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The self-designation is the yagnobi and their language yagnobi zivok. In academic literature the Yaghnabi language has often been called New-Sogdian and generically it belongs to the eastern group of the Iranian languages in the Indo-European family of languages. The Tadzhiks living on the upper reaches of the River Yaghnob have always distinguished between themselves and the Yaghnabis, whom they derisively call galcha. A Russian orientalist A. Kun who visited the Yaghnob valley in 1870, was probably the first European to notice that a different language was spoken there. Two more Europeans, R. Gauthiot and H. Junker, travelled to the Yaghnob valley in 1913. The first recorded mention of the Yaghnabi language was in the 1870s.

Habitat. The Yaghnabis inhabit high mountains. They live in 22 villages on the banks of the River Yaghnob, in the middle of Tadzhikistan, and on the upper reaches of the River Zheravshan. The Yaghnob valley is considered to be the most impassable area in the region. The lower villages are situated at about 2,500 metres above the sea level. The Yaghnabi habitat is surrounded by high mountain ranges to the north and south, and it is as a result of this geographical isolation that this small ethnic group has survived to the present day. In the 16th and 17th centuries a part of the Yaghnabis moved to valley of the River Varzob where they still live in five villages. A number of Yaghnabi families also live in the valley of the River Harangon. Administratively the people of the Yaghnob valley form one community, with the centre in Dumzoi which belongs to the Ain District. It is recorded that in the second half of the last century the Yaghnabis had to move southward because of the shortage of land. By the end of the 1920s a part of them had become Tadzhik speakers. According to the observations of M. Andreyev in the villages (total number ab. 20) in the middle of the Yaghnob valley, the Yaghnabi language was still being spoken at the end of the 1920s. In the four uppermost villages and in the two lowest people spoke Tadzhik. Even then the Yaghnabi-Tadzhik mixed language was used in Pskon (Piskon): Tadzhik was used in prayers, and in rituals.

Population. According to the data of the 1926 census, the number of Yaghnabis was 1,800 and the number remained the same in 1939. Estimates made by M. Bogolyubov in 1966 give the number of Yaghnabi native speakers as more than 2,000; in 1952 there were about 1,794 people in the Yaghnob valley, and about 900 elsewhere. According to A. Khromov, in 1972 the situation was as follows: 1,509 native speakers in the Yaghnob valley and about 900 elsewhere.

Language. The origins of the Yaghnabi language are obscure. When old texts in Sogdian were found in East-Turkestan at the beginning of this century, it became evident that the Yaghnabi language has its origins in the ancient Sogdian language, belonging to the Iranian group of Indo-European languages. There are different dialects in the Yaghnabi language, mainly connected with the peculiarities of their habitation (a classification by M. Andreyev): 1. language of the villages on the shady side of the Yaghnob valley; 2. the language of the villages on the sunny side of the Yaghnob valley; 3. the language of the villages in the upper part of the river valley (in 1957 there were only two villages, De-Baland and Piskon); 4. the language of the villages situated on the banks of the left tributary of the Yaghnob River.

In academic literature eastern and western dialects of the Yaghnabi language are those commonly encountered, but different researchers do not agree where the dividing line lies. All speakers of the Yaghnabi language are bilingual, speaking Tadzhik as well. According to a description by N. Malitsky of the linguistic situation in the 1920s, Yaghnabi-Tadzhik bilingualism was universal among men (there were many men who spoke Uzbek too), and a small part of women and children spoke only one language. As late as the 17th century the Sogdian language, of which the Yaghnabi language is a continuation, was widely spoken in the Zeravshan and Kashkadarya valleys, in Usrushan (an area between Samarkand and Hodzhent) and in the Fergana valley. After that Sogdian gradually retreated under pressure from the Tadzhik languages. It has survived as the language of a small ethnic group, the Yaghnabis, in a marginal mountain area in the upper part of the Zeravshan valley, and in the Fandarya and Yaghnob valleys. One of the reasons for the survival of the Yaghnabi language is reputedly the relatively late Islamization of the Yaghnabis. The Yaghnabis were forced to become the Muslims, if a saying by Tadzhiks can be believed: "The Yaghnabis have been converted to Islam with an axe." Even at the end of the 1920s the Yaghnabis remained proud of their identity and their language, despite the fact that they were despised and derided by their Tadzhik neighbours. Almost all the people were illiterate, only few of them could read, fewer still could write (in Tadzhik). In Kans the older generation spoke Yaghnabi while the young had begun to use Tadzhik. The inhabitants of the Bidif village spoke reasonably good Tadzhik. M. Andreyev explains this by stating that the village is situated near the Dargi Pass, through which most of the movement to the Yaghnob valley takes place. The Tadzhik language was also learnt through migrant work which was particularly popular with the people from the shady side of the mountains, where there was a shortage of arable land. In lean years people left in great numbers, to escape hunger by moving to the plains. During the Soviet years cotton raising was begun on the plains of Turkestan and Bukhara, and poorer people came from the mountains to earn some money on cotton fields. The Tadzhik language was least spoken in the Kul and Saken villages. The Yaghnabis who had migrated to the Vandzh valley, had adopted the Tadzhik language by the end of the 1920s, because the "language of grandfathers was no good."

