LESSON #97: Je, wajua? (#11)

On je, wajua? (do you know?) today we are talking about animals, birds, fish and insects in Swahili and the one thing they have in common. These creatures’ names just happen not to have plural versions eg. in English we have the animal name sheep which remains the same in the plural. In Swahili, most of the aforementioned creatures’ names do not change in the plural, they remain the same, just like ‘sheep.’ Pretty cool huh?!

However note that the operative word here is most, which means we do have a few exceptions. Feel free to add any other names that are the exception to this but the two I know of are animals:

Kiboko (hippo) whose plural is viboko

Kifaru (rhino) whose plural is vifaru.

The rest pretty much fall within the rule and therefore remain the same in either singular or plural form.

Here’s a few examples:

Mende (cockroach/es), mbu (mosquito/es), panya (mouse/mice), ng’ombe (cow/s), papa (shark/s), sato (tilapia fish), kuku (chicken/s), bata (duck/s)

Note: In Swahili we have something called noun classes-basically nouns are categorized into different groups depending on certain characteristics they may have. The above nouns all belong to a class called N-class whose main characteristic is that its nouns remain the same in singular and plural form. More on noun classes someday soon-when I have the energy for it-it’s a really heavy topic! Or if you ask me really nicely…. 😉

LESSON #91: Swahilinization

Not sure the above is a legit term but I use it to refer to the making of foreign words into Swahili sounding ones without losing the original word’s essence. The good thing about Swahili is that if you don’t know what a word (particularly an English one) is in Swahili, it’s absolutely acceptable to swahilinize it even though it may not be a recognised word in the kamusi. As long as the other party gets the meaning then well and good. (Though I advise my students to employ this technique sparingly as otherwise their Swahili vocabulary may suffer).

If you are a keen Swahili student then you must have come across noun classes (ngeli). One easily recognizable one is the N class whose main characteristic is that many of its nouns tend to be borrowed from other languages. In what sense are they borrowed? Swahilinization.

I haven’t come across a rule or formula to be used when swahilinizing but here’s a number of N class swahilinized nouns that may give you an idea of how to go about it. Am not gonna translate them for you since am confident you can figure that out pretty easily. Go on, impress me 😉

mashine, sinema, picha, baiskeli, skuli, shule, motokaa, trekta, kompyuta, soksi, sketi, shati, blauzi, boti, pea, papai, peni, penseli, begi, n.k.