Experts fear modern South Arabian languages disappearing in Oman

Experts say it is of great importance to maintain these languages and
ensure that they are passed from parents to children

Muscat - 

Six linguists from France and Switzerland studying Semitic South Arabian languages in Oman as part of a project funded by the French National Research Agency (Agence Nationale de la Recherche Française), presented their findings at CFO (Omani-French Centre) recently.

The event organised in collaboration with the French Embassy saw these linguists talking about the six known Modern South Arabian Languages that are disappearing from Oman.

According to their research, five of the six known Modern South Arabian languages (a group of languages once heard in South Arabia) are spoken in Dhofar and Al Wusta governorates.

These include, Mehri, Jebbali, Shehri, Hobyot, Harsusi and Bathari. The sixth language, Socotri, is spoken in the Yemeni island of Socotra. “We believe that Bathari language of Dhofar is either extinct or nearly extinct, as we haven’t been able to find speakers,” said Sabrina Bendjaballah, a Paris University linguist who specialises in phonology and morphology.

“Semitic languages are classified into different subgroups based on their sound systems and structures. Modern South Arabian languages constitute one of these subgroups: they share phonetic, phonological, morphological and syntactic properties. Since no linguistic census has ever been carried out, it is difficult to evaluate the number of speakers of Modern South Arabian Languages in Oman.”

Ur Shlonsky, linguist, Université de Genève added, “As far as we know, none of these languages have been written, so it’s hard to tell how ancient they are. Most languages have been around long before they were written. It’s important to note that these languages are complete languages. Like in all languages, there are words which don’t exist and are taken from other languages or invented but they are all languages in their own right. He said it’s very important to keep these languages alive.

“From the perspective of linguists, they are extremely rich sources of information about Semitic languages in particular and about human languages in general. Since they are not spoken a lot and are unwritten languages, they always face the risk of disappearing. It is of great importance to maintain these languages, to make sure they are passed from parents to children.”

Harsusi and Hobyot are currently the most endangered languages of the group.

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