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Documenting a religious minority: the Dari dialect of Kerman, Iran

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Language Dari
Depositor Saloumeh Gholami
Affiliation Empirical Linguistics, Goethe University Frankfurt
Location Iran
Collection ID 0299
Grant ID IPF0204
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle



Summary of the collection

Zoroastrian Dari (a term not to be confused with classical Persian Dari or Dari in Afghanistan, also known as Behdini, Gavri or Gavruni) is an Iranian language spoken by the religious minority the Zoroastrians, who live mostly in the cities of Yazd and the surrounding areas, and in Kerman and Tehran. After the coming of Islam, the Zoroastrian community was under considerable pressure to convert to Islam. For this reason, between the 8th and 10th centuries, some of the followers of Zoroastrianism left Iran for India, where today the largest and most important Zoroastrian community in the world is found.

Before the Mongol invasion of Iran in 1219-1224 CE, there must have been some Zoroastrian communities in different regions in Iran, especially in Khorasan and Sistan. But by the 16th century the location of these communities was gradually reduced to two regions, Kerman and Yazd, with their surrounding areas. During the period between 1879 and 2011, the number of Zoroastrians in Kerman and Yazd declined dramatically, while it increased by more than 5,745 per cent in Tehran during the same period. This change in numbers is evidence of the mass migration of Zoroastrians to Tehran. The most migrants who came to Tehran were either looking for job or continuing their education. In recent years, a large number of Zoroastrians have migrated to other countries, mostly to the USA, Canada.

Migration is not the only reason behind the critically endangered status of Dari. Persian, the official language of Iran, has been strongly influencing all regional and minority languages, including Zoroastrian Dari. In terms of language endangerment, Yazdi Dari is regarded as critically endangered.

In Kerman, there are no longer any people who speak this language as either a first or second language, and thus the language has ceased to be used. The last context for using this dialect was for ritual purposes in the religious ceremonies. The best speakers of Kermani Dari used to be three elderly ladies, but after they passed away, only three other speakers have remained, and they do not actively use the language at all. Unfortunately, one of the best informants has become ill and has lost her ability to recall the language in the last phase of the project. The collection created within this project represent the very last traces of Zoroastrian Dari in Kerman.


Group represented

The collection created within this project focuses on speakers of Zoroastrian Dari in Kerman. There is a big gap regarding the history of Zoroastrians in Iran after the Arab conquest in the middle of seventh century until the Safavid era from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.
Various scholars, such as C. E. Bosworth (1977: 39) and J. Kestenberg Amighi (1990: 71), have mentioned a connection between the Mongol and Timurid invasion with the decline and immigration of Zoroastrians. In the late fourteenth century, the Khorasan area was particularly hard hit by the attacks of Timur. At that time because of this disaster in Khorasan, Zoroastrians moved to Sistān (Sorušiān 1991:17) and then to Kerman. Two Zoroastrian documents provide evidence to prove the theory that the origin of Zoroastrians in Kerman is from Khorasan. The first document is Kāmdin Šāpur’s letter from 1559 CE. At the end of this letter we find a list of Behdins of Khorasan, who are in Kerman, with behdin meaning the people of good religion and referring to Zoroastrians. After the list, this information is mentioned: “The congregation of the Behdins of the country of Khorasan, who live here, is 3000 persons” (Dhabhar 1932: 620). The second document is the letter of Frēdōn, the son of Marzbān, who states in his letter to India that his family, that is, the Marzbān family, a famous Zoroastrian scribe family in Kerman, originally comes from Khorasan province (Unvala 1922:153).

The Zoroastrian community in Kerman differs in several ways from that in Yazd. In Kerman, the community has been more open to the non-Zoroastrian society around it. It has been strongly influenced in many cultural and linguistic respects by the predominant Persian culture and language. Furthermore, it has not been isolated. Instead it has been more fully integrated with non-Zoroastrian society, which is the dominant one. The community in Kerman has not preserved the observance of many rituals nor maintained the use of their dialect to the degree to which the Zoroastrians in Yazd have.


Language information

Dari (also known as Behdini, Gavri or Gavruni) is spoken by the religious minority of the Zoroastrians in the cities of Yazd and the surrounding areas, Kerman and Tehran. Whilethe situation of the Zoroastrian-Yazdi dialect is comparatively better, the situation of the Kermani dialect, the focus ofthis project, is especially grave.


Special characteristics

Zoroastrian Dari is one of the most unique Iranian languages on account of its large number of sub-dialects and historical background. This language has generally been considered to be closely related to Persian or to Central dialects in the earlier works. There are two main dialects of Dari: Kermani and Yazdi. The dialect of Yazdi has many sub-dialects, while there appears to be only one dialect of Kermani. There were probably different dialects of Kermani in earlier periods of time, but today we find only one dialect. These possible former Kermani dialects outside of Kerman would be Jupāri, Qanātqestāni, and Esmāʿilābādi. The names Jupār, Qanātqestān, and Esmāʿilābād refer to three Zoroastrians villages near Māhān. The last Zoroastrian families left these villages, and most of them have moved to Kerman. There is no remnant of these sub-dialects anymore. .

