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The Shehri Language In Southern Oman English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 5513 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The UNESCO atlas of endangered languages has listed that Shehri Language is at risk of disappearing, based on Johnston (1982). The aim of this paper is to investigate at which level of endangerment the language is. This study has been conducted based on interviews with representatives from each part of the country, and distribution of a questionnaire to females and males Shehri speakers. Basically, the research has discovered that the Shehri language is a very rich language [linguistically] and need to be studied to discover all those issues as a part of the Omani culture diversity. Moreover, the results had shown that the Shehri language face a remarkable threatened starting from the next door culture, and ends with the educational philosophy. Support and encouragement need to be done by the government to support such studies to revive the language. The Shehri speakers are and still proud of their language and next generation should continue with those manners.

Key words

Language death, language revive, language revilaitaztion, language change, language and culture.

Chapter One


This dissertation is about the Shehri language in Dhofar. It aims to investigate the language form a sociolinguistics prospectives. As it is considered as severely endangers by the UNESCO we are going to investigate it by looking the language relationship with culture and surrounding variability. Although, the UNESCO records are clear and fact such a topic is changeable and it could be varied if the language is being recorded over a time and updated.

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In addition, since this language is not being studied before as endangered, we shall present the history of language and country to make the image clear, because it seems that the name of the language means a lot to the Shehri speakers, and there is a remarkable debate about it. Thus, it might draw the light on what are the reasons for the language death in Southern Oman. Moreover, a short survey on what have been discussed about the language in previous studies before the research body is introduced to address the following questions:

Is the shehri language is going to extinct?

If so, What are the reasons for this reduction in the number of speakers?

What is the best solution to revive the language?

After that, the analysis of data and findings will reveal what the study accomplished. Finally, this paper will discuss what might be done and how the revive the Shehri language.

The language

A Sheharat is a language that is spoken is south of Oman. It is known is the mother-tongue of the people who live in the mountain of Dhofar southern Oman. Moreover, since this language was and still the language of the people in the mountains of Dhofar , people from Salalah “the capital of Dhofar” call it Jabbali or Jabblat which comes from Jabbal in Arabic which means mountain. Moreover, Higgins (2010: 3) stated that “the communist-backed tribal guerrillas controlled the whole of the Jebel Dhofar region (“jebel” [English spellings vary] is the Arabic word for mountain, hill, or slope).

None-Shehri speakers describe the language of its speaker as Jabbalies or Gabbalies. When they say that this language is Jabbali it is due to translating the word Shehar (the origin name of the language which is mountain) into Arabic Jabbal, therefore, they call it Jabbali. According to Hetzron (1997:2) The Jabbali language received many names in the scientific literature, the most common of which being Å xauri, Ehkili, Qarawi, Å heri. In context, if any person is going to the mountain and he would name it he would say I’m going to the mountain ” I’m going to Shehar” and in the city language “Arabic” it is going to be something like “I’m going to Jabbal”.

A Shehri (2000) has described his tribe to be the ancient tribe in the South the South Arabian Peninsula claiming that the language is named according to his tribal name, but this study revealed that the name Shehri coming from the name of the mountain in the language itself. In addition, Johnstone (1982) in his introduction was clarifying all those issues as a message from him for the important impact on the language. He stated that “Tribal origins mean much less in modern Oman, and the large scale re-settlement has tended to blur these ancient distinctions. The name Jibbali, however, has the advantage that it avoids the mention of the term Shehri, with its tendency to stress old social differences between Dhofar tribes.

In this view, This tells us that the different names that we have for the same language are common, because each person is describing it from his culture and language. But there is no doubt that the ancient’s speakers call it Shehrat or Shehri language.

There are some people in Dhofar who do not believe that this is a language. According to them it is an accent or a dialect and the term language is something cannot be describing it. Their assumption comes from the idea that “if the language is not written it is an accent, while if we look at the Shehri it is a language that contains it is own phonetics, vocabulary and grammar. At the same time it is not a part from any other language “until now” so they can call it an accent for X language.

