Mazandarani (also known as Mazani, Tabari, and Gilaki) is a Northwestern Iranian language spoken in northern Iran by more than 2 million speakers primarily in Mazandaran province (south of the Caspian sea). The three neighboring provinces of Semnan, Golestan, and Tehran are also home to relatively large numbers of Mazandarani speakers.
Mazandarani is closely related with the Gilaki (or Gilani) language (spoken in Gilan province, west of Mazandaran). Many Mazandarani speakers (even in the heart of Mazandaran province) refer to their own language as Gilaki or Gelaki, a term used by Persian speakers and linguists worldwide solely to refer to the language spoken in Gilan province. Many have argued that the two language varietes (Gilaki proper and Mazandarani) are dialects of the same language, or form a language continuum. Within the range of dialects known as Mazandarani, a relatively high degree of variations exists, but mutual intelligibility is almost never lost. (The examples in this text are based on the dialect of Amol in central Mazandaran, unless otherwise stated).
Mazandarani is claimed to have one of the oldest written traditions among Iranian languages. In particular, the original version of the classic work Marzban-name is reported to have been written in Mazandarani, which takes the history of the language as a written language back to at least a millennium ago (for arguments against this see Borjian, 2009). Putting aside this disputed claim, however, none of the oldest extant standalone Mazandarani texts seem to date back to earlier than 14th century C.E. There are, however, sporadic Mazandarani poems quoted in books from as early as 11th century C.E (see discussion in Borjian, 2009).
Mazandarani is rarely used as a written language today; books and other publications in Mazandaran and the regions around it are almost exclusively in Persian. The language does, however, have some presence in the world wide web. The Perso-Arabic script is usually used for writing Mazandarani, although no agreed-upon standard for mapping the sounds of the language to the characters exists and dialectal variations also give rise to different writing standards.
The use of Mazandarani is rapidly decreasing in almost all contexts, especially in urban centers. In the past few decades, a trend of choosing Persian as the language of communication with children is visible among Mazandarani families. As a result, existing estimates of the number of speakers of the language may be inaccurate since many young city-dwelling Mazandaranis are not fluent speakers of the language and rely solely on Persian in all contexts.
Mazandarani’s phoneme inventory is very similar to that of Persian; most phonological differences between the two languages occur at the level of allophones, more fine-grained phonetic features of the phonemes, and suprasegmental properties.
The Persian consonant /ʒ/ is absent in native Mazandarani words, although most Mazandarani speakers in urban areas pronounce it in loan words. The other difference in consonants is that in some dialects the voiced uvular fricative (/ʁ/) is used in place of the Persian voiced uvular stop (/ɢ/).
Among the vowels, the only phonemic difference between the two langauges is the presence of the schwa (/ə/) in Mazandarani. It usually corresponds to Persian /o/ in cognates, and in many (mostly rural) dialects of Mazandarani almost completely replaces /o/ (leaving the dialect with 6 vowels). The choice of pronouncing the /o/ in words borrowed from Persian or replacing it (with either /ə/ or /u/) varies by dialect and speaker. Note that in many dialects the so-called schwa is pronounced slightly higher and further back in the mouth. Examples of words with the schwa are given below.
/bəz/ “goat” (corresponds to Persian /boz/)
At the level of allophones, a distinctive feature of Mazandarani phonology is that unlike many languages of the region (including Persian), it does not palatalize /k/ and /g/ before front vowels.
In contrast to most Western Iranian languages today, Mazandarani is rather strongly head-final. This is particularly important in the case of noun phrases since the ezafe (or at least what looks like it) is used in Mazandarani but with the reverse order of how it’s used in Kurdish languages and Persian. Examples are given below, with the head of a phrase shown in boldface.
NP: /æmir ə mɑr/ “Amir’s mother” Persian: /mɑdær e amir/
NP: /gæt ə dɑr/ “big tree” Persian: /deræχt e bozorg/
AP:/χælə gæt/ “very big” Persian: /χejli bozorg/
VP:/sikɑ rə bædiə/ “[she/he] saw the duck” Persian: /ordak ro did/
PP:/væt͡ʃun əssə/ “for the children” Persian: /bærɑje bæt͡ʃt͡ʃehɑ/
In the NPs (first two examples above) the ezafe is used between the two words, but the order is the opposite of what is seen in Persian.
