Bartangi is spoken by several thousand ethnic Bartang people, principally in the Bartang Valley within the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, in the Pamir mountains of Tajikistan. Classified as belonging to the Pamir branch of the Eastern Iranian languages, Bartangi is sometimes seen as a dialect of Shughni.
Bartangi is classified as belonging to the Pamir branch of the Eastern Iranian languages. Bartangi is sometimes classified as a dialect of Shughni, a related Indo-Iranian language that serves as a lingua franca in the Pamirs, and one variety closer to the Shughni area is reported to be close to it. Buddruss (1988) mentions two dialects that differ in minor details (Basidi and Siponji) and reports that speakers would consider Bartangi and Oroshor to be related languages of a single language group, rather than dialects of a single language.
Despite its small speaker population, perhaps never more than a few thousand individuals in a single valley, the Bartangi language has remained stable for a long time in the multilingual environment of the Pamirs. But Tajik independence, the ensuing civil war of the 1990s, and the ongoing arrival of more outsiders in the area mean that the language’s future is far from certain. There is no written form of Bartangi in current use, although some speakers are literate in Tajik or Russian, the main languages of education and media in the country.
A century ago, Russian linguist Ivan Ivanovich Zarubin, a pioneering figure in the study of Pamiri languages, was the first outside researcher to report on and document Bartangi. Zarubin published several texts, as did linguist Valentina Sokolova and several other Soviet researchers, but the corpus of texts remains small. A detailed descriptive grammar was published by Karamkhudoev (1973), but audiovisual recordings in particular still remain sparse.
ELA has been working for several years with the handful of Bartangi speakers in the New York area, including Gulchehra Sheralshoeva, who recently also served as a consultant for an NYU field linguistics class, facilitated by ELA. Between digitizing older, rare materials and making new recordings, ELA is working on the language as part of its wider efforts around Pamiri and Iranic languages. ELA collaborator Raphael Finkel has also worked on the language’s sophisticated system of inflectional morphology.
Within the larger Pamiri community in New York, for which the Ismaili Jamatkhana is the largest and most significant gathering place (together with other non-Pamiri Ismailis), there are only a handful of Bartangi speakers. The Endangered Language Alliance has worked with two who live in Manhattan.
Learn more here about ELA’s Bartangi (Roshorvi) children’s book, part of our Pamiri Stories series.