The precise affiliation of the Mahri language within the Semitic language family remains a topic for debate. Until recently, scholarly consensus had assigned the Mahri language to the South Semitic subgroup (Faber, 1997 & Rodgers, 1991). Within the South Semitic subgroup, Mahri and its closest living relatives—communally labeled the Modern South Arabian (MSA) languages—were believed to constitute its eastern lobe, while the Ethiosemitic and ASA languages were believed to constitute its western and central lobes, respectively. More recent scholarship has reclassified the MSA languages as an independent branch of a West Semitic subgroup that is parallel to the Ethiosemitic and Central Semitic (Arabic, ASA, Hebrew, et al.) branches (Rubin, 2008).
Mahri is the most widely spoken MSA language with a nearly contiguous territory of speakers that stretches from al-Mahra in eastern Yemen to Jiddat al-Ḥarāsīs in central Oman (including diaspora communities in the Gulf states). The other MSA languages are Baṭḥāri, Śḥēri/Jibbāli, Ḥarsūsi, Hobyot, and Soqōṭri, all of which are native to either Yemen or Oman. Baṭḥāri and Hobyot are virtually undocumented (with the exception of Morris, 1983) and are likely on the verge of extinction. Although separated geographically from the core Mahri speaking territory, Ḥarsūsi is mutually intelligible with Mahri and should probably be reclassified as a dialect of Mahri (Rubin, 2010: 6). Although spoken in smaller numbers than Mahri, Śḥēri/Jibbāli and Soqōṭri speakers are consolidated in regions bounded by discrete geographical features (the mountains of Dhofar for the former and the Arabian Sea for the latter); this fact may vouchsafe their security in the near future.