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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2011

Erik John Anonby*
Carleton University & Uppsala
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Kumzari is an endangered language spoken by about 4000 people in Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. Speakers of the main dialect are found on the Musandam Peninsula of Oman and in small groups in cities along the Gulf coast of the United Arab Emirates. Laraki, a closely related dialect of the language, is spoken across the Strait of Hormuz by a single community on Larak Island in Iran (Lewis 2011, Anonby & Yousefian in press).

Illustrations of the IPA
Copyright © International Phonetic Association 2011

Kumzari is an endangered language spoken by about 4000 people in Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. Speakers of the main dialect are found on the Musandam Peninsula of Oman and in small groups in cities along the Gulf coast of the United Arab Emirates. Laraki, a closely related dialect of the language, is spoken across the Strait of Hormuz by a single community on Larak Island in Iran (Lewis Reference Lewis2011, Anonby & Yousefian in press).

The Kumzari language was identified by Jayakar (Reference Jayakar1902), and a brief sketch of its grammar and lexicon appeared in Thomas (Reference Thomas1930). Although it is often referred to as a mixed language, its core vocabulary and verbal morphology support Skjærvø's (Reference Skjærvø and Schmitt1989) classification of Kumzari within the Southwestern group of Iranian languages. Still, many of its basic structures, including elements of the phonological system, may be traced to influence from Arabic, including the neighbouring Shihhi dialect of Arabic (see Bayshak Reference Bayshak2002).

The description in this Illustration is based on an analysis of 4500 lexical items and a number of longer texts collected from various Kumzari speakers (al-Kumzari Reference al-Kumzari2009, Anonby & van der Wal Anonby Reference Anonby and van der Wal Anonby2011). Sound recordings have been provided by Noufal Mohammad Ahmed al-Kumzari and Malallah Sulaiman Muhammad al-Kumzari, both residents of Khasab, Oman.


Characteristic phonetic realizations of all contrastive consonants are shown in the consonant table.

One salient element of the Kumzari consonant inventory is a series of velarized (or possibly velaro-pharyngealized) alveolar obstruents. The secondary articulation in these consonants is simultaneous, not limited to the consonants’ release. This series corresponds to the ‘emphatic’ consonants of neighbouring Arabic dialects, but is not limited to the vocabulary that Kumzari has adopted from these varieties.


All consonants are found in initial position.Footnote 1

The glottal stop appears predictably before otherwise word-initial vowels (as in /ʔaːʃ/ ‘stone mill’ above) and, in careful speech, between vowels at morpheme boundaries.

The glottal stop's contrastive nature is, however, evident from its distribution in a wide variety of other positions, as the following words show:

Realizations of /ɻ/

Although the phonetic realization of most consonants is stable, /ɻ/ exhibits several realizations, depending on its environment. In most positions, it is realized as a retroflex approximant [ɻ]. However, when it is found in an onset cluster after an alveolar consonant or before a semivowel, it is realized as an alveolar flap [ɾ]; when it is found in an onset cluster after a non-coronal consonant, it is realized as a retroflex flap [ɽ]; and when it is geminated, it is realized as an alveolar trill [r]. Table 1 illustrates these possibilities.

Table 1 Realizations of /ɻ/.


Kumzari has an inventory of eight contrastive vowels. Five of these are long, and three are short.

Long vowels are shown in the following words:

Contrast between the three short vowels, and between short and long vowels, may be observed in the following words:


On morphologically simple words of more than one syllable, stress falls predictably on the penultimate syllable.

However, stress placement is contrastive for morphologically complex words. Some suffixes, such as the indefinite marker /-eː/, have no effect on the location of their host stem's stress:

Other segmentally analogous suffixes, such as the definite marker /-oː/, cause stress to shift to the penultimate syllable of the complex word. Frequently, depending on the structure of the stem, this shift is accompanied by vowel lengthening and, in some cases, also by harmonization (Anonby Reference Anonby2008):


This section presents a transcription of the fable of ‘The North Wind and the Sun’, as recounted in Kumzari by Malallah Sulaiman Muhammad al-Kumzari.

Orthographic version


I would like to thank the many people who have made this research possible. I would first of all like to thank Christina van der Wal Anonby and Tamara Jahani for encouragement and support during the writing of this article. In Oman, I have appreciated the supervision and input of Dr. Nafla al-Kharousi and Dr. Amel Salman at Sultan Qaboos University. Two referees have also strengthened this article significantly with their suggestions. Finally, I am grateful to all those among the Kumzari who have shown us kindness, in particular the local authorities and several people who shared many insights about their own language. For this article, the contributions of Noufal Mohammad Ahmed al-Kumzari, Malallah Sulaiman Muhammad al-Kumzari and Ali Hassan Ali al-Kumzari have been particularly valuable:


1 The orthographic representation shown in the third column employs the Kumzari writing system, which is based on Arabic script (al-Kumzari Reference al-Kumzari2009, Anonby Reference Anonby2010).


Anonby, Erik J. 2008. Stress-induced vowel lengthening and harmonization in Kumzari. Presented at The 1st International Conference on Languages and Dialects in Iran, University of Sistan and Baluchestan, 28–31 October 2008.Google Scholar
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Anonby, Erik J. & Yousefian, Pakzad. In press. Adaptive multilinguals: A survey of language on Larak Island. Uppsala: Uppsala University Press.Google Scholar
Bayshak, Maryam S. 2002. Are there traces of Sassanian in the language of the Shihuh, and is Kumzari among the affected varieties? The Shihhi dialect in the light of linguistic science. Al-Khaleej (Arabic edition) 8541, 12, 17 October 2002.Google Scholar
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Lewis, Paul (ed.). 2011. Ethnologue: Languages of the world, 16th edn. Dallas, TX: SIL International. []Google Scholar
Skjærvø, Prods Oktor. 1989. Languages of southeast Iran: Lārestānī, Kumzārī, Baškardī. In Schmitt, Rüdiger (ed.), Compendium linguarum iranicarum, 363369. Wiesbaden: Ludwig Reichart.Google Scholar
Thomas, Bertram. 1930. The Kumzari dialect of the Shihuh tribe (Musandam), Arabia, and a vocabulary. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 62, 785854.Google Scholar
Figure 0

Table 1 Realizations of /ɻ/.

Supplementary material: File

Anonby sound files

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