Monday, October 26, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Tajikistan

In last week's country profile we explored the linguistic diversity of the Alps with our look at Switzerland. Today we're moving on to the languages spoken in and around the Pamir Mountains, which cover much of Tajikistan.

The Official Language

The sole official language of Tajikistan is Tajik, a variety of the Persian language. Also known as Tajiki, this member of the Indo-Iranian language family is spoken by over 6 million Tajikistanis. Tajik primarily differs from the varieties of Persian spoken in Iran and Afghanistan because of its inclusion of loanwords from Russian, Uzbek and Arabic.

Karakul, a lake in the Pamir Mountains.
Other Languages

According to the Ethnologue, Tajikistan is also home to 12 other languages. The most prominent of these languages is Russian, since Tajikistan was formerly part of the Soviet Union. Russian continues to be used in business and government, and was even mentioned in Tajikistan's constitution as an important lingua franca until its removal in 2009. While a significant percentage of Tajikistan's population used to be native Russian speakers, in recent decades many ethnic Russians have left the country, leaving the country with just 40,000 native Russian speakers.

Five of the country's remaining minority languages have names you may recognize: Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Persian, Pashto, and Arabic. Both Uzbek and Kyrgyz are members of the Turkic language family. There are about 900,000 native speakers of Uzbek in Tajikistan, as well as nearly 60,000 Kyrgyz speakers. The country is also home to approximately 50,000 native speakers of the variety of Persian used in Iran, as well as very small numbers of speakers of both Tajiki Arabic and Pashto.

Finally, there are six other languages with less familiar names: Shughni, Wakhi, Yazgulyam, Ishkashimi, Yaghnobi, and Parya. All of these languages belong to the Indo-Iranian language family, and the first four also belong to the closely related group of Pamir languages, which are spoken in the Pamir Mountains. The most spoken of these languages is Shughni, which is the native language of about 40,000 Tajikistanis. Yaghnobi is also used by about 12,000 Tajikistanis in the Yaghnob valley, while Parya is spoken by a few thousand people living along the border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.