The Yazdi dialect of Dari has received much more scholarly attention than Kermani. The reason for this attention is that Yazdi is better preserved, and because of the existence of several sub-dialects, it offers more interesting areas of study for scholars.

According to the Western Iranian isoglosses in the Old, Middle, and New Iranian periods, it seems that Dari is closer to the NW than to the SW group, in regard to the development of PIr. *ś (D-Y ruvås, D-K rubā, Parth. rōbās, Bal. rōpāsk, NP rōbāh “fox”), *ź (D-Y, D-K zun-, Av. zanā-, Z zan-, Bal.zān, Kr. zān-, NP dān, MP dān, OP dānā- “know”), *śṷ (D-Y sva, D-K saba, P ispag, South Z espe, NP sag “dog”), *θr (D-Y pōr, D-K pōrer, P puhr, Bal. pus(s)ag (loanword), Kr. Abduʿi pus (loanword), NP pesar, MP pus “son”; D-Y, D-K se, P hrē, Z hire, NP and MP sē “three”), *č / V_V (D-Y, D-K ruj, Z rôž, rôj, Bal. rōč, NP rōz “day”), *ṷ- (D-Y, D-K vin, Z vēn-, vin-, Bal. gind-, Kr. bîn; NP bin “see”) and *dṷ (D-Y, D-K bar, P bar, Central Z ber, NP and MP dar “door”) and shares more similarity with Zazaki from NW group.

In addition to the abovementioned isoglosses, regarding Old Iranian d, Dari also shares similarities with the NW group. Old Iranian d can be found in Kermani and few Yazdi Dari, for example, in kod “when” (P kaδ, Bal.kadi, NP key, MP kay). In two Yazdi sub-dialects, both đ and z are attested (Elābādi kođ, Qāsemābādi kāz).

In the case of the development of *i̯- to j- (D-Y jedů, D-K jodā (probably loanword) P yuδ, Z jiyā, NP and MP jud(ā)g “separate”; Isfahani Jewish yuš/ā, D yus- “boil”; Stilo, p. 9), Dari shows the same result as Persian.

Verb forms have often been used to demonstrate the dialectal positions of Iranian languages. For example, the present stem of the verb “to do” can be used as an isogloss for the NW group (see Tedesco, p. 223). Another example would be the verb “to come” (see MacKenzie, 1961a, pp. 74-75). Paul (2003, pp. 62-63) considered these two verbs together with four other verbs: “to have, keep,” “to say,” “to go,” “to fall” to demonstrate the dialectal position of Baluchi. Stilo (2007, p. 9) mentioned that the two verbs “buy” and “cut” retain a final -n in their present stems in the NW group. The present stem of the verb “say,” that is, vaj- in Dari, is close to the NW group (P vāž, Z vāž), whereas in the SW group *gaub- (NP gō) is attested.
The past stem of the verb “to fall” is kapt in Dari, and this form is well attested in the NW group. In contrast, one finds that in the SW group, the forms are usually derived from *ava-pat- (NP oftād).

In the case of the two verbs, “buy” hrin- and “cut” brin-, Dari here apparently preserves the old sequence of rn and does not show the specifically Persian sound change of rr.
In Dari, another development of Old Iranian kṛnu- can be found in comparison to Persian. In Persian, the present stem of the verb kardan “to do, to make” is kon-, while in Dari, kar- is attested.

In a similar way in which they provide isoglosses to distinguish the NW and SW groups, some scholars also provide isoglosses for Central dialects. In spite of all the isoglosses that have been offered for the Central dialects, there is still no clear distinction between NW and Central Dialects. The internal grouping of the Central Dialects displays considerable differences and the lack of isoglottic bundling. As the majority of Central dialects have not yet been sufficiently studied, it is not easy to make a more exact judgment regarding isoglosses of this group. Windfuhr (1992) and Stilo (2007) have discussed some of these isoglosses. I focus on these characteristics in order to show the similarities and differences of Dari in relation to the Central dialects.
In the case of the prefix *fra-, the most common development is r in the Central group. Both Kermani and Yazdi Dari exhibit a different development to hr. Another isogloss is the general marker of the perfective tenses, including the perfective subjunctive ba-/be-. It is used in the majority of Central group languages. In both Kermani and Yazdi Dari, the prefix be- has undergone change to ve, and it seems to have a similar function to the prefix be in Persian. An example in Dari is ve-pars-e “he/she would ask.”

