Tajikistan: The Sons of Somoni Strive to Preserve Distinct Cultural Identity
For nearly 600 years, the lingua franca along a lengthy Central Asian stretch of the fabled Silk Road was Soghdi, a proto-Persian language. Even after the rise of Islam, a 9th-century king, Ismail Somoni, continued to promote a variant of Soghdi throughout his domains in what is today Tajikistan.
The leaders of post-Soviet Tajikistan now recognize Somoni as an important builder of the nation's cultural identity. His eponymous plaza is the central square of the capital, Dushanbe; and the Tajik currency is named in his honor. Yet the language he fostered is facing a survival crisis. Barely 200 kilometers from Somoni Square today, some 400 of the world's last speakers of a Soghdian dialect known as Yagnobi are scratching out an existence in a remote and breathtaking mountain valley.
Down through the ages, the Yagnob Valley has protected residents from the invaders, including Alexander the Great’s army. But the isolation that has helped preserve their language is now hindering their ability to adapt to 21st century conditions.
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