KULĀBI DIALECT, a distinct variant of Tajik spoken in Kulāb and adjoining districts.

The Tajik dialects spoken in Kulāb are grouped with those of Qarātegin, a district on the middle course of the Vaḵš river, and the Ḥeṣār valley as Southern Tajik (Rastorgueva, 1960), characterized as having been far less influenced by Uzbek, both in phonology and morphology, than are Northern Tajik dialects. The Kulābi varieties are classified into the following subgroups.  (1) Northern Kulābi, spoken in the upper and middle Yāḵsu and Qezelsu, downstream to the confluence of the two rivers; (2) Western Kulābi, dominant on the left bank of the Vaḵš river, from Baljovān in the north to Sangtōda in the south (in Danḡara District); (3) The Kulābi of Ḥeṣār, spoken by the immigrant communities along the rivers Vaḵš (Fayżābād, Nārak [Nurek], and Yāvān), Kāfernehān, and Varzāb; (4) Southern Kulābi, indigenous to the south of Kulāb Province (Atobulloev, IV, p. 220; Nemenova, 1956, pp. 66-77).  The dialect of Ḵāvaling, in a remote high valley of the Āb-e Mazār, northeast of Kulāb Province, is well documented by Roza L. Nemenova, and there is a wealth of orally transmitted literature from northern Kulāb, most notably the Guruḡli stories (see Köroğlu), of which several volumes have been published. Salient traits distinguishing Kulābi from standard Tajik (henceforth Taj.) are briefly discussed below. The data are from Nemenova, Atobulloev, and the author’s documentation in 2007 and 2012.

Phonology.  The vocalic system of Kulābi consists of three stable vowels /e o u/, which do not vary in quality even when unstressed, and three unstable vowels /a i ı/, which may vary in quality when unstressed.  The vowel /ı/ may be described as close back unrounded [ɯ]; it reduces in duration when unstressed.  Minimal pairs are bur “chalk; white” ≠ bır- “cut” ≠ bor “load”; ser “satiated” ≠ sir “secret” ≠ sır “track; roof purlin.”

Diachronically, Kulābi has rounded the original Persian ā to /o/ and still holds on to the front majhul ē, as /e/, but, contrary to standard Tajik, Kulābi has absorbed the back majhul ō into /u/.  Northern and Western Kulābi have raised the prenasal ā to /u/ (e.g., nun “bread,” xuna “house,” dumod “son-in-law”), a very peculiar development for Central Asian (eastern) Persian, although it prevails in the western Iranian Plateau, not only in colloquial Persian of Iran but also in Lori, Mazandarani, and Central Plateau Dialects, among others. The sound /ı/ originates chiefly from the Classical Persian u/ū, which also yields Kulābi /u/; examples are “two,” gıl, “flower,” bız “goat,” dıxtar “daughter,” kırta “shirt,” lıvik “little finger,” dıst “hand,” xısır “husband’s father,” xıdım “myself,” mékına “he does.” 

Characteristic consonants are the pharyngeal stop /ʿ/ and fricative /ḥ/, occurring mostly in words of Arabic origin, for example, ʿayb “flaw,” ʿalaf  “fodder,” baʿd “after,” šiʿla “flame,” daʿvo “claim,” mıʿalim “teacher”; ḥozir “now,” ḥauli “house,” ḥıkımat “wisdom,” soḥib “owner,” and proper names, such as Raḥim.  The pharyngeals also occur, un-etymologically, in a few native words: ʿasp “horse,” ʿımed “hope”; ḥamsoya “neighbor,” ḥınar “art.”  Interestingly, the pharyngealized form for “horse” occurs far and wide within the Iranian linguistic domain, as ʿasb in the Lori of Šuštar (Vaziri, p. 15; cf. DEZFUL ii. Dezfuli and Šuštari Dialects), Ḵᵛānsāri (Tasbiḥi, p. 115; see also ḴˇĀNSĀR), and Caucasian Tāt (Authier, p. 235).

Kulābi tends to elide consonants. Initial /h/ shows considerable instability: (h)amra “companion,” (h)ezum “firewood,” amóli (< hamin ḥālā) “right now,” toli (< tā ḥālā) “by now,” memun “guest”; syllable-final /h/ resurfaces when the word is suffixed, for example, /nıhım “nine/ninth.”  In Southern Kulābi /h/ is lost entirely, and the initial /y/ is dropped usually, as in od “memory,” oft “he found.”  Lenition of the original Persian b to /w/ occurs in intervocalic and final positions: tawar “axe,” zıwun “tongue,” sew “apple.”  Contraction due to the loss of /d/ and final /n/, /r/, and /s/ is characteristic in Kulābi; examples are akı (< aknun) “now,” íqa (< in-qad(a)r) “this/so much,” ita(ri) (< in-ṭawr(i)) “this way, such”), bézi, bez-ay (< ba ḡayr az) “other than, except for,” ka(d)es(t)ay/kistay (< karda istoda ast) “he is doing.”  Omitting is allowed as far as it creates no ambiguity.

