Introduction. The dialect spoken by the Jews of Isfahan (henceforth IsfJ.) belongs to the Central Dialect (CPD) group (also called Median dialects by some scholars) of Northwestern Iranian languages (NWI). The original speech form of the city of Isfahan (see also xxi. PROVINCIAL DIALECTS and xx. GEOGRAPHY OF THE MEDIAN DIALECTS OF ISFAHAN) was probably very similar to IsfJ. and remained in the Jewish community but died out in the Muslim community, not without leaving its influence, however, on the type of Persian spoken in Isfahan. According to Ehsan Yarshater’s informants in 1970, there were about 2,500 Jewish residents in Isfahan at the time, a decrease from possibly 13,000 in the heyday of the community, and there were over twenty synagogues, some of which by 1970 were in disuse. The Jewish population is centered in the section of Isfahan known as Jubāra as well as throughout the city. Donald Stilo’s notes were also provided by a local rabbi in a synagogue in Jubāra in 1964. While the Jewish community of Isfahan has been greatly reduced, IsfJ. is still spoken among various generations there. In the diaspora, the dialect is still spoken by the older generation in Israel, Los Angeles, and New York City and sporadically in other large urban centers.

History and classification. The Jewish dialects of Isfahan, Kāshān, Hamadān, Borujerd, Yazd, Kermān and others belong to the Central dialect group of Northwestern Iranian. All of Northwestern Iranian languages, in turn, are descended from Median, whereas Persian (including Middle Persian or Pahlavi) belongs to the Southwestern Iranian (SWI) group and are descended from Old Persian. Since Persian and modern “Median” dialects are two completely different linguistic groups within Iranian that diverged over 2,500 years ago, the term “Judeo-Persian,” which is sometimes applied to IsfJ. (as well as other dialects spoken by the Jewish communities listed above), is to be considered a misnomer. “Judeo-Persian” is more accurately applied specifically to Persian dialects as spoken (or written) within Jewish communities in different locales and especially at different time periods, beginning with the earliest forms of New Persian in the 8th century C.E. Since IsfJ. and other Central dialects have borrowed extensively from Persian, especially within the lexical domain, they may seem to be very similar to Persian, but a closer look at the diachronics, the native lexicon and grammar as laid out below will suffice to show the radical differences between Persian as opposed to IsfJ. and other Northwestern languages and dialects.

Diachronics. Important differences in the development of proto-Iranian consonants in Median/NWI and Old Persian/SWI show that they were already distinct from each other before the time of the cuneiform inscriptions of the Achaemenian period. The two groups diverged even more in the Middle Iranian and early Modern Iranian periods. Thus, to take one characteristic example, proto-Iranian *dz (corresponding to Skt. j-) yields different reflexes in Old Persian (and its descendants in modern SWI) from those of Median (and its descendants in modern NWI). Words that had a proto-Iranian *dz-, such as “to know” and “son-in-law,” yielded words that begin with d- in Southwestern languages (cf. Persian dān- and dāmād) as opposed to words with z- in the Northwestern family (Av. zan- “know” and zāmātar “son-in-law,” cf. Skt. jān- and jāmātar-, respectively). In examining a sampling of the Central dialects, as well as other Northwestern Iranian languages outside the Central dialects, we find the following forms, all beginning with z- and meaning “know (present/past stems)” and “son-in-law,” respectively: IsfJ.: zun-/zunā and zumāz; Hamadāni Jewish: zun-/zunā and dumād (the latter a borrowing from Persian); Gazi: zun-/zunāšt and zomā; Anāraki: zon-/zono and zomā; Ḵᵛānsāri: zun-/zunā and zumā; Yazdi Zoroastrian: zon-/zonod and zomād; Āštiāni: zān-/zānā and zāmā; and beyond the Central dialects, Semnāni: zun-/zuni and zomā ~ zumi; Tāleši (Māsulaʾi): zon-/zonoss and zemā; Gilaki: dān-/ dānəst (borrowed from Persian) and zāmā; Baluchi: zān-/zānt and zamās; Kurdish (Kurmanji): zān-/zāni and zāvā. There are many more examples of the differences in sounds that distinguish Persian and other SWI from all NWI languages and dialects, including IsfJ., Gazi, and other Central dialects, some of which are given below.

NWI developments from proto-Iranian in IsfJ. include: *dz > z, as in IsfJ. zun/zunā “know,” zumāz “son-in-law” (as discussed above), ezerí “yesterday”; *tsv- > sp-: IsfJ. išpiš “louse,” esbez “white”; *dzv- > zb in IsfJ. ozun “tongue,” where –b- was probably absorbed into the u much later (e.g., zbān > zvān > ozvun > ozun, or some similar process); *dv- > b-, as in bar “door,” abi “other”; *y- remains as y- (vs. SWI j-) as in IsfJ. ye “barley,” yuš- “boil”; *v- remains as v- (instead of SWI g-) in IsfJ. veyše “hungry,” v(e)zer-/v(e)zašd “pass,” and as v- (vs. SWI b-) in IsfJ. vāzum “almond,” vārun “rain,” vij-/vit “sift,” viye “widow,” viθ “twenty,” vāz “wind”; initial *j- remains as j- (vs. SWI z-) in jan “wife, play (instrument),” jande “alive”; medial *-č- > -j- (vs. SWI z-) as in tej- “run,” vij- “sift,” vājār “bazaar, market,” jir “under, down” (< *haca adara-); *xw > x as in xunt “read,” xox “sister,” xow “sleep (N),” but note also: *xw > ø in owθ-/ofd- “sleep.” The typical NWI change *-xt > -(h)t ~ -(t)t, is represented in IsfJ. sowt “burned,” dot “daughter, girl,” rit “poured,” vit “sifted,” vāt “said.” The usually parallel development of *-ft > NWI -(h)t ~ -(t)t, however, either did not occur in IsfJ. or its absence is possibly due to an effect of Persian or other SWI influence: dar-kaft “fall,” i-ofd “sleep,” i-geft ~ gift “take” (but cf. Gazi i-git).

