Swahili [Arab.,=coast people], name for some of the inhabitants of the Kenya, Tanzania, Somali, and Mozambique coasts, Zanzibar, and E Congo. Descendants of black Africans and Arab traders (who came to the E African coast about A.D. 500), the Swahili do not form a cohesive ethnic group but are loosely united by common economic pursuits (especially trade), by cultural traditions, and particularly by the use of the Swahili language.

Bantu language spoken in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Congo (Kinshasa). It is spoken as a first language by more than 2 million people and as a second language by some 60 million. Standard Swahili is based on the Unguja (kiUnguja) dialect of Zanzibar, which was spread far inland in the 19th century by entrepreneurs seeking ivory and slaves. Its use was perpetuated by the European colonial governments that occupied East Africa toward the end of the century. Modern Swahili is usually written in the Latin alphabet, though Swahili literature in Arabic script dates to the early 18th century. Among Bantu languages, Swahili is remarkable for the number of loanwords it has absorbed, especially from Arabic.

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