Adpositions and enclitics.  The postposition -(r)a (< -rā) is multifunctional. (1) It marks the direct object: gov-ıt-a fıruš “Sell your cow!”  (2) It supplements the prepositions ba(y) “with” and ay “from” to mark the indirect object: ami bınga ba tiramo-ra soz mekınem “We’ll fix this very roof in autumn”; dar-a maḥkam kı, murdem ay xınıki-ra! “Close the door firmly, we would die from cold!” (3) It is used as attributive passive in lieu of the eżāfa marker, an Uzbek Turkic construction: duxtar-a dast- (lit. “of-girl her-hand”) “the girl’s hand,” Savzamo-ra šu-š bısyor mardak-i xub bıday “Sabzamāh’s husband is (known as) a very good man.”

The polysemous da (seldom dar) “in, at” functions as both preposition and postposition. It may signify direction: Usto Šarif čuv-a ovard dar zımin partoft-ıš “Cobbler Šarif brought the stick and threw it on the ground”; place: mı bıyom zan-ım xuna-i oča-š-da “I’ll come [with] my wife to her mother’s house”; orientation: amu-ra Mošarif-da bıte-š “Give the very same one to Māhšarif”; duration: pórina maylis-a se soʿat-da tamom kardem “Last year we ended the meeting in three hours.”  The preposition forms a circumposition with ay “from; than” in comparative compounds: ma ay tı-da kalun “I (am) senior to you” (note optional omission of the copula).  As an adverbial enclitic -da implies emotion or emphasis: bıra-da bırem! (= colloquial Pers. de-boro berim!) “Come on, let’s get going”; inja mun-ıš-da bıšuy-aš “Just leave it here, she’d wash it.”

Other frequent postpositions are qatí “with” (equaling Taj. káti; Perry, p. 91), as in qati-m jang kardáy “He has fought along with me”; and the peculiar -wori “like, resembling; as if,” analogous to standard Tajik -barin (Perry, p. 101): u ma-wori sınf-i čorum mexona “Like me, he studies at the fourth grade”; ʿımr-i odam ʿasp-i davand-wori raftá istodás “Man’s life is passing by like a galloping horse.”

The particles ku and ala imply enticement or allurement, for example, ku ma bıza! “Come on, let’s play [it]!”; hadaha kıni ala! “Come on, hurry up!”  As enclitic, ku is used to express righteous indignation or desperate hope: hozir meoyad-ku! “He had better come soon.”  The interrogative enclitic -, having been borrowed from Uzbek into most Tajik dialects (cf. Perry, p. 294), play little role in Kulābi proper, though the Kulābi immigrants in Ḥeṣār have adopted it as a common yes–no question marker: xud-ıš marḡeloní-mı? “Is he a Marḡēlāni?” 

Personal pronouns.  There are two sets of them: freestanding singular /ma,/tu, u, plural mo, šımo, uho/uvo; and enclitic singular -m, -t, -š, plural -mun, -tun, -šun, with the infix -ı- when attached to consonants. 

Verbs.  The double causative, frequently used, is formed by inserting -orun- after the present stem of the verb.  This peculiar formant can be explained diachronically as a doubling of the causative formant -on-/-un- (< -ān-) and rhotacism of the nasal of the first element: xand-or-un-d-an (< *xand-ān-ān-id-an) “to make laugh,” xezorundan “to cause [someone] to stand up,” aftorundan “to make fall,” kučurundan “to migrate.”

Personal suffixes are singular -ım/-am, -i, -a, plural -em, -en, -an.  The third person singular ending is zero in the preterit and -as/-ay (< ast) in the present perfect; examples: méra, mérav-a “He will go,” raft-ø “He went,” raft-áy/ás “He has gone.” Major prefixes are the imperfective -/me- and perfective/subjunctive -, for example, mımbıren “You (will) die,” bımbıren “that you die.”  In Northern and Western Kulābi, both prefixes may coexist to produce a modal shade: na-me--šin-i? “Won’t you sit?”; me-bi-gu-m-šun, mexandan “Should I tell them, they will laugh.”

