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Oman’s national unity racks up high cultural costs as local languages fall silent

Oman's rich linguistic diversity is dwindling after fifty years of domination by Arabic as the language of education, trade and official correspondence.
Portrait of Mabroot Al Mashali, a former soldier of the Dhofar Rebellion in Southern Oman.

Language death is neither new nor rare — a language disappears every fortnight. Often, the loss of a language undermines a vivid local identity, its traditions and history, subsumed by a broader identity characterized by dominant languages.

In Oman, the Gulf Cooperation Council country with the greatest linguistic diversity, eight of the country’s 10 languages are threatened or dying, according to UNESCO’s Atlas of Endangered Languages. They range from Jabbali, a South Arabic language spoken in the country’s Dhofar mountain range, to Kumzari, a severely endangered Southwestern Iranian language spoken by 5,000 people.

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