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Abstract: In academic literature the Yaghnabi language has often been called New-Sogdian and generically it belongs to the eastern group of the Iranian languages in the Indo-European family of languages. The Tadzhiks living on the upper reaches of the River Yaghnob have always distinguished between themselves and the Yaghnabis, whom they derisively call galcha. A Russian orientalist A. Kun who visited the Yaghnob valley in 1870, was probably the first European to notice that a different language was spoken there. Two more Europeans, R. Gauthiot and H. Junker, travelled to the Yaghnob valley in 1913. The first recorded mention of the Yaghnabi language was in the 1870s.




The origins of the Yaghnabi language are obscure. When old texts in Sogdian were found in East-Turkestan at the beginning of this century, it became evident that the Yaghnabi language has its origins in the ancient Sogdian language, belonging to the Iranian group of Indo-European languages. There are different dialects in the Yaghnabi language, mainly connected with the peculiarities of their habitation (a classification by M. Andreyev): 1. language of the villages on the shady side of the Yaghnob valley; 2. the language of the villages on the sunny side of the Yaghnob valley; 3. the language of the villages in the upper part of the river valley (in 1957 there were only two villages, De-Baland and Piskon); 4. the language of the villages situated on the banks of the left tributary of the Yaghnob River.

In academic literature eastern and western dialects of the Yaghnabi language are those commonly encountered, but different researchers do not agree where the dividing line lies. All speakers of the Yaghnabi language are bilingual, speaking Tadzhik as well. According to a description by N. Malitsky of the linguistic situation in the 1920s, Yaghnabi-Tadzhik bilingualism was universal among men (there were many men who spoke Uzbek too), and a small part of women and children spoke only one language. As late as the 17th century the Sogdian language, of which the Yaghnabi language is a continuation, was widely spoken in the Zeravshan and Kashkadarya valleys, in Usrushan (an area between Samarkand and Hodzhent) and in the Fergana valley. After that Sogdian gradually retreated under pressure from the Tadzhik languages. It has survived as the language of a small ethnic group, the Yaghnabis, in a marginal mountain area in the upper part of the Zeravshan valley, and in the Fandarya and Yaghnob valleys. One of the reasons for the survival of the Yaghnabi language is reputedly the relatively late Islamization of the Yaghnabis. The Yaghnabis were forced to become the Muslims, if a saying by Tadzhiks can be believed: "The Yaghnabis have been converted to Islam with an axe." Even at the end of the 1920s the Yaghnabis remained proud of their identity and their language, despite the fact that they were despised and derided by their Tadzhik neighbours. Almost all the people were illiterate, only few of them could read, fewer still could write (in Tadzhik). In Kans the older generation spoke Yaghnabi while the young had begun to use Tadzhik. The inhabitants of the Bidif village spoke reasonably good Tadzhik. M. Andreyev explains this by stating that the village is situated near the Dargi Pass, through which most of the movement to the Yaghnob valley takes place. The Tadzhik language was also learnt through migrant work which was particularly popular with the people from the shady side of the mountains, where there was a shortage of arable land. In lean years people left in great numbers, to escape hunger by moving to the plains. During the Soviet years cotton raising was begun on the plains of Turkestan and Bukhara, and poorer people came from the mountains to earn some money on cotton fields. The Tadzhik language was least spoken in the Kul and Saken villages. The Yaghnabis who had migrated to the Vandzh valley, had adopted the Tadzhik language by the end of the 1920s, because the "language of grandfathers was no good."

The relations between the Tadzhiks and the Yaghnabis have for centuries been those between the conqueror and the conquered. Researchers have noted the disdainful attitude of the Tadzhiks towards the Yaghnabis. In earlier times the Yaghnabis used a "secret" language which made it impossible for the Tadzhiks to understand them. Now, as the Yaghnabis have become more alike Tadzhik in their culture and language, this "secret" language is losing its importance.

The Tadzhik influence on the Yaghnabi language has not been limited purely to vocabulary (more than a half of the vocabulary is of Tadzhik origin and later loans have retained their Tadzhik word form), but is also apparent in syntax and, even to some extent, in the morphology (some grammatical characteristics of the Tadzhik language have entered the Yaghnabi language). The Tadzhik influence became especially intense during the Soviet period: social life was reorganized, children had to attend Tadzhik schools and more and more people left home to go to Dushanbe and the settlements in the Gissar (Hissar) valley, where they lived together with the Tadzhiks, Russians and Uzbeks. Only rarely did they return to the Yaghnob valley. The influence of the Russian language on Yaghnabi and, to a smaller extent, the influence of Turkic languages, was exercised through Tadzhik. Uzbek and Kirgiz loans have come into the Yaghnabi language through the language of herdsmen. When speaking, the Yaghnabis often switch from their native language to Russian, but A. Khromov has observed that their speech becomes slower, which might indicate that they are not fluent in Tadzhik.

The Yaghnabis do not have their own written language. However, it is known (M. Kordeyev's observations in the 1920s) that the Yaghnabi mullahs sometimes made notes in the Yaghnabi language (using the Arabic script), so that the Tadzhik could not understand them.

Philologists began to take an interest in the Yaghnabi language at the beginning of this century when old Sogdi texts were found in Chinese Turkestan, and it was ascertained that the Yaghnabi language was one of the dialects of the Sogdian language. Nevertheless, extremely few Yaghnabi texts have been published.


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