Some Problems in Swahili

I don’t consider myself a Swahili speaker, but I’ve picked up a few words of this East African language, and I’ve already discovered an array of problems.

There is a set answer for everything:

Habari (how are you) – Nzuri (good)

Mambo (what’s up) – Poa (cool)

Vipi (how’s it going) – Safi (clean)

What if you’ve just had a terrible day? Is everything still good, cool and clean? You’re stuck.

There are not enough words:

The word for yummy is tamu.

The word for sweet is tamu.

Hence, there is no way of conveying that something is sweet but not good. Or of telling someone that what you are eating is too sweet. Maybe that’s why the truck drivers here fill up their tea with a half cup of sugar.

The word for good is nzuri.

The word for cute is nzuri.

What if you saw a child who is very cute but is somewhat mischevious? What if a child is an extremely good student and hard worker, but is just not that cute?

Pole means sorry.

Pole pole means slowly.

Whenever people tell me they’re sorry after a long day of hiking, I am sure they’re telling me I was very slow. And what if you want to say “slowly slowly?” Pole pole pole pole?

They add ee to everything:

Hotel is hoteli.

Carrot is carroti.

You can’t really have a conversation like that with someone and not burst out laughing. Nor can you understand whether eight means eight or eighty.


One thought on “Some Problems in Swahili

  1. You are right that there are no enough words in Swahili to convey all sorts of feelings that one might encounter. And the crazy thing is that “the minister of education in Tanzania announced a few weeks ago that there looking into making Swahili as the medium of instruction in secondary schools for all courses”. Where are they going to get the words for different terms used in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and other core courses?

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