Swahili 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 Africa, including Europeans, Arabs, and Indians as well as Africans. It is also now the official language of Kenya and Tanzania and has the largest number of speakers of the Bantu group of languages. Although grammatically a Bantu tongue, Swahili has been greatly influenced by Arabic, from which it has borrowed many words. It is the vehicle of a noteworthy literature that goes back to the beginning of the 18th cent. and is written in a form of the Arabic alphabet. In the second half of the 19th cent., missionaries introduced the Roman alphabet for recording Swahili. Since then writing has flourished, and some native authors of distinction have appeared.
See E. C. Polomé, Swahili Language Handbook (1967); E. N. Myachina, The Swahili Language (1981).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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