Swahili and Arabic

Swahili is a Bantu language, more specifically a member of the Sabaki subgroup of North East Coast Bantu. It has been suggested that the ancestor of the modern dialects was spoken in an area along the East African coast, somewhere between the Webi Shebelle River in what is now Somalia and the Tana River in Kenya (Nurse and Spear 1985:46; Nurse and Hinnebusch 1993:490–496). Between 1100 and 1500 C.E., the Swahili dominated trade between the African interior and the Indian Ocean, a hegemony that was interrupted in the 16th century by invasions from the south by the Portuguese and from the north by Orma and Somali raids. In the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, under the rule of Omani Arab sultans who ousted the Portuguese and established a court in Zanzibar, the Swahili regained their position as mediators of trade between the mainland and the Indian Ocean, establishing caravan routes and trading outposts between Zanzibar and places as far west as Uganda, Burundi, and Zaire (Contini-Morava 1997:841).

Swahili was first written in Arabic script, in which there are manuscripts dating back to the early 18th century. The earliest extant Swahili manuscript poem known to scholars is Utendi Wa Tambuka, an epic or heroic poem written in Pate for Fumo (Sultan) Laiti Nabhani and dated 1728 C.E. (in the Library of the Seminar für afrikanische Sprachen, Hamburg, no. 3554 H. 119). A Roman alphabet which is now standard was introduced during the colonial period, although some Swahili-speaking Muslims continue to use Arabic script, especially in private correspondence. The cultural importance of Islam is reflected in the large number of loanwords from Arabic. Indeed, this misled some early scholars to describe Swahili as a ‘mixed language’, a view that persists today among many East Africans (Contini-Morava 1997:842), probably also because its name is derived from an Arabic word sawāḥil, plural of sāḥil ‘coast’ with the suffix -ī, i.e. ‘the coastal language’. In the middle of the 20th century, Tucker (1946–1947:854, n. 3) observed: “The often heard view that Swahili is nothing but an Arabic patois is due to lack of knowledge of what characterizes a Bantu language, and has already been sufficiently dealt with by previous writers to render unnecessary a discussion of the subject here”. The numerous Arabic loanwords in Swahili are clustered in several fields of cultural vocabulary, relating to jurisprudence (sheria/sharia < šarīʿa ‘Muslim law’), trade (tajiri < tājir ‘merchant’), religion (hutuba/hotuba < xuṭba ‘Muslim Friday sermon’), nonindigenous flora (zeituni < zaytūn ‘olive’), maritime affairs (merikebu < markab ‘ship’), science and culture (elimu ‘knowledge, education’ < ʿilm ‘knowledge’; lafudhi/lafidhi < lafḏ̣ ‘pronunciation’), and names of some everyday objects (sabuni < ṣābūn ‘soap’; subili < ṣabir, ṣabr ‘aloe’). This has led to statements that up to 50 percent of the Swahili lexicon is of Arabic origin. But the level of frequency of Arabic loans in basic vocabulary is much lower (Nurse and Spear 1985:15). In fact, Bertoncini (1971:150) gives a percentage of 29.48 percent in magazines, 30.56 percent in newspapers, and 34.28 percent in Swahili (the journal of the Swahili Institute in Dar es Salaam). Since the author marks as Arabic words from any ‘Oriental’ language, the real presence of Arabic words is probably lower. In another work, Bertoncini (1973:302–303) gives for all words from Oriental languages a range varying between 31.84 percent in journalistic texts, 36.03 percent in miscellaneous contemporary texts, and 62.42 percent in ancient texts.

The grammatical structure and the core vocabulary of Swahili are unambiguously Bantu,and the majority of Arabic loanwords entered the language relatively recently, most dating back only as far as the period of Omani Arab domination in the 18th and 19th centuries (Nurse and Hinnebusch 1993:315). Although the grammatical structure of the language has been unaffected by its contact with Arabic, the phonological system has absorbed some Arabic sounds along with the borrowed vocabulary (Contini-Morava 1997:842).