In fact, the Shehri have three different accents in Dhofar. This is due to the geographical variation in South of Oman. The most known part is the central part since it is closer to the city “Salalah” Johnstone (1981). Moreover Peterson (2004:256) and also Johnstone (1981) divided the mountains of Dhofar into three main areas; “Jabal al-Qara overlooks Salalah at the centre, while the remote and largely inaccessible Jabal Samhan dominates the east, and the equally forbidding and barren Jabal Qamar commands the west”. This might lead us the Shehri variant is based on those main inhabited places in Dhofar came from.

The number of Shehri speakers is 5,000 according to Johnstone (1975, 94). This is taken during a war in Dhofar which force many people from the mountains to deported to Yemen as the closest country to Dhofar as looking for refuge from the war and a better place to lead their war since the government controlled the whole area in Dhofar. After that, in 1993 according to Omani national census the number of people who are living in the mountain is 25,000. At that time, the Shehri language was the first language in the mountains of Dhofar. On the other hand, Al Aghbari (2011) reported that the number of Shehri speakers are more than 147,000 people. Since the Omani Census are not counting the number of speakers of each language in the country; the number of Shehri speakers are not being officially known yet.

AL-Shehri (2008) claim that the Shehri language consists of 33 letters with 6 extra phonemic sounds which leave the language with 39 phonemes. On the other hand, if we look at the letter and how they sound we might feel that they are similar to Arabic. Because it is not a written language [yet] people from other tribes and places in Dhofar tries to speak Shehri and at the same time they are using the same Arabic letters that they are used to. At this stage, the Shehri language starts to change and nowadays people hardly use the 6 extra sounds and replacing them with the normal Arabic phonemes. This doesn’t mean that the Shehri language is a partial form Arabic. The vocabulary and language structures in Shehri are totally different, but the sounds might be the same since they are sharing the same area.

The history of the country

Dhofar was a very rich country in the trading market with other ancient nations. According to Zarins (1997:51) “Dhofar province is the Atlantis of the Sand and speculated that it might have a trading center in southern of Oman”. Moreover, he continues saying that “Herodotus, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, and other ancient authors, though not specifically mentioning Ubar, gave brief accounts of cities in southern Arabia that market resins of frankincense and myrrh trees. While it is certain that the people of the Dhofar area grew rich trading these commodities, it would appear that the city of Ubar was an Arabian Nights fantasy”. Furthermore, Dharmananda, (2003) confirms that “the Myrrh and frankincense trading market reached china before 973 A.D as a medicine and also, in Egypt for embalming the bodies of the Pharaohs”. Besides, Dharmananda (2003) believed that “Myrrh and frankincense, traded throughout the Middle East at least since 1500 B.C.” Therefore, it might be seen now clearly that the history of the area south of Oman was famous and strong enough to contend the Egyptian and the Chains empires. Such a nation must have a language, power, economic and financial system to compete such nations,otherwise the south Arabian Peninsula is going to be a an Egyptian or Chinese colony.

After those glory days in southern the Arabian Peninsula lots of changes happen to ancient people. In terms of the economy and their statues worldwide as well. Recently, before the 1970, Oman was ruled by Sultan Said Bin Taimor (1932-1970) in which many people do not have the right to be educated, receiving medical care or even travel from Oman without his direct permission. This was the Sultan’s policy that results in Rebellion in Dhofar from 1968-1975. Dhofar was the capital of the south and the modern part of it. “The Sultan of Oman, Said bin Tamur, ruled like a feudal lord: No Omani was allowed to leave the country, or even his home village, without the Sultan’s explicit permission. He banned all symbols of the decadent twentieth century… From medical drugs and spectacles to book and radios’ and he flogged his subjects for adopting Western dress” Ladwig (2008:66).

