https://www.duolingo.com/MickeytheGreat

Swahili grammar?

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I'm curious about Swahili. Can anyone tell me what the most interesting parts about the language are? Specifically the grammar. What makes this language unique? Thanks!

2 years ago

15 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/DragonPolyglot
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Swahili is what's called an agglutinative language. It builds entire sentences just by adding little words to base words. For example;

  • Kusema means "to speak"

  • If you knock off the "ku" and add a "na", it's in present, but you also have to add a person prefix, like "ni" (I). So "Ninasema" means "I speak" or "I am speaking".

  • If you want to make the verb negative in the present, you knock off the "ku", add a person prefix that is negative, and change the last letter of the verb to "i". So when "Ninasema" is "I speak", the phrase "I don't speak" is "Sisemi".

This is actually just a very basic example and it isn't exclusive to Swahili (Turkish, Japanese, Korean, Zulu and many other languages have a similar grammatical agglutination system).

Swahili also has gender, but it's not the male, female, or neuter in the European languages. Swahili gender is known as classes, and a noun will reveal it's class by the first letter or two, and this is important to make describing words match what they are describing. The word for child, "Mtoto", is a M/wa class noun, which means that when it is plural, it is "watoto". "A good child" would be "mtoto mzuri", but "the good children" would be "watoto wazuri".

This is not that related to grammar, but Swahili also loans a lot of words from Arabic (like "kitabu"[book]) since Kenya and Tanzania are located in the area where a lot of sea trade originating from the Middle East happened there before colonization, and then the Portuguese and English occupation of the area brought in Portuguese and English loanwords (like "meza"[table] and "kompyuta"[computer]). In fact, the word "Swahili" means "of the cost", and it's from Arabic. So the language's own name for itself, Kiswahili, literally means "language of the coast".

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/clh335763
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Thanks for taking the time to write this informative answer. Just one small correction: it should be "of the coast" instead of "of the cost" in the first usage of this phrase in your last sentence. :)

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GeorgeMwid

Very good start, you may also learn more about the Nouns and its adjectives from M/WA Noun Class as follows:

<pre>ADJECTIVES. M/WA NOUN CLASS SINGULAR. </pre>

You have to fix 'w' before a possessive adjective that normally starts with a vowel to tell more about the noun in singular and as plural follows:

English> [ My ] [ child ] Swahili> [ angu ] [ mtoto ]

Normally in Kiswahili, an adjective comes after a noun as follows:

<pre> = Mtoto (w)angu = Mtoto wangu. </pre>

English> [ My ] [ children ] Swahili> [ angu ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)angu = Watoto wangu. </pre>

English> [ Our ] [ child ] Swahili> [ etu ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (w)etu = Mtoto wetu. </pre>

English> [ Our ] [ children ] Swahili> [ etu ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)etu = Watoto wetu. </pre>

English> [ Their ] [ child ] Swahili> [ ao ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (w)ao = Mtoto wao. </pre>

English> [ Their ] [ children ] Swahili> [ ao ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)ao = Watoto wao. </pre>

(Your as singular) English> [ Your ] [ child ] Swahili> [ ako ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (w)ako = Mtoto wako. </pre>

English> [ Your ] [ children ] Swahili> [ ako ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)ako = Watoto wako. </pre>

(Your as plural) English> [ Your ] [ child ] Swahili> [ enu ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (w)enu = Mtoto wenu. </pre>

English> [ Your ] [ children ] Swahili> [ enu ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)enu = Watoto wenu. </pre>

English> [ His ] [ child ] Swahili> [ ake ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (w)ake = Mtoto wake. </pre>

English> [ His ] [ children ] Swahili> [ ake ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)ake = Watoto wake. </pre>

English> [ Her ] [ child ] Swahili> [ ake ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (w)ake = Mtoto wake. </pre>

English> [ Her ] [ children ] Swahili> [ ake ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)ake = Watoto wake. </pre>
<pre> SINGULAR. </pre>

You have to fix 'm' before the following adjective that starts with a CONSONANT to tell more about the noun in singular and 'wa' about the noun in plural as follows:

English> [ Good ] [ child ] Swahili> [ zuri ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)zuri = Mtoto mzuri. </pre>

