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The Kumzari language community: Evaluating language vitality and endangerment

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Title: The Kumzari language community: Evaluating language vitality and endangerment
Issue Date: 12 Mar 2015
Description: In “Language Shift and Language Revitalization,” Hornberger (2010) surveys research projects on language maintenance in various regions of the world since the mid-1990s while also analyzing conceptual and methodological issues. Language minority communities in the Arab World, however, have largely been ignored. This paper considers research about the Kumzari language community (Author 2013) while examining factors associated with language vitality and endangerment that can be applied to other small language groups.

The Kumzari language, with approximately 3,000 speakers in the Musandam Governorate of Oman, is an Iranian language with influence from Arabic, Hindi, Portuguese, and English. Contact with traders and sailors along the Strait of Hormuz was largely responsible for the emergence of the Kumzari language; however, increased contact with other languages and cultures now threaten this community.

Various classifications for assessing language minority communities will be examined. The 2003 UNESCO document entitled “Language Vitality and Endangerment” considers nine factors. Other researchers have also suggested systematic approaches to describing language minority communities (see Fishman 1991 & 2001, Edwards 1992, Grenoble & Whaley 1998, Romaine 2006, and Lewis and Simons 2010); however, designing and agreeing on a typology may be impossible due to the wide range of factors pertaining to small language groups.

At-risk languages must be described within a continuum, and no single factor can be used to evaluate the vitality of a language. Still, factors including intergenerational transmission, proportion of the speakers within the total population, and language domains appear to be the most important when assessing a language.

Language minority communities continue to face challenges in Arab countries where constitutions clearly state that Arabic is the official language. The stated goal of many countries experiencing the “Arab Spring” has been democracy and inclusiveness; however, individuals speaking minority languages risk passive, active, or even forced linguistic assimilation.

The presenter, while also citing earlier research on Berbers in Tunisia (Author 1999), will argue that additional research on language minority communities in the Arab World (such as with Kumzari speakers) is needed, and unfolding events will greatly influence these languages and their speakers.


Author. 1999. “The Gradual Death of the Berber Language in Tunisia.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language 137: 151-165.

Author. 2013. The Status of Kumzari and its Speakers: A Local Language of the Musandam Peninsula of Oman.” Language Problems and Language Planning 37.1: 18-30.

Edwards, John. 1992. Sociopolitical aspects of language maintenance and loss: Towards a typology of minority language situations. Willem Fase, Koen Jaspaert, & Sjaak Kroon, eds. Maintenance and Loss of Minority Languages. Philadelphia: John Benjamins. 37-54.

Fishman, Joshua A. 1991. Reversing Language Shift: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Fishman, Joshua A. 2001. Can Threatened Languages Be Saved? Reversing Language Shift Revisited: A 21st Century Perspective. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Grenoble, Lenore A. & Lindsay J. Whaley, eds. 1998. Endangered Languages: Current Issues and Future Prospects. Cambridge: Cambridge U. P.

Hornberger, Nancy H. 2010. Language shift and language revitalization. Robert B. Kaplan, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Applied Linguistics. Second edition. Oxford: Oxford U. P. 412-420.

Lewis, M. Paul & Gary F. Simons. 2010. Assessing endangerment: Expanding Fishman’s GIDS. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique 55/2:103-120.

Romaine, Suzanne. 2006. Planning for the survival of linguistic diversity. Language Policy 5:441-473.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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