Tajik Persian (zabån-e fårsi-e tåjiki; as transliterated from Cyrillic, zaboni forsi-i tojikī) is the New Persian dialect of Central Asia, a descendant together with Persian of Iran (fårsi) from the spoken Middle Persian of the Sasanian Empire at the time of the Arab Muslim conquest of 640–712 C.E. The Arabic alphabet and vocabulary were instrumental in the rise of this language, which, in the form of Classical Persian, furnished a common idiom for writers of Iran, India, and Central Asia over many centuries. This survey accordingly focuses on the differences of distribution and form of Arabic loanwords in Central Asian Persian in comparison with other varieties, notably Standard Persian of modern Iran.

Until the early 20th century, there was little difference in the style and vocabulary of Persian as written in Iran, Central Asia, or India. After the Bolshevik revolution in Bukhara (1920) and the creation of the Tajik SSR, a literary language called Tajik, based on vernacular Persian of Central Asia and written in a Latin alphabet (from 1928), then a Cyrillic alphabet (from 1939), was fostered as the language of the Soviet nationality of the Tajiks. (The term Tåjik , derived from the Middle Persian Tāzīk ‘Arab’, was an ethnonym distinguishing Persian speakers from Turks – specifically, in modern times, from Uzbeks.) As in the case of modern Turkish, the privileging of the vernacular and the break with the Arabic script provide for the first time a realistic indication of the status of Arabic loanwords in the language. Few statistics are available for Arabic loans in Tajik; the proportions are essentially similar to those in Standard Persian.

Arabic loanwords were originally assimilated into Persian of Central Asia in the same ways as into Persian of Iran. Over the centuries the two vowel systems diverged (see Table 1; Persian), and a few consonants changed: /q/ and /ġ/ collapsed in Standard Persian but have remained distinct in Tajik. In some dialects (notably that of the Jews of Bukhara and Samarkand), the uvular pronunciation of ʿayn and postpalatal ḥāʾ is preserved. The mid back vowel /å/ of Tajik is rounded, and the contrast between long and short vowels has been neutralized in many dialects and in the standard orthography (contrast Standard Persian; see Perry 2004, § 1.1–1.2).

Tajik has preserved the so-called majhūl vowels of early New Persian, originally ē and ō, distinct from ī and ū, although both are written with wāw; these appear in Table 1 as modern e and u̇ (a central vowel between u and ü, shared with Uzbek). Both these vowels are found in Arabic loanwords as allophonic variants of /i/ and /u/ respectively, mainly before /h/ and /ʾ/ (< Arabic ʿ>): u̇:da ‘responsibility’ (Arabic ʿuhda), neemat ‘affluence’ (Arabic niʿma); /u̇/ is also found in some Arabic loans of the pattern mafʿūl, instead of the more usual /u/: e.g. ma:ruf ‘familiar’, but ma:ruza ‘presentation, lecture’ (maʿrūḍa), and /e/ occurs initially in some loans of the pattern ʾifʿāl, e.g. imån ‘belief’ (ʾīmān), but ejåd ‘creation, production’ (ʾījād).

Some loanwords that are well established in (Standard) Persian have only Persian or Uzbek equivalents in everyday modern Tajik, e.g. ġun dåštan ‘to gather’ (Persian jam kardan < Arabic jamʿ); pešvåz giriftan ‘to meet, welcome’ (Persian esteqbål kardan); gusel kardan ‘to see off/ out’ (Persian mošāyeʾat kardan). This was perhaps the result of a lower level of literacy, and competition with Persian and Uzbek vocabulary in the spoken language.

The lexicalization of Arabic broken plurals as singulars (a vernacular feature) appears more commonly in Tajik than in Persian, e.g. a:zå-yi institut ‘a member of the institute’ (Arabic ʾaʿḍāʾ, pl. of ʿuḍw), yak maråtiba ‘once’ (a blend of singular and plural; cf. Arabic martaba ‘degree’, pl. marātib, as borrowed in Persian). Variations on the Arabic(ate) feminine plural (-åt, -jåt, -våt) are more frequent, denoting collectives: hayvånåt ‘fauna, livestock’ (Arabic ḥayawān), mevajåt ‘fruit’, sabzavåt ‘vegetables, greens’ (cf. Persian sabzijåt; the last two are Arabicate plurals of Persian words). Other feminine plurals have developed a singular meaning: kåinåt ‘cosmos’ (a mass noun, < Arabic kāʾināt ‘entity [pl.]’), taškilåt ‘organization’ (< Arabic taškīlāt [pl.]), hašaråt ‘insect’ (> Arabic ḥašarāt [pl.]) with regular plurals taškilåt-hå and hašaråt-hå). Like early everyday Arabic loans for which there is no ready Tajik substitute (e.g. kitåb ‘book’, havå ‘air, weather’), these later scholarly borrowings have survived the general Soviet condemnation of archaisms because they fill a useful niche.

Arabic loans in the feminine ending, being differentially assimilated (Arabic loanwords in Persian), are an index of comparative vernacularization of borrowings as between Tajik and (Standard) Persian. Tajik reflexes in -a (more numerous and more vernacular, usually shared with Uzbek), contrast with the more literary Persian reflexes in -at: e.g. jamåa ‘community; (madrasa) class, village, village soviet’ (Arabic jamāʿa); rioya kardan ‘to respect, maintain’ (riʿāya); ḥikåya ‘tale’; himåya ‘protection, patronage’; tarbiya ‘training, schooling’; rivåya ‘narrative; fatwa’. The same forms sometimes took different semantic paths: muråjiat ‘recourse, appeal’ (Persian moråjeat kardan ‘to return’; the doublet moråjeʾe is ‘reference, recourse’; < Arabic murājaʿa). Tajik doublets in -a (where Persian has only the -at reflex) include ibåra ‘idiom, term’ (in addition to ibårat az ‘consisting of’, the widespread calque on Arabic ʿibāratun min); ġåya ‘aim, goal’; and kifåya ‘enough’ (Perry 1984).

From the 16th century, cultural contacts between Central Asia and Iran diminished, as did the quality of education in Bukhara. Modern (pre-Soviet) neologisms, which often began as Arabicate coinages by the Turcophone intelligentsia of separate centers (Istanbul, Kazan, Baku), took different forms in Central Asia and Iran: madaniyat ‘civilization’ (also in Afghanistan; Persian tamaddon); ittifåq ‘(trade, professional) union’ (Persian ettehåd); ziåi ‘(liberal) intellectual’ (> Arabic ḍiyāʾ ‘enlightenment’; in Persian rowšan-fekr, lit. ‘(of) bright thought’, a Persian-Arabic hybrid; see Lazard 1956:178–182; Perry 2004, § 5.23–5.24).

Much Arabic vocabulary, as well as native Persian material, was displaced by Russian borrowings during the Soviet period. Since the late 1980s (and officially since independence in 1992), Russian vocabulary is being replaced by recourse to Persian words and morphs (both Tajik and Persian of Iran), and Arabic script is again being taught. However, Arabic is no longer a living lexical fount for Central Asian languages.

John R. Perry (University of Chicago)

  • Recommend Us