Standard Swahili is based on the dialect of Zanzibar City, part of the Southern group (Nurse and Spear 1985:61–62; see also Batibo [1989] for discussion of differences between this variety and Standard Swahili, especially that of Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania).


2.1 Phonemes

Arabic has introduced into Swahili some new phonemes, realized as follows by the average educated speaker:
/t̲/ (unvoiced dental fricative): thabiti (< t̲ābit) ‘firm; brave’; thelathini (< t̲alāt̲īna) ‘thirty’; theluji (< t̲ulūj, pl. of

[θ] t̲alj) ‘snow’; -thubutu ‘to have courage’ (< t̲ubūt ‘sureness’)

/x/ (unvoiced velar fricative): habari (< xabar) ‘news’; hofu/hawafu (< xawf) ‘fear’; husuma (< xuṣūma) ‘dispute’

/ḏ/ (voiced dental fricative): dhahabu (< ḏahab) ‘gold’; dhikiri (< ḏikr) ‘mention of God's name’); dhiraa (< ḏirāʿ)

[ð] ‘cubit’

/ġ/ (voiced velar fricative): ghali ‘scarce’ (< ġālī ‘expensive, valuable’); ghera (< ġayra) ‘jealousy’; ghofira

[ɣ] (< ġafr) ‘forgiveness’

There is some variation among Swahili speakers in the pronunciation of these loanwords. The borrowed phonemes are most likely to occur in the speech of Muslim native speakers from the coast, who have had some exposure to Arabic, and for whom pronunciation of these sounds as close as possible to the Arabic model is a matter of prestige. In the speech of non-Muslims and nonnative speakers, the phonemes /t̲ x ḏ ġ/ are generally replaced with /s h z ɠ/ respectively. It should also be pointed out that loanwords have reinforced the functional load of /h/, /r/, /ɓ/, /ɗ/, and /š/, which originally had a much more restricted distribution than they do now (Nurse and Hinnebusch 1993:312).

In highly formal speech, such as a recitation in a mosque, an even more Arabized pronunciation of Arabic loanwords may be encountered, including pharyngealized-velarized (‘emphatic’) pronunciation of /t/, /s/, and /ḏ̣/ with the appropriate allophones of the following vowel, velarized [ɫ], [q] for /k/, interdental [t̤] for /t/, use of pharyngeal fricatives [ħ] and [ʕ] (Polomé 1967:45–46; Tucker 1946:861–867), and geminated consonants (Nurse and Hinnebusch 1993:567; Tucker and Ashton 1942:99). These do not normally occur in casual speech (Contini-Morava 1997:849). In fact, we have: dubu (< dubb) ‘bear’; hata (< ḥattā) ‘until, up’; Rok (< ruxx) ‘the gigantic bird of Eastern tales’; budi (< budd) ‘way out, escape’; mwadhini (< muʾaḏḏin) ‘muezzin’; hari (< ḥarr) ‘heat’; hasa ‘expressly’ (< xāṣṣ ‘special’); hati (< xaṭṭ) ‘writing’; bazazi ‘trader’ (< bazzāz ‘draper, cloth merchant’); hadhi ‘comfortable circumstances’ (< ḥaḏ̣ḏ̣ ‘good luck’); dafi (< daff) ‘tambourine’; haki (< ḥaqq) ‘right’; mdeki (< midakk) ‘ramrod’; ila (< ʾillā) ‘except’; umati ‘crowd’ (< ʾumma ‘nation, people’); ina (< ʾinna) ‘truly’; bawabu (< bawwāb) ‘doorman’; ubaini ‘clearness’ (< bayyin ‘clear’). In a few cases, however, double consonants may still be heard: Allah, hatta, henna, Sunni, umma.