*fr > r as in kāre~gāre “down” (< Av. gufra-, ǰafra-) and possibly *fr- > i- in the IsfJ. preverb i-~e- (see “Preverbs” below). Eṣfahāni Jewish and the dialects of the immediate Isfahan area (specifically Gazi, Ḵorzuqi, Sedehi, and Sagzāvi) have an i- ~ e- preverb in the same verbs in which other NWI have the corresponding preverb hā- < *fra-. Compare IsfJ. i-gi(r) “take, get,” i-ni “sit,” i-owθ “sleep,” e-tā “give,” e-n- “put,” e-band “hit,” e-parθ “ask” with the same verbs in: Kafrāni (hā-gir, hā-ning, ā-xus, hā-t, hā-nā, —, —), Anāraki (ha-gir, ha-nik, ha-wsi, ha-t, ha-nā, hab-end, ), Alviri (a Tāti language) (hā-gir, hā-neš, hā-xös, ā-d, hā-nā, —, —), Vafsi (a Tāti language) (hā-gir, hā-nešin, , hā-d, hā-ni, —, hā-pars) and Māzanderāni (hā-gir, he-niš, —, hā-de, —, —, hā-pers). Other cases of original *fr- are seen in IsfJ. only as fr-, which is typical of SWI (ferāš/ferāt “sell,” feresn/-ā “send”); *θr > r: pir “son” and ār-ci “hand mill” (cf. the root minus the diminutive suffix -ci with: Ḵᵛānsāri, Jowšaqāni ār, Meymaʾi or “mill” < Av. ārθra-, but IsfJ. āsiow “mill” < SWI); *xr- > IsfJ. ir-: *xrin- “buy” > irin-/irint, but other examples of this development in initial position were not found. Medial *-xr- > IsfJ. -r-: θir “red.” See also a longer discussion of the reflexes of *fr-, *θr-, *xr- under Diachronics in xxii, below.

IsfJ. is conservative in preserving medial and final *d, both medially and finally as δ~z and medially occasionally also as -d- (equivalents are also given in other Central dialects, where these consonants are either weakened to -y, -v or are lost): IsfJ. vāzum ~ vāδum~vādum “almond,” cezor~ceδor “chador,” xód-e~xoz-e ~ xoδ-e “with” (Farizandi vāyom, cāyür, xāy), bezār ~ beδār “brother” (Ḵᵛānsāri berā), keze ~ keδe “house” (Meymaʾi kiye), ruze ~ ruδe “intestine” (Sedehi ruve), v(e)zer/v(e)zašd- ~ v(e)δer/v(e)δašd- “pass” (Yārandi viar/viašt-), diz ~ diδ “smoke,” zumāz~δumāδ “son-in-law” (Zefra’i , zomā), esbez ~ eθbeδ “white” (Sedehi esbe), māz ~ māδ “mother,” vāz ~ vāδ “wind” (Naṭanzi māy, vāy).

Original , even in Arabic borrowings, is generally fronted to i as in xin “blood,” pir “boy, son,” miš “mouse,” diz “smoke,” θir “red,” āris “bride,” haθit “jealous,” til “length.” This change, however, is not universal in IsfJ.: θuδue “it burns,” dušnue “he milks,” gušd “meat.” Original changes to u before nasals: ume “come,” zumāz “son-in-law,” (ve-) mun/mund “stay,” un “that,” vun “there.”

Phonology. IsfJ. consonants are p, b, t, d, c, j, k, g, q~γ, f, v, s, z, š, x, h, m, n, r, l, y, but note that: a) z, s alternate freely with interdental δ, θ respectively: δunun~zunun “I know,” bépez ~ bépeδ! “cook!,” eδeri~ezeri “yesterday,” tarsue~tarθue “he fears,” véroθ ~ véros “get up!”; b) medial -d- sometimes alternates with (and occasionally –z-): pírodun~píroδun “your son,” xód-e~xóδ-e ~ xoz-e “with,” vāzum~vāδum~vādum “almond”; c) č and j (= ǰ, which in IsfJ. includes ž of other languages) are palatalized to ć and ¦: ćirići “sparrow, chick,” bi¦an “man’s name.” Noteworthy in the vowel system (i, e, a, u, o, ā, ey, ew) is the ew diphthong, resulting both from an original glide as well as from the change of b, f > w: mew “vine,” kewk “partridge,” lew “lip,” kewš “shoe,” kelews “celery,” cf. Persian mow, kabk, lab, kafš, karafs, respectively.

