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Abstract of a Yaghnobi Grammar Sketch May 4, 2007

Posted by Bahrom in Syntax, Yaghnobi.

The clock is ticking and I need to finish writing my MA thesis, Aspects of Yaghnobi grammar, this month, if not sooner! I’m posting the abstract here with the hope that you will be so eager to read about these fascinating aspects of the Yaghnobi language that you will leave frequent comments urging me to get busy writing and deliver what I’ve promised!

 Abstract of Aspects of Yaghnobi grammar

This thesis is a basic description of the grammar of the Yaghnobi language, a member of the eastern branch of the Iranian language family that is spoken by approximately 12,500 people in Tajikistan. The core elements of the grammar will be described from a functional-typological perspective. This description covers morphosyntax up to the level of the basic clause. At each point, analysis will be presented suggesting that encoding of direction and location, rather than subject and object, seem to be core functions of Yaghnobi grammar.

There has been very little previous study of the Yaghnobi language. This thesis presents new descriptions and analysis of many core grammatical forms and functions. The analysis will differentiate two different copular forms and their functional ranges. It will also present the verb-auxiliary complex, especially the previously undocumented historical-present and historical-future verb forms. The functions of prepositions and postpositions will be described with special attention to the differentiation of directional and locational functions of postpositions. In the area of grammatical relations, the suffix /i/, analyzed elsewhere as an oblique case marker, will be shown to have more functions than previously realized. Furthermore, although locative affixes are traditionally analyzed as a type of oblique marker, it will be argued that the majority of the functions of the /i/ suffix are basically locative even when it is not marking what would traditionally be called the oblique case. Supporting this analysis is the discovery that pronouns and demonstratives each have two different forms and the functions of one form correspond to the locational functions of the /i/ suffix. A related discovery is that the /i/ suffix also marks animate definite noun phrases which by traditional analysis would be considered direct objects but which alternatively can be analyzed as locations of action.

The grammar description presented in this thesis is based primarily on field work and personal study under a Yaghnobi linguist conducted during the fall of 2006 and, secondarily, on the published work of Tajik and Russian linguists. The appendix contains parsed and glossed Yaghnobi texts and a Yaghnobi – Tajik – English dictionary.

November 5, 2007 Update: I submitted a draft of Aspects of Yaghnobi Language to my thesis committee yesterday. I’ve also posted the draft here: https://yaghnobi.wordpress.com/2007/11/05/draft-of-aspects-of-yaghnobi-grammar/

July 23, 2008 Update: I posted the final, accepted version of my thesis in this post: https://yaghnobi.wordpress.com/2008/07/21/aspects-of-yaghnobi-grammar-thesis-finished/

Related link: Table of Contents for Aspects of Yaghnobi grammar



1. tulugaq - May 6, 2007

What, no one’s told you to get busy yet? Get busy!

The topic looks intriguing, although I know nothing about languages in that neck of the woods. Direction and location rather than subject/object? The spatial deictics of Eskimo-Aleut are famous but not encoded in morphosyntax (it’s in the demonstrative system). Do you know of any other languages like Yaghnobi in this respect?

2. Bahrom - May 7, 2007

Thanks for giving me a push! I submitted my abstract to the Graduate School today, and passed a test of my Farsi/Tajik language ability- so that’s some progress toward fulfulling my MA requirements.

Yes, while the word order in Yaghnobi typically corresponds to SOV, there is no consistent grammatical encoding of subject and object. There is only one “case” suffix, /i/. This suffix appears on obliques in clauses expressing location, posession, purpose, and beneficiary; it also appears on animate definite direct objects; and it appears on subjects in imperfective aspect clauses! So, does this suffix have one consistent meaning, or does it have a variety of functions that vary depending on context? I will argue that it has one consistent meaning. It marks location, or some semantic extension of the idea of location. It is fairly obvious that all the obliques can be interpreted as some kind of abstract location; direct object is the location of action; and imperfective aspect is related to being ‘in’ or ‘having’ an action.