In Arabized speech styles, [ai], [ei], and [au] in Arabic loanwords such as sháuri ‘intention’ may be pronounced as diphthongs, but there is a tendency either to give syllabic value to each part of the diphthongs, resulting in a disyllabic pronunciation ([ʃauri]), or to coalesce the diphthong into a monophthong, e.g. [ʃaix] ~ [ʃeix] ~ [ʃeːx] ‘chief’ < Arabic šayx (Tucker 1946:870; Polomé 1967:48). Kaye (as cited by Contini-Morava 1997:850) points out that Omani Arabic, the source for most Arabic loanwords in Swahili, was a colloquial dialect in which the pronunciation of many of these sounds as diphthongs in formal speech is due to influence from the Classical language – the holy language of the Qurʾān – rather than familiarity with spoken Arabic (Contini-Morava 1997:850).

The presence of the Omani Arabic dialect is attested also by some vowels not existing in Classical Arabic: dola/daulati ‘government, authority’ (< dawla ‘dynasty; state’); robo (< rubʿ) ‘quarter’; soko (< sūq) ‘market’.

The individual Arabic phonemes are rendered in Swahili as follows:

/ʾ/ > Ø: ʾujra > ujira ‘hire, wages’; ruʾyā > ruya ‘vision, dream’; sawāʾ > sawa ‘equality’. In native and Standard Swahili there is only one case of initial ʾa in Arabic loans becoming ha-: az-zayt ‘oil [edible, fuel, motor oil, etc.]’ > halzeti ‘olive oil’. In syllable-final position, the vowel before the /ʾ/ is geminated: maʾrab > maarubu ‘purpose, intention’; maʾkal > maakuli ‘food’; maʾmūn > maamuna/mahamuna ‘reliable’; juzʾ > juzuu ‘part (especially of the Qurʾān)’.

/b/ > /b/: bizr > bizari ‘spice’; jabal > jabali ‘mountain’; sabab > sababu ‘reason, cause’.

/t/ > /t/: tāj > taji ‘crown’; xātima > hatima ‘end, conclusion’; mayyit > maiti ‘dead, deceased’.

/t̲/ > /th/: t̲aman > thamani ‘price, value’; mat̲alan > mathalan ‘for example’; ḥadīt̲ > hadithi ‘hadith, traditions about the Prophet’. This sound reached Swahili through Arabic, which is why many Africans find it difficult to pronounce it and transform it: /t̲/ > /s/: t̲umn > sumni ‘one-eighth’; t̲ūm > saumu ‘garlic’.

/j/ > /j/: jāh > jaha ‘honor, glory’; najis > najisi ‘impure, unclean’; ḥajj > haji ‘pilgrimage to Mecca’. There is one case of /j/ > /k/, because of the influence of Egyptian Arabic, in which /j/ is realized as g: masjid > msikiti ‘mosque’.

/ḥ/ > /h/: ḥukm > hukumu ‘judgment’; ʾiḥrām > ihramu ‘garments of the Mecca pilgrim’; lawḥ ‘slate, board’ > laha ‘a sheet of paper’.

/x/ > /h/: xabar > habari ‘news’; maxlūq > mahluki/mahluku ‘human being’; barzax > barazahi ‘interval [from death to resurrection]’; once /x/ > Ø : muxtaṣar > muhtasari/mutasari ‘summary, abstract’; in one case, /x/ > /k/: maxṣīy > maksai/mahsai ‘castrated’.

/d/ > /d/: dars ‘study; chapter [of a textbook]’ > darasa ‘class for reading or study’; maʿdin > madini ‘metal’; raʿd > radi ‘thunder’.

/ḏ/ > /dh/: ḏikr > dhikiri ‘mention of God's name’; ʾaḏā > adha ‘trouble’; nāfiḏ ‘piercing; effective’ > -nafidhi ‘to save, help’; /ḏ/ > /l/ only in a very few cases: bāḏinjān/bayḏinjān > bilingani ‘eggplant’; in one case, /ḏ/ > /th/: juḏām > jethamu/jedhamu ‘leprosy’.

/r/ > /r/: rizq ‘livelihood, subsistence; blessing [of God]’ > riziki ‘means of life’; marham > marhamu/marahamu ‘ointment’; ziyāra > ziara ‘visit’; but once: /r/ > /l/: rāwaġa III ‘to cheat’ > ragai/laghai ‘a cheating person’.