Stress in Eṣfahāni Jewish is mostly word-final, but some morphemes, particularly in verbal categories, cause the stress to shift away from final position: the prefix bé- (bé-m-bart “I carried”) and the preverbs of the subjunctive, imperative, preterit, and perfect tenses; the person endings in the present (ār-ún-e “I bring,” ber-úv-e “he carries”); the participial element in the imperfect (umó-un-e “I would come,” baθté-š-e “he would hit,” ve-garté-nd-e “they would return”). Stress usually contrasts between the present and subjunctive forms with preverbs: ve-krúne “I open” vs. vé-krun “that I open.”

The stress-pitch system of IsfJ. is quite a rare case in that it seems to be the exact opposite of the situation found in most languages of the world: in IsfJ. unstressed syllables have high pitch and the stressed syllables have low pitch. This unusual situation in effect makes the pronunciation of a word sound to the uninitiated ear as if the stress is placed on the unstressed syllable due to the higher pitch. This author thus first heard the words pírom “my son” and beδāˊrom “my brother” as piróm and béδārom with the stress incorrectly assigned due to the unusual pitch system; compare Rubène Abrahamian’s círi “sparrow,” āˊlā “now,” éšnide “you hear,” instead the expected cirí, ālāˊ, ešníde, possibly incorrectly notated for the same reasons. This unusual pattern is also shared by Isfahani Persian, probably as a leftover from the original dialect of the city. Compare the following parallel patterns of two simple sentences in Tehrani Persian and Isfahani Persian:

Tehrani   (3 levels):  Example 1

Isfahani (2 levels?): Example 2

"Where are you going? Is your house nearby?"

A more careful and detailed analysis of the unusual stress-pitch system patterns of the Persian and NWI dialects in the area from Isfahan to Yazd needs to be conducted.

Noun phrase. Number: IsfJ. nouns and pronouns do not indicate gender or formal case (but see the discussion of -(r)ā, below). There is one type of plural ending in -ā: doδδ-ā “thieves,” gorg-ā “wolves,” guš-ā “ears,” kenisā-ā “synagogues.” The two indefinite markers occur either separately or together: ye “one” and/or an unstressed -ì: xurúθi, ye xuruθ, ye xurúθi “a rooster.”

Object marking. Definite direct objects are marked with unstressed -(r)ā, but less commonly in the tenses of the past system (see Fronting below for a discussion of this phenomenon): bid hāmā-rā bévenid “come see us,” dandunā-š-ā be-am bé-š-xerāšā “he pressed (i.e., gritted) his teeth together.” The combination of the preposition še + the short pronominal suffixes (Set2, see Table 1) also marks (1) direct objects either (a) alone: še-m bandíe? “Will you hit me?” or (b) še + Set2 along with the full pronoun marked by -(r)ā: mun tó-rā še-d nébandune “I won’t hit you,” and (2) indirect objects (pilā-m-ā še-d nétune “I won’t give you my money”). As will be shown below (see Person endings, Fronting) the Set2 endings that indicate the past subject are rather mobile and very commonly move off the verb and shift forward in the sentence, hence the designation “Fronting.” Thus when a Set2 subject ending is moved from the verb to še that already has a Set2 possessive ending, two Set2 endings will then occur together: še12-om3 baθ4 “I3 hit4 him1-2,” še12-oš34 “he3 gave4 (it) to1 him2.” With indirect objects, the Set2 ending sometimes also moves to an earlier word in the sentence, in which case še then stands alone: še-d “to you” > xeδā omr-od še é-tā “may God give you (long) life.” See also Prepositions below for more information on indicating indirect objects.

Set2 ending inserted between the suffixes for person (Set1) and tense (-e) in the present also optionally indicates pronoun direct objects: band-ún-ešun-e “I’ll hit them,” keš-end-ed-e “they’ll kill you,” but in the subjunctive, optative, and imperative, Set2 as object comes either just before the verb stem (bé-d-beru "[that] he takes you,” xeδā bé-š-kešā “may God kill him,” bé-š-ārid “bring [pl,] him,” bi-šun-gi “grab them!”) or occasionally at the end: bétarsen-eš “frighten him!”). In addition, according to Irān Kalbāsi (1994), two short form pronouns (Set2) can appear together to indicate both subject and object in past tenses: be-šun1-oš2-ferāt “they1 sold it2,” pušd-om-oš-e “I used to wear it,” but this construction is not found in any other published sources or field notes for IsfJ., and it may represent a very recent innovation in IsfJ. (most likely under the influence of colloquial Persian among the younger generation, and possibly only from elicited, i.e., translated, examples; it would be informative to track the frequency of this construction in spontaneous speech among speakers of different ages). If only one Set2 ending occurs in a past tense, it obligatorily indicates the subject, never the object. Thus while peydā-mun kard in colloquial Persian means “he found us,” the equivalent in IsfJ., peydā-mun kart, can only mean “we found (him/it).” In sum, to show pronouns as direct objects in the past tense, either the full form of the pronoun or a second Set2 ending is possible: āmā-rā peydā-š kart ~ peydā-š-omun kart (the latter in Kalbāsi only) “he found us,” but the former seems to be preferred, at least in older sources.

As in Gazi (q.v.), IsfJ. also quite commonly indicates full direct objects doubly by both the full noun or pronoun plus the Set2 endings: doδδe-rā še-š ne-band “don’t hit the thief!,” un-ā be-š-ven “see him!,” mun tó-rā še-d nébandune “I won’t hit you.”

