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Eastern Iranian Languages

part 4


Eastern Iranian as a group

The best evidence for the unity of Eastern Iranian is provided by shared innovations such as the voicing of xt to γd, or the use of *kapā/ă- for “fish” in place of older *masyā/ă- (cf. OInd. mátsya-, Av. masiia-, Parth. m’sy’g, Pers. māhī), since they can hardly have come about everywhere independently. Archaisms such as the preservation of θ or of *gari- “mountain,” as opposed to the innovative use of *kaufa- in this sense in Western Iranian, cf. Parth. kwf, Pers. kūh, etc. (also Av. kaofa-), are less significant in this respect. Within Eastern Iranian one can establish several sub-groups of languages which are particularly closely related to one another, e.g.: Alanic, Sarmatian and Ossetic; Khotanese and Tumshuqese; Sogdian and Yaghnobi; the Shughni group and Yazghulami. However, it does not seem possible to regard the Eastern Iranian group as a whole—even excluding Parachi and Ormuri—as a genetic grouping. Such a conception would imply the existence of an ancestral “proto-Eastern Iranian” intermediate between “common Iranian” and the attested Eastern Iranian languages; but if one reconstructs “proto-Eastern Iranian” in such a way as to account for all the features of the group, it proves to be identical to the “common Iranian” reconstructible as the ancestor of the whole Iranian family. It is therefore more plausible to conceive of Eastern Iranian as a “Sprachbund” or areal grouping of languages. In this case the members of the “Sprachbund” happen to be genetically related, but the special features which mark them out as a group result rather from centuries of contiguity, during which innovations will have spread from one language of the group to another and neighboring languages will have supported each other in the retention of shared features.

The most pervasive external influence on Eastern Iranian has been that exerted by the neighboring Indian languages, as is most evident in the development of aspirates (Khotanese, Parachi, Ormuri) and retroflex consonants (Khotanese, Pashto, etc.). However, similar developments are found in Baluchi (North-Western Iranian), which is also spoken in close proximity to Indian. Indian loanwords are found already in most Eastern Middle Iranian languages (but also in Parthian) and increase in number in the modern period.

(Nicholas Sims-Williams)

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

Other Links:

Kabisa: part 1

Kabisa: part 2

The History of the Iranian Flag

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