The Risk of Extinction of Indigenous Languages in Oman

Oman, as a nation and people, is distinguished by a deep-rooted cultural diversity that stretches back through history. This diversity, stemming from various causes, has resulted in communities that speak a multitude of languages. These communities have their own unique histories, as well as shared and interconnected experiences with other communities within Oman and neighboring countries. Some of the most well-known languages include Mehri, Shehri, Kumzari, Lawati, Hobyot, Harsusi, Balochi, Swahili, Bat’hari, and Persian.

In a report by the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues published in 2018, it was stated that only 3% of the world’s population speaks 4,000 of the 6,700 languages spoken by 96% of the global population. Numerous studies have indicated that there are over 7,000 languages in use today worldwide, out of more than 8,000 historically documented languages.

Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalise, use, develop, and transmit their languages, oral traditions, writing systems, and literatures to future generations. It emphasises the obligation of states to take necessary measures to protect this right.

Despite the unique cultural diversity within a unified political entity like Oman, these languages are threatened with extinction. One reason for this potential extinction is the absence of any official efforts to establish cultural or social programs that enable speakers of these languages to practice them, or the lack of educational curricula to support them.

The communities speaking these languages are dispersed across various and distant geographical locations throughout Oman. For example, speakers of the Shehri (Jibbali) language reside in southern Oman, historically known as Shahr Oman, currently called the Dhofar Governorate. Some scholars attribute the Shehri language to the Shahra tribes, the original inhabitants of Dhofar. It is considered a Semitic language and classified among the Modern South Arabian languages, along with Mehri, Soqotri (spoken on the Yemeni island of Socotra), Harsusi, Hobyot, and Bathari. The number of current speakers of the Shehri language is estimated to exceed 150,000 individuals.

The Kumzari language is spoken by communities in the far north of Oman, specifically in the Musandam Governorate. Kumzari is a blend of several languages, including Persian, Hindi, Arabic, English, and Kurdish. It is believed that over 5,000 people currently speak this language. Kumzari is also at risk of extinction, primarily because it is an oral language without a written form. Additionally, the integration of many of these communities into daily professional and practical life, which necessitates speaking Arabic, is a significant factor contributing to the decline in the number of people speaking Kumzari.

Additionally, the Balochi and Zadjali languages are spoken by nearly a quarter of Oman’s population, about 25%. It has a wide presence among its speakers, who continue to use it socially despite the lack of any official status in the community or formal institutions.

Swahili is another prevalent language in Oman. It is an East African language belonging to the Bantu family. During the period of Omani control over certain African coasts and political dominance, both historically and with the establishment of the Al Bu Said dynasty and the political system in Zanzibar and other cities, many Omanis lived and integrated into those communities. This historical integration has resulted in families in Oman today who speak Swahili.


How to Contribute to Saving Endangered Languages from Extinction:

The OCHRD, in this report, proposes mechanisms and methods to contribute to saving rare languages from extinction. Saving a language from extinction requires a multifaceted approach that includes community engagement, education, documentation, technology, and policy support. Below are key strategies for preserving and revitalizing endangered languages: 

Community Engagement

  1. Community Involvement: Empower and involve the community that speaks the language. Encourage elders and fluent speakers to share their knowledge with younger generations.
  2. Cultural Integration: Integrate the language into daily life through cultural activities, ceremonies, and traditional practices. Promote the use of the language in family settings and community gatherings.
  3. Cultural Centers: Establishing cultural programs supported by the government or private entities that allow language speakers and those interested in learning or gaining knowledge about the language to participate and attend.


  1. Language Classes: Establish language classes in schools and community centers. Bilingual education programs can help young people learn the endangered language alongside a dominant language.
  2. Teacher Training: Train teachers who are fluent in the language to teach it effectively. Provide resources and support for language educators.
  3. Language Immersion: Create immersion programs where students and community members can practice the language in natural settings.


  1. Recording and Archiving: Document the language by recording native speakers, including oral histories, songs, and stories. Archive these materials in accessible digital and physical formats.
  2. Writing Systems: Develop or standardise writing systems for the language if none exist. Create dictionaries, grammar guides, and other reference materials.


  1. Digital Tools: Utilize technology to create language learning apps, online courses, and digital dictionaries. Social media and other digital platforms can be used to promote the language and connect speakers.
  2. Media Content: Produce media content such as films, radio programs, podcasts, and books in the endangered language to increase its visibility and usage.

Policy Support

  1. Government Policies: Advocate for policies that support language preservation, such as official recognition of the language, funding for language programs, and inclusion of the language in public signage and documentation.
  2. International Collaboration: Collaborate with international organisations and other communities working on language preservation to share resources, knowledge, and strategies.

Raising Awareness

  1. Public Campaigns: Launch awareness campaigns to highlight the importance of the language and the risk of its extinction. Use media, events, and public talks to engage a broader audience.
  2. Involvement of Influencers: Involve local leaders, celebrities, and influencers to promote the language and encourage its use among wider audiences.
  3. Providing specialised media programs across various platforms, offering documentary and popular discussion and educational programs about the history of languages and the importance of their preservation and continuity.


The OCHRD emphasises that these languages must be recognised within the state’s fundamental laws, as a cultural component of the Omani national identity. This recognition of national languages would enable speakers to establish institutions for their study and documentation. 

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