Kiswahili Language

Kiswahili, sometimes called Swahili, is among the world’s ten most widely spoken languages, with more than 200 million speakers. It has been adopted as the official or national language in many East Africa, Central and Southern Africa countries, many of which teach it in schools or have it as either the official or national language. It developed from the African Bantu and Arabic languages and now contains many borrowed words from English.

Kiswahili Dialects

Kiswahili has several dialects that, include Kiugunja, Kimvita, and Kiamu. Official speeches use Kiugunja, adopted as the standard language in East Africa in 1928. It is the dialect upon which the work here is based.

Kiswahili Alphabet

Kiswahili uses the standard English alphabet minus the three letters: c, x, q, but has borrowed consonants gh and kh from Arabic and Persian.

Kiswahili Letter-to-Sound mapping and Syllabification rules

Kiswahili’s letter-to-sound rules are systematic, except for proper nouns. Kiswahili syllables are well defined through the following syllabification rules

  • A consonant or a vowel preceded by a vowel is the start of a syllable
  • A consonant (other than a semi-vowel) preceded by a consonant is the start of a syllable (this only happens for n, m or borrowed words)
  • All syllables end at the beginning of the next syllable or the end of the word.

Therefore, whenever a syllable begins at a vowel, that vowel is the syllable. For example, the word mia (hundred) has two syllables, mi and a.


Mucemi Gakuru et al., “Development of a Kiswahili Text-To-Speech System,” INTERSPEECH 2005: 1481-1484

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