Eastern Iranian languages
|Central Asia, Scythia|
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.
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.
Eastern Iranian is traditionally divided into Northeastern and a Southeastern groups. In spite of this separation, Eastern Iranian remained a single dialect continuum subject to common innovation. These groups, as well as Eastern Iranian itself, are better considered language areas rather than genetic subgroups of the Iranian languages.
However, SIL Ethnologue lists the following languages as Northeastern Iranian:
- Avestan, c. 1000 – 7th century BC (classification uncertain)
- Bactrian†, c. 4th century BC – 9th century AD
- Khwarezmian† (Chorasmian) c. 4th century BC – 13th century AD
- Sogdian (dialects: Christian, Buddhist, Manichaean), from c. the 4th century BC.
The southern group today includes Pashto, the areal group of Pamir languages, and Ormuri-Parachi. Pashto is spoken in eastern, southern and few other parts of Afghanistan, and western Pakistan. Pamir languages are spoken in the Pamir Mountains. Ormuri is spoken in Kaniguram in South Waziristan area of Pakistan, but there may be still some speakers in Baraki Barak in Logar province of Afghanistan. Parachi is spoken in the upper part of Nijrab, north of Kabul.
- Saka (Scytho-Khotanese)
- Shugni-Yazgulami group
- Sanglechi–Ishkashimi, Zebaki
- Wakhi (with Saka influence)
Contrary to Encyclopædia Iranica, SIL Ethnologue classifies Ormuri-Parachi as Northwestern Iranian, and it lists Pashto and the Pamir languages of Munji, Yidgha, Sanglechi-Ishkashimi, Shughni-Yazgulyami (Shughni, Sarikoli and Yazgulyam) and Wakhi as Southeastern Iranian.
Eastern Iranian languages have widespread sound changes, e.g. č > ts, d > ð > l, and b > v/w, as shown in the table below.
|ten||dasa||las||los / dā1||dos||δas||δis||dōs||das||das||dæs|
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). 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 x̌ [x] or to x [χ], 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.
- ^1 Munji dā 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").
- List of Iranian languages
- Western Iranian languages
- Dari (Eastern Persian), which despite the name is dialect of a Western Iranian language
- Sakan language
- Nicholas Sims-Williams, Eastern Iranian languages, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 2008
- Antje Wendtland (2009), The position of the Pamir languages within East Iranian, Orientalia Suecana LVIII
- ethnologue report
- Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, ed. Schmitt (1989), p. 100.