Balochi, or Baluchi, is a northwestern Iranian language spoken primarily in Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, and by smaller communities in Turkmenistan, India, East Africa, and the Persian Gulf states.
Balochi is the dominant local language in southeastern Iran (mainly in Sistan va Baluchestan province), western Pakistan (mainly Balochistan province), and areas in southern Afghanistan (particularly in Nimruz province (Jahani, 2013)). It is estimated to be spoken by nearly 10 million people (Jahani, 2013).
Even though Balochi is spoken in areas closer to the eastern half of the lands of Iranian languages, it shows clear signs of being a northwestern Iranian language. Scholars believe that Baloch people migrated from the Central Caspian region eastward to today’s Balochistan and surrounding areas long after the divergence between Eastern and Western Iranian languages had taken place (Elfenbein, 1988). The migrations are thought to have started at early Islamic or late Sassanian era (ibid.). Due to the long period of contact with Indo-Aryan languages, Balochi (even the dialects spoken in Iran) shows signs of influence by Indo-Aryan languages in both phonology and vocabulary.
Various classifications of Balochi dialects have been proposed since the earliest studies in the 19th century. The most notable recent classification is that of Jahani (2013), dividing Balochi varieties into three main dialects:
Southern Balochi: The dialect spoken along the coasts of Oman sea in both Iran and Pakistan, as well as the Persian Gulf states, expanding up to Iranshahr in Iran and Kech valley in Pakistan.
Western Balochi: The main dialect in all three countries where Balochi is spoken, covering Zahedan in Iran and Quetta in Pakistan. The examples used in this article, as well as the syntactic and phonological properties described, are based on this dialect.
Eastern Balochi: A conglomerate of dialects spoken in the eastern edges of Pakistan’s Balochi-speaking regions, with very little literary output and recent documentations compared to the other dialects.
Media and Education
Balochi is not used for administrative or education purposes in any of the areas where it is spoken. Nevertheless, it has a significant contemporary written tradition compared to most other Iranian languages. The first Balochi writings date back to less than 200 years ago (Elfenbein, 1988). There is no fully agreed-upon standard for writing the Balochi language, but the dominant trend is to use the Arabic script with conventions that resemble those of Urdu in many ways. Even though literacy rates in general have risen significantly in Balochi-speaking areas, since the language of education is the official language in each country, the literacy rate of Balochi remains very low (Spooner, 2011).
In Pakistan, many books and periodicals have been published in Balochi since 1951, and as of 2016, there were several regularly published monthly magazines in Quetta and in Karachi (Thompson, 2016). In Iran, the first Balochi publications appeared right after the 1979 revolution in the form of magazines, but they were soon forced to cease (Jahani, 2013). Publication in Balochi in Iran was resumed in the 1990s (ibid.). As of 2010, three bilingual Persian-Balochi magazines were being published in Iran, with headquarters in Zahedan, Iranshahr, and Tehran (Hoseinbor, 2010).
While Balochi has a better status in terms of publications compared to most Iranian languages, it has a relatively weak web presence given its large speaker population and its considerable distance from the official languages of the countries where it is spoken. There is, for example, no Balochi Wikipedia as of 2017. Moreover, there are no major TV channels broadcasting exclusively in Balochi. The use of Balochi in the Iranian state-run provincial TV in Sistan va Baluchestan is very limited, even compared to the use of other minority languages in other Iranian provincial TV channels.
Probably as a result of contact with Indo-Aryan languages, the consonant inventory of Balochi, along with Pashto, is exceptional among Iranian languages in that it uses retroflexes. Balochi has three retroflex consonants (/ɻ/, /ʈ/, and /ɖ/), all of which have phonemic status. As in Urdu, these three sounds are represented in the Perso-Arabic script using the characters “ڑ” and “ٹ” and “ڈ” respectively.
Balochi does not have labiodental consonants. It uses /p/ to replace /f/ in loan words (although the replacement doesn’t always take place, and /f/ does have a marginal presence), and /w/ (absent in Persian) to replace /v/. Moreover, Balochi lacks the voiced uvular stop (/ɢ/) and uses /ɣ/ (absent in most dialects of Persian) along with /χ/ and /k/ in place of /ɢ/ in loan words.
(Data from Soohani, 2017)
/wæχt/ time (compare Persian /væɢt/)
/ræχs/ dance (compare Persian /ræɢs/)
/ʃoloɣ/ busy (compare Persian /ʃoluɢ/, or in some dialects /ʃoluɣ/)
/ɣɑːʃok/ spoon (compare Persian /ɢɑːʃoɢ/)
The full consonant chart for this particular dialect of Balochi is presented below (based on the inventory given by Soohani (2017)).
|plosive||p b||t d||ʈ ɖ||k g||ʔ|
|fricative||s z||ʃ ʒ||ɣ||χ||h|
Balochi has 8 vowels that correspond almost perfectly to the 8 vowels of Classical Persian, and also makes the Balochi vowel system similar to Khorasani varieties of Persian (Dames, 1922). The six vowels that are shared with Modern Farsi (the short vowels /æ/, /e/, /o/ and the long vowels /ɑː/, /uː/ and /iː/) are pronounced very similar to their Persian counterparts (retaining the length distinction, like formal Persian). The other two vowels are long (/eː/ and /oː/), and tend to get a diphthongized pronunciation (/ɪe/ and /ʊe/) in some dialects of Iranian Balochi (Okati et al., 2013).
According to Soohani (2017, citing Jahani and Korn, 2009), stress patterns differ among Balochi dialects. For non-verbal words, in Western dialects such as Sarhaddi (spoken in Iran), the stress is on the last syllable of the word (like Persian). In Southern dialects, the position of the stress is weight-sensitive and in Eastern Balochi the last heavy syllable of a word is stressed.
