How Did The Swahili Language Develop?


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Steve Theunissen Profile
The Swahili language developed among the descendants of Arabs who settled along the eastern coast of Africa. Their earliest known settlement is believed to date to 689 C.E. The Arabs married African women, principally those of the Bantu tribe. Thus Swahili has its basis in the Bantu languages, but is greatly influenced by the language of the Arabs and Indians. The name Swahili comes from the Arabic word "swahil," meaning "coasts," which identifies the place of origin of the tongue.

As a result of its use in trade, however, the vocabulary has been derived from many sources. The English will feel at home when they encounter words such as "bulangeti" for blanket, "kabati" for cupboard and "bulosho" for brush. The Portuguese will recognize "mesa" (table) and "manteka" (butter). Words also are derived from French and German.

Swahili has a logically developed grammar and a vocabulary of over 5,000 words. Many words give shades of meaning, certain ones corresponding with "patience," "forbearance," "perseverance," and so forth. Also single words can express a great deal. For example, "hajaiwapa" would be translated, "He has not yet given it to them."

Yet Swahili is not difficult to learn. Words are easy to pronounce, as well as to spell. There are such helpful simplifications as "water of fruits" for "juice," and "ship of bird" for "airplane." A vocabulary of 200 words is sufficient for most everyday conversations.

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