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Swahili is the language of about forty-five million people living in eastern and central Africa. For the majority of the people living in the coastal region it is their first language. This region consists of Zanzibar and Pemba (two islands off the coast of Tanzania), the Kenya coast from Lamu in the north to Mombasa in the south, and part of the Tanzania coast, including the capital, Dar es Salaam. Beyond this coastal area Swahili is spoken as far north as the Somali Republic, as far south as Madagascar and Mozambique, and as far west as Congo Kinshasa. This enormous area includes the countries of Kenya and Tanzania (in which Swahili is the national language), Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo Kinshasa, northern Malawi, northern Zambia, Mozambique, the northern part of the Malagasy Republic and the Comoro Islands.
Although the word Swahili is probably a form of the Arabic S-wahil, meaning "a coastal man" in the 'Umani dialect, it would be wrong to think that Swahili is basically the language of the slave-traders of nineteenth-century East Africa. Swahili had grown up as early as the thirteenth century and perhaps even before as a trading language through the contact of African Bantu-speaking peoples with the Arabs, Persians and Indians. In its structure Swahili is a Bantu language and with a knowledge of Swahili it is possible to pick up fairly easily an understanding of other members of this African language family, such as Kiganda, Kikamba, Kikikuyu, Kinyanja, Kichaga, Kiluba, Kishona, Kizulu, Kikongo and Kiduala—all of which are spoken over smaller areas in Africa south of the Sahara. The structure of Swahili is similar to that of these other Bantu languages but Swahili has borrowed more than they from other languages, especially Arabic, Persian, Gujerati, Hindi, Portuguese and English. The extent of its borrowing reflects its flexibility and its adaptability to the changing times in which its speakers live.
There are several dialects of Swahili, as might be expected since it covers such a wide geographical area. The dialect used in this book is that of coastal Swahili, which was made the basis of standard Swahili. Swahili is the mother tongue of the inhabitants of the coast and islands. It is also used as a secondary language by many people in the interior, especially men engaged in business in small towns and trading centers. But throughout this vast region of eastern and central Africa, Swahili is also being taught in schools. The Swahili in this book will be understood by all these different African speakers of the language.
NOTES ON THE USE OF THIS BOOK
1. The material in this book has been selected chiefly to teach you many essential phrases, sentences and questions for travel. It will serve as a direct and interesting introduction to the spoken language if you are beginning your study. The sentences will be useful to you whether or not you go on to further study. With the aid of a dictionary, many pattern sentences included here will answer innumerable needs, for example: "Can I buy [an excursion ticket]?" The brackets indicate that substitutions can be made for these words with the use of a bilingual dictionary. In other sentences, for the words in square brackets you can substitute the words immediately following (in the same sentence or in the indented entries below it). For example, the entry
Please [open] close the window.
provides two sentences : "Please open the window" and "Please close the window." Three sentences are provided by the entry:
I want an apartment with [a bathroom].
—— a dining room.
As your Swahili vocabulary grows, you will find that you can express an increasingly wide range of thoughts by the proper substitution of words in these model sentences.
2. There is no masculine and feminine gender in Swahili, so you need not worry about such distinctions in nouns, adjectives or verbs. There are differences, however, between singular and plural forms. So that, for instance, in commands (such as "Wait a moment," "Come in," "Come here") the verb ending is different depending on whether you are speaking to one person or to more than one. This is pointed out in the text (in parentheses) whenever appropriate.
Although nouns have no masculine and feminine gender, they are divided into several "classes" which affect the prefixes of the adjectives that modify them, the verbs they govern and also other words in the sentence. This will explain the large variety of prefixes that may seem bewildering at first sight.
The Swahili verb may become long and complicated-looking because it incorporates so many grammatical elements into itself. Yet it always breaks down into easily recognized regular com-ponents in a determined order. For instance, in the sentence
Unaweza kunipa kitu kitakachonisahilishia dhara zangu ?
(Can you give me something to relieve my allergy?)
the verb kitakachonisahilishia (LIT. : which will relieve me) breaks down as follows:
ki = prefix used when the subject is a singular noun of the ki- class (in this case the subject is kitu, "thing ; something")
taka = sign of the future tense ("will")
cho = relative pronoun ("which") of the ki-class, singular (refers to kitu)
ni = object pronoun, first person singular ("me")
sahilishia = the basic verb: "relieve ; make light; make easy" (a causative prepositional verb formed from the noun sahala, "lightness; ease")
The present phrase book does not attempt to teach Swahili grammar, but each sentence is completely correct grammatically as it is given, and you can use this book with full confidence. If you begin to study Swahili grammar, you will be delighted by its great regularity and logic. Words like kitakachonisahilishia should not discourage you.
3. You will find the extensive index at the end of the book especially helpful. Capitalized items in the index refer to section headings and give the number of the page on which the section begins. All other numbers refer to entry numbers. All the entries in the book are numbered consecutively.
Excerpted from SAY IT IN SWAHILI by Sharifa M. Zawawi. Copyright © 1972 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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