Kumzar is famous for the fact that it preserves its own language, Kumzari – a remarkable linguistic monument to the region’s surprisingly cosmopolitan past. Kumzari is still very much a living language, despite the fact that it is spoken only in Kumzar town itself and on Larek Island in Iran, just across the Straits of Hormuz. Local children speak Kumzari as their first language, and don’t necessarily learn Arabic until they get to school. Until quite recently older generations remained determinedly monoglot, speaking nothing but Kumzari – and according to local reports there’s at least one old man in the village who remains resolutely unfamiliar with any other tongue.

The basis of Kumzari is Farsi (the language of Iran, which Kumzari most obviously resembles), mixed up with a significant dose of Arabic and Hindi (the result of long-standing trade with India), plus a significant number of loan words from assorted European languages including English, Portuguese, French, Italian and Spanish – a remarkable linguistic melting pot. The numbers for one to five – yek, do, so, char, panch – for example, are almost identical to their Hindi equivalents, while the Kumzari word for bread, naan, will also be strangely familiar to anyone who has ever eaten in an Indian restaurant. Many European loan words have also entered the language, including (to name just a few) upset, door, light, starg (stars), cherie (child), toilette (meaning, in Kumzari, a haircut) and bandera (from Spanish, meaning “flag”). Things have occasionally got slightly lost in translation, however: the word kayak, for instance, means a speedboat rather than a canoe, while the words open doro can serve as an instruction not only to open the door, but to close it too.

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