Moreover, Higgins (2010:3) stated “there were no roads, no schools, no hospitals, and no development of water resources for home or agricultural use”. This was the situation all over Oman but with some emphasizes on Dhofar as the special place for the Sultan Said bin Taimor. According to Ladwig (2008:66) “Dhofar was the Sultan’s personal domain, where he resided in seclusion year round, despite the fact that the nation’s capital was 500 miles north of Muscat. Although he took a Dhofari wife, who was the mother of his son, the Sultan disliked and distrusted his Dhofari subjects, the Jebelis most of all”. It is clearly seen that all those issues happened since Sultan Said Bin Taimor taken the rule of the country made the situation in Oman and especially in Dhofar difficult to be controlled. Therefore, the Rebellion movement started from Dhofar (1968) with the help of the Soviets and China.

Until, 1970 when the Sultan Qaboos the Only son of Sultan Said bin Taimor take the rule of the country and start to fight the counterinsurgency in southern of Oman, and make the promises to rebuild the country again. “My people, my brothers, yesterday it was complete darkness and with the help of God, tomorrow will be a new dawn in Muscat, Oman and its people” (Sultan Qaboos first speech 1970). According to Gulvady (2009) “The Sultan Qaboos government has focused on economic development. He first addressed infrastructure needs, such as building roads and highways, as well as education. He is now focusing on sustainable development, diversification, industrialization, and privatization”.

The schools were built with a great care; hospitals, Universities and colleges to ensure that each person in Oman get the chance to be learnt and to be educated. Certainly, according the Ministry of Education (2012) the number of schools rose from 3 schools in 1970 teaching the Holy Quran and Arabic language only, to 1053 schools by 2010 teaching modern subjects as Mathematics, Sciences, Arabic, English, History, and Religion. In addition, Universities and colleges were established all over Oman. The main University is the Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat. Also, the biggest cities in Oman were provided with an applied sciences college and a technical college as well. Therefore, the use of Arabic language gets greater; while the Shehri language got a few chances to be practiced without being taught.

To conclude, the past of Oman was dark and full of blood from the Rebellion movement against Sultan Qaboos’s father Said bin Taimor. All those promises by the Sultan Qaboos has been achieved in 40 years is something difficult and almost impossible. Thank to God and the hands of the Omani generations who learnt and trained under the government of Oman this path was easier.Now Omani students can be found in the world famous Universities studying and learning to continuing what the Sultan Qaboos has begun. The new regime, though undoubtedly good for the people, did lead to the decline of the Shehri language. Therefore, it might be worth to reorganize the Educational Philosophy in Oman.

Chapter Two

Literature review:

During the last decades lots of changes happened to Oman, precisely Dhofari people and their language. The changes appear in the vocabulary choice, pronunciation, structure, words are disappearing and not being used. Marshall (2004:1) claims that “investigators have shown renewed interest in the loss of non-standard varieties and the process of standardization. This has given important insights into the types of geographical area, social network, and social group in which language changes originate and mechanism involves in the process of diffusion”. In addition, McMahon (1994:8) assured that “we should never lose sight of the fact that language are spoken by people for purposes of communication; consequently, speakers change languages, although that is not to say that they are necessarily conscious of doing so, or that they intend to make changes”. Perhaps speakers of any language hold the responsibility toward the changes happened at their time, but also the political decisions made by the country could play a positive or negative role. Moreover, considering the fact that the Shehri language is not a written language this risk gets greater. McCabe (2011:262) explains that “There is no clear reason why languages change as extensively as they do; there are several explanations which cover various aspects of change, in the case of sound change we have seen that ease of articulation has historically been a motivator. With respect to sound change, it is important to mention the impact that the written language has had on language change”.

Moreover, a tremendous change took place during the last 40 years in Oman , generally, and Dhofar region result in having a new generation which differs from the elderly people in the way of thinking, learning, speaking and everything. McCabe (2011:263) assured that “often young people use language differently than their parents, in the same way that they dress differently and listen to different music, in order to create an identity which sets them apart from their parents’ generation”. Taking into account that any changes might be referred back to it after a time if it is written, but if it was only a spoken language in the community this means that there is no source for the language except those young generations. Besides, Beard (2004) believes that studying a language change consists of two parts, internal and external approach. According to him ” an internal approach to studying language change looks at such areas as vocabulary, spelling, meaning of words, grammar and compares usage in ‘old’ text with stage found today…But if we look at the external aspects of this text, viewing it more as a social document, it seems to belong to different age” Bread (2004:4).

