The Eastern Iranian languages are a subgroup of the Iranian languages emerging in Middle Iranian times (from c. the 4th century BC). The Avestan language is often classified as early Eastern Iranian. The largest living Eastern Iranian language is Pashto, with some 50–60 million speakers between the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan and the Indus River in Pakistan. As opposed to the Middle Western Iranian dialects, the Middle Eastern Iranian preserves word-final syllables.
Most living Eastern Iranian languages are spoken in a contiguous area, in eastern Afghanistan as well as the adjacent parts of western Pakistan, Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province of eastern Tajikistan, and the far west of Xinjiang region of China. There are also two living members in widely separated areas: the Yaghnobi language of northwestern Tajikistan (descended from Sogdian), and the Ossetic language of the Caucasus (descended from Scytho-Sarmatian). These are remnants of a vast ethno-linguistic continuum that stretched over most of Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and parts of the Caucasus, and West Asia in the 1st millennium BC, otherwise known as Scythia. The large Eastern Iranian continuum in Eastern Europe would continue up to including the 4th century AD by the successors of the Scythians, namely the Sarmatians.
|Central Asia, northwestern South Asia, Caucasus. Historically in Scythia and Sarmatia.|
With Greek presence in Central Asia, some of the easternmost of these languages were recorded in their Middle Iranian stage (hence the "Eastern" classification), while almost no records of the Scytho-Sarmatian continuum stretching from Kazakhstan west across the Pontic steppe to Ukraine have survived.
Middle Persian/Dari spread around the Oxus River region, Afghanistan, and Khorasan after the Arab conquests and during Islamic-Arab rule. The replacement of the Pahlavi script with the Arabic script in order to write the Persian language was done by the Tahirids in 9th century Khorasan. The Persian Dari language spread and led to the extinction of Eastern Iranic languages like Bactrian, Khorezmian with only a tiny amount of Sogdian descended Yaghnobi speakers remaining among the now Persian speaking Tajik population of Central Asia, due to the fact that the Arab-Islamic army which invaded Central Asia also included some Persians who later governed the region like the Samanids. Persian was rooted into Central Asia by the Samanids.
Eastern Iranian remains a single dialect continuum subject to common innovation. Traditional branches, such as "Northeastern", as well as Eastern Iranian itself, are better considered language areas rather than genetic groups.
The languages are as follows:
Avestan† (c. 1000 – 7th century BC) is commonly classified as Eastern, but is not assigned to a branch in this classification.
The Eastern Iranian area has been affected by widespread sound changes, e.g. t͡ʃ > ts.
Common to most Eastern Iranian languages is a particularly widespread lenition of the voiced stops *b, *d, *g. Between vowels, these have been lenited also in most Western Iranian languages, but in Eastern Iranian, spirantization also generally occurs in the word-initial position. This phenomenon is however not apparent in Avestan, and remains absent from Ormuri-Parachi.
A series of spirant consonants can be assumed to have been the first stage: *b > *β, *d > *ð, *g > *ɣ. The voiced velar fricative /ɣ/ has mostly been preserved. The labial member has been well-preserved too, but in most languages has shifted from a voiced bilabial fricative /β/ to the voiced labiodental fricative /v/. The dental member has proved the most unstable: while a voiced dental fricative /ð/ is preserved in some Pamir languages, it has in e.g. Pashto and Munji lenited further to /l/. On the other hand, in Yaghnobi and Ossetian, the development appears to have been reversed, leading to the reappearance of a voiced stop /d/. (Both languages have also shifted earlier *θ > /t/.)
|ten||dasa||las||los / dā1||dos||δas||δis||dōs||das||das||dæs|
The consonant clusters *ft and *xt have also been widely lenited, though again excluding Ormuri-Parachi, and possibly Yaghnobi.
The neighboring Indo-Aryan languages have exerted a pervasive external influence on the closest neighbouring Eastern Iranian, as it is evident in the development in the retroflex consonants (in Pashto, Wakhi, Sanglechi, Khotanese, etc.) and aspirates (in Khotanese, Parachi and Ormuri). A more localized sound change is the backing of the former retroflex fricative ṣ̌ [ʂ], to x̌ [x] or to x [χ], found in the Shughni–Yazgulyam branch and certain dialects of Pashto. E.g. "meat": ɡuṣ̌t in Wakhi and γwaṣ̌a in Southern Pashto, but changes to guxt in Shughni, γwax̌a in Central Pashto and γwaxa in Northern Pashto.
