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Yagnobi or Yaghnobi? April 21, 2007

Posted by Bahrom in Linguistics, Yaghnobi.

Is there a “correct” English way to spell Yaghnobi? (The name Yaghnobi comes from Yaghnob, the name of both the river, and river valley in north-western Tajikistan that is the traditional home of the Yaghnobipeople.) I have been spelling the name with “gh”, representing a voiced velar fricative, because it reflects the way Yaghnobisactually pronounce the name of their language.  However, it seems that in English, the spelling with “g” is more common. Perhaps this is because the modern English language (at least American English) does not have a “gh” sound.

A quick web search shows that Yagnobi is the more common spelling on web pages from well known organizations. This is the spelling used by the Ethnologue fifteenth edition, LinguistList, Rosetta Project, UN Tajikistan, and National Geographic. On the other hand, Yaghnobi is the spelling used in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Columbia Encyclopedia sixth edition, and the Oxford English Dictionary (with Yagnobi as an alternate spelling in the OED). Neither spelling appears in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary eleventh edition, The American Heritage Dictionary fourth edition, The World Book Encyclopedia , nor Encarta.

 So, it appears that both spellings can be found in respected and influential publications. If there is any such thing as an official spelling, it would be the spelling used by the International Organization for Standardization.  The official site of the ISO 639-3 Registration Authority for the identification of language names  uses the spelling “Yagnobi” and lists YAI as the three letter language code. (For more information see Three-letter codes for the world’s languages « Sociolingo’s Africa.)

In conclusion, there does not seem to be a single correct English spelling for Yagnobi, but the variant without an “h” is more standard. So in future posts, I will use the more standard spelling.

4/16/07 Update:I’ve revised my conclusion (see the discussion in the comments.) At this time, there really is no standard spelling in English, and not that much precedent for one spelling versus the other. The purpose of ISO 639-3 is not to standardize the spelling of the names of languages, but to establish three letter codes that are an international way to identify a language. Therefore, I will continue using the spelling “Yaghnobi” since it honors the pronunciation used by the speakers of the language.



1. آستان - April 25, 2007


You solve here a simillar problem as I do in my work – I’m not sure whether to write “jagnóbština” or “jaghnóbština” in Czech language, in Czech we do not have /gh/, same as in English, but we spell some forgein words with “gh”, cf. Afghánistán, Ghana etc., so there is a similar situation in English – you also write Afghanistan etc. … I think it would be beter to use a variant “Yaghnobi” – it better represents the original name as pronunced by the Tajiks and Yaghnobis. But I think this is realy a question for discussion.


2. آستان - April 25, 2007


I understand, it is mailny your way of transcription, I also think this is a question of how differs so called “American English” against the “British” and by the examplex you have written it seams, thet the English (British) keep the traditional spelling “Yaghnobi” but the Americans rather use spelling “Yagnobi”. I think it’s still a weapon of choice – I don’t know how in the USA, but in the Czech republic we have an Institute for Czech language policy and it keeps in many aspects traditional spelling (and later by some frequently used words the spelling is changed to look more like the Czech one)… Btw. by “googling” many people interested in Yag(h)nobi writes both versions to look for some information 😉

It is also a question what is a standard – if the only information availible on the internet would be about “Yagnobi” there would be no question like this – but when some specialised websites would prefer “Yaghnobi” it than could become a standard. When I begun to edit the Wikipedia entry I wanted to keep the traditional spelling, also I think that when your blog would keep speling with -gh- it could became standardised because here you offer much more information than we can see on Ethnologue of (at present time) at the Roseta Stone…

But still it’s a matter of choice and in some way a possibility to create a new standard 😉


3. birdswords - April 25, 2007


You bring up a good point. We do have a number of standard spelling in English that use ‘gh’. Personally, I do prefer ‘spelling the name ‘Yaghnobi’. But, since most linguistic publications in America are already following the Ethnologue/ISO spelling, I think it is best for me to also follow this precident. The main reason is that it will make it easier for people to find my publications via database and internet searches if I use the more standard spelling.


4. birdswords - April 26, 2007

That’s all good food for thought. It is true that at this point there is only a small precident, and it is divided at that-perhaps along European/American lines. You are also right that if someone is searching for information on Yaghnobi/Yagnobi they need to use both English spellings, and if they really want to find all the information they should use the German and Russian spellings (and now Czech as well!) since much more has been written about Yaghnobi in those languages than in English.

Concerning standards, there is no official government or private organization that sets standards for American English spelling. The closest thing to a standard would be one of the more respected dictionaries like Mirriam-Webster’s. For English in general, the OED is still the most respected and influential dictionary However, it’s purpose is not to set a standard, but to report the predominant usage and spelling of English words- and it reports “Yaghnobi” as the main spelling with “Yagnobi” as an alternate.

As I think further about this, I may have overstated the case for the ISO setting a standard for the spelling of “Yagnobi”. It is after all an international standard, and what they are standardizing is the three letter code “YAI” not the spelling of the name in a particular language.

So, the more I think about it, the more I think that I should go back to using the spelling “Yaghnobi” since it honors the actual pronunciation used by the speakers of the language. And as you say, perhaps I will help establish a precident.

This is what I like about sharing my thoughts and studies on this blog. My thinking is often sharpened and sometimes changed by the prespecitves and insights of others.

5. Sl. - June 14, 2007

Here I think of the way to write it in Ossetic. Probably ягънобаг and not ягнобаг would be the better solution, for there is the sound /gh/ in Ossetic…

> using the spelling “Yaghnobi” since it honors the actual pronunciation

I think, “gh” is very common in English names borrowed from the languages, where that is pronounced as /gh/. Afghan, afghani and others coming to my mind first.

6. Yooness Nabavian - January 13, 2008

I personaly feel the name must have been JAA GON AABII.

AABI=watery or bluish

But I am neither a linguist nor a scholar. I believe the sound of “J” and “G” went through a lot transformation after the Arabic influence.

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