SPEAKING IN TONGUES

Oman 2020 | TOURISM & RETAIL | FOCUS: LANGUAGES IN OMAN

Oman has a fascinating language carpet, thanks to the diversity of its people.

Though Oman's official language is Arabic, Oman has several languages of differing language families spoken within its borders. These include (but are not limited to) Balushi, Shahri/Jebbali, Mehri, Hobyot, Lawati, and Swahili. Part of this diversity in language is thanks to its ancient trade routes, which often brought the population into contact with traders from the horn of Africa, Ancient Persia, and Africa's eastern coast.

Languages mainly found in the Dhofar Governate are referred to as South Arabian Semitic languages. These languages are linguistically closer to Amharic, the languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea, than Arabic. The most common are Shahri, spoken by those of the mountain tribes, and Mehri, spoken by the Mahra. Other languages include Harsusi, Bathari, Hobyot, ad Soqotri. Each language, especially Shahri and Mehri which have far more speakers, feature distinct dialects, depending on the location of the tribe.
Meanwhile, Balushi, Kamzarii, Lawati, and Zadjali belong to the Indo-Iranian language family. Balushi (also known as Balochi) is similar to old Persian and is mainly found in Muscat and surrounding areas. The Baloch, the ethnic speakers of this language, originally come from areas of Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, or what was previous known as Baluchistan. Zadjali meanwhile is a mix of Balushi, Sindi, and Persian, and is spoken through various parts of Oman.
Finally, Swahili is a Bantu language from the Niger-Congo language family. Swahili's existence in Oman is due to the transformation of its past economic links and colonies into linguistic bridges that still exist today. As Zanzibar was made capital of Omani sultanate in 1832, many Arab traders set up homes and learned the language spoken there. In later years, when the island gained its independence, old trader families were invited back to live in Oman; hence, resulting in a great amount of Swahili-speakers in Muscat.
Unfortunately, most of these languages, especially local tribal languages, are threatened due to the growing influence of Arabic and as original speakers pass on. As the amount of youths speaking these tongues diminishes, so too does the possibility that these languages will last. As study of these languages becomes more widespread, though, there is a small chance for survival still.