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Cultural Close-up: About the Swahili Language


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Learn to Speak Swahili
Swahili is the official language of Tanzania and Kenya. Spoken by 130 million people, it is the lingua franca throughout most of East Africa, as well as parts of Central Africa. The language is heavily influenced by Arabic -- a result of the long-standing trading relationships in the region -- while many contemporary words are adapted from English. The main dialects of Swahili, or Kiswahili, as it is also called, are Kiunguja, Kimvita, and Kiamu.

Swahili has a long tradition of literary production, and poetry has been written in Swahili since at least the middle of the 17th century. It draws on Arabic, Persian, and Urdu literary sources. Though Swahili was originally only written in Arabic script, Latin script became more popular in the mid-19th century, and has since become standard. Many works of Western authors have been translated into Swahili, such as the well-known renderings of William Shakespeare's plays by Julius Nyerere.

Perhaps the most famous contemporary Swahili author is Shaaban Robert, a Tanzanian known for his poetry, children's literature, essays and novels.

Source: Microsoft Encarta Africana. ©1999 Microsoft Corporation. Used with permission.

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About the Swahili Language
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