The Swahili Language


Learning a language?
Have a look at our partner website, Italki, where you can meet language exchange partners for free, or learn on Skype with personal, customi(s/z)ed lessons. Buy your first lesson, and get your second lesson free. Check out the link in the description below. Hello, everyone! Welcome to the Langfocus channel,
and my name is Paul. Today, I am going to talk about the Swahili language, or “Kiswahili,” as it’s called in Swahili. And by the way, “ki” is a prefix that means “language.” Swahili is one of the most widely
spoken languages in Africa; and if we only consider languages that are native to Africa,
then, it is the most widely spoken. It is widely spoken over a wide area of East Africa. The number of native speakers of Swahili is actually
rather small — somewhere between 5 and 15 million — but it is widely spoken as a lingua franca
that unites the linguistically diverse population. Estimates vary, but the total number of proficient speakers,
if we include second-language and third-language speakers, could be as high as 150 million, or even more. Swahili is an official language in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and it’s spoken widely in other countries
like Rwanda and Burundi. The closely related Comorian language, spoken in Comoros,
is also sometimes considered a dialect of Swahili. Chances are that you know a little bit of Swahili already,
whether you know it or not. If you’ve seen the Disney movie “The Lion King”,
then you know the name “Simba”. “Simba” means “lion” in Swahili. And maybe you remember Nala.
“Nala” means “gift” in Swahili. Then, there’s Rafiki.
“Rafiki” means “friend” in Swahili. And of course, there’s Pumba.
“Pumba” means “stupid” in Swahili. And of course, there’s “hakuna matata.”
“Hakuna matata” means “no worries” in Swahili. Simba, nala, rafiki, pumba, hakuna matata. Swahili is one of the Bantu languages. That’s a traditional branch
of the Niger-Congo language family. There are around 250 Bantu languages, depending
on what we consider a language versus a dialect. The history of Swahili is somewhat unclear,
but it originally developed as a language
of coastal areas of Kenya and Tanzania. Fishermen spread the language to nearby islands,
then over the following centuries, traders from these islands
spread the language to a larger area of the coast. Today, this coastal region, stretching
from southern Somalia all the way to Mozambique, is where most of Swahili’s native speakers are found. The areas where Swahili was spoken had a lot
of interaction with foreign traders, particularly those
from the Middle East, throughout the Middle Ages. One of the main commodities the traders were seeking
was cloves. So Persian and Arabic traders established
cloves farms in the Zanzibar Archipelago. And they also established trading settlements,
along the mainland coast. With both foreign traders and local African Swahili
speaking traders settling along the new trade route, Swahili absorbed many foreign loanwords,
especially from Arabic. In fact, the name of the language itself “Swahili”
comes from Arabic. The Arabic word for coast is “sāHil”
and the plural form is “sawāHil” So, with the prefix “ki”, Kiswahili means
“the language of the coasts”. In large part, this interaction between foreign Muslim
traders and local Africans is what made
the Swahili language what it is today, a Bantu language with a large number of
loanwords from other languages, especially Arabic. but also Persian, Malay and other languages too. Contact with European colonial powers
also influenced Swahili. Portugal began establishing colonies in East Africa
in 1505 CE, including in Zanzibar and
along the Kenya and Tanzanian coasts. And, as you might predict, this led to the adoption
of some Portuguese vocabulary. But, by about 1730 CE, Omani Arabs had retaken that region
from the Portuguese and re-establish control over it. Around that time, in the early 18th century,
Swahili spread further inland with Arab ivory
and slave trade caravans. This brought Swahili to more inland areas of Kenya and
Tanzania, to the eastern part of Congo, Northern Uganda
and Rwanda and Burundi In the mid 18th century, the British
and the Germans began colonizing the area. Germany took Tanganyika
or modern-day Tanzania as a colony and 1886. And the British took control of Kenya,
then called the “East Africa Protectorate” in 1895. And they both encourage the use of Swahili as
a national language to unite the population,
which spoke dozens of different languages Germany made Swahili, the official