Avestan , also known historically as Zend, refers to two languages: Old Avestan (spoken in the 2nd millennium BCE) and Younger Avestan (spoken in the 1st millennium BCE). The languages are known only from their use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture (the Avesta), from which they derive their name. Both are early Iranian languages, a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages within the Indo-European family. Its immediate ancestor was the Proto-Iranian language, a sister language to the Proto-Indo-Aryan language, with both having developed from the earlier Proto-Indo-Iranian. As such, Old Avestan is quite close in grammar and lexicon with Vedic Sanskrit, the oldest preserved Indo-Aryan language.
The Avestan text corpus was composed in ancient Arachosia, Aria, Bactria, and Margiana, corresponding to the entirety of present-day Afghanistan, and parts of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Yaz culture of Bactria-Margiana has been regarded as a likely archaeological reflection of the early "Eastern Iranian" culture described in the Avesta.
Avestan's status as a sacred language has ensured its continuing use for new compositions long after the language ceased to be a living language.Bactria
Bactria (); or Bactriana was a historical region in Central Asia. Bactria proper was north of the Hindu Kush mountain range and south of the Amu Darya river, covering the flat region that straddles modern-day Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and parts of Northern Pakistan. More broadly Bactria was the area north of the Hindu Kush, west of the Pamirs and south of the Tian Shan with the Amu Darya flowing west through the center.Bactrian language
Bactrian (Αριαο, Aryao, [arjaːu̯ɔ]) was an Iranian language which was spoken in the Central Asian region of Bactria (in present-day Afghanistan and Tajikistan) and used as the official language of the Kushan and the Hephthalite empires.Iranian languages
The Iranian or Iranic languages are a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages in the Indo-European language family that are spoken natively by the Iranian peoples.
The Iranian languages are grouped in three stages: Old Iranian (until 400 BC), Middle Iranian (400 BC – 900 AD), and New Iranian (since 900 AD). The two directly attested Old Iranian languages are Old Persian (from the Achaemenid Empire) and Old Avestan (the language of the Avesta). Of the Middle Iranian languages, the better understood and recorded ones are Middle Persian (from the Sasanian Empire), Parthian (from the Parthian Empire), and Bactrian (from the Kushan and Hephthalite empires).
As of 2008, there were an estimated 150–200 million native speakers of the Iranian languages. Ethnologue estimates that there are 86 Iranian languages, the largest among them being Persian, Pashto, and the Kurdish dialect continuum.Ishkashimi language
Ishkashimi (Ishkashimi: škošmī zəvuk/rənīzəvuk) is an Iranian language spoken predominantly in the Badakhshan Province in Afghanistan and in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region in Tajikistan.The total number of speakers is c. 2,500, most of whom are now dispersed throughout Tajikistan and Afghanistan and small villages within the vicinity. Based on this number, Ishkashimi is threatened to becoming critically endangered or extinct in the next 100 years whereas other significant languages are being spoken in schools, homes, etc. These languages are Tajik language in Tajikistan and Dari language in Afghanistan, and they contribute to the decline in the use of Ishkashimi, which at the moment has a status of endangered language. Besides, information about Ishkashimi language is limited due to the lack of extensive and systematic research and the lack of a written system.Ishkashimi is closely related to Zebaki and Sanglechi dialects (in Afghanistan). It was grouped until recently with the Sanglechi dialect under the parent family Sanglechi-Ishkashimi (sgl), but a more comprehensive linguistic analysis showed significant differences between these speech varieties. Phonology and grammar of Ishkashimi language is similar to phonology and grammar of the closely related Zebaki dialect.Ormuri
Ormuri (Persian: زبان ارموری also known as Oormuri, Urmuri, Ormur, Ormui, Bargista, Baraks, and Baraki) is a language spoken in Waziristan. It is primarily spoken in the town of Kaniguram in South Waziristan, Pakistan by the Burki people. It is also spoken by a small group of people in Baraki Barak in Logar, Afghanistan. The language belongs to the Indo-Iranian language group. The extremely small number of speakers makes Ormuri an endangered language that is considered to be in a "threatened" state.