Balochi has no gender distinction. The only complexity in its nominal and pronominal system arises from the fact that it uses a three-way case distinction. Like many other Iranian languages, most Balochi dialects use the pseudo-ergative arrangement for transitive past tense constructions.
Like Caspian languages, Balochi puts the head noun last in both possessive constructions and adjective-noun compounds, as shown in the examples below. However, Balochi uses prepositions instead of postpositions.
(examples from Uppsala Universitet, 2017)
goːk-eɪ goːʃt (cow meat)
pæs-eɪ ræŋg (the sheep’s color)
mazan-ɪen bæt͡ʃæk (big boy)
tærr-ɪen pot͡ʃ (wet clothes)
Nouns are marked differently for nominative (direct), genitive and oblique (covers both accusative and dative) cases. It is important to note that in the nominative case, number marking is syncretic, i.e. plural and singular nouns are not distinguished. The nominal paradigm is shown below for the word /loːg/ (house)
The suffix /rɑː/ can be added freely to noun phrases with oblique case to emphasize direct/indirect objects (Elfenbein, 1989). All adjectives can, and adjectives in attributive position must, take the suffix /en/ (ibid.).
In personal pronouns, four different cases can be distinguished: nominative, genitive, dative/accusative, and oblique. The pronominal paradigm is shown in the table below.
The first person plural also has an inclusive form (including the interlocutor), that is usually formed by attaching the default 1PL pronoun to the 2PL pronoun (e.g. /mɑːʃomɑː/ for first person plural inclusive in the nominative case).
As in most other Iranian languages, verbs in Balochi have a past stem and a present stem. The infinitive is made by adding the suffix /æg/ to the present stem. As an example, the conjugation of the the verb /gendæg/ (“to see”) in the present simple tense is shown in the table below.
|You (sg.) see.||gend-æj|
|You (pl.) see.||gend-eːt|
In practice, the present simple verb is preceded by what looks like a durative-imperfective prefix /æ/, which can be thought of as corresponding to Persian “mi”. However, this morpheme is usually analyzed as a suffix attached to the word preceding the verb.
ʃomɑː kod͡ʒɑː zendegi-æ kæn-eːt?
2PL.NOM where life-æ do.PRS-2PL
Where do you (pl.) live?
Similar to many other Iranian languages, Balochi has split ergativity. In intransitive past tense sentences, the arrangement is similar to that of present tense sentences in that the agent gets the nominative case. In transitive past tense sentences, however, the agent (logical subject) appears in the oblique case and the logical object appears in the direct (so-called nominative) case. In these sentences, an oblique clitic pronoun agreeing with the agent in person and number attaches to the end of an element in the VP (preferably a nominal element). The verb is always conjugated in the third person for transitive past tense sentences. The examples below are taken from Uppsala Universitet (2017).
Intransitive past tense:
I fell asleep.
You (sg.) fell asleep.
He/She/It fell asleep.
We fell asleep.
You (pl.) fell asleep.
You fell asleep.
Transitive past tense:
I watched (a) film.
You (sg.) watched (a) film.
He/She/It watched (a) film.
We watched (a) film.
You (pl.) watched (a) film.
They watched (a) film.
Note that the past transitive behaves differently from a conventional ergative system. In a fully ergative system, the verb is conjugated in agreement with the logical object. In Balochi, however, the past transitive verb always looks as if it agrees with the third person, but when the logical object is in fact third person, it agrees with it in number. The following examples demonstrate this effect:
bæt͡ʃæk-ɑː d͡ʒenek-ø dist-ø
boy-OBL girl-DIR see.PST-3SG
The boy saw the girl.
bæt͡ʃæk-ɑː d͡ʒenek-ø dist-ænt
boy-OBL girl-DIR(PL) see.PST-3PL
The boy saw the girls.
Note in the examples above that the direct case marker is the same for singular and plural nouns (it is in fact ø for both), therefore the verb agreement is the only cue determining number in the logical object in these sentences.
Elfenbein, Joseph. “Baluchistan iii. Baluchi Language and Literature” Encyclopædia Iranica, (1988): Vol. III, Fasc. 6, pp. 633-644
Elfenbein, Josef. “Balochi.” Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (1989): 350-362.
Hoseinbor, Ebrahim. “negāhi bar fa”āliathā ye farhangi e baluch dar gozāresh e sāzmān e afv e beynolmelal” [A review of Baloch cultural activities in Amnesty International’s report] Estoun. Online: http://estoun.org/NewsDetail.aspx?itemid=90 (Accessed 7 November 2017)
Jahani, Carina, and Korn, Agnes. “Balochi.” Iranian languages, edited by Windfuhr, Gernot, London, New York: Routledge, 2009, pp. 634-692.
Jahani, Carina. “The Balochi language and languages in Iranian Balochistan.” The Journal of the Middle East and Africa 4.2 (2013): 153-167.
Okati, Farideh, Pétur Helgason, and Carina Jahani. “Diphthongization in five Iranian Balochi dialects.” Orientalia Suecana 61 (2013): 107-119.
Soohani, Bahareh. The phonology of Iranian-Balochi dialects: description and analysis. Diss. 2017.
Spooner, Brian. “Balochi: Towards a Biography of the Language.” Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors: The Changing Politics of Language Choice 2 (2011): 319.
Uppsala Universitat. The Balochi Language Project. Online: http://www.lingfil.uu.se/forskning/the-balochi-language-project/ (Accessed 7 November 2017)
Thompson, Irene. “Balochi” About World languages. Online: http://aboutworldlanguages.com/balochi (Accessed 7 November 2017)