane), gh like the German ch (ghali – expensive),and ng’ like the ng in “thing” but not as in “finger” (ng’ombe – cow). Whereas English grammatical inflections occur at the end of the word, in Swahili everything is done at the beginning. Kitabu is the Swahili word for “book” but the word for “books” is vitabu. This word falls into the so-called Ki Vi class, one of eight in the Swahili language. Others are the M Mi class
(e.g., mkono – hand, mikono – hands; mji – town, miji – towns), and the M Wa class, used mainly for people (mtu – man, watu – men; mjinga – fool, wajinga – fools). These prefixes are also carried over to verbs of which the noun is the subject, as well as to numerals and modifying adjectives. Thus “one big book” in Swahili is kitabu kimoja kikubwa (“book-one-big”), but “two big books” is vitabu viwili vikubwa.

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Authorized from the original edition of The Languages of the World 3rd edition by Keneth Katzner published by Routledge, a member of the Taylor & Francis Group.

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