In the northern tip of Oman, where the Strait of Hormuz’s trade currents converge, lies the fishing village of Kumzar. This isolated enclave, accessible solely by boat, boasts an linguistic identity that teeters on the brink of extinction.
Where different worlds meet
Kumzar’s language, known as Kumzari, is an amalgamation of different languages, with traces of 45 different tongues interwoven into its very fabric. Middle Eastern influences, such as Arabic and Farsi, meld with European tongues like French, Portuguese, and even English.
Over centuries, Kumzar has witnessed empires vying for control of the strategically vital Straits, a pivotal point along the global trade route to the Gulf region. As seafarers from across the globe paused to replenish their water supplies, it is said that locals, mostly fishermen, assimilated their diverse languages of the seafarers, who used the village due to its location within the spice trade routes, connecting the Arabian Peninsula to the Indian subcontinent.
“There are some words in the Kumzari language that are the same to the English language,” explained Khalid Al Kumzari, a resident of the region, to Euronews. “For example ‘door’, it’s a door in Kumzari language,” says Al Kumzari, “And ‘off rain’ means to stop the rain.”
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In danger of extinction
In the present day, the village only has 4,000 inhabitants. Alarming warnings from UNESCO have placed the dialect in the “seriously endangered” category, with linguists fearing its extinction within the next half-century. For many endangered languages like this one, the common thread is the loss of local culture, a phenomenon exacerbated by rural depopulation trends.
Within the Musandam peninsula, Kumzari still finds vigorous use in domestic and traditional spheres of life. Yet, the prevalence of Arabic-dominated domains, encompassing religion, education, media, government work, and commerce, threatens the language’s vitality. Even within traditionally Kumzari-speaking contexts, the influx of Arabic vocabulary or even English at the expense of other influences is palpable.