Ormuri is notable for its unusual sound inventory, which includes a voiceless alveolar trill that does not exist in the surrounding Pashto. Ormuri also has voiceless and voiced alveolo-palatal fricatives (the voiceless being contrastive with the more common voiceless palato-alveolar fricative), which also exist in the Waziristani dialect of Pashto, but could have been adopted from Ormuri due to its close proximity.Pamir languages
The Pamir languages are an areal group of the Eastern Iranian languages, spoken by numerous people in the Pamir Mountains, primarily along the Panj River and its tributaries.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Pamir language family was sometimes referred to as the Ghalchah languages by western scholars. The term Ghalchah is no longer used to refer to the Pamir languages or the native speakers of these languages.
One of the most prolific researchers of the Pamir languages was Soviet linguist Ivan Ivanovich Zarubin.Parachi language
The Parachi language is an Iranian language. Parachi is spoken by some 600 individuals of the Parachi ethnic group in eastern Afghanistan, mainly in the upper part of Nijrab District, northeast of Kabul, out of a total ethnic Parachi population of some 5,000.
It is closely related to the Ormuri language of Kaniguram in South Waziristan, Pakistan. Parachi is usually classified as a member of the Southeastern group of the Eastern Iranian languages, although this is an areal group rather than a genetical one.Pashto
Pashto (, rarely , Pashto: پښتو Pax̌tō [ˈpəʂt̪oː]), sometimes spelled Pukhto, is the language of the Pashtuns. It is known in Persian literature as Afghāni (افغانی) and in Hindustani literature as Paṭhānī. Speakers of the language are called Pashtuns/Pakhtuns/Pathans and sometimes Afghans. It is an Eastern Iranian language, belonging to the Indo-European family. Pashto is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan, and it is the second-largest regional language of Pakistan, mainly spoken in the west and northwest of the country. In Pakistan, it is the majority language of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northern districts of Balochistan. Along with Dari Persian, Pashto is the main language among the Pashtun diaspora around the world. The total number of Pashto-speakers is estimated to be 45–60 million people worldwide.Pashto belongs to the Northeastern Iranian group of the Indo-Iranian branch, but Ethnologue lists it as Southeastern Iranian. Pashto has two main dialect groups, "soft" and "hard", the latter locally known as Pakhto or Paxto.Saka language
(Eastern) Saka or Sakan was a variety of Eastern Iranian languages, attested from the ancient Buddhist kingdoms of Khotan, Kashgar and Tumshuq in the Tarim Basin, in what is now southern Xinjiang, China. It is a Middle Iranian language. The two kingdoms differed in dialect, their speech known as Khotanese and Tumshuqese.
Documents on wood and paper were written in modified Brahmi script with the addition of extra characters over time and unusual conjuncts such as ys for z. The documents date from the fourth to the eleventh century. Tumshuqese was more archaic than Khotanese, but it is much less understood because it appears in fewer manuscripts compared to Khotanese. Both dialects share features with modern Pashto and Wakhi. The language was known as "Hvatanai" in contemporary documents. Many Prakrit terms were borrowed from Khotanese into the Tocharian languages.Sanglechi language
Sanglechi is an Iranian language spoken in two villages in the Zebak District of Afghanistan. It is also spoken in Tajikistan, where it is called Sanglich. The name comes from the Sanglech valley in which many of the people live; the name Warduji, after the Werdoge Valley is also used.Sarikoli language
The Sarikoli language (also Sariqoli, Selekur, Sarikul, Sariqul, Sariköli) is a member of the Pamir subgroup of the Southeastern Iranian languages spoken by Tajiks in China. It is officially referred to in China as the "Tajik language", although it is different from the language spoken in Tajikistan.Scythian languages
The Scythian languages are a group of Eastern Iranian languages of the classical and late antique period (the Middle Iranian period), spoken in a vast region of Eurasia named Scythia. Except for modern Ossetian, which descends from the Alanian variety, these languages are all considered to be extinct. Modern Eastern Iranian languages such as Wakhi, however, are related to the eastern Scytho-Khotanese dialects attested from the kingdoms of Khotan and Tumshuq in the ancient Tarim Basin, in present-day southern Xinjiang, China.
