Definition of Swahili in English:



  • 1mass noun A Bantu language widely used as a lingua franca in East Africa and having official status in several countries. There are probably fewer than 2 million native speakers, but it is in everyday use by over 20 million.

    Also called Kiswahili
    • ‘The biggest problem for me on my arrival was having to learn to speak Swahili, the lingua franca of that part of Africa.’
    • ‘He described the difficulties he encountered with the language barrier and taught the crowd some Swahili, the national language of Tanzania.’
    • ‘One of the most important integrating forces is the use of the national lingua franca - Swahili, a language spoken and revered by nearly all Tanzanians.’
    • ‘Arab traders who made their way down the East African coast mingled with African peoples, creating a hybrid culture and language called Swahili.’
    • ‘Some Rwandans speak Swahili, a common language of East and Central Africa.’
    • ‘His lively personality, and an ability to speak Swahili, Hindi and Urdu, enabled him to communicate well with community elders, and he established himself as a popular personality within schools.’
    • ‘Many of the dialects borrow from Bantu languages, Swahili, Arabic, English, and French.’
    • ‘There are several local tongues, like the language of my people, the Hehe, and the official language Swahili, and English.’
    • ‘Throughout East Africa, Swahili is typically the first language that two strangers attempt upon meeting.’
    • ‘Like India, Kenya too has many languages and Caroline writes poems in three languages, English, Swahili, and Kikuyu.’
    • ‘In North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, French is more of a lingua franca than English, and in East Africa it's Swahili.’
    • ‘In Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili is the official language, English the second language and medium of higher education.’
    • ‘Msiska negotiated his personal geographical relocation with a parallel linguistic shift; Swahili is not widely spoken in Malawi, so he began to rap in Chichewa.’
    • ‘The Shambaa also speak Swahili, the national language of Tanzania.’
    • ‘It is suggested, for the first time, that such an additional official language should be Swahili rather than any of the other indigenous languages.’
    • ‘While Mr. Beanie Ali could only speak the national language, Swahili, the students attending the University of Dar Es Salem spoke very good English, and some have mastered French.’
    • ‘Like the Kissis, the Temne are a Bantu people speaking a language related to Swahili.’
    • ‘I also learned that in Tanzania, they speak over 150 different tribal languages, but Swahili is the official mother tongue. just imagine!’
    • ‘Kwanzaa means first fruits of the harvest, in Swahili, the East African trade language.’
    • ‘For instance, in Tanzania, which has about 120 ethnic groups, it came-up with Swahili as a national language.’
  • 2A member of a people of Zanzibar and nearby coastal regions, descendants of the original speakers of Swahili.

    • ‘Derived from a Swahili, the word means working together.’
    • ‘This synthesis of spiritual worldviews is not unique to Hausa Islam, but is found in most other Afro-Islamic communities, such as those of the Somali, the Swahili, and the Bambara.’


  • Relating to Swahili or to its native speakers.

    • ‘I had learned the Swahili word for water, mai, and that was all I could think of.’
    • ‘This book is a study about a Khadi's Court in Mombasa and the significance of Swahili women's use of that Court.’
    • ‘But sometimes when I do a concert in America, I'll see fans singing a Swahili song.’
    • ‘The first version of the glossary was released in October, and contained over seven hundred computer related terms in English and their Swahili equivalents.’
    • ‘Karibu is a Swahili expression of hospitality.’
    • ‘Maafa is a Swahili word that is used to describe a great tragedy or disaster.’
    • ‘There is also the Swahili coast - that is the Tanzanian Coastline - with some great beaches south of Dar es Salaam.’
    • ‘My Swahili phrase book - bought at the station - came in surprisingly handy with ‘there is a grinding noise’.’
    • ‘The museum is a repository of Swahili culture and on display are artifacts, dhows, jewelry and crafts.’
    • ‘It is named after the Swahili msala, meaning a prayer mat, because it points towards Mecca.’
    • ‘The tree happened to be a meeting place for Swahili traders who dealt in slave trading.’
    • ‘There is a mixture of cultures in the Swahili culture, from like the Persians, the Chinese, the Yemenese.’
    • ‘This is the way it goes with the WaBenzi, a Swahili term for the Big Men of Africa.’
    • ‘The mysterious caller said he had a message from Amin, who had been read a Swahili transcript of the novel and had some views.’
    • ‘I never managed to figure out the difference between samosas and sambusas (I think it's simply that the latter is the Swahili name).’
    • ‘Chanting rhythms and imagery of Egyptian myth and Swahili praise poem enact the symbolic death and rebirth of all Black women.’
    • ‘One of the best is the American-run Emerson's House, where you can sleep under mosquito nets in antique Swahili beds, recline on planters' chairs, and dine at the open rooftop restaurant.’
    • ‘These are modeled on what is called a Swahili design.’
    • ‘Many women wear khangas, printed cloth adorned with Swahili sayings and vitenge, printed cloth with brightly colored and ornate designs.’
    • ‘Along the way he learned the Swahili saying that ‘You cannot know the bugs of a bed you have not lain in’.’


From Arabic sawāḥil, plural of sāḥil ‘coast’.