With approximately 95,000 speakers, Shughni (sometimes locally known as “Pamiri”) is the largest of the minority languages spoken in the Pamir mountains, sometimes serving as a lingua franca between different groups and heard in the regional center of Khorog. Approximately 75,000 speakers are reported to live in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province in Tajikistan, with a significant community (approximately 20,000) also across the border in Afghanistan’s adjacent Badakhshan Province. Until the 1930s Shughni was not a written language, although Shughni speakers participated in the Persian-language high culture of the region and today some are literate in Tajik and/or Russian.
Shughni is a Pamir language, part of the Southeastern Iranian group within the Indo-European language family. Spoken across the Pamir range, its closest relatives include Yazgulyam in Tajikistan, Sarikoli in China, Munji and Sanglechi-Ishkashimi in Afghanistan, Yidgha in Pakistan; and Wakhi, spoken in both Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Linguists have identified a variety itself called Shughni, Oroshor (Roshorvi), Roshani, Bartangi, and Khufi as closely related dialects, although the latter two are often considered distinct enough to be considered separate languages.
Compared to other Pamiri languages, Shughni remains comparatively vital, with a significant speaker base and many younger speakers. Several different orthographies have been proposed or developed since the 1930s, usually with Cyrillic or Roman letters, but none is in wide use. The Tajik Civil War and an influx of outsiders into the Pamir area have started having some effect on Shughni, although not to the extent as on other, smaller languages. The last two generations–first under Soviet rule and later with Tajik independence–have seen some shift to Russian and Tajik, especially among urbanized speakers.
Two pioneers in researching the Pamir languages were the German linguists Geiger and Tomashek, who worked in the closing decades of the 19th century. They were followed by a number of linguists working during the Soviet period, notably including Sokolova and R. Kh. Dodyhkodoev. Like other languages of the Pamirs, Shughni is a language with complex morphology and displays different degrees of ergativity, as discussed by John Payne (1980) in his article “The decay of ergativity in Pamir languages”. More recently, Karamshoev described the Bajuvi dialect of Shughni (Karamshoev 1963) and L. R. Dodyhkodoeva has published several studies. More recently, linguists at the University of Kentucky have established the Shughni Grammar Project.
Initially, ELA Director Daniel Kaufman and volunteer Guy Tabachnik worked with local speaker Arambegim (Nanish) Nazrisho, originally from Khorog, Tajikistan, recording folk tales and basic linguistic data. There has also been collaboration between ELA and the Shughni Grammar Project.
In the summer of 2016, Husniya Khujamyorova (a Wakhi speaker) recorded a young Shughni singer in Dushanbe and an older storyteller in Murghab telling the story of the revered 11th century Perisan poet and philosopher Nasir Khusraw, a Fatimid missionary who is credited with spreading Ismailism in Badakhshan.
In 2018, with support from the National Geographic Society, Khujamyorova, filmmaker Nicole Galpern, and ELA Co-Director Ross Perlin spent much of the summer in the Pamir region, making recordings in Shughni and other languages.
Some 200 of the 300 or so Pamiri people from Tajikistan now living in New York are speakers of Shughni, living especially in Brooklyn (Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge) and Queens (Rego Park/Woodhaven area). The first of them arrived around 30 years ago around the time of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was followed by the hardships of the Tajik Civil War. Larger migrant communities can be found in such cities as Dushanbe (capital of Tajikistan) and Moscow.
Learn more here about ELA’s Shughni children’s book, part of our Pamiri Stories series.