The location and extent of Scythia varied by time, but generally it encompassed the part of Eastern Europe east of the Vistula river and much of Central Asia up to the Tarim Basin. The dominant ethnic groups among the Scythians were nomadic pastoralists of Central Asia and the Pontic-Caspian steppe. Fragments of their speech known from inscriptions and words quoted in ancient authors as well as analysis of their names indicate that it was an Indo-European language, more specifically from the Iranian group of Indo-Iranian languages. Alexander Lubotsky summarizes the known linguistic landscape as follows:
Unfortunately, we know next to nothing about the Scythian of that period [Old Iranian] – we have only a couple of personal and tribal names in Greek and Persian sources at our disposal – and cannot even determine with any degree of certainty whether it was a single language.Scythians
The Scythians (; from Greek Σκύθης, Σκύθοι), also known as Scyth, Saka, Sakae, Sai, Iskuzai, or Askuzai, were Eurasian nomads, probably mostly using Eastern Iranian languages, who were mentioned by the literate peoples to their south as inhabiting large areas of the western and central Eurasian Steppe from about the 9th century BC up until the 4th century AD. The "classical Scythians" known to ancient Greek historians, agreed to be mainly Iranian in origin, were located in the northern Black Sea and fore-Caucasus region. Other Scythian groups documented by Assyrian, Achaemenid and Chinese sources show that they also existed in Central Asia, where they were referred to as the Iskuzai/Askuzai, Saka (Old Persian: Sakā; New Persian/Pashto: ساکا; Sanskrit: शक Śaka; Greek: Σάκαι; Latin: Sacae), and Sai (Chinese: 塞; Old Chinese: *sˤək), respectively.The relationships between the peoples living in these widely separated regions remains unclear, and the term is used in both a broad and narrow sense. The term "Scythian" is used by modern scholars in an archaeological context for finds perceived to display attributes of the wider "Scytho-Siberian" culture, usually without implying an ethnic or linguistic connotation. The term Scythic may also be used in a similar way, "to describe a special phase that followed the widespread diffusion of mounted nomadism, characterized by the presence of special weapons, horse gear, and animal art in the form of metal plaques". Their westernmost territories during the Iron Age were known to classical Greek sources as Scythia, and in the more narrow sense "Scythian" is restricted to these areas, where the Scythian languages were spoken. Different definitions of "Scythian" have been used, leading to a good deal of confusion.The Scythians were among the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare. They kept herds of horses, cattle and sheep, lived in tent-covered wagons and fought with bows and arrows on horseback. They developed a rich culture characterised by opulent tombs, fine metalwork and a brilliant art style.
In the 8th century BC, they possibly raided Zhou China. Soon after, they expanded westwards and dislodged the Cimmerians from power on the Pontic Steppe. At their peak, Scythians came to dominate the entire steppe zone, stretching from the Carpathian Mountains in the west to central China (Ordos culture) and the south Siberia (Tagar culture) in the east, creating what has been called the first Central Asian nomadic empire, although there was little that could be called an organised state.Based in what is modern-day Ukraine, Southern European Russia and Crimea, the western Scythians were ruled by a wealthy class known as the Royal Scyths. The Scythians established and controlled the Silk Road, a vast trade network connecting Greece, Persia, India and China, perhaps contributing to the contemporary flourishing of those civilisations. Settled metalworkers made portable decorative objects for the Scythians. These objects survive mainly in metal, forming a distinctive Scythian art. In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus and frequently raided the Middle East along with the Cimmerians, playing an important role in the political developments of the region. Around 650–630 BC, Scythians briefly dominated the Medes of the western Iranian Plateau, stretching their power to the borders of Egypt. After losing control over Media, the Scythians continued intervening in Middle Eastern affairs, playing a leading role in the destruction of the Assyrian Empire in the Sack of Nineveh in 612 BC. The Scythians subsequently engaged in frequent conflicts with the Achaemenid Empire. The western Scythians suffered a major defeat against Macedonia in the 4th century BC and were subsequently gradually conquered by the Sarmatians, a related Iranian people from Central Asia. The Eastern Scythians of