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On Language: The Many Flavors of Persian in Eurasia

Is Tajik a dialect of Persian? Or a language in its own right?

In places such as Bukhara, the language encountered — still ostensibly a variation of Persian — would be near incomprehensible to someone with knowledge of “colloquial Persian.” The same goes for Afghanistan and even Iran itself. The formal Persian of the media is virtually identical across borders, while the spoken dialects vary tremendously on a city-by-city, village-by-village basis. (Photo: Sergio Tittarini via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Is Tajik a dialect of Persian? Or a language in its own right? What differentiates it from varieties prevalent in Afghanistan and Iran? There is no easy answer to these questions because the very categories we use to think about language in Central Asia, and elsewhere, are insufficient.
 
Consider these paradoxes: A student trained in modern Persian at an American or European university would have no trouble understanding Tajik-medium news on the radio, even though he or she would initially be unable to read the Cyrillic script of print publications. And at bazaars in places such as Bukhara or Khujand, the language encountered — still ostensibly Tajik — would be near incomprehensible to someone with knowledge of “colloquial Persian.” The same goes for Afghanistan and even Iran itself. The formal language of the media is virtually identical (excepting the alphabet in the Tajik case) across borders, while the spoken dialects vary tremendously on a city-by-city, village-by-village basis.
 

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On Language: The Many Flavors of Persian in Eurasia

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