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African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures

swahiliCalled Kiswahili by its speakers, Swahili is a member of the Bantu group of languages, and is the most widely studied sub-Saharan African language in the USA, Europe, Asia and many other countries within Africa. It is estimated to be one of the ten most widely spoken languages of the world.  Spoken along the coast of East Africa for more than a millennium, it has now established itself as an important lingua franca throughout Tanzania, Kenya and the Comoros, and in parts of Somalia, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi and Zambia. Swahili is also the national language of Kenya, Tanzania and, to a lesser extent, Uganda.


Swahili is rapidly becoming the first language for an increasing number of speakers throughout East Africa and Central Africa. There is also an established and growing Swahili-speaking Diaspora in the Middle East (Oman, Musqqat, Dubai) and the West (Canada and England). It has a total number of speakers estimated to be in the tens of millions. It is one the recommended languages of the general Assembly of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).

Swahili has a written Ajami literature tradition, especially rich in poetry, which goes back for several centuries. Under the stimulation of local conditions and several other languages including (Arabic, Persian, Hindi, Portuguese, Mandarin and more recently English), it has developed a rich vocabulary base across all disciplines.  It has thus developed from a language of home and community to becoming the language of the academy, science and computer. It is also heard regularly on international radio broadcasts from the Voice of America, British Broadcasting (BBC), Deutsch Vella, Radio Egypt, Radio China, Radio Russia, Radio France (RFI) Nigeria and South Africa.

Partly due to its pan-African status, its role in the struggle against colonialism and its association with the ideology of national self-reliance in Tanzania, Swahili has played an important role in African American consciousness and identity. The widely celebrated African American holiday Kwanzaa and its Nguzo Saba (the seven principles of African American Renaissance) are all based on an idiom drawn from Swahili. And the language continues to be a source of personal names for many African Americans throughout the USA.

If you are interested in taking Swahili at Rutgers, the Department of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian Languages and Literatures currently offers Swahili through the intermediate level (200), as well as the option to Minor in Swahili.

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