and administrative language in Tanganyika, while the British made English the official language
at the highest levels in Kenya. English was the language
for national administration and for higher education, but Swahili was made the language for
local administration and for primary education. In order to help spread the Swahili language,
it needed to be standardized. So, in 1928, a conference was called for this purpose
and the dialect of Zanzibar was chosen as the basis
for the standard language Its status as an official language or national language
as well as the language of education has made Swahili widely spoken as a 2nd or 3rd language in Kenya and
Tanzania and in the eastern part of the Dem. Rep. of Congo. In Tanzania, around 80% of the people can speak it
and, amongst the younger generations, it is becoming more widely spoken as
a native language, especially in the urban areas. And the situation is similar in Kenya. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s most widely
spoken in the eastern part of the country. But, in total, around 50% of the population
are proficient in the language. It is also fairly widely spoken in Rwanda and Burundi
and to some extent in Uganda as well. But, even though Swahili has been made
an official language in Uganda
and it is compulsory to learn in schools, a lot of people are not interested in learning it
and a lot of schools haven’t actually been teaching it. At least, that’s what I hear. So what is Swahili like? Well, it used to be written in the Arabic script. But, because of European colonial influence,
it is now written in the Latin script. And it’s written phonetically, so that each letter
represents just one sound in the language. Swahili has five vowel sounds which are
always fully pronounced and not reduced. There are no diphthong. So that means that
there are no combination of vowels pronounced
as a single syllable like “ai”or “au” or “ou” If you see two vowel side by side,
they have to be pronounced as separate syllables. This makes the phonology generally quite easy to learn.
And all Swahili consonants have English equivalents. But there are some things to be careful of, too. Nasal consonants can come before other consonants,
with no vowel in between. For example: “mtoto” means “child” “mbwa” means “dog” “ndizi” means “banana” Learning how to pronounce these sounds together
maybe a challenge at first, if you’ve never spoken
a language with that feature before. There are no articles in Swahili.
There is no equivalent to “a” or “the” in the language. Swahili has a system of noun classes. Noun classes are categories of different types
of nouns that are represented by specific prefixes. In most cases,
one singular and one plural for each type of noun. First the “m-wa” class. Nouns in this class represent people or animals beings. Words with the “m” prefix are singular,
those with the “wa-” prefix are plural. For example:
baby ->mtoto ; babies ->watoto
insect ->mdudu ; insects ->wadudu Another class is the “m-mi” class.
Nouns in this class represent trees or plants. Words with “m-” or “mu-” prefix are singular
while those with the “mi-” prefix are plural. tree : mti ; trees ->miti. Another class is the “n-n” class. This class includes a wide variety of nouns
including some animals, loanwords
and miscellaneous other words. This is the biggest of the noun classes,
because of all the loan words in Swahili. And for this class, the “n-” prefix denotes
both singular and plural. Bird : ndege ; Birds : ndege But this class gets quite complicated and sometimes,
the prefix changes. It changes to a “m-” sound
like an “m” before a “b” or a “v”. Wine : mvinyo ; Wines : mvinyo And other words in this class lose their prefix altogether. So it’s interesting to note that, in English, the plural form
is indicated by the “s” suffix, at the end of the word. But, in Swahili, it’s indicated by a prefix
at the beginning of the word. Noun classes are known to be one of
the biggest challenges facing learners of Swahili. Nouns class prefixes are also applied
to adjectives that modify those nouns. So the word for “good”. The base form is “-zuri”. But we add a prefix into.
“mtu mzuri” means “a good person”
“watu wazuri” means “good people”. So the prefix changes not only on the noun,
but also on the adjective. Adverbs can be formed from the base form
of the adjective by adding the prefix v. Good : -zuri ; Well : vizuri Bad : -baya ; Badly : Vibaya. Here’s an example sentence :
“Alisoma vibaya”=”he read badly” Adverbs can also be formed from nouns
