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The language of Hakuna Matata

Week 21, Episode 41

"Hakuna Matata!"—this famous phrase from "The Lion King" brings us to the simple sounds and letters of the Swahili language. Translated, "Ha (no) + kuna (there is/are) Matata (troubles/worries)" means "No worries"—and this is what you're going to feel while getting to know Swahili.

Though it was initially written in Arabic script due to the contact with Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants of the Swahili coast (East Africa), in 19th century the alphabet was rewritten in Latin letters.

Swahili is an easy language to learn for English (and Russian ☺) speakers, especially because the words are almost always spelled the way they're pronounced and the rule for accent is easy, too: it falls on the second to last syllable.

I noticed that most of the Swahili sounds are Russian-like, but there are some, like dh (as in "this") or th (as in "think"), that will be easier for those who speak English.

Here, try to read your first words in Swahili:

  • Ndiyo. Yes. [N-dee-yo]
  • La. No. [Lah]
  • Hapana. No. [Khah-pah-nah]
  • Sijui. I don't know. [See-joo-ee]
  • Sawa. OK. [Sah-wah]

Simple, right? No problems to write it, no problems to read it and no problems to pronounce it. Total Hakuna matata

I normally don't put songs here as examples for a language, but this song in Swahili for the prayer "Our Father" ("Baba Yetu", where baba means "father" and yetu means "our"), or the Lord's Prayer, is really something (4 minutes):

Of course, there are different grammar rules and pecularities, typical for Bantu languages, the representative of which Swahili is, like subject concord or noun classes. But to me, it was a revelation that I can read and talk in an African language, basically, in several seconds after I started learning it.

What is a strange name, by the way! Swahili. It actually comes from the Arabic word sāḥil (ساحل), meaning "boundary" or "coast", used in plural—sawāḥil (سواحل)—and means "coastal dwellers." In Swahili, different prefixes are added to this noun to form other words:

Kiswahili = Name of the language
Mswahili = Single member of the Swahili community
Waswahili = Swahili people
Uswahili = Swahili culture and ways of life
Uswahilini = Land inhabited by the Swahili

So "Swahili" in Swahili is Kiswahili and means "coastal language"! And what you just saw was an example of how in Swahili prefixes for certain noun classes change the meaning of a word. Let's learn more about that.

Kufuata mimi! (Koo-foo-ah-tah mee-mee) Follow me!

" I am such a Hakuna Matata article! Like me now! "

Read more about Swahili and other languages at

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