English> [ Good ] [ children ] Swahili> [ zuri ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (wa)zuri = Watoto wazuri. </pre>

English> [ Bad ] [ child ] Swahili> [ baya ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)baya = mtoto mbaya. </pre>

English> [ Bad ] [ children ] Swahili> [ baya ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (wa)baya = Watoto wabaya. </pre>

English> [ Big ] [ child ] Swahili> [ kubwa ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)kubwa = Mtoto mkubwa. </pre>

English> [ Big ] [ children ] Swahili> [ kubwa ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (wa)kubwa = Watoto wakubwa. </pre>

English> [ Small ] [ child ] Swahili> [ dogo ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)dogo = Mtoto mdogo. </pre>

English> [ Small ] [ children ] Swahili> [ dogo ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (wa)dogo = Watoto wadogo. </pre>

English> [ Fine ] [ child ] Swahili> [ zima ] [ Mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)zima = Mtoto mzima. </pre>

English> [ Fine ] [ children ] Swahili> [ zima ] [ Watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (wa)zima = Watoto wazima. </pre>

English> [ Sick ] [ child ] Swahili> [ gonjwa ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)gonjwa = Kitoto mgonjwa. </pre>

English> [ Sick ] [ children ] Swahili> [ gonjwa ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (wa)gonjwa = Watoto wagonjwa. </pre>

English> [ Few ] [ children ] Swahili> [ chache ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (wa)chache = Watoto wachache. </pre>

You have to fix 'm' before the following adjective that starts with a VOWEL to tell more about the noun in singular and 'w' about the noun in plural as follows:

English> [ Red ] [ man ] Swahili> [ ekundu ] [ mtu ]

<pre> = Mtu (m)ekundu = Mtu mwekundu. </pre>

English> [ Red ] [ men ] Swahili> [ ekundu ] [ watu ]

<pre> = Watu (w)ekundu = Watu wekundu. </pre>

Note that the fixed 'm' before a vowel gives a resultant sound as shown above and below i.e. 'mwe' = m + e if pronounced separately.


More examples are as follows:

English> [ Another ] [ child ] Swahili> [ ingine ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)ingine = Mtoto mwingine. </pre>

English> [ Other ] [ children ] Swahili> [ engine ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)engine = Watoto wengine. </pre>

Note that Another = ingine Other = engine


English> [ Black ] [ child ] Swahili> [ eusi ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)eusi = Mtoto mweusi. </pre>

English> [ Black ] [ children ] Swahili> [ eusi ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)eusi = Watoto weusi. </pre>

English> [ White ] [ child ] Swahili> [ eupe ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)eupe = Mtoto mweupe. </pre>

English> [ White ] [ children ] Swahili> [ eupe ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)eupe = Watoto weupe. </pre>

English> [ Thin ] [ girl ] Swahili> [ embamba ] [ msichana ]

= Msichana (m)embamba = Msichana mwembamba.

English> [ Thin ] [ girls ] Swahili> [ embamba ] [ wasichana ]

= Wasichana (w)embamba = Wasichana wembamba.

English> [ All ] [ girls ] Swahili> [ ote ] [ wasichana ]

<pre> = Wasichana (w)ote = Wasichana wote. </pre>

DIFFERENT FORM ABOUT SOME ADJECTIVES.

The following different form is used for the following personal adjectives:

English> [ Happy ] [ child ] Swahili> [ enye furaha ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)enye = Mtoto mwenye furaha. </pre>

English> [ Happy ] [ children ] Swahili> [ enye furaha ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)enye = Watoto wenye furaha. </pre>

Note that, happiness = furaha.

English> [ Lucky ] [ child ] Swahili> [ enye bahati ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)enye = Mtoto mwenye bahati. </pre>

English> [ Lucky ] [ children ] Swahili> [ enye bahati ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)enye = Watoto wenye bahati. </pre>

Note that, Luck = bahati.

English> [ angry ] [ child ] Swahili> [ enye hasira ] [ mtoto ]

<pre> = Mtoto (m)enye = Mtoto mwenye hasira. </pre>

English> [ angry ] [ children ] Swahili> [ enye hasira ] [ watoto ]

<pre> = Watoto (w)enye = Watoto wenye hasira. </pre>

Note that, Anger = hasira.

