Kiswahili: Lacking in Articles

I am on a constant struggle to increase my blog’s readership.  Why? Because this is all I do, and I feel that if the very least I am doing is fulfilling the third goal of Peace Corps (“Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans,”) then I had better do a darn good job of it.  As a result, I have really been trying to write an entry a day during the week, because I am lucky enough to have a constant Internet connection.  I know the past few posts have been longer, and I know tomorrow’s will be long as well (because I wrote it before this one…), so I will keep this short.

Kenya is a trilingual nation despite what the brochures and your travel agent may say being an English-speaking nation.  I have spoken many a time on what it means when individuals, “know English,” here and that is not what this post is about.  Instead, it is about a simple curiosity that peeks its head into Kenyan English.

Kiswahili and most mother tongues I have heard of and know a little about, are article-less languages.  Many Americans probably do not even know when they are using an article, so to give you a hint, here’s the definition:

Article – a word that combines with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun, and may also specify the volume or numerical scope of that reference (source: Wikipedia)

In English, the articles consist of the very popular words the, a and an.

Kenyans first learn their mother tongue (from their mothers!), and then later learn Kiswahili, especially in larger town centers where members of many tribes will congregate to trade and do their business.  English for many of the older generations was an afterthought unless you were a member of the Nairobi elite.  Today I am hearing more and more children who have fairly good English skills and are far better at understanding me than older Kenyans.

Yet their linguistic beginnings in mother tongue and Kiswahili leave a definite mark on their natural language learning process.  People that I know and encounter regularly very commonly do not use articles.  A very basic example of this would be instead of saying, “Bring me the lock,” one of my co-teachers will say, “Bring me lock.”  There is no sense of preceded definite-ness in Kiswahili or mother tongue, and it translates into Kenyan English.

In Kiswahili, a more proper exchane might be:
    “Nipe kufuli.” (Bring me lock)
    “Kufuli gani?” (Which lock?)
    “Kufuli hilo.” (That lock.)

Specificity is achieved, but not through the use of articles.

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One response to “Kiswahili: Lacking in Articles

  1. Jesse

    Have you looked at the Kamusi project page?

    great resource for Kiswahili words