By Fazal Amin Beg
1. Background and Introduction
It was July 12, 2013 I was in the Ismaili Center, Dushambe (capital of Tajikistan) and sitting with late Dr. Ayd Muhammad of the Pamir, who remained a great academic personality and contributed enormously to the Wakhi language. He had his PhD in Linguistics and specialization in his mother tongue. Late Dr. Ayd Muhammad originally belonged to the village of Langar (indigenously known as Kik̃hn) of Tajik Wakhan of Gorno-Badakhshan. Along with him was Murod Bek of Wakhan, who is a colleague of Iman Rahim of Gulmit (Hunza in the northern Pakistan) in the field of tourism.for the facilitation of such important activities, a young friend, Zohir Bek of Vrang (Tajik Wakhan and a graduate of the University of London, UK) was with me and had kindly extended his helping hands towards me.
It was the greatness of late Dr. Ayd Muhammad for sparing little time out of his crucial and private engagements. He briefly shared his interesting biography with me and was so enthusiastic and desirous, even after his retirement from his job, to share many aspects of the Wakhi language and its development but, unfortunately, due to some genuine constraints and challenges such as that of our visa, we could not sit together for a long time. I wish I could have discussed with him not only for some hours but rather for weeks and months to learn various linguistic aspects out of his deep knowledge on the subject matter.
In brief, for more than half an hour or so, I was able to to conduct an informal interview of him on his short biography and more particularly focusing on some important linguistic themes related to Wakhi or Wakhani language in line with the sound systems, grammatical makeup, and the like.
In the second part of this contribution, I’m going to share the crux of his academic discussions and perspectives out of his long life experiences in addition to his scholarly aptitude and research.
The last part of this contribution deals with important conclusions based on Dr. Ayd Muhammad’s academic discussions and my own studies from the fields and related secondary sources. interesting analytical perspectives thus emerge out of his invaluable discussion, indeed.
Hope the readers will enjoy and learn different aspects of the subject matter. As part of my literary tradition and for the sake of lively reading, I’m keeping his discussion in natural order as first person rather than converting them in third person as normally writers or researchers do.
Although, Dr. Ayd Muhammad is unfortunately no more with us today in this world, his great efforts and intellectual contributions will always be like the beacon of light for the related stakeholders within the respective linguistic and cultural fields.
2. A Short life History
My name is Ayd Muhammad Saeed Muhammad and I belong to the village of Kik̃hn (or also known as Langar). I’m 67 years old. I’ve retired from my employment after 63 years of my age and am getting pension. I’ve grown up in Pũtũp (another village of Wakhan) and got my secondary education from this village.
Getting enrollment in the college of pedagogy in Dushambe, I continued my studies. My specialization came up in the Russian language. I then went to Moscow for the Esperanto. My supervisor was Dr. T. N. Pakhalina during my PhD study.
3. Analysis of the Wakhi Sound System and other Linguistic Aspects
It needs to be noted that among the promineant linguists, Pakhalina has an upstanding and high stature in Pamiriology. Pakhalina had conducted studies on Rini or Rũni /Ishkoshimi, Sariqoli, and other Pamiri languages.Sariqoli is related to Shugnoni and Rushoni.
However, it should also be noted that Sariqoli is relatively near to Wakhi as we have the vowel sound “ũ” and the same is with Sariqoli. Likewise, as we have “k̃h” and “g̃h” , Sariqoli does have the same again. Some sounds Sariqoli has taken from the Wakhi. K̃h and g̃h we can also find in Shughnoni, Sanglichi, Rini/Ishkoshmi, Munjoni, and so on. In the same manner, the sounds of c [ts] and z̃ [dz] we have similar with the Pamiri languages.
The difference of the sound system of Wakhi in comparison with other Pamir languages is that of the cerebrali or retroflexed sounds such as c̃h, d̃, j̃, s̃h, t̃ and z̃h. The retroflexed sounds we can find more in Wakhi; and may not find them in such frequency and amount in the languages of India or Pakistan (such as Urdu, Hindi or Afghoni) or the languages of other areas.
When we compare Wakhi language with Shugnoni, Wakhi is termed as zaboni-e hamsadoyi (vowels contracted towards consonants). For instance, Russian is also a language of hamsadoyi.
On the other, English is zabon-e sadonoki (exposed more towards vowel accents), because it has more sounds with sadonok (vowels). English has sadonok-e daroz (long vowels) and sadonok-e kuto (short vowels). For example, if there is “I” in English, there is also the long vowel of it as “ee”; if there is “a”, there can be long “a.” if there is “u”, there can be the long “u.” in addition, we may also find many dipthongs in English. In short, there are more than 20 vowel sounds in English (long and short plus dipthongs). Such language is termed as “Zabon-e Sadonoki.”