Modifiers follow the noun generally connected by an eżāfa, for instance, possessives: dím-e vece “the child’s face,” váxd-e deróv-e šemā “the time of your harvest,” bár-e keniθā “the door of the synagogue,” but the eżāfa often drops (see also Gazi), especially after a vowel: keδé xóx-om “my sister’s house,” buvā vece “the child’s father,” beletarā mahalle “the great (people) of the neighborhood.” Possessive pronouns are either full forms or Set2 suffixes: pír-e mun~pír-om “my son,” but the latter are by far more common: beδār-om madreθe nešue “my brother doesn’t go to school,” pír-od key be xune yue? “when will your son come home?" anšew kami hāl-oš veytar-u “he feels a little better tonight.” Adjective Modifiers with the eżāfa: nasihát-e xab “good advice,” moallém-e pārisi “Parisian teacher,” xox-e kuculi dārun “I have a younger sister,” but the eżāfa may occasionally drop (vece-širi “nursing infant”). The plural suffix may shift from the noun to the adjective: vece-iθrāel-ā “the Jewish children.”

Demonstratives in IsfJ. are in “this,” un “that,” amin/amun “this/that very (same)”: in mard “this man,” un kār “that work,” gumā-bu amin amšew béšim “we must go this very night.”

Pronouns. Table 1 gives three types of pronouns: full pronouns for subject (and various other uses), full direct object forms, and Set2 suffixes with various functions (described passim throughout this entry), as well as the Set1 person endings on the verb.

Reflexives are xo-, xoc- + Set2 endings but the difference between them, if any, is not clear. Both are used in IsfJ. after prepositions (píš-e xó-š “to himself,” déwr-e xóc-aš “around himself”), as possessives (vece xo-d-u? “Is he your own child?” bešā-š fekrhā-ye xóc-aš-ā amali karu “he can realize his (own) thoughts),” and as emphatics (xó-mun šíme tu xarman “we’ll go to the harvest ourselves,” mo xóc-am ún-ā tu maδra’e bi-m-di “I myself saw him in the field,” xóc-aš yúve “she’ll come by herself”). Only two examples of reflexives as direct objects were found in the available corpora: mun xóc-am-ā be in kār ādat-om e-dā “I have accustomed myself to this (work)” (Kalbāsi), amšew gumā-bu xoc-am-rā be ša:r bereθnun “I must get (lit: deliver) myself to the city tonight” (Borjiān). Prepositions. Other than “from,” še, be “to,” dā~tā “until,” tu, der “in” etc., prepositions usually require an ezāfa: xód-e “with,” píš-e “at, to (person),” dím-e “on,” etc. Exx: aδ jir “from below,” dā šew “until night,” xód-e cu “with a stick,” xód-e jan-om “with my wife,” dím-e áθb-oš “on his horse.” še, be and píš-e indicate indirect objects: be āmā buvāid “tell us,” mun píš-e pír-od bé-m-vāt “I told your son,” pil-oš-ā še-š de! “Give him his money!” Prepositions may also take Set2 endings: xód-om, xód-ot, xód-oš “with me, you, him,” gu-m-e xód-ot béngārun “I want to speak with you.” With “to be” of location, especially be3 (see below), the prepositions indicating “in” are often left unexpressed: sebāh šew mon keδe der-un “I’ll be home tomorrow night.”

Verb phrase. Verb stems. IsfJ. generally has the usual types of past formations seen in other Iranian languages, e.g., gir-/gifd~gi “take, catch,” band-/baθθ “hit,” k-/kafd “fall,” rij-/rit “pour,” al~ arz-/ašt “let,” ven-/di “see,” but most past stems follow two regular patterns: 1) a smaller group in -t after an -r or -n of the root: jār/-t “chew,” emar/-t “break,” xešār/-t “press,” birin/-t “cut,” xun/-t “read,” jan/-t “hit” (final -t is possibly a conservative feature; very few stems take the past formant -d, e.g., mund-an “stay”); 2) a much larger group in -ā: zun/-ā “know,” var-veδ/-ā “jump,” tanj/-ā “drink,” kelāš/-ā “itch.” Sometimes a slight change in the root vowel also occurs: ber-/bart “take away,” xuθ-/xoθ(θ) “throw.” Roots originally beginning with a vowel often accrue an initial -r from a preverb, e.g., *ver-oθ ~ ver-ows > ve-rows “get up,” as seen from the negative forms: venéroθune “I don’t get up” (= *ver-oθ-un-e > ve-roθ- > ve-né-roθ-). See also the same process with this root in Caspian languages: Gilaki (Langarudi) vi-ris (< vir-is) vs. neg: vi-n-ris, but the original -r is not shifted to the root in Māzanderāni her-est! / néstā!, “get up! / don’t get up!"

