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Saving Gabri
Planning research on the language of Yaz's Zoroastrians (Dari)

By Annahita Farudi &
Maziar Toosarvandani
January 21, 2003
The Iranian

We are Iranian-American linguistics students in our fourth year of undergraduate study at the University of Virginia. Under the guidance of Dr. Lise Dobrin, we are currently engaged in an independent research project, in which we are analyzing the grammar of Modern Standard Farsi (Tehrani dialect) by relating it to past and contemporary linguistic theory. While we find this investigation fascinating in its own right, we also feel that it is providing impetus for the pursuit of our own personal interests in the field of Persian linguistics. We have a great interest in studying Iran's many and varied languages and dialects, especially those least studied and most endangered. Specifically, we are interested in the Gabri language (referred to as Dari by native speakers) of the Zoroastrian community of Yazd.

Dari is among Iran's most immediately imperiled languages. In 1999, there were an estimated 8,000 speakers. However, that number will likely decrease rapidly in coming generations, as personal and anecdotal evidence suggests that parents are speaking to their children in Standard Farsi rather than Dari, thereby halting children's first-language acquisition of the latter and impeding its transmission from generation to generation. Indeed, of the country's less the one percent Zoroastrian population, only a small percent speaks Dari. Like most of Iran's other regional languages, Dari is not written; its exclusively spoken status adds to the imperativeness of studying it before it becomes extinct. In addition to an absence of a written tradition, there is a significant dearth of linguistic literature on our proposed language of study. This is abundantly apparent from the enclosed bibliography, which is, to the best of our knowledge, comprehensive.

In the hopes of effectively responding to this exigency as well as developing our own linguistic aptitude, we propose to conduct field research in Yazd, Iran, for one month of the summer immediately following our graduation (June, July, or August 2003). Our ultimate goals in undertaking this research would be collecting and recording accurate data and developing, through analysis of our collected data, significant linguistic conclusions pertaining to Dari. Our method of obtaining this data will consist in gaining access to the Zoroastrian community in Yazd through personal connections, and then finding various informants with whom to spend time eliciting data.

Our approach in gathering data will be determined by the twofold nature of our linguistic enquiry. That is, our study will be sociolinguistic in our attempts to reach an understanding, through observation as well as questioning informants, of the language's current usage spheres, number of native speakers, and rate of acquisition. The second and primary aspect of our intended study, however, will be grammatical. We will focus on Dari's phonology, or sound system, and, to as great an extent as time allows, its morphology, or system of word formation.

We hope to consider our conclusions in relation to Standard Farsi, and ultimately present them in the form of a contrastive study between the two languages. In so doing, we would develop conclusions that are relevant not only to Dari in particular but also to Farsi, specifically as regards the latter's origins and development in the wider context of Iranian languages. Linguistic research of the type we are proposing is potentially of use not only to the academic community but also to the community of native speakers. The report we would publish would increase awareness of this lesser known Iranian language while providing linguistic documentation. Such linguistic documentation could be of use in pedagogy.

Because of our Persian and Zoroastrian backgrounds, our ideal research project would allow us to pursue our academic interest in linguistics while at the same time increasing our awareness and knowledge of Persian culture. We feel that going to Iran and conducting this study through research in the field is the best course through which to combine these interests. There is no better way of learning about a particular culture than through immersion. In addition, such research would provide an ideal opportunity to put into practice the data collection and analysis skills we have been learning in the classroom.

Finally, we recognize that a note of explanation concerning our proposal to undertake the project outlined above jointly instead of individually is appropriate. We feel that collaboration on this project is justified academically as well as practically. With respect to the former, we feel fairly confident that due to the collaborative nature of our current linguistic investigation of Farsi, we will produce a superior contrastive study if we are able to work together on the data collection and analysis. In terms of the actual field work, one of us has a greater proficiency in spoken and colloquial Farsi and extensive experience traveling in Iran, while the other has more knowledge of the formal and written language and important family connections to the Zoroastrian community in Yazd.

As we have already stated, we share with you an avid enthusiasm for the preservation and dissemination of all aspects of Iran's ancient and beautiful culture and Zoroastrian heritage, including language. It is on the basis of this shared interest that we write to request a small financial grant, in any amount, to aid us in defraying the costs of carrying out our proposed project. Without such support, we would not be able to otherwise achieve our goals. We would of course make formal and prominent acknowledgement of your patronage in the final report detailing our findings. Should you desire, we would also send regular reports on the progress of our research, as well as provide you with a copy of our final report.

We have also included an itemized budget and a bibliography. If you have any questions or would like further information regarding any aspect of our proposal, we invite you to contact us directly via email at or We sincerely appreciate your time and thank you in advance for your consideration of our proposal. We look forward to hearing from you.



Ivanow, W. (1934, 1938, 1939) "The Gabri dialect spoken by the Zoroastrians of Persia". Rivista degli Studi Orientali. 16: 37-97, 17: 1-39, 18: 1-59.

Lorimer, D. L (1916) "Notes on the Gabri dialect of Modern Persia". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 423-489.

Lorimer, D. L. (1928) "Is there a Gabri dialect of Modern Persia?". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 287-319.

Vahman, F. and G. Asatrian. (2002) Notes on the Language and Ethnography of the Zoroastrians of Yazd. Copenhagen: C. A. Reitzel.

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