Endangered Language Alliance
Separate from Judeo-Persian, the Jews of Iran also had several distinctive spoken languages, now grouped by scholars under the heading of “Judeo-Median”. Media was the traditional name for the northwest-central area of Iran, including the present-day province of Isfahan, where these languages are spoken. At least five varieties of Judeo-Median have been identified, named after the most prominent town or city where they were once spoken: Judeo-Isfahani (also called Jidi), Judeo-Yazdi, Judeo-Kermani, Judeo-Hamadani, and Judeo-Kashani. Although Judeo-Median speakers typically lived in the region’s towns and cities, the varieties show strong similarities to the rural dialects of Muslim speakers–in both cases, older forms abandoned by urban Muslims were maintained.
A Jewish “secret language” in use until recent times, called Loterai, separate from both Judeo-Persian and Judeo-Median, used Hebrew and Aramaic words and modified forms in place of Persian words.
The Judeo-Median languages are classified by linguists as being among the Central Plateau Dialects of Iran, belonging to what is sometimes called the South Median group of the Northwestern Iranian languages. These varieties are distinct from standard Persian to the extent that there is little mutual intelligibility and almost all speakers of Judeo-Median languages today have shifted to standard Farsi or other national languages in their daily lives. Further research, if possible, will be needed to illuminate the connections among the different Judeo-Median dialects themselves and with the other varieties of the Central Plateau Dialect region.
Up to this point, ELA’s Jewish Languages Initiative has begun work on Judeo-Kashani, working with Dr. Jack (Yaqub) Tabari, of Roslyn, New York, whose mother was born in Kashan. Habib Borjian, a researcher with ELA, has analyzed available materials and published on Judeo-Median, with a particular focus on Judeo-Kashani and Judeo-Isfahani. We are actively seeking speakers of other Judeo-Median languages.