Preverbs create finer nuances, lexical extensions, or total meaning changes of a verb root: bí-gi “grab! catch!” vs. vé-gi “pick up!” vs. í-gi “get! buy!”; gartúne “I walk around” vs. vé-gartune “I return”; mālúne “I rub” vs. var-mālune “I flee,” cinúve “he picks (fruit, etc.)” vs. var-cinúve “(bird) pecks at (seeds)”; vé-m-nāšt “I extinguished” vs. é-m-nāšt “I seated.” Sometimes the same verb root may occur both with and without a lexical preverb with no real difference in meaning: dar-kaft ~ bekaft “he fell.” There are two types of preverbs: type 1 (ve(r)-, var-, dar-) appears in all tenses and with negatives; type 2 (e-~i-) appears only in the affirmative and only in non-durative forms (subjunctive, preterit and the perfects). Note the use of e-~i- in the affirmative imperative (í-gi “buy!" é-parθ “ask!”) and preterit (í-m-gift, é-m-parθā), but not in the durative (i.e., present and imperfect) tenses: (present) gir-un-e, parθ-un-e, or negatives of any tense (preterit affirmative/negative: í-m-gift/ná-m-gift, é-m-parθā/ná-m-parθā). Although both types of preverbs have precedents elsewhere (cf. Māzanderāni, Vafsi where preverbs only appear in non-duratives; and Gilaki, Zefraʾi, Gorāni, Tāleši, where the preverb appears in all tenses, no NWI language beyond IsfJ. and three or four immediate neighbors seems to have both types).

The preverbs i- and e- actually seem to be one preverb whose forms alternate before high and low vowels of the verb root respectively, as the following contrast shows: í-ni “sit!” vs. é-nān “seat!” Type 2 preverbs only appear in a few roots: (before high vowels) í-gi(r) “take,” í-ni “sit,” í-owθ “sleep,” (before low vowels) é-de “give" é-ne “put,” é-nān “seat,” é-band “hit,” é-parθ “ask” (see also Diachronics above).

Negation. né- ~ ná- comes just before the stem in all present forms and the intransitive preterit (dar-né-k-un-e “I don’t fall,” né-reθā-un “I didn’t arrive”), but the subject marker (Set2) in the transitive preterit comes between né- and the stem: ná-š-di “she didn’t see” (the latter, however, may also be fronted out of the verb altogether: vecé-š-ā né-di “she didn’t see her child”). Negatives occur with type 1 preverbs in all tenses (dar-né-gin-un-e “I won’t light/kindle,” ve-né-roθā-un “I didn’t get up”). Since the negative particle suppresses both be- (subj. bé-frāš-un/né-frāš-un “that I sell/not sell”) and type 2 preverbs in those tenses, where they occur, verbs with different preverbs (and hence different meanings) merge in the negative: bé-gir- “catch/grab” and í-gir- “buy/get” both yield the negative forms né-gir-un-e “I don’t catch/buy.” The negative imperative is formed with either mé- ~ má- (mé-vāid “don’t say!” dar-mé-ki “don’t fall!”) or né- ~ ná- (ná-koš “don’t kill!”)

Non-finite forms. Infinitives consist of (preverb) + past stem + -án: vāt-án “to say,” dar-kaft-án “to fall,” und-án “to come.” The of a past stem merges with the -a of the infinitive: kešā > keš-án “to pull.” Monosyllabic roots ending in a vowel usually retain an original -z~d~δ in the stem before the infinitive ending: še-, dā-, be-, also um(o)- > še-δ-an “to go,” dā-d-an “to give,” be-δ-an “to be,” und-an “to come” (< um-d-an). The infinitives in Ḥabib Borjiān’s fieldwork are exclusively formed with the ending –āmun, but this formation is not found in other sources (but see xxii, below for examples of this formation: vāt-āmun, dar-kaft-āmun, etc.). This formation some-times also includes the (unstressed) non-durative marker be- in some cases: (b-ārt-āmun “to bring,” b-irint-āmun “to buy,” but paxt-āmun “to cook,” cint-āmun “to pick,” reθā-mun < reθā-āmun “to arrive,” ve-roθā-mun < ve-roθā-āmun “to rise, get up,” i-ništ-āmun “to sit”), and in some cases this formation is based on the present root: ve-gir-āmun “to pick up.”

The past participle consists of (preverb)/be- + past stem + after consonants (dar-kaft-é “fallen”), but the final of the stem merges with the of the participle to form : be- + reθā + é > be-reθá “arrived.” The present participle consists of (preverb) + pres. root + -andé: bar-andé “winning, winner.”

Tense markers. General comments. a) The present and imperfect are formed with a suffixed, unstressed -e, also called the durative marker (pres.: band-ún-e, band-í-e, “I hit, you hit,” etc.; imperf.: ārté-d-e “you used to bring,” še-nd-e “they used to go”). The suffix -e remains on the verb when Set2 is moved off past transitive verbs to the object, e.g., xorté-m-e “I used to eat” vs. nun-om xort-e “I used to eat bread,” engliθi-šun-am xunt-e “they used to study English, too” (for a fuller discussion of the suffixed -e and the formation of the durative tenses, see xxi. PROVINCIAL DIALECTS). b) The prefix bé- is used to form the IsfJ. subjunctive, optative, imperative, preterit and perfect tenses, but it is suppressed when either type of preverb accompanies the verb root (bé-gartā “he walked around,” but vé-gartā “he returned”; bí-š-gi “he caught, grabbed” but í-š-gi “he took”), or when the verb is in the negative (see above). It has four alternate forms, bé-, bí-, bú-, and b-, of which bé- is the most common: bé-m-ārt “I brought,” bé-brun “that I carry,” bé-rew “sweep!,” but bí-arzu “that it be worth,” b-ārun “that I bring.” The conditions for bú- are not totally clear: búvā “say!”; (Yarshater) bévāun “that I say,” but (Kalbāsi, Borjiān, Stilo) búvāun.

