The history of the Iranian languages is very difficult to reconstruct due to mutual influences, borrowings from Arabic and Turkic. The issue is also complicated by the absence or insufficiency of written monuments and the fact that some languages still remain unwritten or poorly written. We can confidently talk about the development of the Persian language (Farsi), which history can be traced back to the VI cen. BC, about its close connection with Tajiki, as well as about the continuation of the Sogdian language in modern Yaghnobi. Even the question of the dialectological affiliation of the Avesta language still has no unambiguous answer (ORANSKI I.M., 1979: 33). On the other hand, the Persian language had a great influence on other Iranian languages over the centuries and Persian loan-words often displaced the original vocabulary from unwritten and little-written languages, which is now lost forever.
The Iranic language family include near 40 modern languages (Ibid: 17). Among them are such as individual Ossetian (with Digor and Iron dialects}, Yaghnobi, Pashto (with the dialect of Wanetsi), Yazghulami, Kurdish (with Zazaki, Kurmanji, Sorani, and Gorani dialects), Balochi, Gilaki, Mazanderani, Sarikoli, Paracha, Ormuri, the language of Semnan. Other languages are combined into groups. These are Talyshi with close to it Tati, dialects of Persian-Tajik (Farsi, Khuzestani, Bandari, Quhistani, Hazaragi, et al.), the minor languages of Central Iran, Luri and Bakhtiari dialects, dialects of Southern Iran (Bashkardi, Kumzari a.o.), Pamir languages, including Shughni-Rushan and Ishkashim-Wakhi language groups. In addition, there were still the languages of the Avesta, Bactrian, Parthian, Sogdian, and Saki-Khotanese languages and languages or dialects, not mentioned in historical sources, which can be indicated by linguistic analysis of the texts of the Avesta and ancient Persian language. The modern spread of Iranian languages says little about their ancestral relationship (see map below).
Distribution of Iranic Languages
The first attempt to establish the kinship of the Iranian languages using the graphic-analytical method was made at the end of the last century (STETSYUK VALENTYN. 1998. 73-77). The idea of the method consists in the geometric interpretation of the relationship of related languages, or rather, in the construction of a graphical model of their relationship based on the calculation of common language units in pairs of languages of the studied language family or group. For the resulting model, a corresponding place on the map with fairly clearly defined boundaries of ethno-producing areas has to be found.
The most convenient for counting is vocabulary as the most numerous collection of linguistic units. For the convenience of counting, an etymological dictionary table is compiled consisting of nests of words attributed to one etymon. At that time, the etymological dictionaries necessary for compiling the table had not yet been published, with the exception of the historical-etymological dictionary of the Ossetian language (ABAYEV V.I. 1958-1989), therefore, the lexical material was selected from bilingual dictionaries. As a result, unidentified loan-words from languages of other groups were included in the dictionary. In addition, the establishment of a primordial relationship between the Iranian languages was hampered by later mutual borrowings, especially from Farsi. The influence of Persian on other Iranian languages is easily explainable, but borrowings from Tajik and Dari are also common, and migrations changed the original spatial arrangement of languages, what resulted in mutual borrowings in the already formed languages of the new neighbors. Thus, the structure of the ancient relationships of the Iranian languages in the present is distorted and its true graphic model cannot be reproduced on the basis of modern vocabulary with sufficient accuracy.
When constructing a relationship diagram, it was clearly seen that for some languages lexical material is clearly lacking. Indeed, some of the dictionaries used were quite small. This is especially true for the dictionary of the Gilan language, the lexical composition of which is still insufficiently studied. (KERIMOVA A.A., MAMEDZADE A.K., RASTORGUYEVA V.S. 1980: 4). However, an approximate diagram of the relationship was drawn up without much effort under certain conventions – where the data of some pairs of languages contradict, the data of other pairs come to the rescue. This is a peculiarity of the graphic-analytical method.
At left: The initial graphic model of the relationship of the Iranic languages
In principle, the resulting scheme should correspond to the location of the areas of formation of the studied languages. The experiment carried out with deliberately distorted data with a relative error of 40% showed that the construction of a scheme is possible, and it practically does not differ from that obtained from the correct data (STETSYUK VALENTYN. 1998: 19-21).
