Language

Soqotri belongs to an early pre-literate language group spoken only in Southern Arabia, known as the Modern South Arabian (MSA) languages which includes Mehri, Hobyot, Harsusi, Bathari and Jibbali. The Soqotri language has a variety of local dialects that are found in different areas of the island, adding to the richness of this unique language. Unfortunately, the Soqotri language is under direct threat from the spread of Arabic, which is used widely in education and media. This is exacerbated by the fact that Soqotri has no written form, and it is highly likely that without immediate action the Soqotri language will disappear.

The Soqotri have a very rich and ancient poetic tradition that is a treasure trove of the Soqotran language and cultural traditions. Poets can be found throughout the island, and in virtually every village one may find women and men composing a variety of poems about life on the island. Poets are often invited to weddings and other social events to perform.

In recent years there has been attempts to organise an annual poetry competition that would help to keep the Soqotri language alive and allow talented poets compete for poet of the year, a highly prestigious title. The rules of the competition are simple: the poems must be purely in Soqotri (any Arabic words will result in disqualification), they must be original, and previous winners are not allowed to compete. Aspiring poets wishing to compete are required to perform their poems in front of a judge’s panel, made up of previous winners, who will judge its originality and ensure no Arabic words are used.