/z/ > /z/: zakāh > zaka/zakati ‘alms tax’; ḥuzn > huzuni ‘grief, sorrow’; ʿajūz > ajuza ‘old woman’.

/s/ > /s/: samāwāt (pl. of samāʾ) > samawati ‘heaven, sky’; nasab > nasaba ‘lineage’; waswās > wasiwasi ‘doubt’.

/š/ > /sh/: šamāl > shemali ‘north; north wind’; rušwa > rushwa ‘bribe’; jayš > jeshi ‘army, troop’.

/ṣ/ > /s/: ṣadaqa > sadaka ‘alms; charity’; xuṣūma > husuma ‘quarrel’; naqṣ > nakisi ‘blemish’.

/ḍ/ > /dh/: ḍāmin > dhamini ‘surety, guarantor’; qāḍī > kadhi ‘judge’; farḍ > faradhi/faridhi ‘religious duty’.

/ṭ/ > /t/: ṭibb > tiba ‘medicine’; aṭlas > atlasi ‘satin’; ṣirāṭ > sirati ‘way, path [over hell from which sinners fall]’.

/ḏ̣/ > /dh/: ḏ̣ulm > dhulumu ‘injustice’; manḏ̣ar > mandhari ‘appearance, aspect’; waʿḏ̣ > waadhi ‘sermon’.

/ʿ/ > Ø: ʿidād > idadi ‘number’; sāʿa > saa ‘hour’; rubʿ > robo ‘one-quarter’. In native and Standard Swahili, there is only one case of initial ʿa in Arabic loans becoming ha-: ʿarūs ‘bridegroom’ > arusi/harusi ‘nuptials, wedding’. In final position of a syllable and followed by a consonant, this phoneme gives in Swahili, very often (but not always, e.g. raʿd > radi ‘thunder’) a vowel, which is identical with the preceding vowel: baʿda > baada ‘after’; baʿḍ > baadhi ‘portion’; daʿwā > daawa ‘legal claim’. But /ʿ/ disappears when followed by a vowel: daʿib ‘joking, jolly’ > daba ‘fool, simpleton’; duʿāʾ > dua ‘prayer’; dufʿa > defa ‘time’.

/ġ/ > /gh/: ġaraḍ > gharadhi ‘aim, object’; maġrib > magharibi/mangharibi ‘prayer at sunset’; ʾaġlab ‘prevalent’ > aghalabu/aghlabu ‘usually’.

/f/ > /f/: fāsiq > fasiki ‘profligate’; kāfir > kafiri ‘infidel’; ḥarf > herufi ‘letter’.

/q/ > /k/: qabr > kaburi ‘grave’; nuqṭa > nukta ‘point’; ḥaqq ‘truth’ > haki ‘justice’.

/k/ > /k/: kalima > kalima ‘word’; baraka > baraka ‘blessing’; šakk > shaka ‘doubt’.

/l/ > /l/: lawn > launi ‘color’; jumla > jumla ‘total’; raṭl > ratli/ratili ‘a weight’.

/m/ > /m/: miʾa > mia ‘hundred’; ʾamr > amri ‘command, order’; qalam > kalamu ‘pen’.

/n/ > /n/: niyya > nia ‘intention’; janāba > janaba ‘major (religious) impurity’; qarn > karini/karne/karni ‘century’; /n/ > /m/ before b: minbar > mimbari ‘minbar, pulpit’.

/h/ > /h/: haram > haram ‘the Pyramids’; šahāda > shahada ‘creed formula’; wajh > wajihi ‘appearance’.

/w/ > /w/: wājib > wajibu ‘obligation’; jawāb > jawabu ‘answer, reply’; naḥw > nahau ‘explanation’.

/y/ > /y/: yābis > yabisi/yabis ‘dry, arid’; qiyāma > kiyama ‘resurrection’; raʾy > rai ‘opinion’.

Syllable structure

As a rule, Swahili words end in a vowel. Borrowed words ending in a consonant acquire additional vowels, whose nature is determined by the nature of the final consonant: thus, after labials, u or o is added; after t, n, l/r, i, or e is added (Myachina 1981:12): adabu ‘good manners’ (< ʾadab); wakati ‘time’ (< waqt); imani ‘faith, belief’ (< ʾīmān); jahili ‘ignorant’ (< jāhil); bizari ‘spice’ (< bizr).

Borrowed consonant clusters

If Arabic loanwords contain consonant clusters (like st, lt, lf, or ks, kr, kt) outside the Bantu phonetic pattern, Swahili tends to insert an extra vowel between the two consonants, its character being determined by the same constraints governing final vowels: u is inserted after labial consonants, otherwise i: bikira ‘virgin’ (< bikr); fikira/fikara ‘thought’ (< fikra); hitilafu ‘difference’ (< ixtilāf).

Sometimes a vowel is inserted that matches the vowel in the preceding or following syllable: bahari (< baḥr) ‘sea’; huzuni ‘grief, calamity’ (< ḥuzn ‘sadness’); ibilisi (< ʾiblīs) ‘devil, Satan’.


The general rule is that primary stress is on the penultimate syllable (which may be a syllabic nasal), in polysyllabic words. Some polysyllabic loanwords are exceptional in being stressed on the antepenultimate: núsura ‘almost’ (< nazr ‘little’). Some show variable stress placement: lázima/lazíma ‘necessity’ (< lazima ‘to be necessary’). Vitale (1982:327) suggests differentiating between ‘historical loanwords’ and ‘phonological loanwords’; the latter either are not assimilated (like [áfrika]) or are variably assimilated (like [lázima] ~ [lazíma]), and can be marked as such in the lexicon.

Morphological adaptation

Arabic article

The Arabic article is almost never agglutinated in loanwords, differently from what happens in other languages (e.g. Hausa). The examples are very few: alasir (< al-ʿaṣr) ‘afternoon’; alfajiri (< al-fajr) ‘dawn’; alhaji (< al-ḥājjī) ‘pilgrim’; Alhamdulillahi! (< al-ḥamdu lillāh) ‘praise be to God’; Alhamisi (< al-xamīs) ‘Thursday’.


As distinct grammatical or lexical items, adverbs hardly exist in Swahili. Most of them are derived from nouns, verbs, or pronouns. The nonderived adverbs are very few in number, most of them borrowings from Arabic: abadan (< ʾabadan) ‘never’; afadhali ‘rather, better’ (< ʾafḍal ‘better’); aghalabu/aghlabu (< ʾaġlab) ‘usually’; baada (< baʿda) ‘after’; bado ‘not yet’ (< baʿdu ‘then; still, yet’); dahari ‘always’ (< dahr ‘time; age’); daima ‘perpetually’ (< dāʾim ‘lasting; perpetual’); dike/tike ‘exactly’ (< bi-diqqa); fauka/foko ‘more’ (< fawqa) ‘above’; ghafula ‘suddenly’ (< ġafla ‘negligence’); hadhara ‘before’ (< ḥaḍra ‘presence’); halafu ‘after a bit’ (< xalfu ‘back’); hasa ‘specially’ (< xāṣṣ ‘special’); hobelahobela ‘anyhow’ (< xabal ‘confusion’); hususa ‘expressly’ (< xuṣūṣan ‘especially’); kadha wa kadha ‘thus and thus’ (< ka-ḏā wa-ka-ḏā ‘so and so’); kadhalika ‘in like manner’ (< ka-ḏālika ‘so, like so’); labda ‘possibly’ (< lā budda ‘definitely’); nusura ‘almost’ (< nazr ‘little’); salimini ‘safely’ (< salām ‘safety’); sana ‘very much’ (< t̲anāʾ ‘praise’?); sawia ‘then’ (< sawiyyan ‘equally’); tasihili ‘quickly’ (< tashīl ‘facilitation’); wahedu ‘alone’ (< wāḥid ‘one; sole’); zamani ‘formerly’ (< zamān ‘time’).