Thus, errors in the data do not distort the existing regularity in the lexical structure of languages that arose at the initial stage of their formation, and this structure is not violated in the process of its further development. The very construction of the language kinship model speaks of the preservation of the primordial regularity in the data used.
Specifically, in our case, the borrowings not eliminated from the dictionary table had a haphazard nature and therefore could not significantly distort the structure of kinship of the Iranian languages. The undoubted difference between the obtained model and real relationships is due rather to the incompleteness of data for some languages than to the influence of borrowings.
The ancestral home of the Iranians was determined after studying the relationship of Indo-European languages using the graphic-analytical method. On the common Indo-European territory, the Iranians occupied an area between the Desna and the Oka rivers, bounded in the north by the Ugra River, and in the south by the Zhizdra (see map below).
The common Indoeuropean territory in the Dnepr basin
As preliminary studies of the prehistory of the Iranians have already shown, after ending of the "First Great Migrations" they remained in their ancestral homeland, but, like the Slavs, the Balts, and the Germans, over time they significantly expanded their territory, where the division of the common Iranian proto-language took place. Experts believe that the common Iranian proto-language, or "language-base", at some time differentiated into two main dialectal groups, conventionally called "western" and "eastern". The main features of this division are some of the historical and phonetic features of their consonantism.
At right: The ancestral home of the Iranians and the direction of migration of Indo-European tribes.
The influence of Persian on other Iranian languages is well known, but borrowings from Tajik and Dari are also common, and the ancient Sogdian language had a certain influence on the Pamir languages when the Sogdians advanced into the Pamir valleys. Loanwords due to these influences are almost impossible to detect. Thus, the structure of the ancient relationships of the Iranian languages in the present is distorted and its actual graphic model cannot be reproduced on the basis of modern vocabularies. However, an approximate diagram of the relationship is drawn up without much effort under certain conventions – where the data of some pairs of languages contradict, the data of other pairs come to the rescue. This is a feature of the graphic-analytical method.
It should also be noted that loan-words that have not been eliminated are of a haphazard nature and therefore could not significantly distort the graphic model of the relationship of the Iranian languages. Its undoubted difference from real relationships is due rather to the incompleteness of data for some languages than to the influence of borrowings.
Specialists believe that the Iranian common language, or "base language", at some time differentiated into two main dialect groups conventionally called "western" and "eastern". The main features of this division are some historical and phonetic features of their consonantism. The Median, Parthian, Baluchi, Kurdish, Talyshi, Persian, Tajik, Tatic, and other language originated from the western dialects, the eastern dialects gave rise to the Sogdian, Khorezm, Pashto, Ossetian, Pamir languages, etc. (ORANSKI I.M., 1979: 88). This division must be borne in mind when interpreting the results of the study of Iranian languages by the graphic-analytical method.
The history of the Iranian languages is very difficult to reconstruct due to mutual influences, borrowings from Arabic and Turkic. The issue is also complicated by the absence or insufficiency of written sources and the fact that some languages still remain unwritten or poorly written. We can talk surely about the development of the Persian language, whose history can be traced back to VI c. BC, about its close connection to Tajiki, as well as about the continuation of the Sogdian language in modern Yaghnobi. Even the question of a dialectological base of the Avesta language has no clear answer (Ibid: 33). On the other hand, for many centuries the Persian language has had a great influence on other Iranian languages and Persian borrowings are often forced out ancestral words of unwritten languages that are lost forever.
Thus, it is extremely difficult to study the relationship between the Iranian languages. The selection of lexical material for such work using the graphic-analytical method began even before the publication of the first volumes of the Etymological dictionary of Iranian Languages. In the process of the work that began, the same difficulties were encountered that the compilers of that dictionary encountered:
We have… to put up with the inevitable gaps explained by failure known material of a language (eg, lack of fixing words in the texts of the extinct languages, the lack of dictionaries of some living languages and dialects), or the loss of a word in any language by replacing it by an innovative word or borrowing (EDELMAN D.I. 2005: 8).
