A mix of several languages, including English, Hindi, Arabic, Farsi, and Portuguese, Kumzari has, for decades, established itself as an exceptional linguistic heritage but in peril.
KUMZAR, Oman – It is a little after 8:00 p.m. The temperature has fallen significantly below more acceptable standards. Hassan Hassan, dressed in an elegant dishdasha, makes his leather sandals squeal on the warm pebbles of Kumzar . Traditional media pipe in the mouth, the young fisherman of 22 years scans the horizon, the mountains, and the sea.
Lost in the Strait of Hormuz, on the Musandam peninsula, Kumzar, with its 4,500 souls, acts as a small Gallic village in constant resistance. Waypoint of thousands of browser time of the spice trade and slaves (mid-XX th century) and the ancient empire of Muscat and Oman (1859-1970), the village has built a strong identity – and above all, a unique language in the world: Kumzari, the result of the mixture of more than 45 words, including English, Hindi, Arabic, Farsi, and Portuguese.
But since Sultan Qabus took power in 1970, the future of its culture has been in danger. Indeed, it has been almost half a century that Oman has been developing at full speed. The UN classifies the social and economic rise of the Sultanate in its world top 10 since 1970. Since then, education, in particular linguistic, has gradually become a significant issue in the policy of the new Oman.
From the start of his reign, Sultan Qabus thus launched a process of nationalization and standardization, which notably affected language. Arabic, spoken by the entire population, thus becomes the official language of the Sultanate. It made its official appearance for the first time on the Musandam peninsula, where it was in the minority, in 1984, through the construction of the primary school teaching in this language.
Hassan Hassan remembers how hard it was for his generation to put aside his mother tongue for Arabic. “At school, kumzari was now banned. It was weird because, before, we spoke very little Arabic in the village. In fact, it was only in the mosque that it was practiced. Otherwise, it was mainly reserved for the outside. Today everyone is talking about it, ”he told Middle East Eye.
The appearance of television and the internet in the cottages have not helped matters, which makes the young fisherman pessimistic: “In the future, I think kumzari will be reserved for the elders of the village. Young people will only speak Arabic. Even if today, the young people of my generation still talk mostly Kumzari among themselves, the school has turned a lot of things upside down. ”
However, the young man does not regret anything: “This language is unique in the world, yes, but I prefer Arabic. It’s easier to speak Arabic or English because it’s international. On Facebook or WhatsApp, with my girlfriend, whom I met in Muscat, I talk about it. My children, I will teach them Arabic, because it is more useful. ”
Realistically, Hassan Hassan brushes aside the cultural value of Kumari with the back of his hand and reasons practically: “Nobody speaks Kumari. Who in the world can speak it? In New York, do you think someone will answer me if I start talking Kumari? Even on Google Translate, there is no kumari. What prompted me to speak Arabic was 50% school, and 50% my phone. ”
“They are surrounded by the Arabic language.”
Early in the morning, Abdullah Hamed goes to visit his herd of goats. With his face wrinkled, his cap firmly planted on his head, the 58-year-old man squatted with difficulty. His goats wait patiently in the shade for the shepherd to make a gesture or a movement. Beside him, Ali Hassan, a young 20-year – old fisherman, headgear inside out, nylon shorts, exchanges WhatsApp messages with his friends back in town.
Abdullah Hamed is one of the village elders. The man claims to “know everything about everything” about Kumar and its people. He knows how much his city has changed: “I was born on top of these mountains. In the beginning, we had only one source of freshwater for the whole village, no hospital, no school, or electricity. It was merely a crossing point for merchant sailors. ”
Coming from the Ottoman Empire, India, Persia, Portugal, Holland, and many other European countries, the fleets came here to refuel before leaving. “This village is exclusive, like our language, Kumzari. She is unique. The few surrounding communities, facing the strait, speak only Arabic. ”
Would the source of freshwater have been at the origin of the creation of kumzari as suggested by local theory? No one can certify that, just like the exact date of the founding of the village. And not even Abdullah Hamed: “Long ago, during World War II, the years of the founding of the town were written on rocks, but someone took them away. So one day we asked the oldest elder in the village. He was 125 years old. He didn’t know anything either, just that the town already existed when he was born. ”
It is in this context of historical vagueness mainly due to the absence of written sources that Kumzar loses, year after year, the practice of his language, yet an integral part of his identity. Kumzari is today considered “seriously endangered” by UNESCO in its Atlas of Endangered Languages in the World.
Erik Anon, associate professor of French and linguistics at Carleton University, Canada, lived for a few years in Kumzar. The man produced the first dictionary of the Kumzarian language. Contacted by MEE, he confirms that the local language is in danger: “It takes the direction of a disappearance. The Kumzari understands that it is important to keep it because they are proud of it. But there are a lot of social facts that prevent them. They are surrounded by the Arabic language. So if they do not persist in practicing it, this language will disappear because they are in the minority, ”the researcher alarmed.
“ Before, they spoke Kumzari 100% of their time and only spoke Arabic outside the village or with foreigners. But today, whether in the town or at school, they speak Arabic. Children must speak it at school. And when they come home, they turn on the television, which is in Arabic. All media are in Arabic. Only texts and messages on WhatsApp are the exception. They are in Kumzari but written in Arabic. ”
Ali Hassan’s cell phone vibrates. The young man communicates with his friends in Kumzari, but with the Arabic alphabet. At 20, like Hassan Hassan, he is part of this new generation, not very excited about the idea of extending the language of Kumzar beyond the next generations.