Class system

Swahili inflection is characterized by the Bantu class-prefix system. Many Arabic loanwords were included in a specific Swahili class because they fitted its semantic function and not according to their initials, which by chance could be similar to Swahili prefixes. In fact, we have in class 6: mahari ‘dowry’ (< mahr). Other Arabic loans with initial {ma} have been interpreted as forms with the zero allomorph of the {n} prefix of classes 9 and 10 (Polomé 1967:187): maharazi ‘shoemaker's awl’ (< maxāriz, pl. of mixraz ‘awl’); marijani ‘red coral’ (< marjān); mansuli ‘woolen material’ (< musūḥ, pl. of misḥ); majuni ‘intoxicating sweetmeat containing Indian hemp’ (< maʿjūn ‘paste, cream’); magharibi ‘sunset, west’ (< maġrib); mashariki ‘east’ (< mašriq); maskini ‘poor’ (< miskīn); majununi ‘buffoon’ (< majnūn). Classes 9 and 10 contain many nouns of foreign origin, mainly Arabic, and being loanwords, these do not follow the rules of phonetic change in Swahili. Many such words have no prefix at all: barua ‘letter’ (< barwa ‘waste, scrap’); dawa ‘medicament’ (< dawāʾ); jinsi ‘kind, sort’ (< jins); daraja ‘bridge; rank’ (< daraja ‘rank’); kofia ‘fez, hat’ (< kāfiyya ‘kaffiyeh’); safari ‘journey’ (< safar); saa ‘hour’ (< sāʿa); sahani ‘plate’ (< ṣaḥn); sabuni ‘soap’ (< ṣābūn). Sometimes, Arabic loans were included in a noun class because of their initial consonants, which coincidentally fitted the Swahili system (class 7), e.g. kitabu ‘book’, pl. vitabu (< kitāb).


In Swahili there are no original Bantu words functioning as conjunctions except na, which is composed of -a of relationship and n- of association. There are, however, various ways of joining words and sentences (Ashton 1947:197). Some are borrowings from Arabic: ama…ama ‘either…or’ (< a-mā ‘or?’); au ‘or’ (< ʾaw); bali ‘but’ (< bal); ila ‘except’ (< ʾillā); ili ‘in order that’ (< li- ‘in order that’); kama ‘if, whether’ (< ka-mā ‘as, equally, likewise’); kusudi ‘with the object of’ (< qaṣada ‘to intend’); lakini ‘but, nevertheless’ (< lākin ‘however, yet, but’); wala…‘neither…nor’ (< walla ‘or’).


Of the first ten numerals, three are of Arabic origin: sita ‘six’, saba ‘seven’, tisa ‘nine’. The numerals 11 to 19 coexist with the Bantu terms, but the numerals from 20 to 90, as well as the word for ‘one hundred’ (mia) and ‘one thousand’ (elfu) are all of Arabic origin. In such cases there is no concord.


In Swahili there are no original Bantu words functioning as prepositions (Ashton 1947:195), but some Arabic loanwords function as prepositions: bila ‘without’ (< bi-lā); hata ‘until, up to’ (< ḥattā).

Verbs and verbal nouns

Verbs and verbal nouns of Arabic origin generally show a difference in vowel quality because they were adopted directly from the corresponding Arabic forms: abudu ‘to worship’ (< ʿabada), ibada ‘worship’ (< ʿibāda); hasibu ‘to count’ (< ḥasiba), hesabu ‘arithmetic’ (< ḥisāb); amini ‘to believe’ (< ʾāmana), imani ‘faith’ (< ʾīmān). On the other hand, nouns may also be derived from Arabic verbs in a Bantu manner: safiri ‘to travel’ (< sāfara) > msafiri ‘a traveler’. This accounts for synonyms like hasidi/husudu ‘to envy’ (< ḥasada) > uhasidi/husuda ‘envy’.

