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Tati Language

An Introduction


By: Professor Ehsan Yarshater

1969 [1]



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'Tati' (Tātī) is an Iranian dialects spoken in northwestern Persia (excepting Persian and Kurdish), in areas where the common vernacular is Azarbaijani Turkish. The similarity between these dialects, spoken sporadically in an area extending from the southern borders of the Aras River to the north of Sāveh, justifies a common appellation.[2]


The exploration of Tati dialects is not yet complete, but the main areas where Tati is spoken have now been identified.[3] The Tati dialects may be said to fall roughly into five groups:


(I) dialects spoken to the southwest of Qazvin and in Eshtehard;

(2) the dialect spoken in Xo'in, 60 kms. southwest of Zanjān, and in a number of smaller villages mainly derived from Xo'in (Balbavin, Sefid-kamar, Halab, Sa'd-ābād, etc.);[4]

(3) dialects spoken in Khalkhāl and Tārom;[5]

(4) dialects spoken in Harzand and Dizmār;[6]

(5) dialects spoken to the east and northeast of Qazvin (in Kuhpayeh, Rudbar and Alamut).


Tati dialects constitute one of the most important branches of Northwestern Iranian. Their many remarkable grammatical features and their many archaisms in morphology, syntax, and vocabulary invite special attention, and their geographical position and their significance for a reconstruction of the development of North Western Iranian call for intensive study.


Systematic investigation is required both to reveal those Tati dialects which may as yet be unknown and also to clarify the details of the known dialects, which are generally only imperfectly studied. The present work is a step in this direction.


The dialects studied here, and called Southern Tati, are the following:












The name of each dialect is taken from the main village in which the dialect is spoken.[8] All these villages are situated to the southwest and south of Qazvin, chiefly in the rural districts[9] of Rāmand, which lies at the foot of the Rāmand Mountains (v. map).




The villages from north to south are:

  1. Tākestān, locally and formerly Siādohon, 36 kms. southwest of Qazvin at the conjunction of the Tehran-Zanjān and Tehran-Hamadān roads, in the Dodānga rural district, Ziā-ābād county.[10] Population 10,534.[11] A thriving village growing vines and cereals with a raisin factory.

  2. Esfarvarin, locally Esvavarin, Esbarin, Esparin, 26 kms. northwest of Buyin,[12] in the Ramand rural district, Buyin county. Population 3,870. The people of this village and the following one are known for their stamina and unruliness.

  3. Shāl, locally Čāl,[13] 30 kms. to the northwest of Buyin, in the Ramand rural district. Population 5,546.

  4. Xiāraj, locally Xiāra, 27 kms. west and slightly north of Buyin, in the Rāmand rural district. Population 1,395. A village of declining fortunes, important at one time.

  5. Xoznin, 24 kms. northwest of Buyin, in the Rāmand rural district. Population 1,015.

  6. Ebrāhim-ābād, locally Bermowā, 18 kms. northwest of Buyin, in the Zahrā rural district, Buyin county. Population 1,235. The village has an exceptionally high level of literacy.

  7. Sagz-ābāad, locally Seyzowa, Sazjowa, 12 kms. northwest of Buyin, in the Zahrā rural district. Population 1,942.

  8. Dānesfān, locally Dānesbon, 30 kms. west and slightly north of Buyin, in the Rāmand rural district. Population 2,409. This village, together with Xoznin, was the worst hit in the area by the earthquake of the summer of 1962. Both have now been reconstructed.

  9. Eshtehārd, locally Eštrārda (fem.), 78 kms. west of Karaj, in the Mahābād rural district, Karaj county. Population 4,542.[14]



Apart from the nine main villages mentioned above, Tati is spoken in some other villages or farms of the region generally derived from the main villages.[15]


All these villages, situated in a dry flat country, each surrounded by stretches of arid land, are generally similar to one another in climate and crops as well as in social customs. Eshtehārd exhibits more urban features than the rest.


One overriding feature of life in all these villages is the perennial concern with rain and water supply. Elaborate systems of water distribution prevail in the villages, and disputes over water are far from rare. Prolonged periods of drought often threaten the economy of the region. In 1962 a disastrous earthquake brought widespread destruction and suffering to some of the villages, notably to Dānesfān, Xoznin, Xiāraj, and Sagz-ābād.[16] According to the system prevailing in the region, the population in each village is divided into sections (bonas), each section corresponding to a prescribed amount of land in the village. The leader of each section, whose office is generally hereditary, supervises the distribution of the precious water to the plots of the members of his section.[17] These leaders together form an unofficial but influential body which acts as a sort of village council and decides on important issues. In Chāl there are 17 such bonas, each bona having between 40 to 60 fards.[18]


The economy of these villages is based mainly on the cultivation of cereals and animal husbandry. Cotton and sugar beet are grown in some of the villages, notably in Eshtehārd and Danesfan; grapes and other fruits are grown in Tākestān, Esfarvarin, and Ebrāhim-ābād. Many Chālis and Dānesfanis are active in trading in livestock, whereas many Eshtehardis go in for peddling and shopkeeping.


