Sunday, June 1, 2014


Continuation of my blog post Baba's dialect. Further research on the Dari language has revealed new information and numerous excellent resources on the topic. The language that Baba spoke in his household as a child in a Zoroastrian family in India is actually a dying language. This is very reminiscent of the spoken dialect of Jesus, Aramaic, which is a dead language. The language of Dari comes specifically from only two regions in Iran, including Yazd, from where Baba's parents derived. In this update, a sound file is provided, allowing the reader to listen to an elderly Iranian Zoroastrian woman speaking this rare dialect, the file provided by the University of California at Berkeley linguistics department. Listening to this file, one can imagine better Baba's mother reprimanding him as a boy for getting into the cookie jar.

The following description of Dari is taken from this page at the U.C. Berkeley linguistics website:
"Dari, which is also known as Gabri or Behdinâni, is the traditional language of the Zoroastrians of Iran. Spoken mainly in the Yazd and Kerman regions, Dari is among Iran's most immediately imperiled languages. According to one estimate, there are only 8,000-15,000 speakers. . . though we believe the number to be much smaller. That number will likely decrease rapidly in coming generations, however, as parents are speaking to their children in Persian, the national language of Iran, rather than in Dari."
Here is a long fascinating article on the current state of the rapidly dying language of Zoroastrian Dari:


 2004 Fieldwork Endeavor
 Summary of Findings


And here is the wonderful sound file of an elderly Dari speaker telling a traditional story, again provided by the U.C. Berkeley linguistics department.  MP3 file

You can ask nearly any Baba lover from a Zoroastrian Irani family who is over 30 to speak Dari to you, and they can. It has a very pleasing rhythmic quality, wonderful to hear. It is not a written language.

Important note:

It is important not to mistake Zoroastrian Dari for another language with the same name. The other, known as Persian Dari, is one of the two national languages of Afghanistan. Persian Dari is spoken by over ten million speakers, and bears no relation to Zoroastrian Dari, in spite of the two sharing the same name. See Dari language at Wikipedia for the distinction. More on the Afghan sense of Dari can be found at the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Zoroastrian Dari is not comprehensible to the local Farsi speakers in Iran.

Post notes:

Baba lovers are in a unique position of course to learn about Baba's childhood language of Dari. Recently I spoke with several Persian Zoroastrian Baba lovers, and have learned some new facts.
  1. The roots of Dari are as follows. Dari is much closer to the original Persian language, prior to the Muslim conquest. Thus it has less influx of Arabic words and influences. This, along with its being spoken in a different dialect, is what makes Dari difficult for Muslim or modern Farsi speakers to follow. They can pick up a few words, but it is not enough to follow what is being said. Thus, in short, Dari is closer to ancient Persian as it was once spoken. 
  2. There are other tribes in Iran that speak similar earlier dialects of Persian who are not Zoroastrian. These are generally nomadic people, who pitch and move their tents like gypsies, and do not linger long enough in rural and developed regions to learn modern Persian. This is very similar to Dari, though not identical.
  3. While it is true that Dari is not a written language, but a rural ancient spoken one of Persia, it can be phonetically written out in Persian alphabetic characters if necessary. This phonetic writing might be compared to our own phonetic writing of Sanskrit terms with English characters, which only in recent decades is becoming standardized. 
  4. The Persian alphabet is only a slightly modified version of the Arabic alphabet – the difference being the addition of four characters to represent phonemes not found in Arabic. (This last point added from a viewer comment below)


