Plenary talk at Endangered Languages Outreach Day

Janet Watson presented a plenary talk on documentation of Modern South Arabian on 14th May at the Endangered Languages Outreach Event, SOAS, London, with a telephonic contribution by Ali al-Mahri.

Endangered Languages Outreach Event

In this paper, I examine links between language and culture within the Modern South Arabian language (MSAL) communities of Oman and mainland Yemen.

Language and culture are inextricably linked – language reflects and describes the culture of the community, cultural gestures rarely lack communicative function, and when a culture comes under threat, the linguistic elements associated with that culture begin to be lost. The traditional culture of MSAL communities is becoming increasingly fragile, a significant contributive factor to language endangerment; urbanisation, rapid commercialisation, compulsory education in Arabic, and a rise in living standards has resulted in the collapse of many aspects of the culture which used to characterise the region. This rapid economic and socio-political change has also resulted in the MSAL languages increasingly falling into disuse. And where younger speakers may still understand the language, many can no longer practise or describe traditional cultural practices.

I examine the significance of the languages within the larger Semitic language family, a selection of features of typological interest, and the importance of documenting the languages and culture of the MSAL language communities at a time of intense sociological, economic and environmental change.

The paper features a telephonic contribution in Arabic by Ali al-Mahri in which he describes matrilineal naming conventions, and recites his own lineage spanning 20 generations and a period of over 500 years.