Mehri language

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Pronunciation [mɛhri]
Native to Yemen, Oman
Native speakers
ca. 120,000  (2000–2011)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 gdq
Glottolog mehr1241[2]
"Mahri" redirects here. For other uses, see Mahra.

Mehri or Mahri is a member of the Modern South Arabian languages, a subgroup of the Semitic branch of the Afroasiatic family. It is spoken by the Mehri people, who inhabit isolated areas of the eastern part of Yemen and western Oman, particularly the Al Mahrah Governorate.

Mehri and its sister Modern South Arabian languages were spoken in the southern Arabian Peninsula before the spread of Arabic along with Islam in the 7th century CE. It is today also spoken by Mehri residents in Qatar, Somalia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as in Kuwait by guest workers originally from South Arabia.

Given the dominance of Arabic in the region over the past 1400 years and the frequent bilingualism with Arabic among Mehri speakers, Mehri is at some risk of extinction. It is primarily a spoken language, with little existing vernacular literature and almost no literacy in the written form among native speakers.


Unlike other South Arabian languages, in Mehri the 'emphatic' consonants are not simply ejectives, but may also be pharyngealized as in Arabic. It is possible therefore that Mehri attests to a transition from proto-Semitic ejective consonants to the pharyngealized emphatics found in many of the Semitic languages.[3]

The consonant inventory is as follows:

Labial Dental Alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
Stops Voiced b ~ pʼ d ~ tʼ (dʒ ~ tʃʼ) ɡ
Aspirated ʔ
Emphatic tˁ ~ tʼ
Fricatives Voiced ð z ʁ ~ q ʕ
Tenuis f θ s ʃ χ ħ h
Emphatic θ̬ˁ ~ θʼ s̬ˁ ~ sʼ ʃ̬ˁ ~ ʃʼ
Laterals Voiced l
Tenuis ɬ̠
Emphatic ɬ̬ˁ ~ ɬ̠ʼ
Nasals m n
Rhotic r/ɾ
Semivowels w j

Voiced obstruents, or at least voiced stops, devoice in pausa. In this position, both the voiced and emphatic stops are ejective, losing the three-way contrast (/kʼ/ is ejective in all positions). Elsewhere, the emphatic and (optionally) the voiced stops are pharyngealized. Emphatic (but not voiced) fricatives have a similar pattern, and in non-pre-pausal position they are partially voiced.

The difference in place of the laterals is not clear. It may be that the approximant is denti-alveolar, like the alveolar occlusives, and the lateral fricatives apical, or it may be that the latter are palato-alveolar / alveolo-palatal. These fricatives are typically transcribed ś etc.

/dʒ/ is only found in Arabic loans. It is not clear if the rhotic is a trill or a tap.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mehri at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Mehri". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Watson & Bellem, "Glottalisation and neutralisation", in Hassan & Heselwood, eds, Instrumental Studies in Arabic Phonetics, 2011.


Rubin, Aaron. 2010. The Mehri Language of Oman. Leiden: Brill.

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