On the other hand, the compilers of the dictionaries proceeded from traditional, but to a certain extent erroneous, ideas about the history of the development of the Iranian languages. In particular, they did not question the existence of the Indo-Iranian linguistic community, which turned out to be fictions, what became clear when studying Indo-European languages using the graphic-analytical method. It is also clearly seen the desire of the compilers, when selecting lexical material, either to find a reflection of Iranian words in the Indo-European roots, or to restore their common Iranian origin. New formations without Indo-European roots, represented only in a few languages, were mostly ignored, apparently taken a priori for borrowings. However, borrowings are different. Some of them may date back to the formation of the language and therefore may be original, even if their roots are not Indo-European. The conspicuous excessive disproportion between the volumes of original words taken for analysis from different languages could not take place, since their primary carriers stood at the same level of cultural development, and this should have been reflected in languages. In accordance with this view, the disproportion was eliminated by replenishing the lexicons of underrepresented languages due to the found correspondences in bilingual dictionaries. In addition, etymological dictionaries often contain references to a certain Scythian-Sarmatian language, which in reality never existed. For many decades, mainly through the efforts of V.I. Abayev, attempts to restore the "Scythian language" and determine its place among the Iranian ones were continuing. (ABAYAEV V.I. 1965, 1979). Moreover, assuming the existence of distinct Scythian and Sarmatian languages, attempts were made to establish certain phonological regularities between them in the firm belief that both Scythians and Sarmatians spoke a language close to Ossetian. (WITCZAK K.T.1992, KULLANDA S.V. 2005, 2016). Such "research" cannot be perceived otherwise than as scholasticism (see Scythian Language). Naturally, the references of the authors of the dictionaries to the Scythian-Sarmatian language were ignored.br>
Taking into account all these peculiarities, a new etymological table-dictionary was compiled among 1674 lexical nests. It is posted on my site Etymological Table Database and contains data for the following languages:
Farsi with Tajiki – 1002 wors,
Pashto – 773 words,
The Shughni-Rushan languages – 766 слов,
Yaghnobi with Sogdian – 726 слов,
Kurdish (Kurmanji and Sorani) – 697 words,
Yazghulami – 644 words,
Talyshi – 531 words,
Ossetic – 530 words,
Sarikoli – 506 words,
Wakhi – 465 words,
Gilaki – 464 слова,
Balochi – 308 слов,
Ishkashimi – 306 слов.
Table 1. Quantity of mutual words in pairs of the Iranic languages
Based on the data obtained, a model of the relationship of the Iranian languages was built, which is presented in the diagram below.
The configuration of the resulting scheme as a whole should reflect the location of the areas in the common Iranian territory, in which the formation of distinct languages took place. However, the incompleteness of the vocabulary of peripheral languages, presented in the dictionary table, affected the scheme with too large distances between their areas and less accuracy of the points that define them. In this regard, the scheme does not accurately correspond to the part of the map on which it should be laid. The kinship models of the Indo-European and Turkic languages, which were formed here earlier, overlap much better, and they made it possible to highlight the ethno-producing areas on the map in which the Iranian languages could have been formed. With this assumption, the Iranian scheme can be attributed to the large space between the Dnieper and the Upper Oka and the Don, up to the shores of the Azov Sea.
The upper part of the scheme corresponds to the map better, and when localizing it, the features of the Ossetian language are taken into account. They were noted by V.I. Abaev:
its special closeness to the languages of the European area – Slavic, Baltic, Tocharian, Germanic, Italic, Celtic. According to a number of features – lexical, phonetic, grammatical – the Ossetian language, breaking with other Indo-Iranian languages, merges with the listed Indo-European languages (ABAYEV V.I., 1965: 3)
At present, painstaking work is underway to correct the lexical material of the dictionary table using other etymological dictionaries that have appeared in the public domain (MORGENSTIERNE GEORG VALENTIN. 1927; STEBLINE-KAMENSKY I.M. 1999; RASTORGUYEVA V.S., EDELMAN D.I. 2000-2004; EDELMAN D.I. 2011-2015; TSABOLOV R.L. 2001). In the process of this work, the disproportionality of the lexical material presented in the dictionaries was clearly visible. The compilers showed certain preferences in accordance with the well-established ideas about kinship relationships between Iranian languages and sometimes submitted too extensive lexical material of some groups of languages, which can be used to establish the history of their development, but does little for the history of Iranian languages as a whole. At the same time, some important single correspondences were ignored, even if they were well known. This required careful consideration of the vocabularies used and the addition of missing matches. After the completion of this work, the table-dictionary will be submitted on my website Etymological Table Database, and the graphic model of the relationship of the Iranian languages will be rebuilt.
