Mehri language

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Native toYemen, Oman
EthnicityMehri people
Native speakers
165,900 (2011-2015)[1]
Arabic alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3gdq
Modern South Arabian Languages.svg

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 tribes, 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 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.


Abu Muhammad al-Hasan al-Hamdani noted that "the Mahra speak a barbarous tongue like foreigners". Elsewhere, Hamdani showed extensive knowledge of Arabian dialects, each of which was rated in its distance from classical Arabic.[3]

Today, Mehri exists in two main dialects, Yemeni Mehri (also known as Southern Mehri) and Omani Mehri (also known as Dhofari Mehri and Nagd Mehri). Omani Mehri is spoken by a smaller population and shows no significant variation within itself, but Yemeni Mehri is further divided into western and eastern dialects.[4]


Unlike other Modern South Arabian languages, Mehri 'emphatic' consonants are not simply ejectives. They may also be pharyngealized, as in Arabic, so it is possible for Mehri to attest to a transition from proto-Semitic ejective consonants to the pharyngealized emphatics that are found in many Semitic languages.[5]

The consonant inventory is as follows:

Labial Dental Lateral Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyngeal Glottal
laminal sibilant
Nasal m n
Plosive voiceless ʔ
voiced b~pʼ d~tʼ (dʒ~tʃʼ) ɡ
emphatic tˤ~tʼ
Fricative voiceless f θ s ɬ ʃ χ ħ h
voiced ð z ʁ~q ʕ
emphatic θˤ~θʼ sˤ~sʼ ɬˤ~ɬʼ ʃˤ~ʃʼ
Rhotic r~ɾ
Semivowel w l j

The vowel inventory is as follows:

Front Central Back
Mid ə
ɛ ɛː
Open a aː

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 or alveolo-palatal. The fricatives are typically transcribed ś, etc.

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


The following are the personal pronouns of Mehri:

Singular Dual Plural
1st hōh kīh nḥah
2nd hēt tīh tām
3rd hēh hīh hām
Singular Dual Plural
1st hōh kīh nḥah
2nd hīt tīh tān
3rd sēh hīh sān

The following are the possessive suffix versions of those pronouns:

Singular Dual Plural
1st -kī -(a)n
2nd -(a)k -kī -kam
3rd -(a)h -hī -ham
Singular Dual Plural
1st -kī -(a)n
2nd -(a)š -kī -kan
3rd -(a)s -hī -san

The independent pronouns can also be placed after the genitive exponent (ð-) to convert them into possessive pronouns ("mine" etc).[6]

Writing system[edit]

Mehri, like other MSA languages, possesses a rich oral tradition, but not a written one.[7][8] There exist three systems for writing the language: the Arabic alphabet, a modified Latin alphabet and a modified Arabic alphabet. The modified Arabic alphabet contains additional letters to represent sounds unique to Mehri[9].

The most commonly used system is the one with unmodified Arabic letters. This is a defective system and represents multiple phonemes with the same letters. In both Arabic and Arabic modified systems the vowels are not explicitly differentiated, and are differentiated by the readers through context[9].

The modified Arabic alphabet has various unstandardized systems.[10][11][12][dead link] The most commonly used modified Arabic additional letters[13] as documented and proposed by the MSAL center at University of Leeds.[13]

Romanization IPA Workaround letters[14][15] Leeds proposed letters[14][15] proposed letters[11]
ś ɬ ث پ ڛ
ṣ̌ ʃˤ ض ڞ
ṯ̣ / ḏ̣ θ̬ˤ~θʼ ظ ڟ
ź ɬ̬ˤ~ɬ̠ʼ~ʒ ذ چ‎ / ڌ چ
ē / ɛ̄ ɛ(ː) ي ێ

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mehri at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Mehri". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. ^ Abu Muhammad al-Hasan Hamdani, Sifat Jazirat al-'Arab (probably ed. 1884), 134 tr. Chaim Rabin (1951). Ancient West-Arabian. London: Taylor's Foreign Press. p. 43.
  4. ^ Rubin, Aaron (2010). The Mehri Language of Oman. BRILL. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9789004182639. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  5. ^ Watson & Bellem, "Glottalisation and neutralisation", in Hassan & Heselwood, eds, Instrumental Studies in Arabic Phonetics, 2011.
  6. ^ Rubin 2010, 33.
  7. ^ SIMEONE-SENELLE, Marie-Claude (November 2013). "Mehri and Hobyot Spoken in Oman and Yemen". LLACAN - Langage, LAngues et Cultures d'Afrique Noire: 1 – via HALSHS.
  8. ^ Rubin, Aaron (2010-05-17). The Mehri Language of Oman. BRILL. p. 12. ISBN 9004182632.
  9. ^ a b OBEID ABDULLA ALFADLY, HASSAN. "The Morphology of Mehri Qishn dialect in Yemen" (PDF).
  10. ^ Almakrami, Mohsen Hebah (2015-11-22). "Number, Gender and Tense in Aljudhi Dialect of Mehri Language in Saudi Arabia". Theory and Practice in Language Studies. 5 (11): 2230–2241. doi:10.17507/tpls.0511.06. ISSN 1799-2591.
  11. ^ a b "Mehri Arabic Alphabet".
  12. ^ "The Shahri language and its relationship with Classical Arabic".[dead link]
  13. ^ a b "MSAL Orthographic Characters". University of Leeds.
  14. ^ a b "Orthographic Characters" (PDF). University of Leeds. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  15. ^ a b "20190515_Bibliography of the Modern South Arabian languages" (PDF). University of Leeds. Retrieved 25 July 2019.


Rubin, Aaron. 2010. The Mehri Language of Oman. Leiden: Brill. Rubin, Aaron, 2018. Omani Mehri: A New Grammar with Texts. Leiden: Brill.

External links[edit]