by adding the word “kwa” before them “siri” means “secret”
“kwa siri” means “secretly”. Aside from noun classes, the other main thing about
Swahili that require some adjustment from learners
is the verbal system. In Swahili, a basic verb consists of a subject prefix,
a tense marker, an object infix, if the object is not a separate word, and the verb stem. Here are some examples. “Alinipa kitabu”. This means “he gave me the book”. “a” is the subject pronoun meaning “he” .
“li” is the tense marker indicating past tense. “ni” is the object marker for “me”
and “pa” is the verb stem meaning “give” And “kitabu” it means “book”,
and that’s a loanword from Arabic. We can change the tense of the sentence,
by changing the tense marker. “…” So this means “he will give me the book”,
in the future tense. So we changed “li”, the past tense marker,
to “ta”, the future tense marker. Now let’s change the subject of the sentence.
“….” that means “you will give me the book”. So we changed the subject prefix from
“a”, which means “he”, to “u”, which means “you”. One interesting thing is that
there are negative subject prefixes. That means we can make the sentence negative
by using a different subject pronoun. Here’s an example : “Hatanipa kitabu”
That means “he will not give me the book”. So remember the positive form was “atanipa kitabu”
that meant “he will give me the book” but we change the “a” to “ha”
and that is the negative equivalent of the subject prefix. So every subject prefix has a negative equivalent
and you have to remember both and you have to think
about which one to use when you’re speaking. The basic syntax of Swahili is SVO,
when there is no object infix. This means “Elephants eat grass”. In the sentence, “tembo” means “Elephantz”;
“wa” equals “they”, that’s the subject prefix; “na” equals present tense marker;
“kula” equals “eat” and “nyasi” equals grass. So you can see that, when we use a specific noun as
the subject, we still use the subject prefix attached to the verb. Another example “Ninapenda kula”
This means “I love eating” “Ni” is the subject marker meaning “I”
“na” is the present tense marker
“penda” equals “love” and “kula” equals “eating”. And of course, that’s SVO
(Rem : SVO=subject-verb-object) Is Swahili easy to learn? Well, the pronunciation is known for
being very straightforward. And the grammar is very logical but it’s also very different,
unless you’ve studied a Bantu language before. The noun class system and the verbal system with
all of its affixes require some extra attention to learn. And, for English speakers, the lack of immediately
recognizable vocabulary might be a challenge. But, if you happen to speak Arabic, then you will
immediately recognize lots of Swahili vocabulary. Here are some examples:
“hatari” comes from Arabic KhaTar, which means danger “safari” comes from Arabic “safar” which means “travel” “mahali” comes from Arabic “maHal” which means “place”. “kitabu” comes from the arabic “kitab” which means “book”. “baridi” comes from the Arabic “baarid” which means “cold”. And that’s just a small sample.
There are lots of Arabic words in Swahili. Although the pronunciation has adapted
to fit into the Swahili phonological system. Swahili is a unique product
of the history of the East African coast and the interaction of the local Bantu people
with foreign traders from the Middle East and elsewhere. It is becoming more widely spoken and
continues to grow as a lingua franca in East Africa. If you’re planning on living or traveling in the region or if you just want to learn about Africa and some of
its cultures, then Swahili would be a great language to learn. So the question of the day :
for people who have studied Swahili: What did you find challenging about it?
And what did you find straightforward or simple about it? and for proficient speakers of Swahili: how widely spoken is Swahili in your area ? Is it mostly spoken as a second or third language?
Or are there lots of native speakers as well? Let us know in the comments down below. Now, for anyone who doesn’t follow Langfocus
on Twitter or on Facebook or on Instagram, why not? My name is “/langfocus” on all of those different social
media channels. So you can have a look for me there
and be sure to follow Langfocus. I’d like to say thank you to all of my Patreon supporters.
Thank you for your continued support. You are very much appreciated, even the people
who just pledged one dollar a month, that’s all very helpful. So thank you for watching and have a nice day.

