Tribes and Dialects
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Habitat. The majority of the Ishkashmis live in the Pamirs on the upper reaches of the River Pyandzh, and on the left bank of the same river, in the Province of Badakhshan, in North Afghanistan (their number varies from 1,500 to 2,000, according to the data consulted). There is only one Ishkashmi village (qishlaq) on the territory of the former Soviet Union, which is Ryn in the Ishkashmi District of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region of Tadzhikistan (the biggest village -- Nyut, marked as Ishkashim on the maps). The village is situated on the right bank of the River Pyandzh where it turns sharply from the west to the north. Due to a forced resettlement in the 1950s, some families live in Tadzhik villages (Nyut, Sumdzhin, Mulvodz and others), and in a Wakh village, Namatgut.
The information about native speakers has been collected through on-site linguistic study. The place-names indicate that in many locations where the Tadzhik language is used at present, in former times Ishkashmi was spoken. According to the oral records of the Ishkashmi, the valley of Abharvdara (the right bank of the Pyandzh) was once predominantly Ishkashmi. The Ishkashmis also lived in the valley of Dara-i-Abharv, from where they were driven out by the Shughni of Shahdar.
Population. Ishkashmis number about 400 in Ryn and the total number in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region is around 500.
Language. The Ishkashmi language belongs to the Pamir southern group of the Iranian group of the Indo-European family of languages. Different dialects have been recorded: Ishkashmi proper, Zebak and Sanglechi. The latter two are spoken in Afghanistan. The Tadzhik influence on the speakers of Ishkashmi proper is very strong. Ishkashmi is still commonly used as a language for everyday communication. Schools, official communications, publications and broadcasting programmes are in Tadzhik. All the Ishkashmis, except young children, speak Tadzhik, and it is also used in communicating with the neighbouring Wakhis and Shughnis. According to T. Pakhalina. Ishkashmi is surviving, although its sphere of use is narrowing.
The first data on the Ishkashmi language was published by R. Shaw in his well-known work "On the Ghalchah Languages (Wakhi and Sarikoli)" (Journal of the Asiatic Society, vol. XIV, 1876). A systematic research of the language is relatively recent (1920s).
Writing. Like the other small nations in the Pamirs, the Ishkashmi have no written language, and for this purpose Tadzhik is used. There has been little research on the Ishkashmi language. The material by R. Shaw has been collected in the area of the Sanglichi dialect. For a long time this was the only information which European philologists had at their disposal. In 1914 R. Gauthiot happened to write down some Ishkashmi words heard from a chance passer-by. After the death of the linguist these were published. The first text in Ishkashmi was published only in 1920.