I don’t know of any other Iranian langauges that do this, although I haven’t made an exhaustive search. According to one of my professors, Scott DeLancey, Tibetan does not have the grammatical category of subject but instead grammatically marks the semantic categories of agent, theme, and location. In your spare time 🙂 you can read his theory of “localist case grammar” at http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~delancey/sb/fs.html

3. آستان - May 9, 2007


I hope you’ll be able to finish your thesis in time, i know it myself that the later you “start” the better the final work is.

According to your theory of Yaghnobi oblique case as locative extension, I’m not sure (but as a historical linguist I treat it in a different way) but I know about an article of my friend Ronald Kim, who wrote an article about the origin of oblique in Ossetic (which is the closest living relative to Yaghnobi). I have not seen the article yet because in my country it is impossible to get it, maybe you’ll have better luck in the USA…

Ronald Kim: The origin of the Pre-Ossetic oblique case suffix and its implications. The Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 123, 2003.


4. آستان - May 9, 2007

I forgot, what I also wanted to mention – same as in Yaghnobi also in Ossetic the oblique case marker is a short -i (or -y [schwa] in the Iron dialect, but historically it is -i)

Good luck 😉

5. Bahrom - May 9, 2007

Thanks for your encouragement, and thanks for directing me to Roland Kim’s article I found a prepublication version online here:


I think there is validity to looking at both the synchronic use of this suffix as well as considering it’s historical development. I’m eager to read Kim’s paper tonight and also to hear your comments on the development of the /i/ suffix.

6. bulbul - May 10, 2007

Lubomir, Bahrom,

try here.

7. Leslie - May 20, 2007


My interest in the Yaghnobi people is historical, not linguistic (just finished an MA thesis on the causes and consequences of the 1970-1971 forced migration), but I just want to say that I really appreciate this site and hope to come back to it often. Thanks especially for the link to the Pullak Project. I definitely want to learn more about that. My future project in this direction is to write a book for general readership on Yaghnobi history focussing especially on the deportation. Anyway … keep up that great work and GET BUSY :.)

8. Bahrom - May 22, 2007

Leslie- Thanks for the encouragment! I’m very intersted in your MA thesis. I would love to read it. Is it available online?
I only learned about the Pullak project from reading their web site. It looks like a worthy cause, so I posted the link.
I actually am hoping to help raise funds for a First through Fourth grade school in the village that my wife and I lived in last fall. Before we left, I asked what one thing they needed most and this was their request. I’ve just been a bit slow about writing a fund raising letter- something I have never done before.

9. bulbul - May 24, 2007

So, how about a progress report? :o)

10. آستان - May 26, 2007

I agree with Bulbul – if you have to finish by the end of May, you still have quite a time (as I rember myself writing my MA thesis I had an oppisite opinion)… Good luck, you have to do it

11. Bahrom - May 26, 2007

Bulbul and Luboss,
Thanks for urging me on. I’ll do my best to post something for my thesis this weekend!
I just sent an e-mail to my advisor proposing that I delay graduation until the end of the summer. I just haven’t made much progress over the last few months. Part of the reason is that I’ve never been a very efficient writer and also we have a 4 month old baby! She is really cute, sweet, and entertaining, but she keeps me from getting much sleep- and hence, from getting much writing done!

12. Leslie - May 28, 2007

Hi Bahrom! I’ll post my thesis somewhere soon hopefully. I’d be interested in helping you with the school project. I’m an elementary school teacher myself and I was kind of hoping to help not only with fundraising but eventually with the creation of educational materials. Doing something to help the Yaghnobi people is my dream … I shed buckets of tears over them while I worked on my thesis. Not that I pity them … they have to be more resilient and determined than I could ever dream of being. Anyway, your actual field experience in the valley plus my background in education could make for a good team. Let’s keep in touch!

