Modern Swahili: an integration of Arabic culture into Swahili literature

  • Hanah Chaga Mwaliwa University of Nairobi
Keywords: Arabic, cultural integration, linguistic borrowing, Swahili literature


Due to her geographical position, the African continent has for many centuries hosted visitors from other continents such as Asia and Europe. Such visitors came to Africa as explorers, missionaries, traders and colonialists. Over the years, the continent has played host to the Chinese, Portuguese, Persians, Indians, Arabs and Europeans. Arabs have had a particularly long history of interaction with East African people, and have therefore made a significant contribution to the development of the Swahili language. Swahili is an African native language of Bantu origin which had been in existence before the arrival of Arabs in East Africa. The long period of interaction between Arabs and the locals led to linguistic borrowing mainly from Arabic to Swahili. The presence of loanwords in Swahili is evidence of cultural interaction between the Swahili and Arabic people. The Arabic words are borrowed from diverse registers of the language. Hence, Swahili literature is loaded with Arabic cultural aspects through Arabic loanwords. Many literary works are examples of Swahili literature that contains such words. As a result, there is evidence of Swahili integrating Arabic culture in its literature, an aspect that this paper seeks to highlight.

Author Biography

Hanah Chaga Mwaliwa, University of Nairobi

Hanah Chaga Mwaliwa is a lecturer of Swahili language and linguistics in the Department of Kiswahili, University of Nairobi, Nairobi, Kenya.


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