The fact that the scheme, built on the basis of the preliminary model, does not reflect well the spatial arrangement of some Iranian languages, became obvious when searching for the areas corresponding to them. With the known location of the Iranian ancestral home, it was clear that the territory in which the Iranians settled in the subsequent time and in which the division of their earlier common language took place, should have been somewhere to the east of the upper and middle Dnieper, and it was here that an attempt was made to place the resulting relationship models.
Estimated location of areas forming the Iranian languages is shown on the map below. Resettling, Iranians occupied a large space between the Dnieper and the upper Oka and Don Rivers up to the Azov Sea coast. A large number of available areas offer difficulty for the placement of some languages which are not presented in the model. We can confidently talk about the placement of the upper part of the model on the map, taking into account the particular originality of the Ossetian language, which is characterized by
Taking into account this feature, we can assume that the area of the Ossetian language was located next to the areas of the Indo-European languages. In addition, the ancestors of Ossetians remain in contact with the Indo-Europeans longer than other Iranians being the latest while the motion of Iranian tribes southward. In this connection, the model of the relation of the Iranian languages was located on the map so that the Ossetian area was the most northern, i.e. superimposed on the ethno-producing area of the Indo-Aryans, that is in the catchment of the Sozh River between the Dnieper and Iput' Rivers. This determined the localization of the ethno-producing areas of the rest of the Iranian languages. The area of Yagnobi was located within Dnieper-Iput'-Interfluvial space, and the area of the Kurdish language – between the Desna, Seym, and Oka Rivers. Thus the area of Balochi should be placed on the site of historic Urheimat of Iranic people in the basin of the Zhizdra River between the Desna, Ugra, and Oka Rivers. The Pashto language area is more or less good placed between the Dnieper, Desna, Sula Rivers, and Talishi area in the upper reaches of the Oskol River on the right bank of the Don between the Sosna River and Tykha Sosna River
The area of the Persian language, located in the very center of the scheme, is bordered by the Oskol and the Seym Rivers. Its south-western border runs along the Seversky Donets River, and further the natural boundary to the Seym River is not clearly seen. At the same time, the areas on both banks of the Psel River are empty. Obviously, these small areas formed dialects that gave rise to some Pamirian languages, akin to Shugnan. Then the area of Gilaki language should be placed between the Seversky Donets, Oskol, and Don Rivers. However, its south-eastern border is difficult to identify, because this depends on the location of the area Mazanderani language, which was not included in the model of the relationship due to lack of data. Given the modern habitat of the Mazanderanians, their ancestral home can be assumed to the east of the Gilaki area.
As a result, it turned out that the so-called "East-Iranian" languages are actually located in the west of Iranian territory and stretch along the left bank of the Dnieper River. Accordingly, the "West-Iranian" stretched along the left bank of the upper Oka River and the right bank of the Don, in the neighborhood of the Finno-Ugric settlements.
Map 5. Settlement territory of the Iranic tribes in the II millennium BC.
On the map, the boundaries of the ethno-producing areas are marked with red and blue dots. The blue dots also mark the border between the "western" and "eastern" Iranian languages.
Accepted location of the Iranic areas is confirmed by revealing facts of language substratum influence of the previous population. We see, for example, that the area of the Afghan languages (Pashto) is located in the same place where previously the Armenian language was formed.
Thus still unexplained matches between these languages are just the result of the impact of the Armenian substrate. More information on this topic is covered in the section "Language substrate".
Particular difficulties arise with locating areas for the Sarikoli, Yazghulami, and common language of the Pamir peoples. For the latter, there is no other place like on the river banks of the Vorskla, Psel, and Orel, but its borders are not distinct in the north-east and south. The Yazghulyami area should be somewhere to the south, and Sarikoli should be in a bend of the Don. The exact location of the last remains doubtful also due to the mismatch available data about the number of words of the Sarikoli language having correspondence in Gilaki and Talyshi. These three languages should have much more common words, but just the dictionaries of these languages were the smallest, and without a doubt, a number of matches in the Sarykoli language has not been revealed. Difficulty while placing the last three areas are connected also with the fact that there are areas along the Sea of Azov, where could be formed the Iranic languages not taken for analysis (Mazandarani, Kumzari, etc.)
