When Melodies Gather: Oral Art of the Mahra

Number of Speakers

Due to permeable geographical, tribal, and linguistic boundaries, it is difficult to derive a precise figure for the number of Mahri speakers. The Yemeni Central Statistical Organization (CSO) sets the population of Governate of al-Mahra at 105,000 individuals in 2010. This figure does not distinguish between Mahri speakers and Arabic monolinguals living in the Governorate of al-Mahra. According to the CSO’s data, the number of Mahri speakers in Yemen would be substantially lower than what I have proposed elsewhere (187,000 speakers in Liebhaber, 2011b: 252). My estimate is based on population numbers and growth rates provided by al-ʾAhdal (al-ʾAhdal, 1999: 12) and al-Qumayrī (al-Qumayrī, 2000: 30), although neither al-ʾAhdal nor al-Qumayrī cite the provenance of their data. Neither the CSO’s nor my calculations take Omani Mahri speakers or Mahri speakers living in the diaspora into account; both populations would significantly increase the overall number of Mahri speakers (although perhaps not double them). An approximate figure of 100,000 Mahri speakers has been suggested by Anda Hofstede and Marie Claude Simeone-Senelle (Simeone-Senelle, 1997a: 378), as well as Aaron Rubin (Rubin, 2010: 1). The Ethnologue online entry for ISO 639-3: gdq (“Mehri”) gives a figure of 70,643 Mahri speakers in Yemen and 135,764 Mahri speakers worldwide in 2000. These figures fall within a reasonable range, although the methodologies by which they were calculated are not indicated.

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