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Swahili(swähē`lē) [Arab.,=coast people], name for some of the inhabitants of the Kenya, Tanzania, Somali, and Mozambique coasts, Zanzibar, and E Congo. Descendants of black Africans and Arab traders (who came to the E African coast about A.D. 500), the Swahili do not form a cohesive ethnic group but are loosely united by common economic pursuits (especially trade), by cultural traditions, and particularly by the use of the Swahili languageSwahili language,
member of the Bantu group of African languages (see African languages and Bantu languages). Swahili is spoken by 30 million people, chiefly in Tanzania, Kenya, Congo (Kinshasa), Burundi, and Uganda, and serves as a lingua franca for additional millions in E
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(also Waswahili), a people of East Africa living mainly on the coasts of Kenya and Tanzania and partly on the coasts of Mozambique, as well as on nearby islands.
The composition of the Swahili is very complex. They include descendants of the aboriginal population of the coastal zone and of the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia. This group intermingled with Indians, Arabs, and Persians who settled in these areas beginning in the first few centuries A.D. The descendants of the aboriginal population also intermingled with members of various tribes who had been brought by the Arabs to the same areas as slaves from the interior of Africa.
The name “Swahili” appeared approximately in the 12th century. It is derived from the Arabic sawahili (“coastal”) and means “coast dwellers.” In the Middle Ages the Swahili constituted the ethnic base of such East African city-states as Kilwa, Pate, and Malindi, which lost their independence in the 19th century. The total number of Swahili is not known, since persons of other nationalities who speak Swahili often call themselves Swahili. Approximately 50 million people are estimated to speak or understand Swahili.
The basic occupation of the Swahili is farming. Many of them live in cities, engaging in crafts and trade or working in industry. The majority of the Swahili are Muslims.
REFERENCESNarody Afriki. Moscow, 1954.
Misiugin, V. M. “Suakhiliiskaia khronika srednevekovogo gosu-sarstva Pate.” In the collection Africana. (Tr. In-ta elnografii: Novaia seriia, vol. 90.) Moscow-Leningrad, 1966.
(also Kiswahili), the official language of Tanzania and Kenya. It is also widespread in Uganda, in the southern part of the republic of Somalia, in eastern Zaïre, and in northern Mozambique. Swahili is the native language of about 50 million people (1970, estimate).
Swahili is spoken in the eastern part of the area dominated by the Bantu languages. It has about 20 dialects, including Kim vita, spoken in Mombasa; Kiamu, spoken in Lamu; Kiunguja (the basis of contemporary standard Swahili), spoken in Zanzibar; and Kingwana, spoken in Zaïre.
The phonetic and phonological features of Swahili include a system of five unchanging vowels and a consonant system complicated by the three consonants θ, ð, and γ, which are encountered only in roots of Arabic origin. In Swahili, the vowel and consonant alternation typical of the Bantu languages is morpho-phono-logical in nature.
The morphological features of Swahili include 12 concordant classes of words with monosyllabic prefixes. The locative is expressed by the suffix -ni, which changes the concordant pattern of a word to correspond to the meaning being expressed. There is an animate and an inanimate category. The verb system is considerably reduced in comparison to the other Bantu languages. The word order is subject-predicate-object; the dependent member precedes the governing member. The vocabulary contains a very large number of Arabic and English borrowings.
There is an abundant Swahili literature with ancient traditions. Periodicals are published in Swahili, and radio broadcasts are conducted in the language.
REFERENCESMiachina, E. N. lazyk suakhili. Moscow, 1960.
Ashton, E. O. Swahili Grammar, Including Intonation. London, 1964.
Loogman, A. Swahili Grammar and Syntax. Louvain (Belgium), 1965.
Johnson, F. A Standard English-Swahili Dictionary. London, 1960.
Johnson, F. A Standard Swahili-English Dictionary. London, 1955.
N. V. OKHOTINA