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Swahili is mainly spoken in East Africa by approximately 50 million people in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. In Tanzania and Kenya it is the official national language. However, for most people who speak Swahili it is not their native language. That's it for just 5 million of the said 50 million speakers.

Distribution of Swahili language, TanzaniaDistribution of Swahili language, TanzaniaPhoto: Slashme CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Swahili, called Kiswahili by the Tanzanians (the preposition "ki" indicates that it concerns a language), is still used in primary education, among other things. English is also widely used, including in secondary and higher education, in parliament and on official occasions.

Swahili is a mixed language of original bantu languages, strongly influenced by Arabic, Portuguese and Hindi. Swahili used to be a lingua franca or common trade language. The word Swahili comes from the Arabic "sawa hili", which means "from the coast".

Swahili has fifteen dialects of which Kiunguja is the most common. Other dialects include Kimvita, Kiamu, Kipemba, Kimtang'ata, Kimrima, Kiamu, Kipate, Kisiu, Kitikuu, Kivumba, Kingwana and Kingozi, a literary dialect used in classical Swahili poetry.

Special about Swahili is that every letter is pronounced, regardless of whether it is part of a group of consonants. If a letter is written twice, it is also spoken twice. In Swahili, the emphasis is almost always on the second to last syllable.

Furthermore, all tribes have their own language.

Some Swahili Words and Phrases


Heale, J. / Tanzania
Marshall Cavendish


Vlugt, B. / Kenia, Tanzania, Zanzibar

Waard, P. de / Reishandboek Tanzania

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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