The placing of the area of the Balochi language in the neighborhood to Vepsian area, based on scant available data about its connections with other Iranic languages, is supported by the presence of common words in the Vepsian and Balochi languages. For example the Veps word naine “a daughter-in-law” corresponds Bal na'ānē “a daughter" at janaine “a woman". It is clear that the same woman for the Balochi parents was the daughter and the daughter-in-law for the family of her husband. Thus, not only lexical parallels but such evidence of a marriage between the Veps and Balochis confirms their neighborhood. Maybe Bel pērok "a grandfather" corresponds Veps per’eh "family". К. Häkkinen thinks that Fin. paksu, Est. and Veps. paks "thick" were borrowed from Iranian languages but refers only Bel. baz "thick, dense" (HÄKKINEN KAISA. 2007: 860). Of the other Iranian, a similar word is found only in Ossetian – bæz "fat, thick". The ancestors of the Ossetians and Balochi were neighbors in the ancestral homeland. Lexical material from the Balochi language is scanty, but the Veps vocabulary was analyzed in comparison with the other Iranic languages. It turned out, that Kurdish had the biggest number of mutual words with Veps – 76, the runner-ups are Ossetic – 65 mutual words, Talyshi – 61 words, Gilaki – 56, etc. You can see on the map that areas of the Kurdish and Ossetian languages are closest to the area of the Veps language and linguistic contacts between the populations of these areas also had to be close.
Here are examples of Kurdish-Vepsian lexical parallels, some of which have correspondences in other Baltic-Finnish languages:
Kurd çerk “drop” – Veps. čirkštada “to drop”,
Kurd. cirnî “trough” – Veps. kurn “gutter”.
Kurd. e'ys "joy" – Veps. ijastus "joy".
Kurd. e'zim "beautiful" – Veps. izo "dear, sweet", Fin. ihana "wonderful, beautiful";
Kurd. hebhebok “spider”– Veps. hämähouk, Fin., Karel. hämähäkki – “spider”,
Kurd. henase “breathing” – Veps. henktä, Fin. hengittää, Est. hingake “to breathe”,
Kurd. kusm “fear” – Veps. h’ämastoitta “to fear”,
Kurd. semer “darkness” – Veps. hämär “twilight”, Fin. hämärä "twilight, dusky".
The last parallel fits well with the phonology of the Baltic-Finnish languages, which may indicate borrowing Finnish words from Kurdish. In the etymological dictionary of the modern Finnish language, on the contrary, it is stated that the source of borrowing is an Old Germanic word, supposedly represented by Icelandic sámur "dark, dirty" (HÄKKINEN KAISA. 2007: 238). However, in the authoritative dictionary of Old Norse, the word sámr is considered to be borrowed from the Finnish language (CLEASBY RICHARD, VIGFUSSON GUDBRANd. 1874).
The Kurdish and Talishi areas were adjacent to the Mordvinic area. According to this, these languages have the biggest number of mutual words with Mordvinic really (see below).
Tal. arə "to like" – Mok. yor-ams "to want";
Tal. kandul "hollow" – Erz. kundo "hollow";
Tal. kandy "bee" – Mok. kendi "wasp";
Tal. kәvәlә "snipe" – Mok. kaval "kite";
Tal. küm "roof" – Mok. kaval "cover";
Tal. latə "wedge" – Erz. lacho "wedge";
Tal. mejl "to want" - Mok. m'al' "wish";
Tal. se "to take" – Mok s'avoms, Erz/ saems "to take";
Tal. tiši "sprout" - Mok. tishe "grass";
Tal. tyk. "finish" – Mok. t'uk "finish"
Tal. vədə "a child" – Mok. eyde "a child".
Tal. vəšy "hunger" – Mok. vacha, Erz. vacho "hungry";
Kurd leyi "stream" – Mok. l'ay, Erz. ley "river",
Kurd çêl "cow" – Mok. skal "heifer", Erz. skal "cow",
Kurd sutin "to rub" – Mok. s'uder'-ams "to smouth, stroke",
Kurd ceh "barley" – Mok. chuzh, Erz. shuzh "barley".
