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PanAfriL10n - PanAfrLoc - Swahili

Swahili - Kiswahili

1.  Classification / Classification

Swahili is in the Swahili subgroup of Coastal Bantu (Guthrie G42). (Webbook)

Ethnologue lists the classification as: Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, G, Swahili (G.40)


2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

It is a major language spoken in many dialect forms throughout East Africa, spoken primarily in the Sahil (coastal) region of East Africa, from northern Mozambique (including the Comoros, though dialects there are rather different), throughout Tanzania and Kenya and north to mid-Somalia. (Webbook, with modifications)

It is also spoken in eastern Dem. Rep. of the Congo (RDC) and to a degree in Uganda and Rwanda. (UCLA-LMP)

Map from Wikipedia on right shows areas where Swahili is spoken.


3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

Over 50 million (UCLA-LMP)

According to Ethnologue:

  • 6,356 in Burundi (2000 WCD)
  • 131,000 in Kenya
  • 2,744 in Mayotte (1993 Johnstone)
  • 9,232 in Mozambique (2000 WCD)
  • 40,000 in Somalia (1992)
  • 1,000 in South Africa (1987 Schreck and Barrett)
  • 540,837 in Tanzania (2000 WCD)
  • 2,330 in Uganda (2000 WCD)
  • Population total all countries: 772,642
  • 30,000,000 rural people are second-language users

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

There is a standard (literary) form of Swahili, and many dialectal variants (see Heine, 1980, for more details). (Webbook)

According to UCLA-LMP:
"A large number of dialects are distinguished among Swahili speakers and scholars. They are almost without exception all mutually intelligible, differing primarily in certain phonological and lexical features. The dialect of Swahili referred to as Standard Swahili was established in 1930 by the Inter Territorial Language Committee and was based on the coastal dialect of Zanzibar, Kiunguja. The standard language spoken in Tanzania is often referred to as Kisanifu.

"Besides Kiunguja, other Swahili linguistic variants (or dialects) are Kimakunduchi (or Kihadimu) and Kitumbatu (both spoken in the rural parts of Zanzibar); Kipemba (Pemba Island); Kimtang'ata (Tanga Town and environs); Kimrima (along the coast of Tanzania, opposite Zanzibar); Kimvita and other related dialects (Mombasa and environs); Kiamu, Kipate and Kisiu, etc. (the Lamu Archipelago); Kitikuu (the Lamu Archipelago and along the coasts of northern Kenya into southern Somalia); Kivumba (Wasini Island and Vanga); Kingwana (RepDemCongo); and Kingozi, a literary dialect used in classical Swahili poetry."


5.  Usage / Utilisation

Swahili is the official language of Tanzania and an official language in RDC and Kenya. It is a language of instruction in Tanzania and is used extensively in East Africa as a trade language or as a lingua franca. Swahili is heard on various national and international radio broadcasts. Swahili periodicals include, in Kenya, Taifa Leo (daily), Chemsha Bongo (weekly), Afrika ya Kesho (monthly), and various trade and religious papers. In Tanzania there are two dailies, Kipanga and Uhuru, as well as numerous other periodicals. Literature in Swahili is extensive. (Webbook)


6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

Swahili has a standardized orthography, although there are slight variations among countries. (Webbook) [details?]

A Roman-based alphabet has been used for writing Swahili since the mid-nineteenth century. It was adopted and regularized into a standard orthography in the 1930s. Some of the older generation of speakers along the coast and on the coastal islands still use the Arabic-based orthography, but it is not being learned by the young. (UCLA-LMP)

Apparently the recent Mandombe script has been adapted for Swahili. It is not clear to what extent it may actually be used, however.

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

Latin alphabet:


7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

Common fonts used for English are all that is necessary for the standard Latin orthography.

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

No special Swahili keyboards are known of. An English keyboard can be used.

7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet

There is a fair amount of Swahili content on the web, although Swahili still ranks below many less widely spoken European languages.

Wikipedia in Swahili at http://sw.wikipedia.org/

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

a) Already localised / Déjà localisés

Jambo OpenOffice in Swahili, localised by KiLinux (klnX), which is an Open Swahili Localization Project started by the joint effort between the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) and the Swedish IT consultancy company, IT +46.

