Judeo-Shirazi is a Southwest Iranian language spoken by the Jewish community of Shiraz, even while most of the non-Jewish population shifted to Persian. Jews have lived among Persian speakers and in the territory that is now Iran for millennia. The term “Judeo-Persian”, somewhat confusingly, refers to the written language used by Persian Jews for well over a millennium, typically employing the Hebrew alphabet. The Judeo-Persian of these texts is far from uniform, having been used over a long period of time from Cairo to western China as the lingua franca of a dispersed, mobile community. A vast literature exists in the language: poetry, Biblical exegesis, even newspapers. Most recently, 11th century manuscript fragments, many in Judeo-Persian, have turned up in Afghanistan, promising to greatly enhance our understanding of the complex history and wide reach of the language.
Separate from Judeo-Median, but likewise conservative in preserving older features lost in the shift ot Persian among Muslim populations, is Judeo-Shirazi, the distinct language variety of another major historic Jewish community of Iran, from Shiraz. Judeo-Shirazi is part of the Southwest Iranian branch to which Persian also belongs. but may be in effect a direct descendant of Medieval Shirazi. In addition, a Jewish “secret language” in use until recent times, called Loterai, separate from both Judeo-Persian and Judeo-Median, used Hebrew and Aramaic words and modified forms in place of Persian words.
Judeo-Shirazi is of Southwest Iranian stock, an extensive family embracing Old, Middle, and New Persian, in addition to numerous living vernaculars spoken in southern Persia, particularly in the provinces of Fars and Kerman. Judeo-Shirazi has its roots in Medieval Shirazi, a language which generated sizable corpora in verses, but died out circa fifteenth century, probably along with a disappearing native vernacular of Shiraz. Judeo-Shirazi can be considered an insular vestige of Medieval Shirazi, having survived New Persian in the isolated Jewish quarter of the city.
See Borjian (forthcoming).
Judeo-Shirazi had received little scholarly attention. W. Ivanow, (1935, pp. 41-42) included the personal pronouns and verb endings. Morgenstierne (1960, pp. 129-32) includes brief grammatical notes, focusing on the lexeme teš ‘louse’, leading to the notion of an early phonological split in Fars (see §2.2, below). Yarshater (1974, p. 465) published a single short text, based on which Windfuhr (1999) did a comparative study of the Fars dialects.
Borjian 2015. “Judeo-Iranian Languages,” in L. Kahn and A. D. Rubin, eds., A Handbook of Jewish Languages, Leiden and Boston: Brill, pp. 234-295.
Idem, “Kerman xvi. Languages,” Encyclopædia Iranica XVI/3, 2017, pp. 301-315.
J. Fischel, “History of the Jews of Persia under the Safavid Dynasty in the 17th Century,” Zion, 1937, pp. 273-93.
Ivanow, “The Gabri Dialect Spoken by the Zoroastrians of Persia,” Rivista degli Studi Orientali 16, 1935, pp. 31-97; 17, 1938, pp. 1-39; 18, 1939, pp. 1-59 (repr. Rome, 1940).
Gershevitch, “The Crushing of the Third Singular Present”, in M. Boyce and I. Gershevitch, eds., W. B. Henning Memorial Volume, London: Lund, 1970, pp. 161-174.Lecoq, “Les dialectes du sud-ouest de l’Iran,” in R. Schmitt, ed., Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1989, pp. 241-49.
A. Kerimova, “Dialekty farsa,” in Osnovy Iranskogo Jazykoznannija (Foundations of Iranian Linguistics) III/1, Moscow: Academy of Science, 1982, pp. 316-363.
Y. Māhyār-Navvābi, “Lahje-ye Širāz tā qarn-e nohom-e hejri,” Našriye-ye Dāneškade-ye adabiyāt-e Tabriz 17/1, 1965, pp. 77-90.
Morgenstierne, “Stray Notes on Persian Dialects II,” Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskab 19, 1960, pp. 121-29.
Ḥ. Reżaʾi-Bāḡbidi, “Širāzi-e bāstān,” Guyeššenāsi 1/1, 2003, pp. 32-40.
ʿA.-N Ṣādeqi, “Yāddāšt-i dar-bāra-ye sāḵtemān-e vāji-e lahja-ye Davāni,” Majalla-ye zabānšenāsī 5/2, 1989, pp. 2-8.
ʿA-N. Salāmi, 2004-14. Ganǰina-ye guyeššenāsi-e Fārs, 6 vols., Tehran: Farhangestān, 2004-2014.
Windfuhr, Gernot, “Fārs Dialects,” Encyclopædia Iranica IX/4, New York, 1999, pp. 362-373.
Yarshater, “The Jewish Communities of Persia and Their Dialects,” in Ph. Gignoux and A. Tafazzoli, eds., Mélanges Jean de Menasce, Louvain, 1974, pp. 453-65.
The large Jewish Shirazi population in New York may number as many as 4,000, many in the heavily Jewish area of Midwood, Brooklyn, where they have several synagogues. An estimated more than 1000 Shirazi Jews also live in the suburb of Great Neck near other Persian Jews. In New York, Judeo-Shirazi appears to be a largely moribund language, spoken only among the elderly and in the most intimate situations. Speaker Manuchehr Kohanbash, for example, speaks his mother tongue only with his brothers, but not with his wife, who is not from Shiraz, nor with his children. Persian has become the principal language of communication, with literacy in the Persian script, and the younger generation shifting to English. Religious literature in the community, as in other Persian Jewish communities, was formerly in Judeo-Persian, a variety of Persian (not the Judeo-Shirazi vernacular) written in Hebrew script. According to 2015-2019 American Community Survey data, there are roughly 6,693 Persian speakers in Great Neck and surrounding towns, the overwhelming majority of whom are probably Jewish, and a small number of whom are probably speakers of these quite different languages spoken by regional Jewish communities in Iran.