Uninflected loanwords

These are mostly loanwords from Arabic. The following few examples, with nouns from different classes, should be sufficient to show the absence of concord for loans in adjectival position (Ashton 1947:49–50): mtu hodari ‘a clever man’, mti hodari ‘strong, hard wood’; watu tele ‘many people’, maji tele ‘plenty of water’; chumba safi ‘a clean room’, maneno safi ‘a straightforward statement’; mwezi kamili ‘a full month’, maneno haba ‘a few words’. Many of these words have abstract nouns corresponding to them: u-hodari ‘courage; capability’; u-safi ‘cleanliness; purity; honesty’; u-kamili ‘completeness’; (u-)haba ‘scarcity, rarity’ (all in class 11); tele ‘abundance, plenty’ (in class 9).

Semantic analysis

Arabic loanwords were introduced in all domains of the Swahili cultural lexicon (for more details, see Baldi 1988:10–53). Some examples are:

i. Nature: hewa (< hawāʾ) ‘air’; nuru (< nūr) ‘light’; Thurea (< t̲urayyā) ‘Pleiades’; ardhi (< ʾarḍ) ‘earth’; zebaki (< ziʾbaq) ‘quicksilver’; zafarani (< zaʿfarān) ‘saffron’; hudhud (< hudhud) ‘hoopoe’.

ii. Man as a physical being: jamala (< jamāl) ‘beauty’; raha (< rāḥa) ‘rest, repose’; barasi (< baraṣ) ‘leprosy’; haraka ‘haste’ (< ḥaraka ‘movement’); sahani (< ṣaḥn) ‘dish, plate’; juba (< jubba) ‘jubbah’; hema (< xayma) ‘tent’.

iii. Man as a spiritual being: bayana (< bayān) ‘explanation’; rehema (< raḥma) ‘mercy’; muhali (< muḥāl) ‘impossible, absurd’; duni (< dūn) ‘low, inferior’; maana (< maʿnā) ‘meaning, sense’; jarida ‘journal’ (< jarīda ‘newspaper’); hekaya (< ḥikāya) ‘story, tale’; Jahim (< jaḥim) ‘sixth of the Muslim hells’.

iv. Man as a social being: ajali (< ʾajal) ‘deadline’; dhuria (< ḏurriyya) ‘descendant’; taa (< ṭāʿa) ‘obedience’.

v. Social organization and politics: asili (< ʾaṣl) ‘origin’; tuhuma (< tuhmā) ‘suspicion’; alamu (< ʿalam) ‘flag’; daftari (< daftar) ‘register’; ala (< ʾāla) ‘tool; badala (< badal) ‘substitute’; himila (< ḥiml) ‘load’.

vi. Natural laws: jinsi/jinsi (< jins) ‘kind’; sudusu (< suds, sudus) ‘one sixth’; mahali (< maḥall) ‘space’; saa (< sāʿa) ‘hour’.

vii. Interjections and conjunctions: Bismillahi (< bi-smi llāhi) ‘in the name of God’; mathalan (< mat̲alan) ‘for example’; au ‘or’ (< ʾaw).

Swahili as a medium of spreading Arabic Loans

Swahili not only received Arabic loans but it was also a donor language. Many languages in the region, both Bantu and non-Bantu, received Arabic loans through Swahili:

Arabic sāʿa ‘while; hour; timepiece’ > Swahili saa ‘time; watch’ > liNgala sâ (sáa) ‘watch’ > Sango sáà ‘watch’.

Arabic māl ‘money’ > Swahili mali ‘wealth’ > Ila madi ‘money’; Shona mari ‘money (cash)’; isiXhosa imali ‘money’.

Arabic qahwa ‘coffee’ > Swahili kahawa ‘coffee’ > liNgala káwa ‘coffee’ > Sango káwà ‘coffee’.

Arabic qarṭas ‘paper’ > Swahili karatasi ‘paper, a piece of paper’ > Acholi kàrtacì ‘sheet of paper’.

Arabic kāfiyya ‘kaffiyeh’ > Swahili kofia ‘fez’ > Acholi kòfíà ‘tarboush’.

The fact that Swahili was one of the first languages in Africa to be appointed as a national language, in Tanzania (1967) and Kenya, has increased its role, even outside the national boundaries, so that in the near future it will no doubt continue to spread Arabic loanwords.

Sergio Baldi (University of Naples)

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