Languages in Oman - What Languages Are Spoken in the Sultanate of Oman?
In the last few decades, Oman has opened its arms to tourists and expats from around the world. It isn't uncommon to hear Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Somali, Portuguese and even Baluchi while wandering on the streets of major cities like Muscat or Salalah. It's becoming highly cosmopolitan as the years go by, and along with many other things in the country, the languages spoken in Oman have also begun to expand.
Official Language of Oman - Arabic
Oman stands tall in the sphere of diversity in language and speech. The people of Oman take great pride in their national language- Arabic which is largely spoken all across the country and has a very rich and welcoming appeal to it. It is predominantly used and is their official language. The presiders of Oman just don’t converse in Arabic but also Urdu, English, Portuguese, Somali, Gujrati and more.
The Omani Arabic has several vernacular dialects which are unique to different regions of Oman including Dhofari Arabic, Shihhi Arabic, Bahrani Arabic which originated and inspired from North Arabic. They are much different from the gulf lingo as they have been inveigled by Hindi and Swahili attracting a new set of terminologies. It is interesting to find a variety of language which has stemmed regionally across the nation.
Native Languages in Oman
Much like any other country, Oman also has native languages that are region specific. Much inspired by south Arabian dialects, they are widely rich in its oral tradition in Oman. In Dhofar, Shehri is the native language; the Mehri tribe communicates in Mehri which originated in the Middle East before being introduced in Arabic, is also spoken in Kuwait ; Harasis inhabitants in Dhofar converse in Harsusi and Hobyot is another existing native language in Oman.
English - The Most Commonly Spoken Language in Oman
The most commonly spoken language after Arabic is English. If you are a tourist, you sure will have no trouble if you don’t speak Arabic because English is there to the rescue. People here are well versed in English and are much welcome to speaking the language. In fact, it is a medium of teaching and training in their institutions as well.
Being a magnet to tourists now, Oman has signs and instructions in English which makes travelling easier here. The English speaking population is sprouting far and wide in the nation and widely encouraging the use of the same.
Baluchi - The Second Most Commonly Spoken Language in Oman
Another primary language used in Oman is Baluchi which is one of the oldest Indo-Iranian languages. It is said that Oman was housed by a huge group of ethnic Baloch migrants which led to the settlement of the Baloch population and the domination of Baluchi as a popular language in Oman. The Baluchi language is known to be closely adjoined to Semitic languages used in Ethiopia. This language is written in the Urdu-Arabic scripture and famously known for its poetry.
Languages by Immigrants
Arabic countries including Oman being discovered rich in crude oil invited a lot of labourers to travel across and venture here. The major populations which settled across were Sindhis, Persians, Gujratis, Portuguese and Somalis. Therefore there was a rich variety in the immigrant languages which also benefited Oman’s ethnicity. Oman thrives in job opportunities thus becoming a huge hub for importing labour.
Oman is engulfed in the multiplicity of languages and manages to stick to the native roots.
There are some indigenous languages that vary between regions in Oman. In the Dhofar region, a Semitic language called Jibbali or Shehri is spoken by a small native population. It is spoken by Omani tribes like Shahra and Bait Ash-Shaik who are generally nomadic or semi-nomadic. It is mostly a spoken language with no particular script or tradition of writing.
In western Oman (specifically Al Mahrah Governorate) a language called Mehri is spoken by the Mehri tribe. Much like Jibbali, it has a rich oral tradition, not a written one. It's believed to have been spoken in the Middle East before the spread of Islam and Arabic. Today, the Mehri language is at risk of extinction.
Kumzari, too, is spoken in the country. An Iranian language, it is spoken in northern Oman and has less than 5,000 speakers. Other indigenous languages of the country that are at risk of extinction are Harsusi from central Oman, Bathari from south-east Oman and Hobyot at Oman's borders with Yemen.
Because of Oman's booming tourism industry, English has become widely understood. It is generally the language of business here. Road signs, as well as official notices, are written in Arabic and English for all to understand. But, despite this growing trend, Arabic remains the official language. It's slightly different from the Arabic spoken in the Gulf region as Oman's Arabic has been influenced by languages such as Swahili and Hindi that have reached its coast and has integrated certain words from these languages. In fact, Oman is believed to have six different dialects of Arabic.
Useful Words and Phrases
Even though the country is welcoming of tourists, and English is the medium of instruction in its schools, it's a sign of courtesy to get acquainted with some Arabic while travelling here. As Frank Smith once said, one language sets you in a corridor for life. Do two languages open every door along the way?. So, here is a list of basic Arabic greetings and phrases to learn before travelling to Oman:
Hello - Marhaba
Thank you - Shukran
(In response) You're welcome - Afwan
Please - Min fadhlik
Sorry - Aasif
How are you? - Shnolik?
Pardon me - Lau samaht (to men), lau samahti (to women)
Goodbye - Masalama
What is your name ? Shoo ismak (to men), shoo ismish (to women)
My name is - Ismee
I speak English - Bihki inglizi
I do not speak Arabic - Mah bihki arabi
Peace be upon you - As-salaamu-alaikum
(In response) And unto you peace - Wa-alaikum-salaam
God-willing - Inshallah
Yes - Naam
No - La
Come - yallah
Go away - imshi
Okay - Kwayyis
Not okay - mish kwayyis
What time is it? - Kam as saa?
What? - Shu?
Hotel - funduq
Hospital - mustashfa
Doctor - doctor
Police - boulees
Embassy - safara
Food - akl
Airport - matar
Town - madina
City - madinat
Market - souk
Money - fulus
Hot - haar
Cold - bareed
Today - al yoom
Tomorrow - bokhra
Yesterday - ams
Arabic, like most languages, has certain syntax about genders. Notice how certain phrases change while talking to men and while talking to women. While talking to someone of the opposite sex, keep in mind that communication between the sexes is minimal in Oman and you should remain respectful so that your intentions are not misconstrued.
While travelling in Oman, you should have no problem in communicating with the locals in English. It is spoken in major cities and in most towns, to a certain degree. However, there's nothing like speaking to a local in their own language! Watch as their eyes light up when you speak in Arabic, and enjoy the kinship that comes after.