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Thursday, June 7, 2018


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The Swahili language is spoken in several African countries. The major Swahili speaking countries are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Comoros Islands. Small communities equally exist in Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia.

It is widely debated how many people in the world speak Swahili, but most estimates say between 100 and 150 million.

Historically, Swahili has been a lingua franca in East Africa, or a language used as a way of communicating across different nationalities and tribal groups who speak different languages as their mother tongue. Swahili was a language that relatively few spoke as their first language, but which a significant amount of people speak as a second language. This is still the case today, despite the growing influence of English

Swahili is the national language of Tanzania, but despite this fact, only about 10% of the population speak Swahili as their mother tongue, whereas 90% speak it as a second language. In other Swahili-speaking countries the difference is even bigger.

The Countries Where Swahili Is Spoken

Some of the countries where Swahili is spoken

Roughly 10% of the Tanzanian population of 55 million speak Swahili as their native language. This makes for around 5,5 million native speakers.

The origin of Swahili, however, was a little more to the north, namely in Kenya, where the Swahili language developed from a Bantu language called Pokomo.

One would assume that since Swahili had its origins in Kenya, this country would have a large community of native Swahili speakers. This doesn’t seem to be the case, however, and despite most of the 47 million Kenyans being fluent in Swahili, almost no one speaks Swahili at home.

In The Democratic Republic of Congo, Swahili is spoken widely as a second language, but people who speak Swahili as their native language are very few.

Uganda used to speak Swahili at a much higher degree than it does today. One reason for the decline might be that Swahili was the language of the military. After political changes in Uganda, Swahili has fallen out of grace and has become a disliked language by many.

Recent initiatives by the Ugandan government has tried to push the teaching of Swahili forward, but with little luck. It’s difficult to find useful statistics detailing the exact number of Swahili speakers in Uganda, but it would appear that Swahili speakers in Kenya is a small minority.

About 20% of the Rwandan population speak Swahili as a second language.

In other countries such as Burundi, Malawi, Zambia, The Comoros Islands, Mozambique and Somalia, only small minorities speak Swahili.

A growing language

Kiswahili most likely originated on East Africa’s coast. It came about as a result of intermarriage between Bantu-speaking communities along the East African coast and Arabs who arrived at the coast from as early as before 10th C, AD. It then spread into the interior through trade, Christian activities such as missionary work, and exploration activities in the East African mainland.

Today the language is spoken widely in the larger Eastern Africa region as a lingua franca, a language used between people who don’t speak one another’s native language. It’s a national language in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and an official language of the East African Community which comprises Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan.

Its use is spreading to southern, western and northern Africa. Currently, however, none of these countries are teaching Kiswahili as a subject the way South Africa intends to; instead, it is generally a language of trade and inter-ethnic communication. However, it may not be long until more countries join South Africa in teaching it in classrooms since the language is spreading fast and becoming a household language in many of these countries in addition to its adoption as one of the official languages of the African Union.

Kiswahili is also a popular research subject at many South African universities. And it’s studied outside Africa, most particularly in the US and Europe. This global interest in the adoption of Kiswahili points at its growing international significance. This implies that its introduction into South African schools is a good move with multiple benefits.

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