Kiswahili is not dying

By Shaaban Fundi,

In recent years, people like Stephen Rwembewo (Kenya) and Joseph Mchekadona (Tanzania) have been writing articles on the slow death of Kiswahili. I am not sure what prompted Mr Mchekadona to compare the gradual diminishing of the Ngoni tribal language to Kiswahili. Kiswahili is a language spoken by over 95 million people in more than five countries whereas Ngoni is estimated to be spoken by between 750,000 to 1.5 million people in a very narrow geographic area. No or very little comparison can be made based on these facts.

The truth is that Kiswahili is not dying.  In fact it is among the fastest growing languages in the modern era.

If you look back to the 1970s and 1980s–Kiswahili was not widely spoken in many places including large areas of Kenya. Kiswahili was becoming a Tanzanian phenomenon and nothing more. But Kiswahili has in recent years been gaining momentum rather than losing it. Looking at how many people speak the language outside Tanzania should confirm this observation. For example, there are more Kenyans, Ugandans, Rwandans, Burundians, Congolese, Zambians, Malawians, Somalis, Comoran and Mozambicans who speak Kiswahili and are proud to do so.

The fact that Kiswahili is a blend of many languages gives it appeal among the many ethnic groups in East Africa and beyond. The intermarriages that are apparently hastening the demise of languages such as Ngoni seem to have the opposite effect on Kiswahili. These facts are actually fueling the spread of Kiswahili across Tanzania and the region in general.

East African integration will in my view push more people to learn Kiswahili if they are to readily access a market of more than 95 million people who already speak various dialects of the language.

One may argue that Kiswahili is changing but so do other and languages, but that does not mean that these languages are heading towards extinction. A culture that is not dynamic is more prone to losing its identity than one that is changing and embracing the dynamics of change.

There are many people who feel that new phenomena such as Bongo-Flava will have a negative effect on the growth of Kiswahili.  However, the opposite is true.  Bongo -Flava has actually increased the appeal of Kiswahili among the youth in Kenya, Uganda, Congo and other countries.

Young people in these countries are actually finding Kiswahili to be cool again and spend a lot of time learning it to understand the rhymes in the music.

Off course, efforts are needed to promote the use of a well structured and grammatically correct Kiswahili all over East Africa and beyond.

But for now, Sheng and Kigwana dialects in Kenya and the Congo respectively are good Kiswahili in my views. These Kiswahili dialects help people to communicate. Moreover, I don’t see the need for Sheng to be called a different language altogether as Mr Stephen Rwembewo seems to suggest.  Sheng has its origins in Kiswahili. All English variations are English be it South African, Australian, American or Jamaican.

4 thoughts on “Kiswahili is not dying

  1. @Kibogoji: Unajua kuna watu TANZANIA hawaamini kuwa huwa kwa kawaida situmii kiswahili na labda ni kwa zaidi ya miaka kumi na tano non stop? Na haki ya nani katika somo lililowahi kufenli ni KISWAHILI na ndilo somo lililonishushia divisheni wani yangu wani enzi hizo Moro seki! Ila najaribu kujifunza Kiswahili fasaha na pia Kipare na Kijita ambavyo Kipare ni lugha ya baba na Kijita ni lugha ya Mama ambayo ingawa naweza mpaka kutongozea ila kiufasaha naamini siziwezi!:-(


    1. Moro Sec, what a suprise!!! Real!!! Mzumbe here man. Tulikuwa tunawaita nyie watoto wa mama kwa vile mnakula kwa mama kila siku kukimbia dona lenye wadudu na maharagwe/maharage yenye vidudu. I guess is doesn’t hurt to add more of the animal protein in the plants proteins. Thanks my mkoa school mate!!! hahahahahaha!!!! Kwanini walikuwa manatulisha vidudu jamani??? No wonder our brains don’t function properly any longer…hahahahah!!! Just kidding.


  2. Hi Mtakatifu…..Hata wewe unakubaliana na maoni yangu finyu juu ya Kiswahili? Kiswahili is going nowhere. Its here to stay for the long whole. Promoting Kiswahili sanifu is needed though including the Kiswahili you use in your writing. Kudos to you Mswahili. Hahahahah!!!


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