  1. I copy here a little of what I wrote about this subject in Facebook a week ago.

    After posting about the Dari language, I went to the Center to the tea at the original kitchen, and instead of my usual brood of friends, I found a gathering of Iranians on the two benches, and Farshid signaled me to come sit down, and moved over to make space and patted the seat. Farshid and I don't know each other well, and have never spoken in any depth before. However, once, when I was very young, I worked for him on a construction job in Seattle for a Baba lover named Jill Davis. Farshid was a slave-driver, but I also taught him some tricks with sheet rock mud. Anyway, today I sat with him, and noted all were speaking in Farsi. I felt shy but my thoughts were on my blog addendum on Baba's Dari dialect, and I thought how wonderful it would be to ask them if I got my facts right. To my amazement, one had noted it on Facebook, so the topic of Dari came up. It turns out that all the Zoroastrians there from Iran knew it from their cradle very well, though they speak Farsi colloquially now. Even the one Muslim woman from Iran was aware of it. For a short time the discussion turned to the topic of Dari, the now dying dialect of Iran spoken in Baba's childhood home in India. Baba's father was an immigrant from Yazd where Dari is spoken as an ethnolect of the Zoroastrians there. It turns out all my facts are true. And it is true that Muslim Farsi speakers cannot understand Dari. Dari is not simply a version of Persian, it is unique to the poor agricultural people of certain regions of Iran, known only to the Zoroastrians there. It is not a written language either. There are projects in the U.S. to preserve it for posterity as it is predicted to die out in a few generations, as parents now speak to their children in the main Farsi (Persian) language of Iran, and Zoroastrians and Muslims now happily mix in the work place. Gone is the ethnic persecution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, though a few stereotypes exist still in Iran about Zoroastrians. One is (much like us Jewish Baba lovers are aware of in the U.S.) the idea that Zoroastrians are stingy with money, and all of them are rich. Sound familiar? As late as 30 years ago Iranian Zoroastrians had to put a sign signifying their religion in their shop windows. But this is now gone. What happened is that with the Iranian revolution of 1980, a resurgence of ethnic Persian pride surged, and Iranians wanted to re-identify with their Persian roots. The trouble is that the Persian empire of the glory days of Iran was entirely Zoroastrian. Yes it was a giant Zoroastrian empire that Alexander the Great conquered and pillaged in Persia in 334 B.C. Anyway, since then Zoroastrians have become chic.

  2. Continued:

    A last bit of interest is that Muslims complain that Zoroastrians talk about you in Dari when they don't want you to know what they are saying. A bit like the Korean women who manicure your nails, who chatter in Korean about you, according to my daughter who gets her nails done.

    Farshid, however, quickly changed the subject. He told me all about Baba and the Prem Ashram and who was what and where and the Babajan school, shattering dozens of myths and misconceptions I had had. Farshid is a treasure house of spiritual information. I had one other Iranian friend, very close in fact, when I lived in Seattle, named Iraj. His father, like Farshid's uncle, was in the Prem Ashram. And this brings up a great final piece of trivia.

    Dari is pronounced as one would expect in India, as in "Sari." However, in Iran, it is said like "Dairy." Pronunciations of vowels in India are more like the Latin languages. Thus, similarly Eruch is actually an Indian corruption of its Iranian form, which is spelled more like Irach. Thus it turns out that my old Irani friend Iraj (pronounced like it looks) who I knew in Seattle was in fact named after Eruch Jessawala (Baba's chief male disciple). It is just a simplification of the Iranian pronunciation of the same name. Who would have known?

    So when you see an Iranian, be sure to mention the Dari (like "dairy") language, but to a Parsi or Irani be sure to say Dari (like "sorry"). And you will be in like flin.

    And once again, don't conflate it with the OTHER Dari language, spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Muslims, and written in Arabic symbols. That is not the same language at all, and has 10 million speakers -- as compared to Zoroastrian Dari of Iran that has 10 thousand at most.

    Now you know. And you heard it here first.

  3. Hi Chris;

    Wonderful article on Dari much of which I didn't know. A minor correction on the Persian (Farsi) alphabet: it is a slightly modified version of the Arabic alphabet with the difference being the addition of 4 characters to represent phonemes not found in Arabic.

    1. Thank you Bill. I am going to add this correction to the article.