Posh Sanna'a-speak is putting provincial slang out of biz as Yemmenis mask their many tongues
Yemen is a melting pot of tongues, producing a new dominant strain or Sana'a lingo
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Mohammed Mansoor was born in Aden and moved to Sana’a when he was two. Though he’s now in his twenties, he still speaks like an Adeni, using regional slang from the South. But only in his home and with his family. On the street—with work colleagues and friends—he tries to speak more like the people around him.
In rapidly urbanizing Sana’a—where Yemenis from distinct regions and cities live side by side—a common, more homogenous Yemeni Arabic has emerged.
Khalil Ba Matraf is from Hadramout. She learned quickly that when in Sana’a she has to change the way she speaks.
“Our Hadrami words are hard to understand. If I were to use my own dialect [in Sana’a], it wouldn’t be easy,” she said.
Regional dialects differ even within Yemen’s many regions and over 20 governorates.
Matraf explains that in Hadramout some people will use a spattering of Swahili and Hindi words in their conversation, especially if their families’ have roots in India or Africa.
“Even in Hadramout [we have to] use clear words to be understood,” she explained. “There are a variety of dialects in Hadramout, too.” Sana’anis, too, refrain from using their local slang, despite the fact that they live in their hometown.
“People laugh at me and don’t reply if I use Sana’a’ni words,” said Altaf Al-Haymi, a-22-year-old who was born and raised in the capital. “I have to use other vocabulary at work.” For example, when speaking to coworkers she knows to not use to not say “ bard,” Sana’ani for “glass,” or “ dimah” which means “kitchen” in the Sana’ani. A common language Doctor Abdul-Salam Al-Gwrafi, from the Faculty of Languages in Sana’a University, said that there is a new common Yemeni dialect that has emerged in Yemen—and especially in Sana’a—over the past three or four decades.
In the '70s, Al-Gwrafi says, Yemenis would have had a much harder time understanding each other. Dialects were more distinct.
Doctor Mohammed Nayf, also from the Faculty of Languages in Sana’a University, said that it’s a natural process—people will always try to find the most succinct way to communicate.
In the capital, Nayf explains, local dialects may be perceived as provincial, or backwards. If they use the language of their hometown, some fear that they may appear unsophisticated, from poor or rural backgrounds.
Whether regional dialects will be resilient enough to survive the country’s urbanization remains to be seen.
Ibrahim Hadi comes from Hajja but has been living in Sana’a for the past three years.
“No one will understand me if I [say] irba which means ‘look,’ so I say ‘ shuf,’” Hadi says. “We wouldn’t say [ shuf] in my town. But [here] I have to.” Hadi say that he’s embarrassed when he lets a word from the Hajja dialect slip into his daily conversation.
“I try my best to use the easy words, the words everybody uses,” he says. “That’s better for me.”
Have your say: Is this just a typical trend wherein regional accents are subverted to a fashionable urban-speak? Is the rich Yemen-Arabic lingo in danger of dying out to city-chic that will destroy a heritage? Or is the Yemeni linguistic case unique?