The Shehri language has been discussed in some books, Journals, TV interviews, and dissertations. According many people in this study lots of this information was presented wrongly. Many of them might be a personal believe or just a way to relate this language to their own purposes. For example, Ali AL Shehri books where he claims that this language is related to them as a tribe was totally unacceptable for people from other tribes in Dhofar. According to Al Shehri (2000:42) “the Shahara tribes have preserved the most ancient Arab language (the Shehri), the traditions, folklore, proverbs, names of ancient tribes, ancient God names and much other ancient Arab culture”. This assumption made by Ali made other people argue with him as relating the language to his tribe. At the same time, as other tribes and the government did not agree with what Ali mention in his books; none of his books were published in Oman to ovoid sedition between the people in Dhofar.

Then, in (2005) Mohammed Al Mashani studied the language comparing it to languages such as the Arabic, the Old Yemeni language (Saba), and the modern dialects in Yemen, claiming that the Shehri language is the language of Hamyer the old kingdom southern the Arab Peninsula. Mohammed also brings a new name for the language and named with “The Modern Hamyer Dhofari Tongue”. It is clearly seen that the name of the language became the main issue for scholars and the people in Dhofar.

Other studies such as Hayward et. Al. (1988), Johnstone (1972) – (1980a) – (1980a) – (1981), Al Hakli (2008), Al-Shahri (1994), Hayward, Al-TabÅ«ki (1988), Hofstede (1998) Makhashen (2009) focused their studies on the origin of the language and its people, and the grammatical aspects of the language only. This will provide a foundation for any research in the future to be built and based on them, if they were true and still have the same findings which is a topic need to be investigated again.

However, moving from the battle of the name of the Shehri language and taking the UNESCO’s records about languages that are in danger of disappearing; the Shehri language might not transform fully from the elderly generation to the younger ones. According to the UNESCO atlas of the most endangered languages (table 1) this stage is “severely endangered”. In other words, it means that “language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves” UNESCO (2010). This leaves the language with only two stages from being extinct.


Degree of endangerment

Intergenerational Language Transmission



The language is spoken by all generations; intergenerational transmission is uninterrupted >> not included in the Atlas



Most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., Home)

Definitely endangered

Definitely endangered

Children no longer learn the language as mother tongue in the home

Severely endangered

Severely endangered

The language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves

Critically endangered

Critically endangered

The youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently



There are no speakers left >> included in the Atlas if presumably extinct since the 1950s

Table Degree of endangerment Adapted from Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.


Moreover, Al Hakli (2008) made a mini-dictionary for Shehri language joining the Shehri words to their meaning in Arabic. But until now the number of speakers is still declining. Which means writing a dictionary was not the solution to revive the language at this stage.

Therefore, the questions pointed out to look for the solution and to investigate why the number of the speakers is declined. According to Romine and Nettle (2000:7) “language shift and death occur as a response to pressures of various types-social, cultural, economic, and even military-on a community”. Furthermore, Harrison (2007: 8) stresses that “language death typically begins with political or social discrimination against a language or its speakers. This may take the form of official state politics to suppress speech, or it may be benign neglect”. Therefore, it might be the reason that there are other variables controlling the number of speakers of this language.