But we need to understand that the Wakhi is termed as Zabon-e Hamsadoyi (consonant). For instance, if there is a word pronounced originally as maktab, we the Wakhi people will pronounce it as mẽktab. The word dafdar as Dẽfdar. It is therefore termed as consonanty, basing itself on the consonant, wherever there is unstressed vowel in the words, contraction of the vowel will occur in the multiple syllable words. This is thus termed as the “Principle of Reductionism” or “contraction” (of vowels). It should therefore be taken into account for Wakhi that the vowels that are unstressed in the words change into “ẽ.”
What is the logic? If a language like Wakhi in Afghanistan and Pakistan has remained under the influence of Farsi or Urdu (as in our case under the influence of Tojiki or Russian), the native speakers may be well aware of the appropriate pronunciation of the words and the respective Wakhi people may not contract those words that are normally contracted within Wakhi (for more than two syllables). Our language (Wakhi) in comparison with other Pamiri languages thus differs in such respects and considerations, and more particuaarly in line with the retroflexed sounds, which may not be found (to their entire extent) in the Indic languages, although within the Iranian branch such as Pushto few of them could be witnessed. How in such big number these retroflexed sounds have appeared in Wakhi is a big question mark, anyway.
Although, some of the retroflex sounds like c̃h, s̃h, j̃ or z̃h we may find in S̃hina, Burushaski, Khowar and Balti but in Wakhi these retroflex sounds are found in a large number. But we need to know that in Wakhi, we have the principle of reduction in cases of unstressed vowels (in multiple syllables) in vogue to a significant level.
When I observe and analyze the Wakhi vocabularies, in case of the Wakhi communities of Pakistan and Afghanistan, you people are more under Urdu and Farsi environments and influence respectively; while in our case in Tajikistan and Russia, we are more within the Tajiki and Russian language environment.
In line with syntax, within Pamiri languages, only Wakhi and Munjoni languages have retained or sustained the tradition of Irrigativnia Konstruktsia or fe’l-e guzaranda (transitive and intransitive verbs ). For example, maz̃hem wind (I saw) instead of saying wuzem wind. This is called sokhtdor-e irrigative-e jumla. Munjoni has retained it because it has also remained within the Pushto environment. However, It should be noted that earlier, too, usage of both maz̃hem and wuzem have existed in Wakhi in historical context.
To reiterate, once in the past, both maz̃hem and wuzem existed, too. But maz̃he began to be used with the fe’lho-e guzaranda (transitive verbs): for instance, K̃hech yitak. There remained the transitive (guzaranda) and intransitive (noguzaranda) verbs earlier in the past. Sokhdor-e irrigative is a sentence that has a subject and object. After the subject, there will come maz̃he. Maz̃h will thus appear after the transitive verbs such as Kitob joyak (to read). On the other, rẽc̃hak is a noguzaronda (intransitive). Now, maz̃h has changed/transferred to the verbs of objects and also towards the verbs of subject.
A subject is linked with or remained in the accusative pronoun of a sentence in a particular form. Such phenomenon does exist in Urdu, Pashtu and in the languages of India as well as in the Dardic languages such as Kashmiri, S̃hina and Khowar.
In Wakhi (of Tajikistan), such characteristics remained earlier but then lost them later. They got changed towards the verbs of objects (fe’lho-e maf’ul). And then towards the verbs of subject (fe’lho-e fo’il) for instance, Maz̃hem yiti (I ate); or tu’t yiti (you ate). Maz̃hem reg̃hde (I went). We people anyhow talk in such manner and this characteristic is typical with us in Wakhi but does not exist with other Pamiri languages, except for Munji.
A distinguishing feature with regard to the infinitives ending on “k” and “n” is also interesting and historical to be taken into consideration. For instance, rec̃hn (or rec̃h-n) meaning “to go”, wẽzayan (or wezay-n) meaning to come”, yitn (or yit-n) meaning “to eat”, or rẽdown (rẽdow-n) meaning “to give”, also remained with us in the Wakhani or Wakhi language of Tajikistan.
In the Iranian languages, the nouns based on infinitives such as rẽc̃hak meaning “to go”) are used in lesser amount. When these aspects within the languages disappeared, instead shakhs-e makhsus is brought in practice. For example, we may evidence it in Persian or Tojiki as rawish (raw-ish) meaning “behavior” out of the infinitive raftan (to go). But in our Wakhi language, we have yet -ak (as in rẽc̃hak, yitak, pitak). In the beginning, usage of the senses of both of the infinitive endings were the same. One was as nomi (nominative) and another was fe’li (verbal). When the dialects got divided after the language speakers went to different areas, they began possessing different features or characteristics in these respects. For example, in hunza, the Wakhi speakers have more infinitives ending on –n; while we people out of Hunza, have infinitive endings more on -k.
However, it must say that in our village, Kik̃hn (langar)of upper Wakhan of Tajikistan, people use most of the infinitive endings on -n.