Person endings. As with all Central dialects and most Northwestern Iranian languages, IsfJ. makes a crucial distinction between intransitive and transitive conjugations in all past tenses (see Table 1 and Table 2). The intransitive forms in all tenses of the past system (preterit, imperfect, and the various perfects) are formed by placing the Set1 endings consistently after the past stem (preterit: i-níšd-own, imperfect: nišd-own-e, pres. perf.: i-nišdówn, past perf.: i-nišde-bo. The tenses of the transitive past system, however, differ from intransitive verbs in three important ways: a) all past transitive tenses are formed with Set2 endings rather than Set1; b) the Set2 endings come before the past stem in the preterit and the perfect tenses; c) the Set2 endings are much more mobile than Set1. Note the difference in the preterit conjugation of intransitive tej-/tejā “I ran, you ran, etc.” vs. transitive puš-/pušd “I put on, you put on, etc.” (Example 3).

The position of the Set2 endings of the past system is variable according to tense: (1) between the prefixed bé- (or the preverb) and the verb stem in the preterit, as we see with bé-m-pušd above, or (2) between the verb stem and the suffixed -e in the imperfect (pušdé-m-e “I would put on”). The position of Set2 endings seems to depend on the stress placement within the verb and will therefore differ not only according to tense but also according to affirmative versus negative forms due to different stress patterns; that is, they move to that syllable within the verb where the stress falls. The two types of crucial examples that show this phenomenon are those cases where the stress and Set2 endings follow the stem in the affirmative but precede the stem in the negative: a) (affirmative/negative) imperfect: pušdé-m-e/ná-m-pušd-e, and b) the forms of the “to want” (all tenses, see Modals below): (present) gú-m-e/ná-m-gu-e “I want/I don’t want,” (past) past: gumāˊ-m-e/ná-m-gumā “I wanted/I didn’t want.” Note that since bé- is always stressed, the stress pattern in other past transitive tenses does not change and the Set2 endings are consistently placed before the stem: Preterit: bé-m-pušd/ná-m-pušd, pres. perf.: bé-m-pušd-e/ná-m-pušd-e, past perf.: bé-m-pušd-e bu/ná-m-pušd-e bo. Stress is not a determining factor for intransitive verbs as we saw above since the position of Set1 is always constant.

Important points in the IsfJ. Set1 endings are: (1) the 1st sg. -un, ending in -n rather than -m, is common within Central dialects (Ardestāni, Meymaʾi -un; Gazi, Sedehi, Ḵᵛānsāri, Hamadāni Jewish [q.v.] -ān; Delijāni -on; Kermāni Jewish -in), but other Central dialects have a final -m (or no nasal); (2) the 2nd sg. -e changes to -i when followed by the durative marker -e: subjunctive bé-parθ-e “that you ask” but present parθ-i-e “you ask” (= ask-2sg-durative); (3) the 3rd sg. -u is typical of Ḵᵛānsāri, Gazi, Sedehi, Zefraʾi, Vānišāni, Ḵuri, (-o in Kermāni Jewish) and of several other, but not of all, Central dialects (note also Gōrāni -o~-u).

Fronting. As shown in the previous section, Set2 endings indicating the subject of transitive verbs are located in a different position in the preterit (be-m-xo “I ate”) than they are in the imperfect (xorté-m-e “I used to eat”). Set2 endings are actually quite mobile and the general (but optional) tendency is for Set2 to move forward in a sentence, hence the term “Fronting.” Fronting indicates that the Set2 person endings move off the verb in the various past tenses of transitives to a preceding word, often the direct object (but never to the subject): (preterit) bí-š-gi “he caught” > xurúθ-oš bí-gi “he caught the rooster”; (imperfect) xorté-m-e “I used to eat” > nāštāi-m-em xort-e “I used to eat my breakfast,” (present perfect) guθpand-omun né-gifte “we haven’t gotten a sheep.” As the above example (nāštāi-m-em) also shows, fronting of a Set2 ending to a word that already has a Set2 possessive marker is also possible (see also še-š-om baθ above), as opposed to other languages such as Hamadāni Jewish or Vafsi where this is not allowed.

As mentioned above, direct objects more commonly occur without -(r)ā in the past tenses than in the present tenses: mun-od θedā baθ “you called me.” The reason for the lack of -(r)ā in the past tenses is that fronting is the most common way of forming sentences with past transitive verbs and it seems that the fronting of Set2 to the object is incompatible with -(r)ā marking of the object: neθf-e xorāk-om bexorte-bo “I had eaten half of the food.” When the person ending of a past tense transitive verb remains with the verb or is fronted to any element other than the direct object, it is then completely permissible for the object to be marked by -(r)ā: (remaining on verb) xár-ā be-šun-bart “they took the donkey away,” rassi-ā piš-oš ve-m-vāte-bo “I had told him the truth”; (fronted to element other than direct object) pil-oš-ā še-š-om dā (= pil4-oš3-ā še56-om12) “I1 gave2 his3 money4 to5 him6.” Since fronting is always optional, there are very often alternate forms of a sentence with -(r)ā (and no fronting) and without -(r)ā (but with fronting): gorgā guθpandā-rā be-šun-xo ~ gorgā guθpandā-šun boxo "The wolves ate the sheep (pl.),” kudum keδe-rā xoc-aš be-š-sāxt? ~ kudum keδe-š xoc-aš be-sāxt? “which house did he himself build?” mun un-ā bi-m-di “I saw him” ~ mun un-om ne-di “I didn’t see him.” It should be noted that there are cases where -(r)ā does co-occur with the Set2 in the past tense (e.g., nāhār-om-ā be-š-ārt “he brought my lunch”), but the first Set2 (-om) in this sentence has a possessive function and the Set2 as subject (agent) marker () remains on the verb as in other examples above and thus no fronting occurs in this sentence.

