Endangered Language Alliance
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 (Pakistan), Ishkoman, Yasin, Yarkhun, Central Wakhi, Western Wakhi, and Eastern Wakhi. There is also a high degree of variation even within some of these dialects — within the Gojali dialect, for instance, there is variation by village and region.
Traditionally the language has not been written, with Persian serving as a “high culture” written standard in the region. In recent years, activists and researchers working to preserve and write the language have developed Wakhi orthographies using Arabic, Cyrillic, and Roman letters. The diversity of writing systems reflects the four different countries where Wakhi speakers live, with the Cyrillic system used only in Tajikistan, for instance. ELA is working with an orthography based on Roman letters, similar to the Wakhi writing already increasingly appearing online and in social media, with the goal of making materials accessible in all four countries and beyond.
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. CUNY graduate student Daniel Barry led the initial effort to create an online database for Wakhi, keyed to ELA’s Kratylos system, to include both ELA’s work and to digitize rare texts by Russian linguists, published decades ago, so that they would be available to a wider audience.
In the summer of 2016, Husniya Khujamyorova traveled throughout Tajikistan to record older native speakers telling traditional stories, folk tales, oral histories, and songs (ruboi, bilbilik, and lalajik), especially in Wakhi but also in Shughni and Bartangi. The resulting films, edited with original photography and made available through social media, have now been seen tens of thousands of times, especially by Pamiri people all over the world. At the same time, Husniya is continuing to digitize and analyze old and new texts in Wakhi, with the aim of building an increasingly rich and varied corpus, and to record speakers of different Wakhi and Pamiri varieties in New York about their efforts to preserve language and culture thousands of miles from home. While the focus has been on Wakhi varieties in Tajikistan and Pakistan, because of the presence of speakers in New York (a few from Tajikistan and five or six families from Pakistan), the hope is to investigate varieties from China and Afghanistan as a part of future fieldwork.