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Kumzari: the Omani language on the verge of extinction

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Kumzari: the Omani language on the verge of extinction
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The tiny fishing village of Kumzar lies in the northern tip of Oman at the strategic trade artery called the Strait of Hormuz, and as a result, has developed an uncommon identity.

The isolated enclave only accessible by boat, has forged its own dialect called Kumzari, which is composed of 45 different languages.

The unique tongue includes elements from Middle East languages like Arabic and Farsi to European ones such as French, Portuguese, and English.

“There are some words in the Kumzari language that are the same to the English language,” says Khalid Al Kumzari, a student and resident of Kumzar.

“For example ‘door’, it’s a door in Kumzari language,” says Al Kumzari, “And ‘off rain’ means to stop the rain.”

WHAT ARE THE ORIGINS OF KUMZARI?

The centuries-old vernacular has been passed down over generations and its exact origins are unknown, but there are a few theories of how it came about.

For centuries, the village has witnessed competing empires battle for control of the Straits, a strategic point on the world trade route to the Arabian Gulf.

As sailors from around the world stopped to collect water, allegedly the locals picked up their different languages, according to resident Mohammad Al Kumzari.

Residents of Kumzar

“People used to come to the village of Kumzar through the Hormuz Strait,” he says.

“In the past, they used to pass through the village on their ships, to stock up on water using this well here.”

Other villagers suggest that sailors used Kumzari to communicate in code and hide their dealings among competitors.

HOW MANY PEOPLE SPEAK IT AND WILL IT LIVE ON?

Today the language is only spoken by the 4,000 inhabitants of Kumzar.

UNESCO has categorised the dialect as “seriously endangered” with linguists saying it could die out in the next 50 years.

The agency estimates there are around 2,500 languages around the world at risk from being lost. For many languages on the verge of extinction, the common cause is the loss of local culture.

Residents of Kumzar

Across Oman, the depopulation of rural communities is common, but local reports say that high birth rates in Kumzar have caused the village to grow in population by around 300 people a year.

This gives hope to Kumzaris like Khalid and Mohammad that their mother tongue will be carried on to future generations.

SEEN ON SOCIAL: LEARNING LOCAL EXPRESSIONS

Hamda Abbas traveled from the UAE to spend his family holidays in Kumzar, and was glad to learn some local expressions from the village’s residents.

View this post on Instagram

Kumzar, Oman

A post shared by Hamda Abbas (@hamdabbas) on