Echoes of Vanishing Voices in the Mountains: A Linguistic History of Minorities in the Near East:

This project, which is funded by the ERC and will run during the academic years 2021-2025, aims to reconstruct the complex, socioreligious past of the disappearing indigenous communities who were once more widespread across West Asia from the first millennium BC well into the Islamic period.

Mesopotamia is the home of remarkably diverse ethnoreligious and linguistic microcommunities with deep historical roots in the ancient Near East. Jewish and Christian minorites with their own unique traditions in Aramaic have co-existed alongside mainly Iranian speech communities for millennia. Today the origin and development of this rich cultural-linguistic mosaic remains elusive due to superimposed nationalisms and paucity of historical records.

Under the direction of Professor Geoffrey Khan an interdisciplinary team of both Aramaic and Iranian linguists will study the intertwined histories of the Aramaic and primarily Kurdish speaking communities through their linguistic traditions. A great deal of the linguistic evidence comes from the recently richly enhanced database of spoken Aramaic languages, which stretch back 3,000 years. One of the main outcomes will be a linguistic atlas of modern Aramaic dialects and an overview of convergences with Kurdish and Gorani dialects. For such an enterprise, further documentation of the endangered Aramaic and Gorani dialects is required.

The historical interpretation of these data offers a new line of research in Aramaic and Iranian Studies. The study of this historical period of multiculturalism and multilingualism requires us to develop new models of contact. The analysis of exchanges between Aramaic and Iranian speaking communities is expected to have important implications for our understanding of areal convergence and contact.

The project will include seminars open to other members of the Cambridge scholarly community addressing key topics in Neo-Aramaic, Kurdish and Gorani dialectology as well as the historical background of these speech communities.

LOEWE-Research Cluster: Minority Studies, Language and Identity: Kurds in Germany | between self-identification and external ascription

The specific meaning of the term “Kurdish” depends on the group treated and its region of origin as well as different identity-forming factors (language, religion, culture, ethnic self-definition and definition of others). With regard to the “Kurds”, these perspectives have led to a large number of conceptual ambiguities and in connection with this, conflicts of identity, especially in Germany.

This sub-project investigates the identify formation of the various groups commonly associated with “Kurdish” (Kurds, Zazas, Yezidis, Alevis, Ahl-e Haqq, and others) from emic and etic perspectives. There is a need to investigate the self-identification as well as the external ascription of the affected groups in both their countries of origin and Germany. In addition to religious aspects, this study also examines the linguistic position of the “Kurdish” languages (Kurmanji, Sorani, Zazaki, Gorāni, Hawrāmi and others) and their role in the development of identity of the relevant ethnic groups.

The diachronic development of imperfective affixes in New Iranian

There are various imperfective markers in New Iranian languages including prefixes mi-, me-, e-, et-, a-, at-, ti-, di-, de-, etc. and suffixes -a, -e, -de, etc. These formatives are well understood only for New Persian, which due to the accident of attestation, has a clear etymon (NP, mi- ← OP. ham-aiwa `same one, always'). In this project, I examine the distribution of imperfective affixes in Kurdish varieties and beyond to establish their true etyma and diachronic trajectory.

The New Iranian Ezafe and syntactic categories

The ezafe, attribution marking on the head noun, is one of the most widely studied grammatical phenomena in Iranian languages. This project examines the ezafe from a CG framework. I propose that the ezafe is a derivational morpheme that changes a noun's syntactic category, requiring it to combine with the following modifier to be well-formed. The consequences of this proposal are significant both synchronically and diachronically as the morphological diversity of ezafe allomorphs coincides with variation in syntactic categories and semantic functors.

Definiteness marking strategies in New Western Iranian

Across the New Western Iranian languages, there are various strategies for marking definiteness. These systems include the use of a definite article, definite suffixes, DOM with a unique definite object marker, DOM with case marking only on definite objects, and no marking of definiteness. Works such as Nourzaei (2020) and Jahani (2015) have proposed that the source of the definite suffixes in Koroshi Baluchi and Colloquial New Persian are the reflexes of the inherited diminutive/evaluative nouns (← OIr. -(a)ka-). These proposals have repercussions across New Western Iranian languages as the various definite suffixes, and oblique case suffixes (in languages with DOM) are likely to have the same etyma. In this project, I collect data from the relevant languages to show areal trends in definiteness marking and propose a trajectory that accounts for the diversity of definiteness marking systems.

Applicatives in Iranian

Many Iranian languages have developed formatives that either incorporate a pronominal object into the verbal system or add an additional syntactic (object) argument. In this joint project with Ali Salehi, we explore the synchronic aspects of these systems, particularly in Central Kurdish, and how they fit into the typology of applicative markers following Perterson (2007). Additionally, I explore the diachronic trajectory of these markers in New Iranian languages and how similar material was recruited to produce differing outcomes.

The documentation of Shabaki

Shabaki is an endangered Iranian language traditionally spoken in the Ninevah Plain (Iraq). Decades of language shift, war, and forced assimilation have contributed to the urgency of Shabaki's documentation. Despite these hardships, the Shabaki community has preserved its language and vibrant cultural equity. I have been lucky enough to be invited by members of the community to experience Shabaki customs and share in their stories and hospitality.