Note also that there is a somewhat common phenomenon for the subject (agent) Set2 marker to be repeated both on the verb and fronted as well (with no meaning change): ongoθ-om-om bi-m-birint (= ongoθ4-om3-om1 bi-m1-birint2) “I1 cut2 my3 finger4,” in perhan-e qašang-ā eδ kuvāy-dun bi-d-irint “(from) where have you bought this beautiful shirt/dress?” The use of 2nd sg. (-d) and 2nd pl. (-dun) endings in the latter sentence may either be a slip of the tongue or may show the speaker’s ambivalence over how formally he/she should address the hearer.

Set2 may also move farther forward in the sentence over one or more words, a phenomenon that the present author calls “Distance Fronting”: ye bāq-ošun dewr-e un ziāretgā bé-sāte “they built a garden around that shrine,” θib-ā-šun eδ daraxt bicint “they picked the apples off the tree,” to-šun eδ keδe ki karte “they have kicked you out of the house,” píl-om ruδ eδene kam še-š da-bo “I had given her (too) little money on Friday.”

There is a strong tendency in IsfJ. for the Fronted Set2 marker to attach to the direct object, regardless of the position of the object in the clause, hence the occurrences of Distance Fronting mentioned above. This is only a strong tendency, however, and these endings do not obligatorily move to the object. They may also attach to various other words such as adverbs or prepositional phrases: ar-vaxt-om bedi “whenever I saw (him), ... ” mun-ā tu zahmat-oš xoθ “he threw me into trouble,” but the latter type is somewhat rare, and it is much more common for the Set2 endings to remain on the verb when no direct object is present: xód-oš bé-d-engāšt? “did you speak with him?” A fuller description of fronting is given under the entry on the Hamadāni Jewish dialect (see HAMADĀN ix) and a further discussion of the tendency of Set2 endings to attach to the direct object is also given under GAZI.

Notes on tenses, aspects, moods. (1) The usual imperative is built with bé-/preverbs and the bare root in the singular (the plural imperative and subjunctive are identical): béxuθ!/béxuθid “throw!” vár-māl!/vár-mālid “flee!” Another common imperative formation uses the 2nd singular ending (identical to the subjunctive; see also GAZI for this formation) and occurs with roots consisting of only one consonant and with all causatives: bé-š-e! “go!” é-d-e! “give!” bé-tāy-n-e! “chase!” bé-yuš-n-e! “boil (it)!” There are also irregular imperative formations: a) forms of “to be” (be1: b-i! “be!” be3: dar-b-i! “be!” and bé-b-i! “become!” [for the numbers of verbs, see below]), and b) built either on the imperative of “be” (for the numbers of “to be” verbs, see below): dār-b-i! “have!” δun-b-i! (usually realized as δúmbi) “know!” or on the 3rd pers. subjunctive of “be”: gu-d-bu! “want!” béšā-d-bu! “be able!” (see Modals for the formation of the latter two verbs). Also irregular is “come”: bu ki! “come out!” (= b-u, but present: y-un-e “I come”); (2) progressive forms are built with “have” as their auxiliary verb as in colloquial Persian (ye rubāy aδ dey dārt-oš še, ye xurúθ-oš bidi dāru dun var-cinúve “A fox was going out of a village (and) he saw a rooster was pecking at seeds”), but they seem to be encountered mostly from elicited sentences and not often in the actual texts, which shows the pattern may be a recent borrowing from Persian. (3) The optative (expressing wishes, used mostly for blessings and curses) occurs only in the 3rd singular and is formed with the optative marker , in which case the 3rd sg. -u is suppressed (examples from Yarshater): xeδā bé-š-keš-ā-Ø “may God kill him,” xeδā ʿomr-ot še t-ā-Ø “may God give you (long) life.” Other persons of the optative are expressed with the subjunctive: (Yarshater) elāhi bémberun, elāhi bémbere, but elāhi bémberā “God, may I, you, he die!” Note that in purely subjunctive uses, the 3rd sg. -u remains: gumā-š-e be-mber-u “he was about to (lit: wanted to) die.”

