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KIKO ni nini (What is KIKO?)

Kuhusu Kiswahili (About Kiswahili)

Matamshi ya Kiswahili (Kiswahili pronunciation)

Sarufi ya Kiswahili (Kiswahili grammar)

WanaKIKO (KIKO Team)

Shukrani (Acknowledgement)



Why study Kiswahili?

Kiswahili, also known as Swahili, is one of the major languages spoken in Africa. It is the lingua franca of eastern and central Africa. Kiswahili is also used in other parts of the world. It is aired from radio broadcasts like British Broadcasting Service, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, and many others. It is heard in songs of famous singers like Miriam Makeba, Michael Jackson, and Lionel Ritchie.

Kiswahili words are also used in films. Expressions like hakuna matata ‘no problems’, and asante sana ‘many thanks’ from the movie The Lion King are familiar to many non-Kiswahili speakers. African-Americans refer to their annual cultural festival as Kwanzaa, a coined word from Kiswahili kwanza ‘first’. Principles and symbols used in this festival are expressed with Kiswahili words like the principle umoja ‘unity’ and the symbol mkeka ‘mat’. The festival’s preferred greeting is Habari gani? ‘What news?’ The Kwanzaa principles are modeled after similar principles set for Tanzania’s Arusha Declaration conceived by the late Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere (1967), the first president of the Republic of Tanzania.

Kiswahili is taught in academic institutions from Japan in the east to Mexico in the west. It can be used to fulfill language requirements and to prepare researchers for fieldwork in eastern Africa. Kiswahili language and its many varieties are of interest to linguistic researchers. Kiswahili provides interesting issues on language policies and language planning. The region’s many ethnic groups are relevant to anthropological research. The Olduvai Gorge is important to archeologists who are investigating human origins. To geologists, the region has the highest mountain (Mt Kilimanjaro), and the largest and deepest lakes (Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika respectively) in Africa. The source of the longest river (River Nile) in Africa is in this region.

Whatever area of research, knowledge of Kiswahili is essential. Some scholars who have studied Kiswahili cite the following reasons:

• Kiswahili serves as a good vehicle to general African culture
• Kiswahili has such an exciting and remarkable history
• Kiswahili has a long written tradition
• Knowledge of Kiswahili enhances credibility of a researcher on East African issues.

Who speaks Kiswahili?

Over 50 million people in eastern and central Africa speak Kiswahili. A little over 1 million people speak it as their first language. Most others speak Kiswahili either as a fluent second language or as a third or fourth language. First language speakers are found along the coast of east Africa stretching from southern Somalia to the border between Tanzania and Mozambique, and in the Indian Ocean islands of Unguja and Pemba (Zanzibar), Lamu, and the Comoro islands, and the north western part of Madagascar. However, in Tanzania, where Kiswahili is both the national and official language, children born in the last three decades speak it as their first language

Kiswahili belongs to the Bantu family of languages. Nouns are grouped into different classes according to their meaning. Human beings, for example, belong to one class: mtu ‘person’/watu ‘people’. Trees, on the other hand, belong to another class: mti ‘tree/miti ‘trees’. Diminutive and augmentative meanings are also expressed using the noun class system. The following different forms of the word ndege ‘bird’ indicate different sizes:

- ndege regular size
- kidege small size
- dege big size

Needless to say, Kiswahili has borrowed heavily from other languages such as Arabic, Portuguese, German, and other European and Asian languages. For example:

• numbers six (sita), seven (saba), and nine (tisa) as well as words like kitabu ‘book’ and subiri ‘wait’ are borrowings from Arabic.

• Other examples include:
• shule ‘school’ (German)
• bendera ‘flag’ (Portuguese)
• duka ‘store’ (Hindi)
• chai ‘tea’ Persian (Iran)

© African Studies Institute, University of Georgia.