Endangered Language Alliance



Bartangi

a Southeastern Iranian (Pamir) language of Tajikistan

Background

Bartangi is spoken by several thousand ethnic Bartang people, principally in the Bartang Valley within the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan. This is one of the poorest and least accessible parts of the country.

Affiliation

Although sometimes classified as a dialect of Shughni, a related Indo-Iranian language that serves as a lingua franca in the Pamirs, Bartangi is understood to be quite distinct, its closest relative being the nearby Oroshor. Bartangi is classified as belonging to the Pamir branch of the Eastern Iranian languages. Buddruss (1988) mentions two dialects that differ in minor details–Basidi and Siponji–and reports that speakers would consider Bartangi and Oroshor to be related languages of a single language group, rather than dialects of a single language.

Endangerment

Despite its small speaker population, perhaps never more than a few thousand individuals in a single valley, the Bartangi language has remained stable for a long time in the multilingual environment of the Pamirs. But Tajik independence, the ensuing civil war of the 1990s, and the ongoing arrival of more outsiders in the area mean that the language’s future is far from certain. There is no written form of Bartangi in current use, although some speakers are literate in Tajik or Russian, the main languages of education and media in the country.

Academic Work

A century ago, Russian linguist Ivan Ivanovich Zarubin, a pioneering figure in the study of Pamiri languages, was the first outside researcher to report on and document Bartangi. Zarubin published several texts, as did linguist Valentina Sokolova and several other Soviet researchers, but the corpus of texts remains small. A detailed descriptive grammar was published by Karamkhudoev (1973), but audiovisual recordings in particular still remain sparse.

See the Glottolog entry on Shughni

ELA’s Work

Between the breakup of the Soviet Union and the chaos of Tajikistan’s civil war, recent years have brought small numbers of speakers of Pamir languages to the New York area.¬†As part of its broader work on the languages of Central Asia, ELA has worked with New York-based Bartangi speaker Gulchehra Sheralshoeva, recording video narratives about her own life. ELA collaborator Raphael Finkel has also worked on the language’s sophisticated system of inflectional morphology.