100 Replies to “The Swahili Language

  1. Moja ya video bora kabisa za kufundisha Kiswahili. Hongera sana kaka!
    One of the best Swahili teaching videos. Congrats bro!
    You got it absolutely right, except for NALA, Nala is a coastal way of saying 'Nakula' meaning I'm eating.
    You know here in Tanzania, we the coastal natives, consider ourselves the best Swahili speakers, from Dar, Tanga, Mombasa to Lamu(Kenya). Unfortunately, the Kenyans from the interior are the worst.Nairobians have this awful thing called Sheng, it sucks! I always fail to understand them when they speak.
    "Swahili was born in Tanzania and died in Kenya"🤣🤣

  2. Swahili language is original from Tanzania after east Africa community other country they start speaking swahili has first language

  3. Point of correction Kenya was not a protectorate of the British but a colony….big difference there ,…your analysis was on point about the language its self….kiswahili is amazing that the other name for a baby is mwana and if you move to most African countries you will find that that is the word they use

  4. I am a Kenyan and Kiswahili is widely spoken informally, even in rural areas. You summarised the language perfectly.
    It's also true there are different ways to speak it. Most people speak it plainly but they are those who speak it in terms of proverbs or sayings per say. And that confuses most people.😊

  5. I don’t know how long it took this man to find out about Kiswahili but I can say he has done a fantastic job. I am from Zanzibar Tanzania living in UK I give this guy 👍👍👍👍👍 because he worked so hard to explain and show in pictures what it means how to speak the language. I love your work.

  6. True except for Nala which does not mean gift. It means I eat. If you tell someone nala it means I eat in the sense of “this I eat” in a variety of food”. Gift is Zawadi. All in all great input

  7. I speak Shona it’s a language spoken in Zimbabwe and a lot of the works or how they are spoken in past and present terms resembles Swahili a lot ,am sure this Swahili will be super easy for me to learn

  8. The strange thing about Kiswahili or swahili language is the only language that the way you wrote it is how you pronounce it.

  9. Am Ugandan and Swahili is widely spoken in the eastern where am from and far western parts. And am proud to be a Swahili speaker

  10. Hi. I am a native Kiswahili speaker from Kenya and its my L1.

    Just a bit of info to add:
    The noun classes you mentioned are called "Ngeli"
    Initially they were as you presented, but they were changed a few decades ago.

    M-Mi is now U-I
    M-Wa is now A-Wa
    N-N is now I-I
    Theres also Ki-Vi, Li-Ya, I-Zi
    Etc etc
    This was in a bid to make learning kiswahili easier by using the subject pronoun in both singular and plural to name the classes (ngeli) for example
    Mtoto analia – Watoto wanalia
    (The baby is crying – The babies are crying)

    Here we are using "a" from analia (singular form) and "wa" from wanalia (plural) to form A-Wa class.
    Same to M-Mi
    Eg. Mti ulikatwa – Miti ilikatwa
    (The tree was cut – The trees were cut)
    We take the "u" from ulikatwa and the "i" from ilikatwa to form Ngeli ya U-I
    Hope it makes sense.
    I am not great at teaching so I can't really explain well the reasons behind it.

    Also all nouns indicating living things were put into A-Wa class regardless of their form so that their conjugation can be the same all through. Eg you can't say ndege hii (when u are speaking of a bird since its a living thing you say ndege huyu, ndege hawa, hence A-Wa class) but the same word can also be used to refer to a plane in which case it will be ndege hii, ndege hizi (I-Zi class)

    Maybe just have a look at a few primary/secondary kiswahili textbooks such as Kiswahili Mufti or Kiswahili Sanifu. They explain better.

    Great video I loved the explanations!

  11. This clarified a few things for me, thanks. The grammar is a bit difficult to learn at first, but logical. Also, I find when learning vocabulary, especially verbs, there isn’t much to “grab onto” from my own language.

  12. I've always wanted a video that will explain how swahili started..I'm an Arab born and raised in Kenya…we speak kiswahili and Arabic at home..Amazing video i love it keep it up.

  13. I saw this guy yesterday, with my teacher of english hhhh distinguish american and british it was all bout.so,from Burundi I know swahili too much, ila kafanya utafiti wa kutosha haki yamungu yaani kuna vitu ambavyo nilisikia sikukua najua, so cheers bro like you most

  14. Pumba is not stupid, it's the remains from grains after sifting and sieving normally referred to as bran (maize bran, wheat bran)
    Pumbavu/mpumbavu may refer to a fool, not stupid.

