Endangered Language Alliance


a Southeastern Iranian language of Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China


With approximately 40,000 speakers worldwide, Wakhi is a language of the Pamir mountains, spoken by small populations similar in size–all under 10,000–in adjacent, remote regions of Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. The Wakhi area in Afghanistan is primarily in the Wakhan Corridor; in Pakistan, it is the northernmost part of the Gilgit-Baltistan region; in China, it is the southwest corner of Xinjiang Province; in Tajikistan, it is part of Gorno-Badakhshan.


Wakhi is usually classified as a Pamir language within the Southeastern Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family, closely connected to the Yidgha, Munji, Sanglechi-Ishkashimi, and Shughni languages spoken in neighboring areas, but its relationship to the Pamiri group has been questioned by more recent work. At least seven Wakhi dialects, with a relatively high degree of mutual intelligibility, have been reported in the linguistic literature: Gojal, Ishkoman, Yasin, Yarkhun, Central Wakhi, Western Wakhi, and Eastern Wakhi.


Although Wakhi remains a vital language, still learned by community members of all ages, use of the language may be declining in areas where the Wakhi are a minority. Tajik is the respected national language, and Shughni plays a role as a lingua franca in Gorno-Badakhshan. Outside migration into the Pamirs and the disruptive effects of Tajikistan’s civil war represent threats to the language. Orthographies for Wakhi have been developed in recent years using Arabic, Cyrillic, and Roman letters, but traditionally the language has not been written, with Persian serving as a “high culture” written standard in the region.

Academic Work

Publishing texts, a lexicon, and a sketch grammar in 1876, R. Shaw was the first outsider to study Wakhi in detail, followed by a large number of Russian scholars such as Sokolova, Pakhalina, and Steblin-Kaminski and Norwegian linguist Georg Morgenstierne. In the mid-20th century, the publications of David Lockhart Robertson Lorimer were an important landmark, though an important manuscript of his has never been properly published and made available to the community–something ELA plans to do.¬†Compared to larger languages, there are few contemporary multimedia recordings in Wakhi, and little of this academic work has been made available and accessible to Wakhi speakers.

See the Glottolog entry on Wakhi

ELA’s Work

In 2011-12, ELA Executive Director Daniel Kaufman led a field methods class at Columbia University, investigating two Wakhi dialects with speakers now living in New York: Nazir Abbas, who speaks the Wakhi dialect of Gulmit, Pakistan, and Husniya Khujamyorova, a speaker of the Pamiri dialect from Murghab, Tajikistan. The field methods class resulted in important recordings, student papers, and grammatical analyses. In an effort led by graduate student Daniel Barry, ELA is currently working on an online database for Wakhi, which will include our own elicitations as well as rare, previously published texts. The preliminary version can be seen on Kratylos.