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The Brahui Language of Rudbar-Jonub (Iran)


Language Brahui
Depositor Fatemeh Sheybanifard
Affiliation University of Tehran
Location Iran
Collection ID 0630
Grant ID SG0572
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection 

The Brahui Language of Rudbar-Jonub is the prevalent language in Tom-Meyri village, located in the southern part of Rudbar town in Kerman Province, Iran. Brahui of Rudbar-Jonub is one of the non-Iranian languages spoken in Iran. The majority of speakers live in the Sistan and Baluchistan regions, but a group with a population of about 750 people inhabit in the southern part of Rudbar town.

This collection aims to provide a comprehensive videography-based documentation through a text corpus with audio-visual recordings of naturally generated discourse occurring around endangered lifecycle rituals and special cultural and linguistic features, as well as a dictionary of terms around traditional arts and crafts.


Group represented

This collection represents members of the Brahui-speaking community in Tom-Meyri village, South Rudbar Town, Kerman province, Iran. In 2018, the Kerman Provincial Government found 750 people and users of the language in this community, living in 150 households. In 2018, Ethnologue (2020) found more than 2.8 million speakers of Brahui worldwide.

Kerman province, the largest province in Iran, is located in the southwest of Iran and borders the provinces Yazd, Southern Khorasan, Sistan, Baluchistan, Hormozgan and Far. Kerman is characterised by diversity and heterogeneity in popular culture as well as the presence of different customs and rituals, clothing, beliefs, music, verbal literature, architecture, handicraft, languages and dialects. This diversity is due to the vastness of Kerman, the different geographies and climates, the long distances between the cities, the contact with many other provinces, the acceptance of different tribes and nomads from different parts of the country and the presence of religious minorities.

The south of Kerman, Rudbar zamin, is a tropical region and consists of seven divisions. This vast region is an alluvial and fertile plain around Halil roud, the only permanent river in Kerman province, and for this reason, the local people have called it ‘Rudbar zamin’ or Rudbar (or Ruebr in local terminology). There are many different dialects and languages in Rudbar zamin. Rudbar-Jonub has one non-Iranian dialect: Brahui, the dialect of the small Brahui tribe. According to verbal literature and local experts, a group of Brahui people entered Iran about three or four hundred years ago. Around two hundred years ago, a group of them entered Kerman through the common borders of Sistan and Baluchistan, and Kerman and took residence in Tom-Meyri village.

Proximity to the people of Rudbar and mingling with them for two centuries have resulted in the assimilation of the Brahui to most of the cultural components of the Rudbari people. The Brahuis elsewhere are Muslims following the Sunni tradition, but the Brahuis of Rudbar have converted to Shiism. There is no difference in clothing, traditions, customs, conventions, and rituals between the Brahui and the original people of Rudbar. Today the only distinctions between the Brahui and the original people of Rudbar are the differences in appearance and language; that is, the Brahui of Rudbar are all trilingual. They speak Brahui among themselves, the Rudbari variety in their communications with the people of Rudbar, and Persian in their contacts with other people.


Language information

The Brahui language (also known as Brahuidi, Brahuigi, Bruhi, Bruhaki and Kurgali) belongs to the northern branch of Dravidian language family. Speakers of northern Dravidian languages have migrated to the borders of India and have taken residence in Aryan settlements. Kurux-speaking and Malto-speaking people migrated to eastern India, whereas Brahui-speaking people moved to the northwest. Today, Brahui is mostly spoken in Baluchistan, and largely in the Pakistani part of the region. Brahui speakers also reside in Kalat, Karachi and Hyderabad, and most speakers are bilingual in Brahui and Balochi. In addition, there are Brahui speakers in Afghanistan (Chahar Burjak, Shuravak, Nushki), India, Turkmenistan (Merv Oasis), Iran (Sistan, Saravan, Khash, Iranshahr) and the United Arab Emirates. The Brahui language has three main dialects: Jharawan/Jhalawani, Kalat/Kalati and Sarawan/Sarawani.