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Mufwene (2006:2) stated that “language death starts when speakers consulted with each other and decided collectively to shift suddenly to another language”. This leads us to the beginning and taking in our consideration that Dhofar region has been benediction with the revolutionary movement by the Sultan Qaboos and many schools, Hospitals, Airports were built in a short time. Therefore, the Arabic language takes place in their houses and daily life. The new generation was introduced to schools that delivers everything to them in Arabic. However, many families had migrated from the mountain to the city to look for a better way of living and a job that helps them to overcome the hardship of life in their villages. People’s language might be affected by the surrounding environment. Also, the language that is nearby lots of variables that might influence it such as economy, geography, the power of the next door language are at more risk of being disappeared. Moreover, language shift and death can begin by start learning the next door language. For example: “The Kwegu language in southwest Ethiopia is spoken by 500 people only” Lydall (1982:22). In addition, according to the UNSECO world atlas the number of Kwegu speakers declines in 1998 to reach 103 speaker only. Furthermore, Dimmendaal (1989:17) “mention some of the daily activities practiced by the Kwegu ancient as they exchange honey with the overlord groups in the same area so they will be able to live…Kwegu speak both their own language and the language of the Musri and Bodi while the latter tend not to speak Kwegu”. So, learning other group’s language was the effect of such discrimination in the society, therefore, their first language [Kwegu] will have less chances to be used.

On this view, the Shehri speakers are shifting from their language to Arabic and this is due to many facts already mentioned above. When the next generation does not believe in their language and start to shift toward a new language which is stronger than their language, obviously, no one will speak with it and it is only a matter of years until the Shehri speakers reduction end with it is extinct. Dimmendaal (1989:18) points out that ” it is only when they start interacting with neighbouring groups whose cultures are viewed as more prestigious that their own language became particularly threatened… The Weyto probably gave up their earlier language this way.” Darmon (2010:2) argued that the Weyto “Because the Weyto people do not own lands, they are living in extremely precarious conditions. They build their huts wherever the government allows them to, knowing that they can be asked to move at any time… Without professing to be Muslim, they are usually not recognized as “true Muslims” by others, maybe because some of them keep on believing in spirits associated with paganism”. Therefore, Darmon thinks that such feelings towards your own language might lead you to give up using it and shift it to a stronger language in the society. Eventually, this language shift will result in language death within years.

The language death is when a language disappears and becomes extinct. In other words, when people stop using their language or forced to do so. There are types for language death cited by Tsitsipis (1989:182) “first, sudden death: the language disappears because almost all of its speakers die or killed (example: Tasmanian). Secondly, Radical Death when language loses is rapid and usually due to severe political repression, often with genocide, to the extent that speakers stop speaking the language out of self defense, a survival strategy for example: Languages of El Salvador. Then, Gradual Death which is due to a gradual shift to the dominant language in language-contact situations. Finally, the Bottom-to-top Death, where that language is lost in small steps first “like homes and families and then moved when the government stop using it, it is the opposite on the Top-Bottom language death”. Regardless to the reason for the language shift it is clearly seen that it is only a matter of time until language shift become language extinction.

To conclude, it might be more beneficial for reviving endangered languages that writers and scholars studying the Shehri language should keep their focus first at the language itself rather than fighting against each other in bringing a new name each time. Since the Shehri language is not documented yet, it only exists in the peoples mind, therefore, we are losing a huge amount of the language and country heritage and culture each time a person dies. As what Harrison describes” when we lose a language, we lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art” Harrison (2007:7).

Chapter Three


This part of the paper presents the methodology and how it had been designed to accomplish the aims and goals. First, this section will clarify the problem clearly. Then, the types of data, participants, questionnaires and interviews are going to be discussed separately.

The problem

Since the Shehri language is being listed officially by the UNESCO as [severely endangered] this research will be conducted to investigate if the Shehri language speakers are really under the risk of abandoning speaking their own language are not. Firstly, by looking at the number of speakers of the language and to see how it varies from the past. Then, through looking at the changes that happened to the language. According to Professor Miyaoka the director of The Endangered Languages of the Pacific Rim Project “Particularly in case of moribund and isolated languages with speakers rapidly diminishing in number, of which there are quite a few in the Pacific Rim, we are obliged to emphasize documentation with good and minute analyses which could be achieved only with the help of speakers having deep linguistic insights”.

