I'm an intermediate Swahili speaker looking to substantially increase the size of my vocabulary over the next couple weeks. However, I want to optimize my learning curve by focusing on the first 2000 most commonly used words in the Swahili languages.

Two problems: 1) Given its relative obscurity, I'm unable to find frequency wordlists for Swahili 2) Because Swahili is an agglutinative language, many of the most commonly used verbs are excluded from corpus analysis because it's difficult to control for the various infixes, suffixes, and prefixes used.

Question: Does anybody have or could they point me in the right direction of a word frequency list in Swahili, or even resources that show which vocabulary would be the best to study?

And, generally, how do computational linguists parse agglutinative languages to extract roots?

  • I feel that you're asking for too different questions, one is good (the last one), but the other one is... not so good. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 21:41
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    How is the first not good? This is a forum for expert linguists, so I assume they'd have references to esoteric languages corpuses. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 0:07
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    You could also just focus on the 2000 most commonly used word forms. If you're used to command-line tools I have some Perl scripts I made to download random samples of Wikipedia pages from any language Wikipedia as plain text. I used this to build a list of the most common word forms in Georgian for the exact same reason, and it's also an agglutinative language. Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 8:28
  • @Parseltongue This is not a forum, but what I meant is that that particular question seemed a bit too general. I don't think you're going to get many answers so there isn't a problem after all.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Aug 2, 2012 at 10:17

3 Answers 3


Possibly relevant is the paper by de Pauw and de Schriver (2008) where they test an automated parser, using the the 12.5 million word Helsinki Corpus of Swahili. That corpus, as it turns out, is lemmatized, so if you gain access to it as a "university researcher" and you can do some basic scripting, you will be able to generate this list yourself.


Well, I don't have a technical opinion to offer. And I just realised that this question was posted years ago, but for anyone still wondering. I'd just recommended learning Swahili(actually any language really) the good old fashioned way, same way native speakers learn it in school, find a syllabus and primary school books(For common Swahili I'd recommended from the Kenyan Education System). The approach is to teach by introducing vocabulary from different settings and increasing complexity as you progress, starting as usual with greetings, to simple descriptions and so on...learning words related to people,family, home, school ...Fair warning though a lot of the msamiati(vocabulary) is really not used in normal every day talk(given how bilingual kenyans are sometimes it's just easier to describe sth in another language than remembering the exact swahili vocabulary)

Also I highly recommend getting a Dictionary( the Swahili version is called a Kamusi). That's another way we learn by reading class readers and looking up new words,synonyms and such, some Kamusis even have sections that so words grouped together by usage)


The Leipzig Wortschatz Portal has a Swahili corpus with 5.6 mio. tokens. They offer frequency ranks and frequency lists based on word form (they do not lemmatise and count lemmas).

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