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The Modern South Arabian languages (MSAL) are seldom mentioned in Islamic studies, as they never served as a literary vehicle. They began to be written only very recently, mainly in text messages, and their use is confined to the domestic environment and oral poetry.

Despite this, the MSAL fall neatly within Bausani’s concept of “lingua islamica”: firstly, they have been influenced by an Arabic superstratum since time immemorial, which left numerous traces in their lexis and, to a lesser extent, in other linguistic domains. Secondly, their speakers embraced Islam in the course of a slow but steady process, which began with the wars of apostasy (632-33 CE) and was still ongoing in mid-20th century. Hence, the Islamic culture, conveyed by their Arabic-speaking neighbours, whom they felt as more prestigious, exerted an enormous pressure on the cultural setting of MSAL speakers. Additionally, and in contrast with other Islamic languages, virtually every speaker of a MSAL is proficient in Arabic, and has been so for at least five centuries.

In light of the above-mentioned facts, this study describes the extent to which the MSAL can be considered Islamic languages, by looking at their phonetics, morphology, syntax and lexis through the lens of Bausani’s framework. The conclusions show that the MSAL retain remarkably resilient native elements which co-exist with likewise strong Arabic/Islamic elements in a culturally and linguistically functional system.

In: Eurasian Studies


The present study analyses etymologically, morphologically and phonologically 98 anthroponyms extracted from the Jibbali/Śḥert lexica. For each anthroponym (including personal names and laqab), a meaning is provided (where available), and the relevant etymological connections are explored in contemporary and ancient languages spoken in the vicinity of the Modern South Arabian-speaking area: Arabic, Ancient South Arabian languages and Ancient North Arabian. The study avails itself of the collaboration of a native speaker of Jibbali/Śḥert, who provides an audio recording of the anthroponyms examined. Thus, some remarks are made on the variety spoken by this individual. Finally, the peculiar morphology of the quadriliteral and quinqueliteral adjectival classes (to which some of these anthroponyms belong) is discussed. The conclusions propose a picture of the semantics expressed by Jibbali/Śḥert anthroponyms, and point to most personal names being of native origin, although a significant part of them is borrowed/shared with the other languages mentioned above.

In: The IOS Annual Volume 22: “Telling of Olden Kings”


Jibbali/Śḥərɛ̄́t is a language belonging to the Modern South Arabian (msa) branch of Semitic. It is currently endangered and spoken by an estimate of 50,000 ~ 70,000 people living in the Omani governorate of Dhofar. Similarly to the other msa languages, it is unwritten, and the survival of its speakers’ traditional knowledge rests on their ability to memorise and retain a large amount of information in the form of poetry, songs, folk-tales and proverbs.

In 2000, ʕAli al-Shahri, a Dhofari historian and native speaker of Jibbali/Shahret, published a bilingual English/Arabic monograph named The Language of Aad/لغة عاد which is intended as an introduction to a wide array of aspects of the local culture, ranging from the toponymy of Dhofar, its traditional dances, songs, poetry and proverbs, to more unusual topics such as star-names, children games, traditional land allotment and more. This paper focuses on one of the most prominent topics of the monograph in question, namely a collection of 210 proverbs. Each proverb in this collection is provided with a translation in English and Arabic, and is presented in al-Shahri’s work by means of an idiosyncratic transcription system based on the Arabic script, in which linguistic sounds specific to msa are represented by coloured Arabic characters, to the detriment of comprehension.

This paper aims at providing a linguistically viable description of these proverbs, by presenting them in a standard Semitic transcription. The transcription presented proceeds from the analysis of al-Shahri’s original recording (which features al-Shahri himself uttering these 210 proverbs one by one) stored at the Semitische Tonarchiv (SemArch) at the University of Heidelberg. Additionally, the original English and Arabic translations provided by al-Shahri are reported. These are followed by a brief commentary containing a description of each relevant term, as well as a general account of the meaning of each proverb.

The conclusions pinpoint some phonetic, phonological, morphological, syntactic and lexical characteristics of the material examined, and identify a number of divergences and commonalities with other present-day and ancient Semitic subgroups which bear witness to the long and unwritten history of the Jibbali/Śḥərɛ̄́t language.

Open Access
In: Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia