In Marib, a Poet Preserves Nearly Forgotten Words

Zain Alaabdain Ben Ali
Abdullah Said al-Attar visited several Yemeni cities before settling in the Bedouin community of Wadi Abida district, east of Marib, in 1997. He’s working on Yemen’s first dictionary of Maribi words and documenting all his research.
Abdullah Said al-Attar. © Oais al-Hamdani / Arabia Felix Magazine

Born in 1977 in Ibb Governorate, al-Attar is deputy director of the Educational Media and Public Relations Department of the Ministry of Education in Marib. 

A member of the Yemeni Writers Union and the World Poets Association, he won the President of the Republic’s Poetry Award in 2005. His published collection of poems is titled On the Banks of a Dream.

Al-Attar spoke with us about Yemeni dialects and their potential as a catalyst for coexistence among Yemenis.

Arabia Felix: What drew you to the Marib dialect?

Abdullah Saeed al-Attar: I have always had a passion for dialects because of my interest in language. Unlike other Yemeni dialects, Marib’s had not been studied or documented in any way. I wanted to provide a reference for researchers and anyone else interested.

“Preserving dialects protects customs, traditions, and the art of spoken word from dying a slow death.”

Arabia Felix: What methods and techniques do you use to search for vocabulary?

Abdullah Saeed al-Attar: I’ve been reading and listening to Maribi poetry. In the field, I interviewed people who still speak the old Marib dialect and use its vocabulary in various expressions. That helped me with meanings. I alphabetised all the words I collected and added phonetic spellings, along with sayings and stories for each entry. 

The book’s contents are divided into various sections such as flora, fauna, and cookery. I presented some of the material in over 190 episodes for a broadcast programme on Marib Radio over a five-year period. The draft is 800 pages.

Arabia Felix: What are your goals in documenting this dialect?

Abdullah Saeed al-Attar: My aim is to preserve these old words and protect the dialect from dying out. Few young people here know anything about it.

My work is also a gesture of gratitude to this governorate, which received me warmly and shared illuminating aspects of its cultural heritage.

سيناريو إحدى الحلقات الإذاعية التي قدّم فيها عبد الله سعيد العطّار جزءًا من معجمه. © أويس الهمداني | مجلة العربيّة السّعيدة

Abdullah Said al-Attar shared the fruits of his research about the old Marib dialect on local radio for five years.
© Oais al-Hamdani / Arabia Felix Magazine

Arabia Felix: Why hasn’t the lexicon been published yet?

Abdullah Saeed al-Attar: Printing costs exceed my financial capacity, and given the country’s difficult economic situation, I have found no support from official or private cultural and media institutions. 

Arabia Felix: How is documenting these dialects and preserving their diversity important for future coexistence in Yemen?

Abdullah Saeed al-Attar: Dialects reflect identities as well as daily behaviour. Since they are passed from one generation to the next, the present becomes disconnected from the past without them. Preserving them protects customs, traditions, and the art of spoken word from dying a slow death. To uphold the diversity of dialects means nothing less than safeguarding Yemen’s historical identities and their future. 

Yemeni dialects share the same linguistic origin stemming from the Himyarite period, when one language was spoken across the entire region. As common linguistic denominators, dialects are an expression of Yemen’s cultural heritage; they provide a path of coexistence through their authenticity and adaptability. This enables a kind of bridge-building over time.

Arabia Felix: What is your message to specialists and institutions concerned with culture and preservation of Yemeni heritage?

Abdullah Saeed al-Attar: I would tell them that their interest in documenting and preserving our culture will have a healing effect on people’s minds. This is how we can link our past with the present.


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