  15. Kiswahili is widely spoken in Tanzania, Once y'all mention Countries that speak Kiswahili You should start to name Tanzania, Bcoz Out here we speak kiswahili daily we do not use English or Other Foreign Language in our daily communication

  16. NO NO NO YOU FOR GATE TO SAYS IS NOT TANGANYIKA COMAN SWHILI IS ZANZIBARI IS BAGAMOYO DARESALAMU UNGUJA PEMBA MWAMBASA SWAHILI IS COMALL Language BUT STUPITE POLITIKS THEY ZANZIBARI ZANZIBARI ZANZIBARI LANGUEGE

  17. Good video about Swahili language…
    Hi from Tanzania

    Video nzuri kuhusu lugha ya Kiswahili…

    Salamu kutoka Tanzania!

  18. Well done,I am native and professional speaker as well, wonder how have you managed to give such a great explanation about Swahili. Big up ..

  19. Baajun sawaxili Kenya kismaya kakulumestan waana keenya usooshaqa tagi Murray soomali kismayo qaasahan hadiya shadle sooshaqatontay wax dhacay aba yeelanayo sacuudi yaa oogabadan shadle ajaanib ilaahow and Ken uusan wax lagu ilaalisa walbe sacudiga iyana malamud noqon Toronto Hasan laga hor Iman keenya booked iyo ameerika dulmigis gumesiga wuu markas xaday dad jinsiyo ladilay ina lasin basabor jinsiyad dad dhulkis lasiiyay dad kale hoowla badan hub uusuq help kiliyo iyo wadno uubeecsado dad kale kabixi kuqanca kurakibo ilaa uukato kanisadihis lacagti siudib Olga ceshto Susan wadamadod maal kashan hu maan iyo caqli guuran intee mare xafisyada masodhafi kattan

  20. Pumba is actually derived from Pumbavu just like Mshenzi from Shenzi. Initially Pumba was meant to be Animal Feeds made out of a Mixture of grains. But it became a swear Word or used as insult because of its cheap nature just like Ngurue or maziwa lala or debe tupu, gunia na kadhalika.

  21. The language structure is very simila to Shona language. We have a lot of similar words too, Nguruve, mbudzi-mbuzi.

    It's Funny that in my language
    Ndege is Aeroplane
    Hahahah

  22. amazing,I've never seen such a thng,wonderful…how good is Kiswahili,u a welcome guyz to learn en speak Swahili,our fantastic lang

  23. You are right about how many countries speak swahili but i want to make this clear, Tanzania is the home swahili and all other countries you have mentioned learn from them,in Tz all people speak and understand swahili clearly unlike kenya,uganda and rwanda, bakita was founded in early 80's which means baraza la kiswahili Tanzania while kenya has just done that in 2019.

  24. Somalian in Somalia do not speak swahili, only the NFD somalian "a somali region that is part of Kenya" speak the language. Uganda has it's own language and alot of ugandese don't speak the language too

  25. Wholeheartedly we do thank you a million time to let us know more about our important language which is Kiswahili. As far as burundian I am, it's obvious that kiswahili language is spoken and even to be taught in most level of studies which means that soon will be known and spoken by everyone in the country. Moreover , it should be better if this language becomes common in all african countries so that it will enable those who will travel from a country to another when communicating. Thank u very much.

  26. Rafiki means my freind, In Arabic, literally Rafik is someone with whom we share things of life… Nala is the arabic verb for to win, to earn… By extension it became Gift.

  27. False, swahili is both Arabic, Portuguese and Spanish 10% of Bantu.. Swahili was spoken when omanis kicked out the Portuguese not before that..

  28. I'm From Tanzania…Thanks a lot, this will light up Swahili more to the other people around the word… To be hosted Swahili is the best language and very simple to learn.
    Keep on doing this… Thanks again

  29. As a Sudanese i wish the new government make sawahili an important language like back in the days considering we are jn east africa. Its not hard for us since we speak arabic and many arabic words are in sawahili

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