Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Country Profile: The Languages of Oman

It's been a couple of weeks since we've done a country profile, so today we thought we'd look at the languages of Oman. In case you don't know your world geography, Oman is located on the southeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, and borders the Persian Gulf.

The Official Language

Like many other Arab countries in the region, Oman has one official language: Arabic. When it comes to writing, Modern Standard Arabic, the standardized literary variety of Arabic, is used.

In terms of speaking, several different varieties of Arabic are used in Oman. According to the Ethnologue, the two top varieties are Omani Arabic, with over 700,000 native speakers, and Gulf Arabic, with over 400,000. Some Omanis also speak Dhofari Arabic, Shihhi Arabic, and Baharna Arabic. All five of these varieties of Arabic belong to the group known as Peninsular Arabic, in reference to the Arabian Peninsula, where they are spoken.

Other Languages

The Al-Ayn Archaeological Site in Oman, a necropolis
that dates back to the 3rd millennium BC.
Oman is also home to several indigenous languages, including Southern Balochi, Mehri, and Luwati. The most spoken of these languages is Southern Balochi, an Indo-Iranian language with approximately 130,000 native speakers in Oman. It is followed by Mehri, which belongs to the Semitic language family and has over 50,000 speakers. Luwati has about 30,000 native speakers, and is an Indo-Iranian language like Southern Balochi.

A few other languages in Oman are used by over 20,000 native speakers, namely Shehri, Persian, and Swahili. Shehri belongs to the Semitic language family, Persian is an Indo-Iranian language, and Swahili is a Bantu language that is primarily spoken throughout southeastern Africa.

There are also a handful of endangered indigenous languages spoken in Oman. Kumzari, the only Iranian language spoken exclusively in the Arabian Peninsula, is used by about 1,700 Omanis. Then there's Harsusi, Bathari, and Hobyót. All three are Semitic languages with less than 1,000 native speakers, with Hobyót estimated at 100 speakers.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that English is widely used throughout Oman. In addition to being taught at school and used in business, it also frequently appears on signs and in writing.