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Millsaps Students Study Swahili

Department of Sociology/Anthropology News


Three Millsaps College students are learning Swahili this semester through a course called "Survival Swahili," a crash course in how to get by in the East African nation of Tanzania. Millsaps College requires students earning a Bachelor of Arts degree to have reached a proficient, intermediate level in a foreign language before graduating. A one-semester course, "Survival Swahili" does not count towards language proficiency. But this doesn't stop students from pursuing their interests in East African studies.

"Swahili is not all that different from other languages I've taken," says Erin Jordan, a sophomore who is traveling to Tanzania this summer. "The verbs change at the beginning instead of having a different ending, and sometimes words start off with two combinations in a row, an N and a G together. All in all, though, the vowels sound the same as in Spanish."

Taught by Dr. Julian Murchison, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology, students learn greetings, farewells, and introductions in addition to grammar. "Greetings are very important - you HAVE to know how to do them," says Paz Naccari, a freshman studying in Tanzania this summer. One of Naccari's favorite phrases is tutaonana baadaye, meaning, "See you later!"

Four students will travel to Tanzania this summer as part of a hands-on introduction to Tanzanian culture, ethnography, and language immersion led by Murchison. The trip will last three and a half weeks, and students anticipate experiencing all the country has to offer, from the capital city of Dar es Salaam to rural communities, music, food, and culture. "I'm really anxious to go. I can't wait," expresses Naccari, counting down the days until she boards her ocean-hopping plane bound for the African continent.

Swahili is the official language of Tanzania, a coastal East African nation. Swahili is a mixture of the traditional Bantu languages of the area and Arabic. Tanzanian ports served as integral trade gates that allowed the passage of Middle Eastern goods to the West, and of Western goods to the East. Swahili met Bantu and Arabic halfway, becoming a commonly-spoken and easily understood tongue by both groups.

After Tanzania was colonized by European powers, Swahili was declared the official national language to unite over 120 ethnic groups present in the country. When the country gained independence, Tanzanian citizens continued speaking Swahili. Though colonial presence has left the area, much of the influence left behind has been incorporated into Tanzanian culture.

Tanzanians are immensely proud of their culture and are greatly appreciative of visitors who speak Swahili, and are willing to share and teach others about their way of life. The four students traveling this summer hope to get the most out of their trip by taking "Survival Swahili," appreciating fully the generosity of their hosts and teachers.