To be. IsfJ. has three “to be” verbs (see Table 3): be1, the usual copula, is identical to the Set1 endings on verbs (see Table 1), but it never takes stress: mun dozd-un “I am a thief,” xab-un “I am good,” to mariδ-e “you are sick,” in aθm-e eθbed-u “this is a white horse,” kār cetowr-u? “how is work?” negative: vaδ now “it isn’t bad.” Be2, eθθu, used for existence, emphasis and sometimes location, is probably the Iranian root “to stand” having merged with the alternate copula root hast- of other Iranian languages: cerā guše divār eθθu “the light is in the corner of the wall.” Be3, der-u, is used to express location (yun der-un “I am here,” ali kuvā der-u? “where is Ali?” pil-omun piš-e mardom der-u “our money is with (other) people,” ar sāl vis ru der-end “every year they are (there, here, with us, etc.) for twenty days,” keδe der-bun/ne-der-bun “I was/wasn’t at home,” be-fékr-e θebā né-dar-boend “they weren’t in thoughts of tomorrow.” Be1 may also assume the functions of be2 and be3, e.g., existence (jir-e un ku ye cešme-u ge . . . “there is a spring at the foot of that mountain that ‚Ķ,”) and location (pošd-e kuy-u “it is behind the mountain”).

Become (see Table 4) is built with the forms of “to be1” (except for the present tense which has its own root, b-, also derived from “to be”) plus the tense-aspect markers -e and bé-: pres. δi-δi xaθθe b-í-e “you get tired very quickly,” ma:lum b-ú-e “it will be (become) clear,” bele bé-bo-y “you got big! (i.e., you grew up!),” pāre bé-bd-e “it has become torn,” bihuš bé-bd-e bo-wn “I had become unconscious” (see also Passive below).

Modals. “Want” and “can” are indirect (or dative) verbs, signifying “it is wanting/possible to me,” in which the person is expressed with Set2 endings. Tenses other than the present take the 3rd person of “to be” as an auxiliary (see Imperative above): “can” (pres.: béšā-m/néšā-m, béšā-d, béšā-š, etc.; past: béšā-m-bo/néšā-m-bo, béšā-d-bo, etc.): béšāš béxunu “she can read,” néšām xód-e šemā bešun “I can’t go with you,” kāški béšām-bo ye kāri berā-š békerun “I wish I could do something for him,” néšām-bo bíun “I wasn’t able to come”; “want” (pres.: gu-m-e/ná-m-gue, gu-d-e, gu-š-e, etc.; past: gumā-m-e/na-m-gumā, gumā-d-e, etc.): gu-m-e xód-ot béngārun “I want to speak with you,” gumā-š-e be-mber-u “he wanted to die.” “Must” is an impersonal, invariable past form of “want” (gumā-bo) with no Set2 endings and is used in both present and past senses (gumā-bo de timān é-tun “I must give 10 tomans”). zun/zunā “to know” also has the meaning “can”: zunā-m é-t-un “I was able to give.”

Causatives and passives. The causative marker is -(e)n/(e)nā added to the present root of the non-causative: kelāš-/kelāšn- “itch/scratch,” bíyušā “it boiled (intrans.)” > bišyušnā “he boiled (trans.),” gumāše mún-ā bétarsenu “she wanted to scare me,” béθuδu “let it burn” > béθunne “burn (it)! (trans.),” bémθunnā “I burned (it),” m-ofne “don’t put (him) to sleep!” (The latter form seems to be an exception, built on the past stem.) The passive is formed analytically as in Persian with the past participle and “to become” (see Table 4): bar bas(t)e-buve “the door closes,” in lebāθ xab dašte nebue “these clothes will not be sewn well,” qand-eš emarté nebue “the sugar won’t break,”pādāši bay-aš dā-bebo “a reward was given to him.”



Roubène Abrahamian, Dialectes des Israélites de Hamadan et d’Isphahan et dialecte de Baba Tahir, Paris, 1936.

Harold W. Bailey “Modern Western Iranian: Infinitives in Gazī and Soī,” TPS, 1935, pp. 73-74.

Ḥabib Borjiān, Ganjina-ye guyešhā-ye Eṣfahān, Farhangestān-e zabān o adab-e fārsi series, forthcoming. Irān Kalbāsi, Fārsi-e eṣfahāni, Tehran, 1991.

Idem, Guyeš-e Kalimiān-e Eṣfahān, Tehran, 1994.

Pierre Lecoq, “Les dialectes du centre de l’Iran,” in Rüdiger Schmitt, ed., Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden, 1989, pp. 313-26.

David Neil MacKenzie, “Jewish Persian from Isfahan,” JRAS, 1968, pp. 68-75.

Manfred Mayrhofer, “Vorgeschichte der iranischen Sprachen; Uriranisch,” in Rüdiger Schmitt, ed., Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden, 1989, pp. 4-24.

Rüdiger Schmitt, “Die altiranischen Sprachen im Überblick,” ibid., pp. 25-31.

Lidia P. Smirnova, Isfaxanskiĭ govor, Nauka, Moscow, 1978.

A. Sohrābi-Anāraki, Vāža-nāma-ye Anāraki, Mashhad, 1994.

Donald Stilo, unpublished field notes collected in Isfahan, 1964.

Ehsan Yarshater, unpublished field notes collected in Isfahan, 1970, kindly provided to the author.

Valentin A. Zhukovskiĭ, Materialy dlya izucheniya persidskikh narechiĭ, Petrograd, 1888-1922, II; repr. as Materials for the Study of Iranian Dialects, 3 vols. in 1, Tehran, 1976.

(Donald Stilo)

Originally Published: December 15, 2007

Last Updated: April 5, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 1, pp. 77-84