Modern South Arabian Languages

The Modern South Arabian or Eastern South Semitic, Eastern South Arabian languages are spoken mainly by minority populations in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen and Oman, which, together with the modern Ethiopian Semitic languages, form the South Semitic branch. In his glottochronology-based classification, A. Militarev presents the Modern South Arabian languages as a South Semitic branch opposed to a North Semitic branch that includes all the other Semitic languages. They are no longer considered to be descendants of the Old South Arabian language, as was once thought. They are known for their apparent archaic Semitic features, especially in their system of phonology—for example, they preserve the lateral fricatives of Proto-Semitic.

  • Mehri is the largest with more than 70,000 speakers in Yemen, more than 50,000 in Oman, and about 15,000 farther afield due to emigration in Kuwait. Population total for all countries is 135,764 (SIL 2000). The Muslim ethnic group itself is called Mahra.
  • Soqotri is another relatively numerous example, with speakers on the island of Socotra isolated from the pressures of Arabic on the Yemeni mainland. According to the 1990 census in Yemen, the number of speakers there was 57,000 (including, perhaps, Soqotris living on the mainland). The population total for all countries (including work emigrants) is estimated at 64,000.
  • Shehri (frequently called Jibbali or "mountain" language), with an estimated 25,000 speakers, is best known as the language of the rebels during the rebellion in Oman's Dhofar province along its border with Yemen in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Bathari: 200 speakers est.
  • Harsusi: 1,000–2,000 speakers est., in Oman
  • Hobyót: 100 speakers est., in Oman

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