According to Windfuhr (1992), another isogloss is the formation of the durative present and past. There are two distinct patterns, as the prefix *at- (also attested in different Central Dialects as the forms ed, et, e, a) or as the enclitic particle -e. The function and characteristics of this suffix and affix are discussed in detail in Stilo (2007, pp. 13-15). According to Stilo, in the Isfahan area, the suffixed form -e is used to mark durative, whereas in other areas the prefix e(t)- is found. There are two patterns, depending on whether or not the verb is negated. On verbs without negation, the durative marker in both Yazdi and Kermani is a prefixed et- before a vowel and e- before a consonant. However, if the verb is negated, the durative marker appears as a suffix. The following examples illustrate the prefixed and suffixed forms: Yazdi Dari: et-ů-t, et-ů, Kermani Dari et-ā, et-ā-d “he/she comes” but Yazdi Dari n-ů-t-e, Kermani Dari n-ā-t-e “he does not come.” Regarding the pronominal form referring to “we,” both Dari and Nāʾini exhibit a typical SW form. In the case of the demonstrative pronoun, “this,” Dari and K̠uri show similarities. In both Dari and K̠uri, a m- stem demonstrative can be found: Yazdi Dari min, mo; Kermani Dari min, mů, K̠uri em. Dari also appears to be similar to Āštiāni-Tafreši, Isfahani, K̠uri, and Sivandi, in that Dari also has a b- stem expressing “become.” With the form ůsu “now,” Yazdi Dari appears to be more similar to Isfahani and Āštiāni-Tafreši. Regarding the adjective for “big,” Dari appears to be closer to Nāʾini and Maḥallāti to K̠vānsāri groups (see also Stilo, Table 2). In all these languages, mas “big, great” is attested. In the case of the verbal ending for the first person singular, both Yazdi and Kermani Dari and Nāʾini present an innovation: Yazdi Dari -e, -a, Kermani Dari -e, -a, and Nāʾini -i(e). In all other NW and Central dialects, the forms ‑(u)m, -(i)m, -(u)n, -(o)n are attested.


Collection contents

This collection aims to show different aspects of Zoroastrian culture and religion in addition to the language documentation. Our goal was to show the cultural and social background of the language community. The collection contains not only linguistic material, but also documentation of ceremonies, festivals, and Zoroastrian monuments, which are of particular importance for religious and cultural studies. The collection presents the Zoroastrian society in Kerman with their traditions, rituals, and other aspects of culture.

In different scenes, we see the women preparing Siro, a type of traditional Zoroastrian bread or telling a joke in Zoroastrian Dari. In other videos, we see different scenes of the Gahanbar Ceremony and the Tirgan Festival at the Fire Temple in Kerman.


Collection history

The data for this collection was collected during various fieldworks of the principal investigator. The data was collected in October 2012, February, March and August 2014 and May and June 2015, when Saloumeh Gholami undertook fieldwork in Kerman and Tehran.

Because of very special conditions of the fieldwork such as a small number of informants and their delicate state of health, the fieldwork was going extremely slowly.
One of the most important outcomes of this project was creating a video clip in cooperation with Chouette Films Video Installation. For Zoroastrian community reaction to Chouette Films Video Installation click here.


Other information

Publications and presentations from this project


Educational Book for the community

Gholami, Saloumeh; Farahmand, Armita 2016: Zoroastrian Dari (Behdīnī) in Kerman. Estudios Iranios y Turanios Supplementa, Didactica. 1, Girona. click here to view the book.


Gholami, Saloumeh forthcoming (2018): “Pronominal Clitics in Zoroastrian Dari (Behdīnī) of Kerman”. In: Saloumeh Gholami (ed.), Endangered Iranian Languages. Wiesbaden: Reichert.

Gholami, Saloumeh 2018: “Remnants of Zoroastrian Dari in the colophons and Sālmargs of Iranian Avestan manuscripts”. In: Iranian Studies 51, Issue 2, pp. here to view the article.

Gholami, Saloumeh 2016: “Zoroastrians of Iran vi. Linguistic documentation.” In: Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016 accessed on 27 January 2016).click here to view the article.

Gholami, Saloumeh 2015: “The Death of Zoroastrian Dari in Kerman”, In: The Middle East in London, SOAS, University of London, Vol. 11, N. 5, October-November 2015, pp. 7,8. ).click here to view the article.


“Ein bedrohtes Erbe: Zoroastrische Handschriften, Historische Dokumente, Sprache”, Goethe University Frankfurt (December 8, 2017>.

“Pronominal clitics in Zoroastrian Dari (Behdini) of Kerman”. In the Second International Symposium on Endangered Iranian Languages, CNRS, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 (July 2016). ).click here to view the programme of the symposium.

“Dialectal phonological variations (of Zoroastrian Dari) in the colophons of the Avestan Manuscripts”, CNRS, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 (April 2016).click here to view the programme of the conference.

“Zoroastrian Dari and a dialect map”. In the first International Symposium on Endangered Iranian Languages, Empirical Linguistics, Goethe University, Frankfurt (February 2015).click here to view the programme of the symposium.

“Documenting of a religious minority, Zoroastrian Dari in Kerman”, Bahonar University, Kerman (December 2014>.

“The Position of Zoroastrian Dari among the Western Iranian Languages”, in the Fifth International Conference on Iranian Linguistics (ICIL5) in Bamberg (August 2013).click here to view the programme of the conference.

“Zoroastrian Dari”, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London (September 2013).


Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Saloumeh Gholami as the principal investigator, the data collector and the researcher. Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by respective name(s). Any other contributor who has collected, transcribed or translated the data or was involved in any other way should be acknowledged by name. All information on contributors is available in the metadata.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Gholami, Saloumeh. 2015. Documenting a religious minority: the Dari dialect of Kerman, Iran. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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