Eastern Iranian languages

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Eastern Iranian
Geographic
distribution:
Central Asia, South Asia, Scythia
Linguistic classification: Indo-European
Subdivisions:
  • Northeastern
  • Southeastern
Glottolog: east2704[1]

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 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.

The living Eastern Iranian languages are spoken in a contiguous area, in 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, while it also has two other 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 in the 1st millennium BC.

History[edit]

Eastern Iranian is thought to have separated from Western Iranian in the course of the later 2nd millennium BC, and was possibly located at the Yaz culture.

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.

Classification[edit]

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.[2][3]

The languages are as follows:[4]

Old Iranian

Avestan† (c. 1000 – 7th century BC) is commonly classified as Eastern, but is not assigned to a branch in this classification.

Middle Iranian
Neo-Iranian

Phonological differences[edit]

Eastern Iranian languages have widespread sound changes, e.g. č > ts, d > ð > l, and b > v/w, as shown in the table below.

English Avestan Pashto Munji Sanglechi Wakhi Shughni Parachi Ormuri Yaghnobi Ossetic
one aēva- yaw yu vak yi yiw žu ī iu
four čaθwārō tsalṓr čfūr tsəfúr tsībɨr tsavṓr čōr tsār tafór tsippar
seven hapta ōwə ōvda ō ɨb ūvd t avd avd
ten dasa las los / dā1 dos δas δis dōs das das dæs
cow gav- ɣ ɣṓw uɣūi ɣīw žōw gū gioe ɣov x”ug
brother brātar- wrōr vəróy vrūδ vīrīt virṓd b (marzā2) virūt ærvad

Common to most Eastern Iranian languages is a particularly widespread lenition of the voiced stops *b, *d, *g. Before consonants, these have been spirantized in most Iranian languages, and between vowels widely even in Western Iranian. In Eastern Iranian, however, spirantization also generally occurs in the word-initial position. Two exceptions to this are the Ormuri-Parachi group and Ossetic. In Yaghnobi, only *b and *g appear to be spirantized while *d remains, but this may represent a late reversal of the change (i.e. *d → *ð → d).

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 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).[2] A more localized sound change found in the Shughni–Yazgulyam branch and certain dialects of Pashto affects the former retroflex fricative ṣ̌ [ʂ], which is further backed to [x] or to x [χ], e.g. "meat": ɡuṣ̌t in Wakhi and γwaṣ̌a in Southern Pashto, but changes to guxt in Shughni, γwaa in Central Pashto and γwaxa in Northern Pashto.

Notes[edit]

  • ^1 Munji is a borrowing from Persian but Yidgha still uses los.
  • ^2 Ormuri marzā has a different etymological origin, but generally Ormuri [b] is preserved unchanged, e.g. *bastra- > bēš, Ormuri for "cord" (cf. Avestan band- "to tie").

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Eastern Iranian". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ a b Nicholas Sims-Williams, Eastern Iranian languages, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 2008
  3. ^ Antje Wendtland (2009), The position of the Pamir languages within East Iranian, Orientalia Suecana LVIII
  4. ^ Gernot Windfurh, 2009, "Dialectology and Topics", The Iranian Languages, Routledge

External links[edit]

  • Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, ed. Schmitt (1989), p. 100.