Swahili is widely considered a Bantu language that existed long before interaction with other cultures.
Once the Arab and Persian traders arrived on the East African coasts it developed into the language we know today.
Many Arab loanwords became included (notably the word Swahili, a form of an Arabic word meaning ‘of the coast’) but words derived from English, German and Portugese have also blended in.
Once I understood its logic I realized the meaning and background of kona (corner) and lori (lorry) and likewise losheni for lotion.
A very down to earth and practical way to skip all the typical complications of English and create a useful daily word in modern life.
Something I’ve found while learning the language is a mix-up of ‘L’ and ‘R’ by some Swahili speakers.
If one wants to pronounce ‘trolley’ its Swahili translation it can be a challenge.
My Swahili teacher told me about ‘tolori’, the trolley or cart used for a lot of small business in the city.
Later I found out from my Tanzanian relatives it is toroli, which is confirmed in my dictionary.
Part of this seems to be because Swahili is often an oral language, where precise pronunciation doesn’t matter.
And as my relatives always tell me, only the Swahili spoken by the coastal Tanzanians is the pure language, whereas Swahili inland has mixed with the patterns of other tribal languages.
Indeed, my teacher (who is otherwise excellent) hails from Kilimanjaro Region and grew up mostly inland close to Iringa.
As I was told, those growing up along the coast as well as in Zanzibar traditionally know some Arabic as the majority of the population is Muslim –for them, there are apparently no issues with either L or R.
All in all, the longer I’m here and the better I learn to speak and understand Swahili, the more interesting my picture of daily life and its culture becomes.
A really interesting article. Thank you for sharing and it explained a lot. I did not know you wrote for the Dar Post Josie!