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The polygenetic origins of the Northern Talyshi language

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Stilo,  Donald
Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Stilo, D. (2015). The polygenetic origins of the Northern Talyshi language. In U. Blasing, V. Arakelova, & M. Weinreich (Eds.), Studies on Iran and The Caucasus: Presented to Prof. Garnik S. Asatrian on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday (pp. 411-453). Leiden: Brill.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002C-0FF9-A
Abstract
Within the study of Iranian languages, it has always been perplexing to see what striking differences "dialects" of supposedly one and the same language can have. Specifically in the case of Northern and Southern Talyshi, the dialects are so different from each other in lexicon, historical phonological developments, and grammatical domains and also share very low mutual intelligibility. The claim is made here that Northern Talyshi represents a case of polygenesis from at least two different Iranian sources. Talyshi and Tati (also called "Old Azeri", i. e., the indigenous Iranian language of Azerbaijan, still spoken there in remnant pockets) are closely related Northwestern Iranian subgroups, collectively called Tatic. At some point after Talyshi and Tati diverged from each other, Northern Tati alone underwent some very striking linguistic restructurings, especially in its verbal system. One group of Northern Tati speakers subsequently moved eastwards off the plateau into the northern areas of the Talyshi zone, fanning somewhat southwards, and meshed with the local Talysh populations, affecting Northern Talyshi and much of Central Talyshi on all linguistic levels. Since the Southern Talyshi dialects did not participate in this process, a wide rift came about between Northern and Southern Talyshi. In addition, Southern Talyshi dialects probably also underwent their own parallel mixture with neighbouring varieties of Central Tati on the plateau through regular and ongoing contact and mutual borrowing. The set of unusual features shared by Northern Tati, and Northern and Central Talyshi are quite unique among Iranian languages. Most of these features are also shared by other languages in the area: quite aberrant dialects of Armenian (the so-called -lis branch), Udi (Daghestanian), Neo-Aramaic dialects, and Caucasian Tat (the Iranian linguistic enclave in Azerbaijan Republic and Daghestan). This situation most likely developed as a result of a language shift to Northern Tati by some pockets of one or more of the non-Iranian groups mentioned before Northern Tati groups moved into the Talyshi zone.