During the past centuries, a group of Brahui people migrated further to Iran by way of Pakistan and Afghanistan border. According to experts and local speakers, the Brahui first entered Iran about three or four hundred years ago. A group of them migrated from Sistan and Baluchistan to Southern Kerman and today most of them reside in Tom-Meyri village in the Rudbar-Jonub division. About two centuries after migration and mingling with the people of Rudbar, the Brahui have severed all their racial and emotional ties with their siblings in Sistan and Baluchistan region.

As a minority with a need to communicate with the majority, the Brahui have learned the language of the majority (Rudbari language variety) and use the Rudbari language variety in their everyday lives. In recent decades, the abundance of social changes have resulted in the addition of Persian to the collection of the languages used by the Brahui, especially the youth and the middle-aged. As a result of this trilingualism, the Brahui language variety spoken in Tom-Meyri village is different from the Brahui language spoken in Baluchistan.

The writing system of Brahui differs from the writing system of other Dravidian languages. The Brahui language does not have specific script, and at the present time, most of its texts are written in Persian Nastaliq script. Opinions about the background of Brahui script differ greatly. Some say that Brahui was originally written in ‘hieroglyph’, which was then replaced by the Mohenjo-daro writing system. Although these theories have not yet been proven, it is almost certain that the Brahui used Kharoshthi script before the dawn of Islam, and that this script was replaced by Persian and Arabic script afterwards. The coins, engravings and books written in this language up until the 18th century were all written in Persian and Arabic.

Brahui has been affected by the lack of contact with other Dravidian languages family, by the contact with non-Dravidian languages and the multilingualism and minority status of the speakers. As a result, Brahui in Tom-Meyri village has preserved almost none of the ancient characteristics of Proto-Dravidian. In the lexicon, only five percent of the words used in Brahui language are of Dravidian origin. In addition, compared to Brahui spoken in Pakistan, Brahui in Tom-Meyri village has different phonological and grammatical features. Brahui of Rudbar-Jonub has two diphthongs /ie/ and /ue/ and two consonants /xw/ and /gw/ as well as continuous past and continuous present forms. Some important phonological and grammatical features of Brahui language:

  • Phonology: 28 consonants, 9 vowels and 4 diphthongs
  • Morphology: 11 grammatical cases (Nominative, Accusative, Ablative, Instrumental, Dative, Comitative, Genetive, Locative, Terminative, Adessive, Lative)
  • Syntax: Subject – Object – Verb order


Collection contents

When completed, the collection will contain recordings collected from a range of speakers: men and women, adolescent to elderly, illiterate to literate and educated. In particular, the collection will include

  • materials investigating the phonology, grammar and lexicon of Brahui, with a focus on the differences between Brahui in Rudbar-Jonub vs. Brahui in Pakistan, Sistan and Baluchistan, to provide a linguistic description with reference to historical changes
  • a audio-visual corpus made up of
    • elicitations and questionnaires
    • oral narratives of life stories, descriptions of Brahui traditions (initiation rites, weddings and funerals), fairy tales, historical legends, accounts of traditional social and professional activities
    • daily life conversations, such as routine dialogues and verbal exchanges, including expressions and idioms
    • folk songs
    • recordings of customs, rituals, celebrations and festivals
  • annotations of the recordings in ELAN
  • a Brahui – English and English – Brahui dictionary of around 1500 entries with illustrations and a commentary on Brahui religion and traditions

Further outcomes of the research will be a contribution to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, a contribution to the collection of non-Persian languages in Iran, and a contribution to a map identifying languages spoken in Iran.


Collection history

The materials in this collection were gathered and prepared during the research for Fatemeh Sheybanifard’s ELDP-funded Small Grant between 2019 and 2020. The research took place over twenty months, with twelve months of fieldwork for gathering language material in the Tom-Meyri village, four months of data analysis at the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies in Tehran, at Bahonar University in Kerman, at CNRS and Bualc Library in Paris and at Baluchestan University in Pakistan, and four months of write-up in the National Library in Tehran.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to materials from this collection, please cite the collection in this way:

Sheybanifard, Fatemeh. 2021. The Brahui Language of Rudbar-Jonub, Asia, Iran. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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