CHAPTER 1 - SWAHILI SPELLING AND PRONUNCIATION
A - THE SWAHILI ALPHABET:
The basic principle which was retained to establish the Swahili alphabet, is that every distinct sound or phoneme should always be transcribed by the same distinct written form (either a single letter, or a cluster of letters), and conversely.

The Swahili alphabet includes :
1. VOWELLS :
  SPELLING
  EXAMPLE
  English equivalent

  A,a
  baba (father)
  far, but cut short

  E,e
  debe (gallon)
  bed

  I,i
  kiti (chair)
  kit

  O,o
  moto (fire)
  off,lot

  U,u
  kuku (chicken)
  too,to


As you can see in this table, Swahili contains 5 vowels. These are pronounced openly, without diphtongs, like in Spanish or in Italian. They must always be kept short.
2. CLUSTER OF VOWELS :
Unlike in English, two (or three) written vowels that follow each other never merge together to form a single sound. Each keeps its own sound.

For example : ou is pronounced "o-oo" as in "go", au is pronounced "a-oo" as in "cow", ei is pronounced "e-ee" as in "bay", ai is
pronounced "a-ee" as in "tie", etc.

In theory, any vowel can be in succession with any other one.

It is not unfrequent to meet two similar vowels in succession : they must be pronounced as one long vowel :


  Naam !             (= Yes ? )               Juu             (= on top)           Kuu             (= principal)
  Zii !                   (= Down ! )            Mzee          (= old)               Jogoo           (= cock)


3. SEMIVOWELS :
  SPELLING
  EXAMPLE
  English equivalent

  W,w
  wewe (you)
  why, week

  Y,y
  yeye (he, she)
  yes, you
4. SIMPLE CONSONANTS :
  SPELLING
  EXAMPLE
  English equivalent

  B,b
  baba (father)
  bad

  D,d
  dada (sister)
  do

  F,f
  kufaa (to suit)
  far

  G,g
  gari (car)
  got

  H,h
  haya ! (O.K. !)
  hat

  J,j
  juu (on top)
  John

  K,k
  kuku (chicken)
  Kid, cat

  L,l
  lala ! (sleep !)
  lot

  M,m
  Mama (mother)
  man

  N,n
  na (and, with)
  no

  P,p
  papa (shark)
  pot

  R,r
  rangi (colour)
  rat

  S,s
  saa (clock, time)
  soap

  T,t
  taa (lamp)
  toy

  V,v
  kuvaa (to wear)
  very

  Z,z
  -zuri (nice, good)
  Zoo, easy
While most of the consonants are similar to the English ones and do not offer any difficulty, special care must be paid to :

5. COMBINATIONS OF CONSONANTS :
  SPELLING
  EXAMPLE
  English equivalent

  Ch,ch
  chai (tea)
  chat, church

  Dh,dh
  dhahabu (gold)
  this, that

  Gh,gh
  ghali (epensive)
  in French : "race"

  Kh,kh
  subalkheri
  in Scottish : "loch"

  Ng',ng'
  ng'ombe (cow)
  singer

  Ny,ny
  nyota (star)
  new

  Sh,sh
  shule (school)
  shoe

  Th,th
  thelathini (thirty)
  think
Most of the real difficulties of Swahili are concentrated here. It is however important to try and pronounce these sounds correctly :

6. THE SYLLABIC CONSONANT "M" :
The syllable M corresponds to the class prefix MU- (Class 1 and Class 3) whose U has been dropped. However, the "m" doesn't merge with the following consonant and should be pronounced somewhat like "humm !".

The M syllabic can be accentuated (stressed syllable) in short words such as : mtu (= a person), mti (= a tree), mji (= a town, a city), etc..
  SPELLING
  EXAMPLE
  English equivalent

  Mb
  Mbuyu
  baobab

  Mch
  Mchezo
  game

  Mf
  Mfano
  example

  Mg
  Mgeni
  guest, foreigner

  Mj
  Mji
  town, city

  Mk
  Mke
  wife

  Ml
  Mlango
  door

  Mm
  Mmea
  planet, crop

  Mn
  Mnara
  minaret, tower

  Mp
  Mpira
  ball, pipe, tube

  Ms
  Msafiri
  traveller

  Msh
  Mshahara
  salary

  Mt
  Mtoto
  child

  Mv
  Mvuvi
  fisherman

  Mz
  Mzungu
  white man
B - SYLLABE, STRESS AND PRONUNCIATION :
The Swahili syllable is said to be open, for it always ends on a vowel sound. For example :

                   KI-SWA-HI-LI        (= Swahili)       JA-MBO         (= hello !)         M-ZU-NGU         (= a white man)
                   NG'O-MBE               (= a cow)         N-NE              (= four)            TA-NZA-NI-A    (= Tanzania)

An extra vowel is usually added in loanwords, in order to conform to the open syllable pattern. For example :

                   O-I-LI                     (= oil)              SHI-LI-NGI     (= shilling)         BE-NKI              (= bank)
                   PE-TRO-LI               (= petrol)         NA-NA-SI      (= pineapple)     SHA-TI              (= shirt)

The stress usually falls on the last but one syllabe of a word. There are however a small number of exceptions, on words of Arabic
origin. For example : lazima (= it is necessary) : /'lazima/ .

Compare also : barabara (= a road) : /bara'bara/ , and barabara (= very well) : /ba'rabara/ .




EXERCISES
EXERCISE 1 : Read aloud the following words :

Kaa, taa, saa, jaa, njaa, maana, chai, yai, zaidi, faida, laini, hao, wao, au, bilauri, sauti, dau, mzee, bei, cheo, leo, nyeupe, nyeusi, njia, kiasi, kulia, pia, siagi, raia, zii, hii, kiu, kiumbe, kuoa, kupoa, kuzoea, choo, njoo, jogoo, kioo, ndoo, shikamoo, fua, barua,
mvua, adui, kuzuia, huo, uongo, juu, huu, kuu.

Wewe, wiki, dawa, bwana, kiswahili, ya, yao, hayo, yeye, mayai.

Baba, bado, bata, barabara, marahaba, dada, debe, duka, baada, kufaa, fisi, afya, hafifu, gunia, kugawa, gari, kujenga, haba, hapa, hodi, sahihi, jembe, jambo, kujua, jibu, juzijuzi, kaka, kukaa, haraka, kidogo, kibaba, la, lakini, kulia, kubali, mama, muwa, mamlaka, na, naam, nanasi, nukta, neno, papa, pana, pole, kupaka, lipa, ruka, robo, starehe, sisi, siri, sababu, asante, tatu, tele, tisa, tafuta,
matuta, kuvaa, vema, kavu, viti, uvivu.

Chui, cheo, chafu, chache, dharau, fedha, dhahabu, ramadhani, ghali, ghafula, shughuli, lugha, subalkheri, ng'ambo, ng'ombe, ng'oa, nyuma, nyota, nyoka, shida, shilingi, shule, safisha, thumni, hadithi.

Mbu, mbwa, mjinga, mhindi, mfalme, mchezo, mji, mkate, mlima, mnazi, mpaka, msaada, mstari, mswaki, mzungu.

Tafadhali, magharibi, mashariki, nywele, kuchemsha, mchanganyiko, nyang'anya, masalkheri, thelathini, mgonjwa, maharagwe.


 

 

 


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