Periphrastic forms are analogous to standard Tajik even if contracted forms often conceal the underlying construction.  The progressive aspect is constructed using conjugated forms “stand” as an auxiliary and the past participle of the main verb: raftá istodáy/istodás “He is going,” raftá istahá/istodá bıd “He was going.”  The inferential mood, used to report a non-witnessed event without confirming it, is the norm in Northern and Western Kulābi; examples: (imperfective) méraftay/s “He is (evidently) going, used to go, will be going”; (pluperfect) raftá bestam/bıdástay “I/he (evidently) had gone.”

The past participle form in -gī, used in the perfect and the conjectural mood in standard Tajik, has rather low frequency in Kulābi.  The future participle connotes intention, as in gırım šıdım (= Taj. giriftanī šudam) “I wanted to seize/receive [it].” 

Syntax.  To integrate quotations into the narrator’s speech, the verb “to say” or “to ask” may follow the speech string or may be inserted after an introductory or explanatory phrase.  Examples: “dar-m-a huy bumoni, guft, “agar, metimut xela tanga-vu zar” (Gūrūḡlī, 1962, p. 42) “‘Should you open the door to me’,” he said, ‘I’ll give you plenty of money and gold’”; Bobo Qambar galavon ki did, “či meguy,” gufta, “dodar?” pursid (idem, p. 39) “When Bobo Qambar the herder saw [it], ‘what do you say, brother,’ he asked”; ay kuza sado omadas: “ey kambaḡal,” guftas, “šımo iqa diqqat našaven, …” “from the jar (supposedly) came out a voice: ‘O poor man,’ it would say, ‘Don’t be so curious!’” (Nemenova, 1956, p. 145). 

This type of construction is found also in standard Tajik and is characterized by John Perry as “Turkic-style” (Perry, p. 322). Nevertheless, it is common not only in Kulabi, which shows little Turkic influence in comparison with northern Tajik dialects, but also to the south and east of Kulāb in the neighboring Iranian languages of the Pamirs and Hindu Kush, which have remained in relative isolation for centuries. Examples: Yidgha: Žiŋkiko xalās šui, naγɛn xuṛɛt. “Šābaš,” žiŋkiki ištyō, “šābaš, wo mən xalās kəṛet [...]”  “The woman got rid of them, and they ate the food. ‘Well done,’ said the woman. ‘Well done. You have rid me of them’” (Morgenstierne, 1938, p. 177, §§112-13).  Munji: “yo ilóyi!” — ṣ̌ta, — “ma šti fә́rmi?” = “‘O God,’ he said, ‘what could it be?’” (Gryunberg, p. 103, §8).  Sarikoli: Armыtík mas yot xы, a-rápc-i wáδ: a, žeδ rapc, — -i levd, — šič waz a-tá na zonam-o!” “Armytik came and grabbed the fox: ‘O thief fox,’ he said, ‘this time I won’t kill you’” (Pakhalina, 1966, p. 91, §2).

Lexicon.  Kulābi is particularly distinctive in its verb inventory.  Many Kulābi verb stems do not have parallels in either standard Tajik or Persian, while some verbs are deceptive.  Examples: bondan (Taj. mondan) “to put; leave”; bonidan “to look after, fatten up”; čalundan “to mix”; čangidan “to scratch”; čapidan “to plaster, smear”; čıptidan “to slide, slip, glide”; čokidan “to smoke”; dırušidan “to scrape”; ʿeqidan “to wither”; fıčidan/fıjidan “to suck, drink”; fır(u)madan (Taj. faromadan, foromadan) “to come down, get off, decrease”; fırıkidan “to peel off (e.g., a dried blister)”; fırovardan “to bring down”; foristan, for- (Taj. foridan) “to like, delight, be agreeable”; ḡılıqidan “to sob”; jogidan “to bark, cry”; kalofondan “to carry out”; kalowidan “to totter, rock”; kılıxidan “to cough lightly and continuously”; kırojidan/kırejidan “to cluck (the noise that a hen makes)”; kovondan “to snare (someone) into disclosing a secret” (Pers. zir-e zabān-e kas-i-rā kašidan); laqidan “to lap up, take up with the tongue”; lawidan “to plaster, coat”; lımbidan “to collapse; beat up”; lıqidan (Taj. laqqidan) “to skid”; lıšpondan “to make slip or glide”; lutidan “to struggle, flounder about”; šilambidan “to collapse, implode”; šıko(yi)dan, šıkoy- “to open; spread; šınundan “to seat”; vardan, var- “to bring”; varmosidan “to swell, bulge”; vınjidan “to (tr.) crumple”; vırejidan “to (intr.) wrinkle, whither, crumple, buckle”; vızırımbidan “to blister, swell”; xambidanxambundan “to come down, get off or down, dismount”; xelidan “to pound; rub”; zaxidan “to cough”; zgaštan, zgar- “to pass.”