The women work hard. It is their job to bake bread, to cook food, to draw water from wells, to clean the house, to milk the animals, to make cheese, yoghurt, and butter, to make loaves of dung for fuel, and to pick clean wheat for the daily bread. In addition, they spin wool and weave socks. When a new house is being built, the plastering of the walls, both inside and out, is women's work. Should a family own a number of farm animals without a shepherd, it is generally for the womenfolk to water the animals. Grooming of the animals, however, is a task for men.


A dual system of affiliation[19] within the village community, which makes for both cooperation and dispute, generally prevails in all the villages. The religion is the Shiite sect of Islam, and life has, by and large, a religious coloring.


The vernacular common to the region is Azarbaijani Turkish. Only Rāmand contains a majority of Tati-speakers. Turkish is still gaining in the region,"' as it is in the Tati-speaking regions of Azarbaijan. In Tati-speaking villages the population is generally trilingual, speaking Tati, Persian, and Turkish. Turkish-speaking settlers are to be found in most of these villages; for instance, there are two hundred such settlers in Chāl.

[1] This article is part of the introduction to: A Grammar of Southern Tati Dialects, Median Dialect Studies Series, No. I., published in 1969 (Paris).

[2] Technically speaking, Tati does not refer to any particular dialect or group of dialects. The word tat is generally used in the area to denote the Iranian-speaking peoples in the region (v. V. Minorsky in EI, under `Tat'). The designation of these dialects by 'Tati' follows this general and vague usage. Following a paper which I read to the 1st International Congress of Iranists (Tehran, 1966), I now propose to call these dialects `Median', a more appropriate appellation.

[3] The Tati dialects of the Caucasus, which derived from Persian or a dialect similar to it, do not really belong to this group.

[4] The dialect is called di by its speaker.

[5] This group of dialects has a wide range and may be roughly divided into two major groups: those which distinguish the feminine gender (Karani, Karnaqi, Lerdi, Dizi, Kajali, and Gandomabi in Khalkhal, and Nowkiani-Siavarudi, Hazar-rudi, Jamal-abadi and Bakoluri in the Upper 'farom) and those which do not do so (Askestani, Sabui, Deravi, Koluri, Shali, 'f aharomi, Geylavani, Kahali in Khalkhal, and Kalasari, Shava'i and Charza'i in the Upper 'faxom). The difference between some of these `dialects' is minimal. They are often mutually intelligible and sometimes are no more than variants of one another. Only with this understanding, the language of each village has generally been called a `dialect'; v. `The Dialect of Sharud (Khalkhal)', BSOAS, XXII, part I (1959) and `The Tati Dialect of Kajal', ibid., XXIII, part II (1960).

[6] V. Henning, op. cit., p. 165, and A. A. Karang, Tati va Harzani (Tabriz, 1954).

[7] The treatment of the dialects and citation of examples generally follow the above order, which is neither geographical nor linguistic, but merely reflects the degree of the author's familiarity with these dialects.

[8] The speakers of each dialect call their dialect by the name of their village, e.g. Chalej `the dialect of Chal', and eftardi `the dialect of Eshtehard'. On the other hand, they use tati as a general term referring to the group or its members.

[9] Dehestan or boluk.

[10] Baxš, an administrative district larger than a dehestān and smaller than a šahrestān, translated by `county' for lack of a better word.

[11] Population figures are taken from the Gozāreš-a Xolāse-ye Saršomāri-ye `Omumi-ye Kešvar, I (1960), reflecting the census of 1956. No census figures are available since the earthquake of 1962, which badly damaged some of these villages. For brief descriptions of the villages, v. Farhang-a Joghrāfiā'i-ye Iran, I (Tehran, 1951), s.v.

[12] Official center of the Buyin county, 54 kms. south of Qazvin. Population 2,009.

[13] I have adopted the name of Chāli for the dialect of this village rather than Shāli, so as to avoid confusion with the Tati dialect of Shāl in the Shāhrud of Khalkhāl.

[14] According to FJI, I, 6,267, which, if accurate, should indicate a considerable decline in population within a few years.

[15] Tati is spoken in Qarqasin (30 kms. southwest of Ziā-ābād), Qanbar-shāh (close to Qarqasin), Xoruzān (30 kms. northwest of Buyin) and Chālin (26 kms. northwest of Buyin), small villages with some Tati-speakers from Esfarvarin; in Yār-ābād, a recently founded prosperous village farm close to Xiāraj, deriving its population mainly from the latter; in Palang-ābād (36 kms. east of Eshtehārd), Bābā-Jaru (20 kms. southeast of Eshtehārd), Nekujār (6 kms. south of Eshtehārd), Morād-tappe and Sohbat-ābād (neighbouring villages some 6 kms. west of Eshtehārd), all small villages belonging to the rural district of Eshtehārd and speaking its dialect (distances according to sādeqi).

[16] Construction and rehabilitation efforts since the earthquake have considerably helped the modernization of some of the villages in the region and have partially changed their face.

[17] V. A.A., pp. 32-36, for a detailed account of the water distribution system and the functions of the sar-bonas in Sagz-ābād and Ebrāhim-ābād.

[18] Fard designates the amount of land capable of being ploughed by a `single' ox.

[19] Cf. R. Patai, Golden River to Golden Road (Philadelphia, 1962), pp. 177-250.





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