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Distribution area of Swahili
Map © Monika Feinen

Swahili, called Kiswahili by native speakers, is one of the biggest Bantu languages in Africa. At the moment, there are reckoned more than 100 million speakers, and it is the lingua franca of eastern and central Africa.

It is the mother tongue of most people along the East Coast of Africa from northern Kenya up to northern Mozambique, including Zanzibar, Pemba and the archipelago of the Comoros. Kiswahili is national and official language in Kenia and Tanzania and one of the national languages in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Additionally, it is far spread in Uganda, Ruanda and Burundi. Due to the historical connection between the Middle East and the East African Coast, a remarkable high number of people speak Kiswahili in this region, especially in Yemen and Oman.

Kiswahili belongs to the family of Bantu languages and is second language for different ethnical groups that inhabit parts of the East African Coast traditionally. The Swahili language and culture has been influenced by Arabs end Persians, who have settled there a long time ago. This explains, why most of the  Kiswahili-native speakers are Muslim. Equally, Kiswahili has been influenced by some other languages, amongst them English, Portuguese and German. There are some words in Kiswahili, that have a German origin, e.g shule ‘Schule’ (school), kabuti/kaputi ‘Kapuze’ (hood) etc.

Kiswahili has a rich written tradition for hundreds of years. Originally, it was written down in Arabian letters, but the Latin alphabet was established as a standard by now, caused by the influence of European colonial powers. At the moment, Kiswahili is one of the broadcasting languages in all the bigger international radio stations, the German Wave (Deutsche Welle) inclusively.

Swahili is taught at the institute by Agnes Brühwiler.