(1) What is the difference between "Swahili" and "Kiswahili?"

None. Both terms denote the same language. Whereas "Kiswahili" only refers to the language, the word "Swahili" is also used to designate the culture of the inhabitants of the East African coastEast African coastThis is the coastal strip
stretching from southern
Somalia to northern
and the people who speak the language.

(2) Where is Swahili spoken?

Mainly in the following countries and regions:

in Tanzania [as a lingua franca and second official language]
in Kenya and Burundi [as a lingua franca]
in DR Congo, as a national language [locally sometimes aka "Kingwana"]
in Uganda [as a national language]
in Rwanda, Mozambique, South Sudan and Somalia [as a minority language]
in the Comoros [as a minority language]

After the accession of Rwanda, Burundi (2007), South Sudan (2016) and DR Congo (2022) to the East African CommunityEast African Community The founding member states were:
Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda
(headquartered in Arusha, northern Tanzania), Swahili is now poised to prevail across the Great Lakes Region,Great Lakes RegionThe Great Lakes in Africa are mainly:
Lakes Tanganyika, Kivu,
Victoria, Nyasa and Albert
boasting more than 200 million speakers!

(3) How old is Swahili and where did it originate from?

Swahili had its origin at the East African coastHence the name "Swahili"The term "Swahili"
originated from Arabic
and means "coast".
where it was used as a lingua franca and trade language, starting from the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. At that time the local people were involved in brisk trade — especially with Arabs etc. But they did not have a common language among them and there were no major or dominant ethnic groups whose language could be adopted. Thus everybody spoke their own language in order to interact with others and as a result, a linguistic mixture came into being. So nobody can claim that Swahili is their mother tongue, even though these days there are many East Africans who speak only Swahili as their mother tongue due to intermarriages among the different ethnic groups. The small Kenyan coastal town of Lamu is generally regarded as the cradle of Kiswahili.

(4) What kind of language is Kiswahili?

Grammatically, Swahili belongs to the "Bantu language family". Bantu languages cover East and Central AfricaCentral AfricaAs far as Kiswahili is concerned,
Central Africa is: Rwanda,
Burundi and DR Congo.
Politically, Central Africa
also includes:
Central African Republic,
Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville.
as well as southern Africa (except Namibia). Lexis, morphology and grammar are based upon these languages. However, a lot of words have been adapted especially from Arabic and English. Others originated from Portuguese, German, Hindi, Persian etc.

As is the case with all Bantu languages, a lot of specific vocabulary in the fields of science, technology, politics, psychology etc does not have vernacular equivalents. But because Kiswahili is also used as a medium of instruction in many Tanzanian schools, there was a need for such vocabulary to be neologized. Thus the Institute of Swahili Research (known by its Swahili acronym as TUKI) at the University of Dar-es-Salaam, and the National Swahili Council (known as BAKITA by its Swahili abbreviation) were launched in Tanzania. The former is involved in neologism (i.e. coining new vocabulary and incorporating denizens) and the latter in standardizing it for the general public. Later on, TUKI was superseded by TATAKI, the Institute of Kiswahili Studies.

There are various sources of neologisms (i.e. new words). To start with, TATAKI checks whether a missing Swahili word does have a semantic equivalent in any of the vernacular languages. If not then the Institute adopts and then adapts an English (or sometimes Arabic or Latin) term. However, artificial words which do not originate from any other language are occasionally coined. This makes Swahili the most dynamic African language which is evolving constantly to cater for the needs of a changing world. So it is quite a challenge even for native speakers to keep abreast of all the new developments!

(5) Are there any regional differences in Swahili?

Due to the fact that Swahili covers an extensive geographic area, regional differences and dialects did arise and the most wide-spread regional variants are those spoken in East and Central Africa. The differences include accent, vocabulary, spelling and grammar.

An example from Lubumbashi Lubumbashi... a city in south-eastern DR Congo
The billboard says: "Lion (brand), our local tasty beer." In East Africa, they would say: "Simba, utamu wa kwetu"

The Kiswahili spoken in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is regarded as the standard version ("Kiswahili sanifu"). In addition, Tanzanian Swahili is also by far the most complicated. Many Tanzanian tabloids have a habit of using numerous, unofficial or complicated words (locally known as "bombs") which are incomprehensible even to a number of Tanzanians (especially those living abroad)! It is not worth learning such words as they keep changing every two to three months! Thus, anyone who uses the so-called "bombs" is generally regarded as being superior to those who do not understand them!

(6) What is the difference between "Sheng" and "Swanglish"?

Basically, "Sheng" is a new colloquial Swahili variation spoken mostly by young people in Nairobi. It is admixed with a concoction of Swahili, English and vernacular languages in Kenya. However, the grammar used is mostly as in Swahili. Only some words (mostly nouns and verbs) have been adopted from other languages and adapted to Swahili (regarding spelling and pronunciation). Moreover, the noun class agreements are totally mixed up. But any Swahili speaker would understand most of what is being said. "Swanglish" on the other hand, is just Swahili mixed with chunks of unadapted English. Many East African musicians sing in "Swanglish"

Thus it would be fair to say that colloquial Swahili spoken in Dar es Salaam on the one hand, and Sheng on the other, are inevitably drifting apart. If this trend goes on, some day, translators or interpreters might be required: to translate Swahili into Swahili. Of course this does not apply to standard or formal Swahili. And as you might have guessed, since 2020 some naughty young Nairobians living in the suburb of Kayole have been concocting a variant of Sheng called "Shembeteng". You can see that the new designation incorporates the term "Sheng", with an infixed "mbete". Who knows, Shembeteng might be only the first derivative of Sheng (meaning that it is the second derivative of Swahili). In future we may have to revisit the calculus we learned at school. There is no reprieve.

(7) What do the following Swahili words mean?

Note: These terms are often used in the East African English language press without being translated.

Swahili TermMeaningUsed mostly in
(pronounced: boo-ngay)
- parliament- Tanzania
wananchi- the people/citizens- Kenya
Bongo- Tanzania- Tanzania, Kenya,
TZ- Tanzania- East Africa
(pronounced: haram-bay)
- fundraising event/rally- Kenya
(pronounced: mata-too)
- commuter minibus,
or estate car
- Kenya, Uganda
daladala- commuter minibus- Tanzania
Bongo Flava
(pronounced: bongo flay-va)
- Tanzanian Hip-Hop- Tanzania, Kenya,
bodaboda- passenger motorcycle- East Africa
Zenj (Flava)- Zanzibar (hip-hop)- Tanzania