University of Pittsburgh |  Pitt Home | Find People | Contact LCTL

Less-Commonly-Taught Languages Center

About LCTL
ASL Certificate
Arabic Certificate
Non-Pitt Students
Office Schedule
LCTL Links

| ASL | Arabic | Danish | Modern Greek | Haitian Creole | Hindi | Hungarian |
| Irish | Icelandic | Persian | Quechua | Swahili | Swedish |
| Turkish | Yoruba | Vietnamese |




  • Swahili 1: SWAHIL 0101 (Formerly LING 0501)
  • Swahili 2: SWAHIL 0102 (Formerly LING 0502)
  • Swahili 3: SWAHIL 0103 (Formerly LING 0503)
  • Swahili 4: SWAHIL 0104 (Formerly LING 0504)
  • Swahili 5: SWAHIL 0105 (Formerly LING 0505)
  • Swahili 6: SWAHIL 0106 (Formerly LING 0506)


Filipo Lubua

Leonora Kivuva



The Swahili language is spoken by millions of East and Central Africans in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, as well as in Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Comoro Islands, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Northern Zambia. Swahili is the official national language of Kenya and Tanzania and is one of the working languages of the African Union. The number of Swahili speakers in Africa increases yearly because of its everyday use in media, commerce, education, and as a regional lingua franca. Swahili cultural heritage is intrinsically connected to African Studies, Africana Studies, and the study of other cultures of African origin in other places in the world. So learning a widely-spoken African language, like Swahili, is essential to being an informed, globalized world citizen.

Swahili classes are offered every semester from levels 1 through 6 at Pitt, allowing Swahili students to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the language and culture. Additional classes taken through the Department of Africana Studies and the African Studies Program will give students a better understanding of East African culture, among other African cultures. Swahili language courses can be used to fulfill a language requirement, to complete an Africana Studies major, or to obtain an African Studies Certificate. Swahili studies can also fulfill necessary language requirements for graduate studies in African issues, history, and culture.

Students may study abroad in Pitt Panther programs in both Tanzania and South African during summer sessions in order to immerse themselves in African culture. Various scholarships are available to Swahili students through the Pitt Study Abroad Office, Nationality Rooms, Provost Scholarship for Study Abroad, Pitt African American Alumni Council Endowed Scholarship Rising Senior Award, the Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS), and the Summer Undergraduate Research Award (SURA) offered through the Office of Undergraduate Research.



Taking two semesters of Swahili at Pitt will allow you to:
                -Complete your Language Gen Ed Requirement.
                -Complete the language requirement for the African Studies Certificate.
                -Prepare yourself for study abroad in Tanzania and South Africa.

-Augment your major or minor in Africana Studies, Anthropology, Business, History, Pre-Law, English Literature, Political Science, and Sociology, among others.


Scholarship Opportunities for Students of Swahili (undergraduate and graduate)



Pitt’s Swahili Student Association

African Heritage Nationality Room, University of Pittsburgh



Online Swahili Dictionary

The World Factbook (Kenya)

The World Factbook (Tanzania)

Duolingo (Swahili)
                Union of African Communities
                Keep It Real
                Cameroon Football Development Program
                Hekima Place

Pitt’s Swahili Student Association


As the most widely studied indigenous African language, Swahili is spoken by Africans living on the Indian Ocean coastline from Somalia to northern Mozambique and as far inland as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Approximately 10 million Africans speak Swahili as their native language with another 130 million Africans using it as either a first or second language. As a lingua franca, Swahili aids in commerce, literature, and communication between Africans who have over 2,000 distinct languages. Swahili is also a Bantu language, meaning that it falls into a group of 500 other languages within the Niger-Congo language family.

Because of its widespread use and connection with East and Central African cultures, Swahili is essential to African travel, research, and appreciation. Swahili competency and understanding is also crucial to governmental work, international non-governmental organizations, and international businesses. Understanding Swahili will enrich graduate studies in archeology, anthropology, business, history, international law, literature, linguistics, politics, international relations, sociology, and veterinary sciences, among others.



The first written example of Swahili, using Arabic script, can be found in letters written in Kilwa in 1711. Additionally, the epic poem Utendi wa Tambuka, or the History of Tambuka, dates back to 1728 in its written form. This epic poem is also written in Swahili using Arabic script. Today, Swahili is written phonetically in the Latin script in part because of the accelerated interactions between Africans and Europeans during the 19th century. Swahili was the main language of administration during European colonialism. However, Swahili words, though spelled out in English letters A through Z, have their own distinct sounds, cadences, inflections, and flavors. Some Swahili words, like baiskeli (bicycle) and soksi (socks), are based off of English words, while others, like pesa (money) are based off of Portuguese words. But the 16 separate noun classes and concordial agreements denoted those classes are Bantu in origin.

Beyond English and Portuguese, Arabic has had an even more significant influence on Swahili. In fact, Swahili is sometimes described as a combination of Arabic words and the ancient East African Bantu language. Arabic communities have been in contact with the Eastern coast of Africa for over 1,200 years. In Swahili, the name for this language is Kiswahili, which comes from Arabic. Sawahel means boundary or coast in Arabic, and swahili is the plural form. So Kiswahili really means “coastal language” in Arabic. The Swahili language has been able to withstand and to include words from other languages in a way that makes it as much a cultural language as it is historical.


Interested in Study Abroad?


 Home | Top of Page | Copyright 2008  | Pitt Home | Find People | Contact LCTL