For more explanation please check the book Exploring Swahili Grammar on Kindle Store Amazon

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FresnoVegas
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I see that you have a lot of experience with Russian, so let me start with this: if Slavic grammar is like untangling Christmas lights, Swahili grammar is like building with legos - it's fun.

With verbs, for example, you will have a root which details the action taking place, and then you'll add a couple of prefixes to tell who is doing it and when. Thus you have the complete conjugation in one word. This also allows for null-subject sentences, such as you would find in Spanish (among other languages).

Nouns are classified with a prefix to show which "group" they belong to. One group (M/Wa) is reserved for animate things (people and animals), another for objects, another for abstract ideas, and so forth. In each case, the group will have one prefix for singular (M-) and another for plural (Wa). And naturally, the nouns share these prefixes with any adjectives which modify them.

Swahili is very logical, and doesn't throw many curve-balls (if any). The challenge will come from the fact that the vocab is unrelated to any other lang on Duolingo (I think). Also at times the repetition of syllables can get confusing. For instance, take the noun group I mentioned above. You'll be listening (or reading) for that M or WA, but many words contain m's and w's, including the stems, so it takes some getting used to, thinking about where the root word begins and where the stem attaches.

I say try it out. It's very unique, and very rewarding IMHO so far. Good luck!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Meinomiswuascht

To add to your already good introduction: As Swahili does a lot with it's suffixes (little sylable added before or after the stem), you can do an awesome lot with the language even when you do not know too many stems. Example (dashes are borders between suffixes and stems): ku-pend-a = to love; ku-pend-ele-a = to prefer; ku-pend-ez-a = to cause to love = to please; ku-pend-ek-a = to be loveable; ku-pend-ek-ez-a = to cause to be loveable = to propose; ku.-pend-an-a = to love each other; u-pend-o = love; u-pend-ele-o = preference;

etc. And because Swahili is so logical, even if you use a compund form where actually another word would be better, people will still understand you.

Swahili is an awesome language!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/John00625
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Your explanation was pretty good =) and I'll just add on to what you have: There are more noun classes than just M/WA (i.e. KI/VI, M/MI, etc) , and some of them stay the same in both singular and plural form. (N/N class)

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FresnoVegas
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Thanks for the compliment!

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GeorgeMwid

REMEMBER: You cannot determine the Noun Class of the word by checking its first letter but you can determine its class by checking its singular and plural forms. So make sure you first ask and check the word in singular and plural forms before determining its Noun Class. If the noun does not change its form in singular and plural then it definitely comes and fits into N- Noun Class. And most of borrowed nouns like redio (radio), televisheni (television), betri, (battery) draws (droo) fit into this N- Noun Class.

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr.Quizzical

I'm not sure what you mean by:

> The vocab is unrelated to any other lang on Duolingo

Lots of Swahili words are derived from other languages. I don't remember where I read it, but approximately 25% of words in Swahili are derived from Arabic, 70% from Bantu, and 5% from other languages. For example:

Mesa is Spanish for "table". In Swahili, "table" is meza. In English the word is "computer", in Swahili it is kompyuta.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FresnoVegas
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Neither Arabic nor Bantu are languages available on Duolingo for English speakers. That was my point. And yes, I noticed Meza/Mesa, but seriously....

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr.Quizzical

"But seriously", haha very true... I'm sure there is more though. Portuguese settlers near the Swahili region added some Portuguese-like words to the language. But very true, not very many. I do say stuff without looking at the whole picture. It is nice when people correct me.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FresnoVegas
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Hey! Portuguese is close to some of the langs I'm familiar with. I'm looking forward to that, because every little of familiarity helps! BTW, is your avatar a "cowl?"

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Mr.Quizzical

Yup! I'm quite proud of my cowl. It took a while to photoshop. They are quite fun to do. I have made other avatars but they aren't near as good and I didn't put as much time into them.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/KairaAnne
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The Swahili grammar is my favorite part of the language. It's so different from other languages.

2 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GeorgeMwid

The interesting parts are eight parts of speech, you should learn all of them in active and passive voice.

1 year ago

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