Shwa for Swahili
Shwa kwa Kiswahili

Swahili is a Bantu language with about 60 million speakers, only about 10% native speakers. The standard is based on Kiunguja, the dialect spoken in Zanzibar town.

Swahili is currently written in a Roman alphabet. The aspirated stops aren't usually distinguished in writing (although some writers use an apostrophe for aspiration). It was previously written in an Arabic script. Shwa writes it in the Syllabary gait.


i u
e o

There are neither diphthongs, nor long vowels, nor nasal vowels, nor tones (unusual for a Bantu language), but stressed vowels (almost always the penultimate vowels) are written high. A lone vowel is preceded by a Break to show hiatus.


p' t' ch' ʧʰ k'
p p t t ch ʧ k k
b ɓ d ɗ j ʄ g ɠ
mb mb nd nd nj ɲɟ ng ŋg
m m n n r l ɺ ny ɲ ng ŋ
mv mv nz nz
v v z z
f f s s sh ʃ
' w y h h

Words of Arabic origin may include th dh kh gh /θ ð x γ/, pronounced s z h r by most speakers, but written .

Nasals m n ny ng are pronounced as separate syllables when they precede a plosive, and prenasals are split in one-syllable words. In both cases, Shwa writes them as syllabic nasals, using the Nasal sign as a vowel. For example, mtoto would be spelled .

For most speakers, r and l have merged, and are pronounced as a lateral flap. When you want to write the difference, use .

For all speakers, r and l are pronounced as d after a nasal, and w becomes b in the same environment. Shwa writes them as and .


Now that you know the letters, why not try to read some Swahili written in Shwa?

Mpiga ngumi ukuta huumiza mkonowe.

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