the Asian Steppe (Saka) were attacked by the Yuezhi, Wusun and Xiongnu in the 2nd century BC, prompting many of them to migrate into South Asia, where they became known as Indo-Scythians. At some point, perhaps as late as the 3rd century AD after the demise of the Han dynasty and the Xiongnu, Eastern Scythians crossed the Pamir Mountains and settled in the western Tarim Basin, where the Scythian Khotanese and Tumshuqese languages are attested in Brahmi scripture from the 10th and 11th centuries AD. The Kingdom of Khotan, at least partly Saka, was then conquered by the Kara-Khanid Khanate, which led to the Islamisation and Turkification of Northwest China. In Eastern Europe, by the early Medieval Ages, the Scythians and their closely related Sarmatians were eventually assimilated and absorbed (e.g. Slavicisation) by the Proto-Slavic population of the region.Shule Kingdom
The Shule Kingdom (Chinese: 疏勒) was an ancient Iranian oasis kingdom of the Taklamakan Desert that was on the Northern Silk Road, in the historical Western Regions of what is now Xinjiang in Northwest China. Its capital was Kashgar, the source of Kashgar's water being a river of the same name. Much like the neighboring people of the Kingdom of Khotan, people of Kashgar spoke Saka, one of the Eastern Iranian languages.Although a vassal of the Chinese Tang Dynasty from the 7th century, Shule was conquered by the Tibetan Empire in the late 8th century and was eventually incorporated into the Kara-Khanid Khanate during the Islamicisation and Turkicisation of Xinjiang.Vanji language
The Vanji language, also spelt Vanchi and Vanži, is an extinct Iranian language, one of the areal group of Pamir languages. It was spoken in the Vanj River valley in what is now the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tajikistan.
In the 19th century the region was forcibly annexed to the Bukharan Emirate and a campaign of violent assimilation undertaken, and by the end of the 19th century, the Vanji language had completely disappeared, displaced by Tajik Persian as a result of assimilation.Wakhi language
Wakhi is an Indo-European language in the Eastern Iranian branch of the language family spoken today in Wakhan District, Afghanistan and also in Northern Pakistan, China, and Tajikistan.Western Regions
The Western Regions or Xiyu (Hsi-yu; Chinese: 西域; pinyin: Xīyù; Wade–Giles: Hsi1-yü4) was a historical name specified in the Chinese chronicles between the 3rd century BC to the 8th century AD that referred to the regions west of Yumen Pass, most often Central Asia or sometimes more specifically the easternmost portion of it (e.g. Altishahr or the Tarim Basin in southern Xinjiang), though it was sometimes used more generally to refer to other regions to the west of China as well, such as the Indian subcontinent (as in the novel Journey to the West).
Because of its strategic location astride the Silk Road, the Western Regions have been historically significant since at least the 3rd century BC. It was the site of the Han–Xiongnu War until 89 AD. In the 7th century, the Tang campaign against the Western Regions led to Chinese control of the region until the An Lushan Rebellion.
The region became significant in later centuries as a cultural conduit between East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Muslim world and Europe, such as during the period of the Mongol Empire. One of the most significant exports of the Western Regions was Buddhist texts, particularly the Mahayana sutras, which were carried by traders and pilgrim monks to China. The Tang dynasty monk Xuanzang crossed the region on his way to study in India, resulting in the influential Great Tang Records on the Western Regions upon his return to the Tang capital of Chang'an.
Before the onset of Turkic migrations, the peoples of the region were Indo-Europeans divided into roughly two linguistic groups, the Saka and the Tocharians. The peoples of oasis city-states of Khotan and Kashgar spoke Saka, one of the Eastern Iranian languages, whereas the people of Kucha and Turfan spoke the Tocharian language. The language of the native people of Loulan has yet to be fully understood or determined.Zaland
Zaland (From old Iranian languages: زلاند) is an old Iranian Bactrian word common in middle Persian, regional Dari-Persian, Eastern Iranian languages like Ossetian and Pashto. The meaning was derived from middle Persian and has maintained more usage among Dari-Persian, some East-Iranians, and Afghan Pashto speakers: the word means Shine'/Twinkling'. It is also common by cultural definition among Tajiki-Persian (Dari), Uzbeki, Pashto, Baluchi, Luri, etc. Although, most Zaland surnames mainly speak only Eastern-Persian, commonly referred to as the Dari-Persian dialect.
Italics indicate extinct languages.