Radio remains one of the oldest and most functional means of reaching citizens with varying educational levels and diverse backgrounds in remote areas.
Thanks to significant technological advances in the media sector, radio has adapted to the digital era and maintained its vital importance. In an age of cultural and linguistic diversity, broadcasters are compelled to keep up with the demands of their audiences with various communication channels, including a variety of dialects and languages.
Dialects are Diversity Made Audible
The Sana’a-based Yemen Times Radio has broken new ground in its use of languages and dialects longed for by its diverse audience.
Founded in 2012, the station broadcasts programmes on religious and cultural affairs in classical Arabic, but employs Yemeni dialects such as Sana’ani, Taizi, Adeni and Hadhramauti in other programmes to promote a spirit of inclusion.
“We use these dialects to build a culture of tolerance and coexistence,” said Yahya Sharaf, programme manager at Yemen Times Radio.
“Dialects represent a heritage we cherish; they’re a vessel to deliver this message directly to our audience,” he added.
Fatoum Mohammed, a homemaker in her 50s, enjoys radio broadcasts in her native Sana’ani dialect.
“When I listen to the presenter, I’m never bored,” she said, “because I understand everything being said and I can engage with the show.”
Yemen Times Radio enjoys a lively interaction with its audience. When Sana’a listeners hear their own dialect on the air, said Sharaf, a mixture of pride and curiosity might prompt them to explore additional dialects, such as Taizi, Adani or Hadhramauti in other broadcasts.
“The shared experience brings them together,” he said. “This is how radio embodies the diversity of dialects as a common heritage of the Yemeni people.”
“We use these dialects to build a culture of tolerance.”
Yemen Times Radio also airs programmes in English and Amharic, which means it reaches wider groups and encourages greater cultural exchange. Some shows specifically target women and children, while others are aimed at marginalised communities such as muhamasheen and people with disabilities.
Ibrahim Ahmad, a sanitation worker in his 20s, has been listening to Yemen Times Radio for six years. He’s a big fan of Sweetest Morning, a daily broadcast hosted by journalist Sinaa Khalid.
“The presenter speaks in a simple, fresh style that’s very engaging,” said Ahmad, adding that the programme’s upbeat approach has inspired a positive shift in his behaviour. He noted that he interacts with his wife and children more than before; even his outlook on life is brighter.
“The show addresses family affairs and marital issues, which are subjects I’m really interested in,” he said. “That’s why I’m a regular listener.”
“White Arabic” Provides Common Ground Sinaa Khalid hosts additional programmes at Yemen Times Radio, some of which address women’s issues. In her experience, it makes sense to reach audiences through a common Yemeni language, which is also preferred by ad clients who find classical Arabic somewhat stiff for the airwaves and less conversational.
White Arabic, as the simplified form of the language is called locally, avoids complex vocabulary and does not lean towards any specific regional dialect. Because it’s easy to understand, it serves as a bridge between various Yemeni dialects.
“Addressing the audience in white Arabic and slowly introducing words from my Taizi dialect supports cohesion,” Khalid explained. “Listeners ask me questions about their meanings and even start using the words themselves.”
This learning goes both ways. “I have gained new vocabulary from my listeners who speak various dialects too,” she added.
Khalid’s approach offers useful pointers for coexistence that might be applied to wider Yemeni society. The reinforcement of common ground through the broadcast of white Arabic–along with various Yemeni dialects in other programming–can lead to greater cultural exchange and mutual respect: vital building blocks for a future everyone can embrace.