The Pashto area was located near the Thracian one, what was resulted in Pashto-Albanian lexical matches:
Pashto bus “chaff” – Alb byk “id”;
Pashto gаh “time” – Alb kohе “id”;
Pashto lêg’êr “naked” – Alb lakurig “id”;
Pashto peca “a part” – Alb pjesе “id”;
Pashto tar.ê l “to bind” – Alb thur “id”;
Pashto xwar “a wound” – Alb varrё “id”;
Pashto cira “a saw” – Alb sharrё “id” (though both can be from Lat cěrra).
Also few (due to the small size of the dictionary) examples of the linguistic connections of the Thracians with other neighbors – the ancestors of Sogdians and Yagnobians – are found:
Alb. hingеllin "to neigh" – Yagn. hinj'irast "to neigh",
Alb. anё "bank, shore" – Yag. xani "the same",
Alb. kurriz "back" – Yag. gûrk "back".
As already mentioned, the western boundary of the Iranic area was the Dnieper. Beyond the Dnieper, the forest and forest-steppe zone were populated by the ancestors of Tocharians, Balts, Slavs, Germans, Celts, the Phrygians, Armenians, Thracians. Previously, we identified the area of the uprising of the Tocharian language between the Dnieper and Berezina River. Consequently, the Tocharians were side by side with the ancestors of the Ossetians. The ancient language contact between these two peoples confirms this vicinity. V.I. Abaev represented in his works such matches of the Ossetian and Tocharian languages:
Toch. ānkar "fang" – Osset. assyr "fang",
Toch eksinek "a pigeon" – Osset äxinäg "a bpigeon",
Toch aca-karm "a boa" – Osset kalm "a snake",
Toch káts "stomach" – Osset qästä "stomach",
Toch kwaš "a village" – Osset qwä "a village",
Toch menki "lesser", Lit. meñkas "little" – Osset. mingi "little, few",
Toch porat "an axe" – Osset färät – "an axe",
Toch sám "enemy" – Osset son "enemy" (А. Abayev V.I. 1965).
Toch witsako "a root" – Osset widag "a root".
However, V. Abaev believed that these matches come since the Scythian times, but the Tocharians had already moved to Asia at that time. When the Tocharians left their ancestral home, their habitat was occupied by Baltic tribes, expanding their territory to the Dnieper. At this time, the Baltic language was divided into two dialects – the eastern and western ones. On the territory of the old ancestral home of the Balts west of the Berezina River, the western dialect was formed, which from the Prussian and Yatvingian (Sudovian) languages were developed later, and in the area between the Dnieper and Berezina, the eastern Baltic dialect was formed, from which Lithuanian, Latvian, Zemgalian, and Curonian languages were developed.
Habitats of the Iranian and Germanic tribes in II mill. BC..
Thus, the eastern Balts came into direct contact with the ancestors of the Ossetians. Of course, it has affected their language, and certain matches between the Ossetic and East-Baltic languages could be identified. Many of them V.I. Abaev gave in his historical-etymological dictionary of the Ossetic language, but referred them to the Scythian time (A. ABAYEV V.I, 1958-1989), which is also, in principle, possible for some part of them.
The stay of the Iranians on their initial habitats, determined by us using the graphic-analytical method, is to a certain extent confirmed by place names. Iranian toponymy in the territory of Ukraine and Russia is in principle quite numerous but left mainly by the ancestors of modern Kurds and Ossetians and this topic is considered separately. These data are plotted on Google Maps (see below).
In time some part of the Iranic peoples moved in the direction of Central Asia along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea and came to the territory of modern Iran at the beginning of the 1st mill BC. Cuneiform sources of that time let know about two groups of Irano-Aryans: Medes and Persians but other Iranian peoples not identified by name had to be somewhere east of them. Other Iranic tribes stayed in the Pontic parts.
General picture of the Iranic migration in Minor and Central Asia
Iranic peoples stay at the area of their original home, is to some extent confirmed by place names. Iranic place names in Ukraine and Russia are, in principle, quite numerous, but mostly left by the ancestors of modern Kurds and Ossetians and is discussed separately. Here only the results on Google Map.
About mirgaration of Iranian tribes in Asia see in the section Cimmerians
About mirgaration of of a portion of Iranians in Central Europe see in the section Cimbri