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The Iranian Language Family

New Iranian Languages

Part 3


Pashto is another major New Iranian language of the Eastern branch whose speakers live mainly in Southern Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan, where it is called Pakhto [xvi]. Pashto might be a modern development of a Middle Iranian language closely related to Bactrian, although no certain written evidence is available from the direct ancestor of this language. There has been a great rivalry between Persian and Pashto speakers in Afghanistan, resulting in Pashto being declared a national language of that nation. Pashto is among the most conservative and archaic of Iranian languages in its morphology and grammar and is an important tool in the study of Iranian dialects. Pastho is mainly written in a modified Perso-Arabic script.

 Baluchi is another New Iranian language with many speakers, chiefly living in South-eastern Iran and western Pakistan, with scattered tribes in Afghanistan and even Tajikistan. Despite its current geographic position, Baluchi is thought to be a native of north-western Iran and part of the Western Iranian languages, closely related to Zazaki and more distantly to Kurdish. The speakers probably migrated from their original homeland in western Iran to their current location sometimes in the 10th-12th centuries and in the recent times have highly marginalised the Sistani population, probably descendants of the migrating Saka tribes and currently speakers of Persian. Baluchi is greatly influenced by Persian, but has kept many characteristics of its Middle Iranian ancestor. Baluchi has two main eastern and western dialects, of which the eastern dialect possesses the most speakers.  Baluchi literature is quite rich, although it has remained largely oral and only recently committed to writing. It has no established written tradition, but uses the Perso-Arabic for its everyday writing, although it has sometimes been written in the Devanagari script as well. Many modern recordings of Baluchi literature are done by modern Orientalists and are consequently in various forms of modified Latin alphabet.

Luri is the general name for a varied set of dialects spoken by nomadic and settled populations of south western and parts of western Iran.

Two main dialects of this language are known, often referred to as Posht-Kuhi and Pish-Kuhi (“from behind/front of the mountain”‌), the former thought to be more archaic and less influenced by New Persian. Luri literature is commonly in form of folk songs and poems, although its influence can be seen in the poetry of the prominent poet Baba Taher. However, Luri does not possess an established written tradition and the language is haphazardly recorded in the Perso-Arabic alphabet and sometimes in the Latin alphabet by the philologists. Speculations about the origins of the language have been common in the scholarly circles, some designating it as an independent development of an unattested dialect of early Middle Persian. Close grammatical and phonological similarities between Persian and Luri, as well as preservation of archaisms that can be observed in Middle Persian, has strengthened this argument.

There are many other New Iranian languages whose speakers vary from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands, living in Iran, Transoxiana, Caucasus, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pamir Mountains, and even southern coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.

A few other worthy mentions are Caspian languages[15] and Sivandi in Iran, Ossetic (a descendant of Alano-Saka) in Caucasia, Yaghnobi (descendant of Sogdian) in Tajikistan, Tati (another candidate for the descendant of Old Median) in north and the north western Iran, and Kumzari in Oman. Almost all of the speakers of these minor languages are bi-lingual in the official languages of their respective countries; such is also the case with the speakers of Kurdish, Baluchi, and Pashto. Today, a major concern of linguists is the gradual disappearance of these languages in the face of dominant languages that surround them. Economic situation, lack of proper education, and social demands are continuously discouraging the younger generations from learning these languages, giving us the grim prospect of extinction for many of them. 


[15] Caspian languages generally include Taleshi, Gilaki, and Mazandarani.



Other Links:

The Iranian Language Family: Old Iranian Languages (part 1)

The Iranian Language Family: Old Iranian Languages (part 2)

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