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National Identity Building and the Question of Language in Modern Oman

Lecture by Roberta Morano (University of Leeds/Oman Research Grant)

This lecture appraises the impact of the “Renaissance Narrative” built by Sultan Qaboos in the Seventies on the transformation of the linguistic landscapes in Oman. The role played by Sultan Qaboos in the building of a ‘new nation’ is undeniable, although some scholars attribute a certain degree of mythological construct to his political discourse. Nevertheless, Sultan Qaboos was faced with the enormous task of having to bridge over the fragmentation of early Omani society by building a new national identity that was shared by its various ethno-linguistic communities and tribal groups. Modern Oman is, in fact, the result of a great biocultural diversity developed over centuries of internal and external displacement, maritime trades and foreign incursions, but also of a very deep indigenous dichotomy, i.e., Imamate versus Sultanate, the interior and the coast, tradition versus modernity.

The material presented in this lecture ranges from selected Royal Speeches to Qaboos’ education policies, which will highlight the vital role played by the “human capital” in Qaboos’ political discourse, but also the key points of the new Sultan’s idea of ‘nationhood’ and its relation to the question of language. Language plays a pivotal role in the sense of identity of a people, often used in political nationalist discourse as one of the key elements to justify belonging. This is partly the case in Oman, whose linguistic differences are strikingly heterogeneous and still crucial in the identity paradigm of Omanis. We have numerous evidence of accelerating linguistic change in Oman due to the social and political vicissitudes this lecture will investigate. Examples can be drawn from radio and TV materials, but also early linguistic works on Omani Arabic and the personal fieldwork data collected in northern Oman.

Roberta Morano is a research fellow at the University of Leeds. Currently she is a visiting research fellow at ZMO with the Oman Research Grant.

The event will be held in a hybrid format. Please register here to participate via Zoom. For participation on site at ZMO, no registration is required.