Swahili People

Name ID 596

See also

CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers

The Swahili are not an ethnic unit


The Swahili are not an ethnic unit but the coastal dwellers of a number of East African countries. They speak dialects of the Swahili tongue, structurally a Bantu language but with many borrowings from Arabic. The name Swahili, derived from an Arabic word meaning 'coast', can be applied to nearly half a million East Africans whose culture, trading economy, and language developed with the spread of Islam after Arab traders arrived among them about AD 500. The language is a lingua franca across East Africa to Zambia and the Congo and in places as distant as south Arabia, the Persian Gulf, and even the coast of Pakistan.

Extract ID: 1368

See also

CD Groliers Encyclopedia
Extract Author: William E Welmers
Page Number: 3.7


The Benue-Congo branch of Niger-Congo includes a number of groups of languages in northern and eastern Nigeria, most not widely spoken, and almost all languages of the great southern projection of Africa from Nigeria to northern Kenya to Capetown. The latter are the well-known Bantu languages. Apart from Bantu, the most widely used Benue-Congo language is Tiv in Nigeria; it is spoken by perhaps 1.4 million people. The Bantu languages were long thought to be an independent language family, partly because of the vast area in which they are spoken, the large number of languages that can be considered Bantu, and the large number of their speakers. More than one-third of the most widely used languages in Africa are Bantu languages. In terms of linguistic relationships, however, the Bantu languages are only an enormously overgrown subgroup within the Benue-Congo branch.

Most Bantu language names, as used by their own speakers, consist of a prefix and a stem. What is widely known as 'Swahili', for example, is properly KiSwahili; in written references, the stem -Swahili is capitalized, since non-Africans commonly use the stem alone. According to this convention, the following Bantu languages, each spoken by a million or more people, may be distinguished:

KiKongo and LiNgala (Zaire);

Umbundu (Angola);

IsiZulu and IsiXhosa, which are largely mutually intelligible (South Africa);

SeSotho, SePedi, Setswana, which are largely mutually intelligible (Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa); ChiShona (Zimbabwe); ChiBemba (Zambia and Zaire); ChiNyanja (Malawi); ShiTswa (Mozambique); KinyaRwanda and KiRundi, which are mutually intelligible (Burundi and Rwanda); LuGanda (Uganda); GiKikuyu (Kenya); KiSwahili (Tanzania, Kenya, and, to some extent, Uganda and Zaire). Of these languages, KiSwahili is the most widely spoken; however, for a vast majority of its 20 to 30 million speakers, Swahili is a second language, although they may speak it fluently.

Extract ID: 482