The relations between the Tadzhiks and the Yaghnabis have for centuries been those between the conqueror and the conquered. Researchers have noted the disdainful attitude of the Tadzhiks towards the Yaghnabis. In earlier times the Yaghnabis used a "secret" language which made it impossible for the Tadzhiks to understand them. Now, as the Yaghnabis have become more alike Tadzhik in their culture and language, this "secret" language is losing its importance.

The Tadzhik influence on the Yaghnabi language has not been limited purely to vocabulary (more than a half of the vocabulary is of Tadzhik origin and later loans have retained their Tadzhik word form), but is also apparent in syntax and, even to some extent, in the morphology (some grammatical characteristics of the Tadzhik language have entered the Yaghnabi language). The Tadzhik influence became especially intense during the Soviet period: social life was reorganized, children had to attend Tadzhik schools and more and more people left home to go to Dushanbe and the settlements in the Gissar (Hissar) valley, where they lived together with the Tadzhiks, Russians and Uzbeks. Only rarely did they return to the Yaghnob valley. The influence of the Russian language on Yaghnabi and, to a smaller extent, the influence of Turkic languages, was exercised through Tadzhik. Uzbek and Kirgiz loans have come into the Yaghnabi language through the language of herdsmen. When speaking, the Yaghnabis often switch from their native language to Russian, but A. Khromov has observed that their speech becomes slower, which might indicate that they are not fluent in Tadzhik.

History. The Yaghnabi area was first mentioned (as Ignaou, Yagnaou) by Georg von Meyendorff who travelled with the Russian embassy to Bukhara in 1820. He called the people living there the Galcha. As far as it is known, the history of the Yaghnabis is a history of successive defeats, they have repeatedly suffered conquests at the hands of some stronger neighbours. According to oral records, for some time the Yaghnabis were under the power of Darvaz. At the beginning of the 19th century the Yaghnabis were included in the Bukhara Emirate. The Yaghnabi local rulers (beks) were ethnic Tadzhiks.

Ethnic culture. Due to geographical isolation, the intellectual and material culture of the Yaghnabis have maintained some very interesting old forms. The Yaghnabis are mostly farmers, despite there being a shortage of land in their region. On the right bank of the river, exposed to the sun, arable land is scarce, while on the left bank, in the shadow of the mountains, there is more arable land, but not enough light or warmth. The villages on the upper reaches of the Yaghnob River are surrounded by good pastures, but these areas are occupied by the Tadzhiks. Among the crops grown by the Yaghnabis are barley, wheat and peas. The growing season is short.

The Yaghnabi villages are small, for houses have to be situated near irrigated fields. New crops have to be fertilized, and it is difficult to carry the manure from far away. As there are no woods in the Yaghnabi area, they build stone houses clustered together. Flat roofs are used as courtyards, where people work or loiter, send off their dead and meet their neighbours. Certain jobs are specific to the sexes, for instance, fields are irrigated only by men, while animals in the summer pastures are taken care of by women. In winter large groups of men (25--100) go hunting. The game they hope for is wild goat. Fruit and vegetables do not grow in the Yaghnob valley, they are brought from elsewhere. The Yaghnabis purchase wheat in the Gissar valley (Dushanbe).

The Yaghnabis do not have their own written language. However, it is known (M. Kordeyev's observations in the 1920s) that the Yaghnabi mullahs sometimes made notes in the Yaghnabi language (using the Arabic script), so that the Tadzhik could not understand them.

Philologists began to take an interest in the Yaghnabi language at the beginning of this century when old Sogdi texts were found in Chinese Turkestan, and it was ascertained that the Yaghnabi language was one of the dialects of the Sogdian language. Nevertheless, extremely few Yaghnabi texts have been published.


  1. М. С. Андреев, Материалы по этнографии Ягноба (записи 1927--1928 гг.), Душанбе 1970
  2. М. С. Андреев, Е. М. Пещерева, Ягнобские тексты с приложением ягнобско-русского словаря, Москва -- Ленинград 1957
  3. М. Н. Боголюбов, Ягнобский (новосогдийский) язык. Исследование и материалы. Автореферат на соискание ученой степени доктора филологических наук, Ленинград 1956
  4. С. И. Климчицкий, Ягнобы и их язык. -- Труды Таджикистанской базы АН СССР. Т. IХ, Москва -- Ленинград 1940
  5. С. И. Климчицкий, Секретный язык у ягнобцев и язгулемцев. -- Труды Таджикистанской базы АН СССР. Т. IХ, Москва -- Ленинград 1940
  6. Н. Г. Маллицкий, Ягнобцы. -- Известия Туркестанского отдела Русского географического общества ХVIII, Ташкент 1973
  7. А. Л. Хромов, Ягнобский язык, Москва 1972


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