Meaning of Swahili in English:


Pronunciation /swəˈhiːli/ /swɑːˈhiːli/

See synonyms for Swahili

Translate Swahili into Spanish


  • 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

    ‘Many of the dialects borrow from Bantu languages, Swahili, Arabic, English, and French.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘I also learned that in Tanzania, they speak over 150 different tribal languages, but Swahili is the official mother tongue. just imagine!’
    • ‘There are several local tongues, like the language of my people, the Hehe, and the official language Swahili, and English.’
    • ‘The biggest problem for me on my arrival was having to learn to speak Swahili, the lingua franca of that part of Africa.’
    • ‘Throughout East Africa, Swahili is typically the first language that two strangers attempt upon meeting.’
    • ‘Like the Kissis, the Temne are a Bantu people speaking a language related to Swahili.’
    • ‘It is suggested, for the first time, that such an additional official language should be Swahili rather than any of the other indigenous languages.’
    • ‘Some Rwandans speak Swahili, a common language of East and Central Africa.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘In Kenya and Tanzania, Swahili is the official language, English the second language and medium of higher education.’
    • ‘Like India, Kenya too has many languages and Caroline writes poems in three languages, English, Swahili, and Kikuyu.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘In North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, French is more of a lingua franca than English, and in East Africa it's Swahili.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Kwanzaa means first fruits of the harvest, in Swahili, the East African trade language.’
    • ‘Arab traders who made their way down the East African coast mingled with African peoples, creating a hybrid culture and language called Swahili.’
    • ‘For instance, in Tanzania, which has about 120 ethnic groups, it came-up with Swahili as a national language.’
    • ‘He described the difficulties he encountered with the language barrier and taught the crowd some Swahili, the national language of Tanzania.’
  • 2A member of a people of Zanzibar and nearby coastal regions, descendants of the original speakers of Swahili.

    ‘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.’
    • ‘Derived from a Swahili, the word means working together.’


  • Relating to Swahili or to its native speakers.

    ‘There is also the Swahili coast - that is the Tanzanian Coastline - with some great beaches south of Dar es Salaam.’
    • ‘I never managed to figure out the difference between samosas and sambusas (I think it's simply that the latter is the Swahili name).’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘But sometimes when I do a concert in America, I'll see fans singing a Swahili song.’
    • ‘Along the way he learned the Swahili saying that ‘You cannot know the bugs of a bed you have not lain in’.’
    • ‘The mysterious caller said he had a message from Amin, who had been read a Swahili transcript of the novel and had some views.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Karibu is a Swahili expression of hospitality.’
    • ‘Many women wear khangas, printed cloth adorned with Swahili sayings and vitenge, printed cloth with brightly colored and ornate designs.’
    • ‘These are modeled on what is called a Swahili design.’
    • ‘This book is a study about a Khadi's Court in Mombasa and the significance of Swahili women's use of that Court.’
    • ‘The tree happened to be a meeting place for Swahili traders who dealt in slave trading.’
    • ‘It is named after the Swahili msala, meaning a prayer mat, because it points towards Mecca.’
    • ‘The first version of the glossary was released in October, and contained over seven hundred computer related terms in English and their Swahili equivalents.’
    • ‘Chanting rhythms and imagery of Egyptian myth and Swahili praise poem enact the symbolic death and rebirth of all Black women.’
    • ‘I had learned the Swahili word for water, mai, and that was all I could think of.’
    • ‘Maafa is a Swahili word that is used to describe a great tragedy or disaster.’


From Arabic sawāḥil, plural of sāḥil ‘coast’.