Category Archives: Socotra

On Socotri language

Russian roots and Yemen’s Socotra language

by Mansur Mirovalev, Al Jazeera, March 11, 2015

Moscow, Russia – The Semitic language spoken by more than 50,000 inhabitants of Yemen’s Socotra island is a linguistic time machine.

Socotri is the most archaic and isolated of several archaic and isolated tongues spoken in Yemen and Oman known as “modern South Arabian languages”. Its vocabulary is immensely rich – for example, there are distinct verbs for “to go” according to the time of the day, or for “to give birth” depending on the animal involved.

Socotri’s roots are close to the oldest written Semitic tongues that died out thousands of years ago – and it has grammatical features that no longer exist in Arabic, Hebrew or Aramaic. The study of Socotri helps understand the deep, prehistoric past – and the subsequent evolution – of all Semitic tongues.

“This is a very archaic linguistic and literary system that in many ways, I think, has preserved what we, the scholars, are used to perceive as the Biblical world or the ancient Arabic world,” Leonid Kogan, professor of Semitic languages at Moscow’s Institute for Oriental and Classical Studies, told Al Jazeera.

Then how is it that Socotri’s first alphabet was invented five millennia after the cuneiform tablets in Akkadian – the first written Semitic tongue – and it happened some 5,000km north of Socotra, in Russia’s Moscow?

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Socotra Film

socotrastand

One of the remaining marvels off the east coast of Africa is the island archipelago of Socotra, historically associated with Yemen, the nation which it belongs to. Socotra is a preserve of biodiversity with a local population not yet catapulted into the under-development pains of the 21st century. There is a fascinating film about the need to protect Socotra’s unique environment and its people from the devastating impact of uncontrolled “development.” Among the individuals speaking is Dutch ecologist Paul Scholte, who has extensive research experience both in Yemen and Africa. Check out both parts of the film here and here. There are a number of Youtube videos on Socotra, but most are tourist oriented and do not match the information level of this film.

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