The Swahili alphabet is identical to that of English, with the exception of the letters X and Q, which are not used. Most consonants have almost the same pronunciation as in English. The vowels have specific pronunciation rules, which are never broken.
a ... Father
e ... Egg
i ... Bee
o ... Door (be careful not to 'close' the o sound at the end, as in low)
u ... Loop
Special Consonant Sounds (Digraphs)
The following combinations of consonants create specific sounds, some identical to the English equivalent.
|Swahili spelling||Pronunciation notes||IPA|
|dh||there (do not confuse with thanks)||ð|
|th||thanks (do not confuse with there)||θ|
|ch||church (never charlatan or chemistry)||tʃ|
|ng||jingles (do not confuse with sing)||ŋg|
|ng'||sing (do not confuse with jingles)||ŋ|
Note that whenever m is followed by another consonant, there is no vowel sound between the two letters. Similarly, when pronouncing a word beginning with m, the mouth should be closed to begin with - there should be no vowel sound before the m.
In Swahili, there are no silent letters, and neither do letters change pronunciation depending on spelling, as they sometimes do in English (compare cough and through). Each letter is pronounced individually, the same way every time. This rule is true for vowels as well as consonants.
Note that the consonant combination gh is generally pronounced like g, though technically it is similar to Scottish loch, but voiced.
The stress (also known as emphasis or accent) is almost always placed on the second-to-last syllable of a word. The exceptions to this rule are extremely rare, and are usually found in words borrowed from other languages, mostly Arabic (for example, maalum).
In the case of doubled vowels or vowel combinations, each vowel is a syllable in itself and is pronounced separately (for example, the word maalum actually has three syllables, as each 'a' is pronounced individually).
Nasal consonants ("m" and "n") may constitute a syllable of their own, and if this is the second to the last syllable of the word, the nasal consonant itself will bear the stress.
Some examples of how words break into syllables, with stressed syllables highlighted:
- cha-i (tea)
- ha-ba-ri (news/hello)
- a-sa-nte (thank you)
- ku-tu-mi-a (to use)
- ma-a-na (meaning)
- ng'o-mbe (cow)
- m-bwa (dog)
- n-ge (scorpion)
- ku-zu-ngu-m-za (to talk, converse)
- ku-a-m-ka (to wake up)
- mwa-na-m-ke (woman)
- n-ne (four)
- wa-n-ne (four (people/animals))
- la-zi-ma (necessarily - borrowed from Arabic)