Another point I’d like to make is with regard to the wakhi pronunciation styles. In Pakistan, the Wakhi people may have different or diverse pronunciation of their language; but in Tajikistan, we do have almost similar accent of Wakhi. We can understand each other very well. But when we talk together with Pakistani Wakhi like you, sometimes there are issues of understanding each other.one of the factors is with regard to remaining under the influence of different language environment. However, it is also important to remember that when the languages get divided or split, they also take a special characteristics within themselves from their earlier or proto language. For example, rec̃hn and rec̃hak both do exist in our language. Our people would sometimes say: “Ti rec̃hak maz̃her khus̃h nast” (I don’t like your going or departure).
There is a crucial point again to see the Wakhi language also in the context of Buddhism. What kind of influence Buddhism has on the language needs to be explored; and it’s very fundamental. Some times, I am of the strong viewpoints, that Wakhi language neither gets effectively its place within the Iranian branches and nor within the Indic branches of Indo-Iranian languages family. Rather, it sounds a separate language before me. For instance, when do analyze the words in cross-linguistic contexts, they may be found in similarity with Burushaski or the Dardic languages. Enormous words are observed that those languages have borrowed the words from Wakhi.
Based on the above deep insights and analysis of late Dr. Ayd Muhammad and my own studies at different scales of over a dozen languages, it becomes clear to deduce and conclude that Wakhi could be termed as a strong bridge (rather mother) among many languages of South and Central plus China and Europe in line with the sound system as Wakhi has 43 sounds altogether.
Apart from the common sounds found almost in all languages, the Wakhi shares the retroflexed sounds like c̃h, j̃, s̃h, and z̃h with the indigenous five languages of Gilgit-Baltistan (S̃hina, Balti, Burushaski, Khowar and D̃umaaki) and Chitral Region as well as in Mandarin Chinese and Russian. But it should be noted that d̃ and t̃ are neither found among the Russian, Chinese, or Pamiri languages rather these sounds the Wakhi shares with the languages of South Asia, particularly within Pakistan and India, although both sounds also exist within the five indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.
The unique palatal sounds of Wakhi such as “g̃h and k̃h” we can find within Pamiri languages as well as Russian and Greek. These palatal sounds we may not find in the languages of South Asia, although in some ways they can be observed in Burushaski and Balti. In addition, the two sounds like “c” (ts) and “z̃” (dz) we may not find very common within the vast number of Pakistani languages and the Wakhi shares them within the indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral Region,Pamiri languages, Chinese, Russian, Greek, German, Italian and so on
The interdental sounds in Wakhi including “th” and “dh” (such as “dh” in English “this” and the sound of “th” “ in “think”)cannot be found within the Pakistani languages and the Wakhi shares both these interdental sounds with the Pamiri languages family, English, Spanish, Arabic and the like.
The “ũ” vowel sound as a vowel does not exist in any of the Pakistani languages and the Wakhi shares it with the Pamiri and Turkic languages as well as with a slight variation in Russian, Greek, German, French, Chinese and so on. In the same manner, the “q” sound wakhi shares mainly with Arabic, Turkic languages (Qirghiz, Uyghur, Uzbeki, Qazaq, Turkmen, Turkish, and others) and few others , which cannot be found among majority of the Indian languages.
As a consonantial language (ham sadoyi, the principle of vowel reductionism occurs or applies at unstressed vowels of multiple syllables of a word such as mẽktab (originally as “maktab” for school; matal contracted to mẽtal; kandak contracted to kẽndak and so on).
Although, the Wakhi language in each of the five countries (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, China and Russia) could be seen under influence of the surrounding or neighboring language environment, they are observed particularly under the global giants such as English, Chinese, Russian, Persian/Tajiki and Urdu . the usage of huge number of vocabularies are the testimony in the connection.
The Wakhi language is also diverse in terms of some of its grammatical structures , particularly in line with most of infinitive endings, pronunciation of “e”, sound,usage of tradition of Irrigativnia Konstruktsia or fe’l-e guzaranda (transitive and intransitive verbs with the subjective pronouns,and so on. It can be divided mainly between the Hunza Wakhi infinitives and out of Hunza Wakhi infinitives. The Hunza Wakhi is thus unique in terms of its infintive ending based mostly on Persian pattern (as “-n”); while out of Hunza Wakhi infintives are found based on Turkic infinitives ending on “-k.”
I owe deep indebtedness to late Dr. Ayd Muhammad for sharing invaluable thoughts with me. In the same manner my gratefulness goes to Dr. Aziz Mirboboev for visiting me along with Dr. Ayd Muhammad in avesta Hotel in Dushambe and we had productive discussions. I can never forget late Dr. Boghsho Lashkarbekov who was the source of inspiration and behind the scene to manage our meetings in Dushambe from Moscow.
Particuar gratitude goes to my young and intellectual friend Zohir Bek of Vrang (Tajik Wakhan) for all his kind facilitation and support during my short stay in Dushambe.