The Shehri is a language that is not written yet or documented officially. Therefore, when each person of the Shehri speakers dies an amount of the language goes with him. Similarly, the Arabic language was not written until people start to write it after the death of Prophet Mohammed in order to preserve the holy Quran from being changed and distorts. Before this stage the Arabic language was only exist in their minds and transformed from a generation to another by communication with each other. In the Shehri context, the Shehri language is not written, not fully transformed from a generation to another, people start to avoid using it and preferred to use English or Arabic to show how they are educated. Nettle and Romaine (2000:5) insist that “language might be regarded as an activity, system of communication between human beings. A language is not a self-sustaining entity. It can only exist where there is a community to speak and transmit it.”

In addition, immigration from the mountain to the city provides a space for the two cultures to merge. Thus, some of the young speakers of the language are not able to speak or even understand it. This will result in having a new generation of Shehri speakers that are not able to speak their language. Nettle and Romaine (2000:4) assured that “languages not passed on to the younger generation will eventually die out.” Since the Shehri newer generation are not able to speak the language, therefore, the language is not going to transmit and will extinct.

Types of data

The Data collection part was separated into two main parts; the first part was to update the information about the language. Moreover, to explore and discover why this language is not being studied yet. Also, the main part of this section was to see if such a kind of researches is going to be accepted by the Shehri speakers and tribe leader or not.

Since, there has been an assumption that the reduction of speakers outstanding for not having a written form of the language; this assumption is being abandoned with the Halki’s basic dictionary were a space is being provided for the Arabic speakers in Dhofar and Oman to learn some vocabulary and sentence in Shehri. Therefore, this result leads us to wonder about this continues reduction in the Sheahri speakers. Through meetings with scholars such as Dr. Ali AL Shehri and Khalid AL Maashani, both are Sahehari native speakers, they ensure that the abstention of the new generation is clearly seen these days in their daily life conversation and usage. This leads us to the second assumption of this study.

Second part, was the main data collection in which the aim was: First, to see the what extend the Shehri speakers use their language?. Then, do they find any difficulty in understanding old peoples’ language? Finally, are they aware that their language is at risk of extinction? At the same time to see what they might recommend for their language. To make the aim of this paper more achievable the questions were made easier to the Shehries to answer by shortening the questions and translate them into Arabic. As what Harrison discovers in dealing with endangered languages in Australia “Charlie was not a talkative man, and most of our questions got monosyllabic answers: yeah or no. But once he got to talking, Charlie also shared stories of this place -learned from his father- of the Turkey Dreaming and of the Rainbow Serpent” (Harrison: 2010:98). Therefore, involving their language could provide a better communication environment in this research.

Since they are not used to such studies which was one of the obstacles of gathering the information from them. Moreover, such a research must consider respecting the traditional rules in the Dhofar were females are not allowed to have a face to face conversation with strangers. Therefore, some volunteers from various tribes in Dhofar helped by giving the permission to distribute the questionnaire among their families as a part of their wish to revive the language. This issue but this research at risk of having unreliable data. So, the research methodology needs to look for a strategy to make the data more valid and reliable.

This research conducted using both methods of data quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative data are represented in the questionnaire answers and responds, while the qualitative data is taken from interviewing the participant and the answers from the open-ended questionnaire answers in this study. Such kind of data collection has been described by (Jick 1979) in which he looks at using two or more methods of data collection can be called “triangulation”. According to Jick (1979:1) ” It is largely a vehicle for cross validation when two or more distinct methods are found to be congruent and yield comparable data”. In other words, using such methods might be the reason to accomplish the validity of the research. In addition, the research will get the chance to look at each part of his study from more than one point.

In addition, Olsen (2004) assured that “triangulation is defined as the mixing of data or methods so that diverse viewpoints or standpoints cast light upon a topic.” Considering the advantages and it is drawbacks combining the two methods might help the researcher as to make his own conclusions about a topic especially if we are talking about sociological issues. In addition, Spicer (2012:484) stated that “it is an approach to combining two or more quantitative and/or qualitative methods in addressing a research question in order to cross-check results for consistency and to offset any bias of single research method”. In this context, this research tries to use the triangulation method so it could reach the best, real, and representative data by using both quantitative qualitative data and making use of previous studies about the Shehri l


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