Where is Swahili spoken?

Kiswahili is a Bantu language of a Niger-Congo family of languages. Native Swahili speakers call their language Kiswahili and call themselves ‘waswahili’. Swahili was originally spoken along the coast of East Africa but due to its rapid growth it is now spoken in East and Central Africa. Swahili is spoken in the following countries: Tanzania, Zanzibar, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Somalia, Northern Zambia, Northern Mozambique, Northern Malawi, and Southern Sudan and Djibouti. Other than Zanzibar Island, Swahili is also spoken by nearly the entire population of the Comorians (Comoro), and Mayotte Islands.  According to Wikipedia Swahili was still understood in the southern ports of the Red Sea and along the coasts of southern Arabia and the Persian Gulf in the twentieth century. The green color in a map of Africa below shows the area in which Swahili is spoken:


The yellow color shows countries and areas where Swahili is spoken in East and Central Africa.

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Source: University of Virginia

A number of factors have led to the rapid growth of Swahili language in the above-mentioned countries. Some factors include but not limited to, the media, commerce, education systems, the armies, and its role as a regional lingua franca. Swahili is a language of instruction (LOI) in Primary school in Tanzania, and a subject of study in higher education. Swahili is a compulsory school subject in primary and secondary education in Kenya. It is taught as a discipline in six out of the seven public universities. Swahili is also taught at the University of Makerere (Uganda), University of Kigali (Rwanda) and University of Bujumbura (Burundi). Swahili serves as a national or official language of five nations, namely, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Comoro, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Swahili in the World today

Swahili is one of the top seven major languages of world spoken by approximately 100 million speakers around the globe. Swahili is a popular African language and is mentioned to be one of the fastest growing languages of the world in terms of the number of speakers. Currently Swahili is among the official Lingua Francas of Africa and it is currently used as an official language in the African Union (AU) parliament. There are more than one hundred colleges and universities in total in Europe, North America, Africa and Asia offering Swahili courses in the world today. Of these, USA is leading by having many universities offering Swahili courses than any other country in the world. In Canada Swahili courses are taught at the University of Toronto, University of York, and University of Manitoba. There are several International Swahili radio networks in the world today such as the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation-UK), VOA (Voice of America-U.S.A.), Deutschewelle (Germany), RSA (Radio South Africa), Radio Cairo (Egypt), Radio Japan, Radio Beijing (China), All India Radio and Radio Moscow.

Although Swahili has many borrowed words from languages such as Arabic, English, German, Portuguese, Persian and Hindi, which comprise of 40% of the Swahili vocabulary. The process seems to be a reciprocal as there are some Swahili words and phrases that have been adopted in other languages. For example, the phrase ‘mumble-jumble’ in English might have evolved from a Swahili phrase nonsense phrase ‘mambo-jambo’ used for salutation. Also the word for journey in Swahili is ‘safari’ which is now an English word.

Various popular world movies such as the Last King of Scotland, Hotel Rwanda, the Lion King, Darwin’s Nightmare have used and promoted Swahili in one way of the other. Among the popular Swahili songs include: Malaika Nakupenda (I love you, Angel) by the late Miriam Makeba (Mama Africa) of South Africa, Hakuna Matata (No Worries) in the Lion King, Jambo Bwana (Hello Mister) by the Mushroom Band of Kenya, All Night Long (by Lionel Ritchie), Nakupenda Regina (I love you, Regina), the Liberian Girl (by Michael Jackson. You can check tons of Swahili Songs on U-tube.

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