Microsoft has localised

There is a linguistically very advanced Swahili Spellchecker (based upon finite-state transducers), which comes as a standalone, or integrated in MS Word, from Lingsoft, http://www.lingsoft.fi/, with further development into information retrieval and machine translation, by Arvi Hurskainen. As of June 2007 this was licensed to Microsoft for use in its products (Lingsoft).

Swahili software for children: a drawing program called "TuKsi Koti la Rangi" (Tux Paint in Swahili). See:

b) Projects / Projets

Juasun has projects for localising Mozilla and Linux http://www.juasun.net/prj.html or http://www.juasun.net/swahili/prjz.html

Ubuntu Swahili Translators Team (1 person as of 1/2007) https://launchpad.net/~ubuntu-i18n-sw

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue

  • ISO 639-1: sw
  • ISO 639-2: swa
  • ISO/DIS 639-3: swa

Swahili (specific) [?]

  • ISO/DIS 639-3: swh

Swahili, Congo

  • ISO/DIS 639-3: swc

7.6  Locales / Paramètres régionaux

7.7  Other / Autre

The Local Language Speech Technology Initiative (LLSTI) http://www.llsti.org/ has a text-to-speech (TTS) system for Swahili. This was developed as a collaboration among LLSTI, the University of Nairobi, and the Open Knowledge Network (OKN). Its main application so far has been in SMS text messages on cellphones. This effort is now being run by a local organisation, "Mobile for Good" (M4G) http://www.mobile4good.com

The Kamusi Project "Internet Living Swahili Dictionary" is a longstanding collaborative online project for Swahili and Swahili-English dictionaries: http://www.kamusiproject.org

Google has a version localized in Swahili: http://www.google.com/intl/sw/


8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

Software development

Content development

Specialized applications

  • Dr. Martin Benjamin, Kamusi Project (formerly known as Kamusi Online Living Swahili Dictionary)
  • Prof. Arvi Huskainin, University of Helsinki (corpus, language tools)

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

Swahili Advanced Computer Applications (message board): http://www.quicktopic.com/37/H/mCpXBt3d7qQN

AfricanLanguages.com "Kiswahili (Swahili)" page http://www.africanlanguages.com/kiswahili/

"Swahili" (TLT, Penn State Univ.) http://tlt.its.psu.edu/suggestions/international/bylanguage/swahili.html

(Resources for localisation, other than those listed above, 6.2, 7)


9.  Comments / Remarques

Swahili would be a logical language in which to begin localization of more technically specific applications, such as

  • GIS - the designers of the open-source GRASS program are interested in having their software translated into Swahili.
  • The Gnu Mailman program, in common use internationally for e-mail lists with versions in lots of languages, but none yet native to Africa.
  • The PmWiki interface

10.  References / Références

Chanard, Christian (2006), Systèmes alphabétiques des langues africaines, LLACAN, CNRS, http://sumale.vjf.cnrs.fr/phono/

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, http://www.isp.msu.edu/AfrLang/hiermenu.html (page on "Swahili," http://www.isp.msu.edu/AfrLang/Swahili_root.html )

Lingsoft (2007), "Lingsoft licenses state-of-the-art Kiswahili spell checker to Microsoft Corp.," http://www.lingsoft.fi/?doc_id=271&lang=en

Hartell, Rhonda L., ed. (1993), The Alphabets of Africa. Dakar: UNESCO and SIL. (The French edition, published the same year, is entitled Alphabets de Langues Africaines).

Omniglot, "Swahili (kiSwahili)," http://www.omniglot.com/writing/swahili.htm

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Swahili," http://www.ethnologue.com/language/swh

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables," http://www-01.sil.org/iso639-3/codes.asp

Stockholm Challenge, "Kilinux," http://www.stockholmchallenge.se/data/kilinux

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language," http://www.loc.gov/standards/iso639-2/php/English_list.php

UCLA, Language Materials Project, "Swahili (profile)," http://www.lmp.ucla.edu/Profile.aspx?LangID=17&menu=004

Wikipedia, "Kiswahili," http://sw.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiswahili

______, "Swahili language," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swahili


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