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Index / Languages / Semitic /
South Arabian languages



Living languages
Mehri
180,000
Socotri
80,000
Bathari
Less than 1000
Harsusi
2,000
Hobyot
Less than 1000
Shehri
40,000
TOTAL
270,000
By country
Kuwait 20 0.7%
Oman 97 2.9%
Saudi Arabia 75 0.3%
United Arab Emirates 10 0.2%
Yemen 175 0.7%

South Arabian languages are remnants of non-Arabic languages on the Arabian peninsula; still these languages are related to Arabic. South Arabian languages are spoken in Yemen and Oman, by a total of 270,000.
South Arabian languages have some distinct phonological features, like preserving lateral fricatives; the pronounciation of the letter "L" with air coming from both sides of the tongue.
Many linguists make a distinction between Old South Arabian and Modern South Arabian, in the sense that the modern branch is not a direct development of the old.
The smaller South Arabian languages are in danger of extinction, the larger ones are also in danger from more interaction with neighbouring peoples, speaking Arabic. Already, the number of speakers in the relevant ethnic groups is low. Half the Mahra speak Mehri; one third of the Shahara speak Shehri. It is better for Socotri, with a majority still speaks the native language.

Mehri
Other spelling: Mahric
Also called: Biljaf
Spoken in Yemen, Oman and in Kuwait by about 145,000 of the Mahra people. About half the population of the Mahra Governorate speak Mehri. Many Mahra in Yemen now have Arabic as first language.
There are three main dialects of Mehri: Western, Eastern and Nagdi. The latter belongs to Oman only.
A large part of Mehri speakers are fluent in Arabic, and there is practically no form of written Mehri.

Socotri
Other spellings: Soqotri, Saqatri, Sokotri, Suqutri
Spoken as the main language on the Yemeni island of Socotra, and a few hundreds on the island of Abd al-Kuri. There are also a few thousand Socotri speakers in mainland Yemen, and as an immigrant group in United Arab Emirates, with about 10,000.
Dialects are roughly distinguished into Northern, Eastern, Southern and Western as well as Abd al-Kuri.

Shehri
Other names: Geblet, Sheret, Sehri, Shahari, Jibali, Jibbali, Ehkili, Qarawi
Native to the Dhofar region of Oman, in the mountains north of Salalah and is spoken by about 40,000 Shahara from several tribes: the Qara, Shahra, Barahama, Bait Ash-Shaik and a few of the Batahira. An immigrant group of 45,000 have settled in Saudi Arabia.
An increasing number of the Shehri speakers are bilingual in Dhofari Arabic.

Harsusi
Is close to Mehri, but classified as a separate language. Spoken only in Oman by about 2,000. Harsusi speakers are called Harasis, and live in the Harasis Mountains in Dhofar province.

Bathari
Bathari remains as a language spoken by as little as 500 people living both in Yemen and Oman, then in the coastal villages of Shuwaymiya and Sharbithat. Bathari is close to Mehri.

Hobyot
Spoken only in Oman by as little as 100 according to 1998 estimate. The language is close to Mehri and Shehri.




By Tore Kjeilen