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Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Development and spread of Swahili in eastern Africa (language study abroad course)

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2014/2015
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3 of 4
Taught in:
Full Year

The course surveys the origins of Swahili language, its growth, development and spread. Four major topics are used to approach the entire course:

  1. The first part examines its Bantu origin on the east African coast, variation (regional dialects), and its spread inland through the processes of trade, evangelization and colonial administration; 
  2. the second topic focuses on the process of its standardization and the implications of the adopted orthography for Swahili writing in general (particularly text books); 
  3. the third studies the implementation of Swahili as an official language and its use as symbol of national unity, identity, and culture in the countries of the region. 
  4. The final strand will focus on contemporary Swahili usage.


Completion of Year 2 at SOAS in the appropriate 4-year degree.


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 3 hours lecture and 1 hour seminar per week.

Method of assessment

One two-hour written examination (50%) and one oral examination (20%) taken at SOAS in May/June. One essay (2,000 words) to be submitted to the Year Abroad Institution on the last day of term 2 (30%).

Suggested reading

  • Chiraghdin, S and M. Mnyampala, 1977. Historia ya Kiswahili. Oxford University Press, Dar es Salaam 
  • Mbaabu, I., 1985. New Horizons in Kiswahili. Kenya Literature Bureau, Nairobi 
  • Middleton, J., 1992. The world of the Swahili. Yale University Press. New Haven 
  • Msokile, M. 1992., Historia na Matumizi ya Kiswahili. Educational Publishers and Distributors Ltd. Dar es Salaam 
  • Mazrui, Ali and Alamin. 1998. The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African experience. Oxford: James Currey 
  • Zawawi, S.M. 1979. Loan words and their effect on the classification of Swahili. Nominal Leiden