13. Bahrom - May 30, 2007

I think that’s a great idea! I don’t have any experience with fund raising, but I thought I’d just write a letter describing the need and send it to everyone I know, post a copy on this blog and have people send me donations. I would gather the donations and wire them to a friend in Tajiksitan who can collaborate with Saiffidin to use the money to buy the supplies needed to finish building the school. How does that sound to you? Any additional ideas?

By the way, I haven’t actually been to the Yaghnob valley. My wife and I lived in Dughoba with Saiffidin Mirzoyev’s family. Dughoba is just 10 km from Dushanbe, the capital. The section of the village we lived in is mostly populated by Yaghnobi people who moved there before the forced deportation in the 70s.

I wanted to go to Yaghnob, and even had a tentative trip planned but combinations of sickness, bad weather, and unavailability of a guide/vehicle kept me from making the trip.

I was and am very greateful to Saiffidin and his family and neighbors for their hospitality and friendship and I would really like to do something for their village. I’m very glad we have connected and look forward to collaborating!

14. Leslie - May 31, 2007

I’m so glad we connected too! What kind of costs are we looking at to build a school in that region? What would be the student population of such a school? What subject areas would form the core of the curriculum? Personally, I think you should look at giving this project a name and registering it in the US as a charity (or having me register it in Canada) just for the sake of credibility. Also, it might be worthwhile seeing if Caritas in Dushanbe is interested in such a project or if they can suggest contacts who would help. They’ve had considerable success in fundraising to build school bathrooms and playgrounds in Dushanbe and to send kids from Tajikistan to places like Moscow for medical treatment. Tell me as much as you can about what you want to accomplish in Dughoba and I’ll do everything I can. I’m excited about this!

15. آستان - June 1, 2007

Hello my friends,

yesterday I finally got an information, that my grant on “Electronical Lexical Database of Yaghnobi” was accepted so I have an opportunity to travel to Tajikistan and meet the people personally. I hope I could further consult with all you here.

16. Bahrom - June 1, 2007

Luboss, Congratulations! I hope your experience will be as rich and rewarding as ours was!

17. Bahrom - June 1, 2007

Leslie, I like your ideas. I’ve sent you an e-mail to continue this discussion.

18. Sl. - June 14, 2007

lubossekk wrote:
«I forgot, what I also wanted to mention – same as in Yaghnobi also in Ossetic the oblique case marker is a short -i (or -y [schwa] in the Iron dialect, but historically it is -i)»

And, probably more interesting to the theory of Bahrom, it has two meanings: the Genitive/Accusative and the so called Inner Locative (meaning “inside of”).

19. Bahrom - June 14, 2007

Sl. : Thanks for your comments. I’ve actually abandoned my theory about the suffix -i being not only a locative case marker, but also being reanalyzed synchronically as an abstract location in it’s other functions . My advisor and one of the other professors in my university convinced me that there is no real evidence for my theory. They also pointed out that it is not unusual for a set of suffixes to be reduced to one homonomous sound. For example, in English the plural noun suffix -s and the 3rd person singular verb suffix -s have the same form but no semantic relationship.

20. New Book: What Counts as Evidence in Linguistics? « Birds’ Words - July 16, 2007

[…] This book will be on my list of books to read after I finish my MA Thesis. […]

21. Matheson Bayley - August 27, 2007

I just stumbled upon your site after Googling “Farsi oblique”, and read this thread with great interest. I was wondering if you might help me with a bit of research…

My esoteric Google search was an attempt to the learn something about Iranian indirect object pronouns. Ie:

Do they exist, or is there some equivalent?
If so, which grammatical term is used to label them?
Are they accurately described as being in the oblique case?

Whether Yaghnobi, Ossetic, or any other Iranian language, I would be most obliged if you could provide me with either an answer or a resource to which I could refer.

Thanks in advance, and good luck with your studies.


22. Engineer Baig Ali, Islamabad - May 28, 2008


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