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African Languages: Celebrate Swahili!

The Language Lovers Series, Part 5                                 

By Christine S. Maxwell

Six Interesting and Fun Facts about Swahili!

The Number of Swahili Speakers is Rising
Swahili is the official language of the East African countries of Tanzania, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is also the common language used by the peoples of East and Central Africa.

Estimates of the number of people who speak Swahili vary and range between 2 million and 15 million (See “Swahili Language”, The number of speakers continues to expand as the need for unification to share a common language for commerce, education, and culture ties increase. Current generations of Africans within the East and Central regions speak or study Swahili as a primary or as a secondary language.
Further Swahili speaking populations are growing in other countries with current migration and immigrations of Africans to other countries. Due to growth patterns, it is believed that Swahili will become a leading world language. (See University of Virginia: Swahili Website )

The Swahili Language Contains Influences from Many other Languages
The Swahili language has been influenced by many other languages, primarily Arabic and Persian. Swahili is derived from the Arabic word meaning boundary or coast. Early interaction with Arabs and Persians brought trade, culture and linguistic influences to Swahili. Portuguese words were introduced into the Swahili language during the Portuguese presence in those countries during the 16, 17, and 18th centuries. Great Britain and Germany also added their linguistic touches during the colonial periods of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Interestingly, the German colonization period brought unity to the Swahili language and sought a standard alphabet. It was during this period that the Roman alphabet was adopted by the Swahili language and a movement to nationalize the language of Swahili began.

Swahili is Used in Worldwide Communications and Arts
Swahili is used widely in radio communications throughout the world. The British Broadcasting Communications (BBC), Radio Cairo, and Voice of America are some of the radio stations that broadcast in Swahili.
Further, the Swahili language has been celebrated in the arts, most notably with the Disney movie, “The Lion King,” Swahili words are sprinkled throughout the movie, with Simba (Lion), Rafiki (Friend), Sarabi (Mirage) and, Pumbaa (foolish). See “10 Things You Didn’t Know about The Lion King,”
Similarly, the theme song of the movie, “Circle of Life” also contains Swahili chants as background music

Celebrations of Swahili music are readily available. Many feature the ululation of female singers, a trilling sound to express joy and greetings.

Watch YouTube Video “Simulia Sifa”
Also, watch “Bwana Yesu Ametamalak” by Churchill Ojak Chris for additional musical flavor.

Swahili is Deemed a Critical Language by the US Department of State
The US Department of State has added Swahili to its list of 14 critical languages. Opportunities to receive fellowships for studies can be viewed here for 2017.
Listed here is the link for The Critical Language Scholarship Program for 2017, sponsored by the United States Department of State:

Opportunities Abound in the US Universities to Study Swahili
Recognizing the need to train more speakers of Swahili, many US universities now offer courses in the Swahili language. Among those offering instruction: American University, University of Illinois, Stanford University, St. Lawrence University, University of Virginia, University of California (Berkeley), Boston University, Howard University, and Morgan University. Many of the Ivy League schools, including Princeton, Harvard and Yale Universities, and the University of Pennsylvania also offer programs of study in Swahili. Google Swahili language programs for more university options.

Duolingo Hatches a Free Swahili Program!
Duolingo, the free internet/app program of languages recently announced its development of a Swahili program. Almost ready for Beta testing, Duolingo expects to release the Swahili program in December 2016.
See “Swahili Opportunities for English Speakers,”

The time is ripe to learn the beautiful language of Swahili. Expand your cultural and career opportunities with Swahili now!

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