Sample text and translation. Excerpt from a Guruḡli performance by Qorbān-ʿAli Rajab, from Sar-e Ḵāsār in northern Kulāb province (Gūrūḡlī, 1962, p. 367):

dar in davra, e pir-u barno,
doston kunum, hamat guš bundo.
tu bušnav, e bobo-y pirum,
sifat-a ay Čambul megirum.
yag pugoy ruz-ay dam-i suhar,
xuršed-i olam bud munavvar.
dar gurdi Čambul, e birodar,
šukuftay sebargaho-i tar.
pansad gul har guruh yagdigar,
dar juyho-y gul hay haštod duxtar.
salomči xambiday peš-i mo,
čil durman xambidu Ahmad bo,
Avaz ham xambid kokul-tillo,
ru-i taxt šišt Soqi Bobo.
hama yoro šištan bar ba bar,
dustarxon davidak dar suhar.
ba’d ay xurdan-i nun-u ham ob,
ba’d ay xurdan-i ham six-kavob,
sulton Soqi-ra kardak nigo…

In this era, O the young and old,
I relate a story, you listen all.
You listen, O my old grandpa.
I begin my account from [the city of] Čambul.
Early in the morning near dawn,
the sun of the universe was in shine.
Around Čambul, O brother,
has bloomed fresh groundcover.
Five hundred rose[faced] in assortments
in the flower streams are eighty girls.
The seneschal came down to us;
forty leagues he came together with Ahmad.
Avaz the golden locks came down as well;
sitting on the throne was Sāqi Bābā.
All friends sat side by side;
they spread the tablecloth at dawn.
Having had bread and water too,
having eaten kebab on skewers,
the sultan looked at Sāqi…


Subhon Atobulloev, Ševai janubii zaboni tojikī (Southern variety of the Tajik language], 5 vols., Dushanbe, 1979-84.

Gilles Authier, Grammaire juhuri, ou judéo-tat, langue iranienne des Juifs du Caucase de l’est, Wiesbaden, 2012.

V. A. Efimov, V. S. Rastorgueva, and E. I. Sharova, “Persidskiĭ, Tadzhikskiĭ, Dari,” (Persian, Tajik, Dari), in Osnovy iranskogo yazykoznaniya. Novoiranskie yazyki: Zapadnaya gruppa, prikaspiĭskie yazyki, Moscow, 1982, pp. 5-230. 

A. L. Gryunberg, Yazyki Vostochnogo Gindukusha: Mundzhanskiĭ yazyk; teksty, slovarʹ, grammaticheskiĭ ocherk, Leningrad, 1972.

Gūrūḡli (Guruḡli repertories by various bards), Stalinabad and Leningrad, 1941; Dushanbe, 1942; Dushanbe, 1962-63; Moscow, 1987. 

G. Morgenstierne, Indo-Iranian Frontier Languages II, Oslo, 1938.

Roza L. Nemenova, “Nekotorye osobennosti bal’dzhuanskikh govorov tadzhikskogo yazyka” (Some peculiarities of the Baljovāni dialect of the Tajik language), Izvestiya Akademii nauk Tadzhiskoǐ SSR: Otdeleniya obshchestvennykh nauk, ser. 5, 1954. 

Idem, Kulyabskie govory: Tadzhikskogo yazyka (severnaya gruppa) (Dialect of Kulāb: The Tajik language [southern group]), Stalinabad, 1956. 

T. N. Pakhalina, Sarykol’skiĭ yazyk, Moscow, 1966.

John Perry, A Tajik Persian Reference Grammar, Leiden, 2005. 

Vera Sergeevna Rastorgueva, Opyt klassifikatsii tadzhikskikh govorov (Tentative classification of the Tajik dialects), Moscow, 1960. 

Idem, Opyt sravnitel’nogo izucheniya tadzhikskikh govorov (Tentative comparative study of the Tajik dialects), Moscow, 1964.

Moḥammad Ḥosayn Tasbiḥi, Guyeš-e ḵvānsāri, Rawalpindi, 1975.

ʿAbdallāh Vaziri, Fārsi-e šuštari, Ahvāz, 1985.

(Habib Borjian)

Originally Published: September 11, 2014

Last Updated: September 11, 2015

Cite this entry:

Habib Borjian, "KULĀBI DIALECT," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2014, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/kulabi-dialect (accessed on 11 September 2014).