It must be noted that in the case of relative clauses, the head noun precedes the relative clause in Mazandarani.
There is no gender distinction in Mazandarani, and nouns (unlike pronouns) are not marked for case. Indefinite nouns are marked by a preceding word /ættə/ (or /ættɑ/), the word for the number “one”. There is no definite marker in Mazandarani (cf. the suffix /e/ as in /pesær-e/ (“the boy”) in colloquial Persian and /əkə/ & /əgə/ in Kurdish languages). As in classical Persian, the noun’s bare form can have either a definite or a generic sense (constrasted in the two examples below).
bɑmʃi gæt niə.
cat big is.not
Cats are not big.
The cat sat down.
The native method of making a noun plural in Mazandarani is using the suffix /un/. (For some words, the suffix /hɑ/ (or /ɑ/) is also used. This is especially the case for more recent borrowings.)
væt͡ʃə “child” væt͡ʃun “children”
ræfeɢ “friend” ræfeɢun “friends”
rikɑ “boy” rikɑkun “boys”
There are no enclitic pronouns in Mazandarani. The Mazandarani personal pronouns are shown in the table below.
|1 sg (I)||mən||mə||mə|
|2 sg (you)||tə||tə||tə|
|3 sg (he/she)||və||və||ˈvənə|
|1 pl (we)||æmɑ||æmɑ||æˈmə|
|2 pl (you)||ʃəmɑ||ʃəmə||ʃəˈmə|
|3 pl (they)||vəʃun||vəʃun||vəˈʃunə|
Examples using each case are shown below for the first person singular.
mən intɑ rə nɑ-χɑ-mə.
1SG.NOM this ACC NEG-want-1SG
I don’t want this.
vərg mə rə bæ-di-ə.
wolf 1SG.OBL ACC PFV-see.PST-3SG
The wolf saw me.
mə d͡ʒɑ kɑ kən-nə.
1SG.OBL with game do.PRS-3SG
She/He/It plays with me.
mə per məælləm-ə.
1SG.OBL father teacher-3SG.
My father is a teacher.
In possessive constructions, the ezafe (which is used after the possessor when the possessor is a noun) is not generally used when the possessor is a pronoun. However, the stressless /ə/ at the end of the third person genitive pronouns can be analyzed as an Ezafe.
vən ə per
3SG.OBL EZF father
vəʃun ə per
3PL.OBL EZF father
Under this analysis, in the first example above the emergence of /n/ after the pronoun can be considered to be phonological. Hence, the only difference between genitive and accusative pronouns would be in the final vowel of the first person plural personal pronoun.
The object marker
Mazandarani uses the morpheme /(r)ə/ to mark specific objects. It is also used in many positions where an indirect object with a preposition would be used in Persian instead:
mə rə mærbut niæ.
1SG.OBL rə related is.not
It doesn’t concern me.
In Persian, the equivalent sentence would be made using a preposition: /be mæn mærbut nist/. Mazandarani also allows two occurrences of /rə/ in a sentence with double object constructions, unlike Persian.
gu rə hə-dɑ-ji mə rə.
cow rə PFV-give.PST-2SG 1SG rə
You gave the cow to me.
As in many Iranian languages, Mazandarani verbs have distinct past and present stems. The present simple tense is created by simply attaching the appropriate personal ending to the verb’s present stem, as shown in the table below for the verb “to have”.
|You (sg.) have.||dɑr-ni|
|You (pl.) have.||dɑr-nəni|
The examples above are based on the dialect of Babol. Note that in some dialects of Central Mazandaran including the city of Amol, the final “r” in the verb stem changes to the glide /j/ when the personal ending starts with /n/ (e.g. “dɑjni” instead of “dɑrni” for “you have”).
In the past simple tense, the past stem is used, the personal endings are slightly different, and a verbal prefix is used before the stem.
|You (sg.) washed.||bæ-ʃurd-i|
|You (pl.) washed.||bæ-ʃurd-əni|
This verbal prefix is absent in the imperfective past tense (/ʃurdeme/: “I used to wash”). However, the verbal prefix cannot be interpreted as simply a perfective marker. It appears in imperatives and subjunctives too (e.g. /bæʃur/ – “wash!” and /bæʃurəm/ – “that I wash”), and the infinitive form of the verb (which is made by adding the suffix /æn/ to the 1SG past tense) retains it (e.g. /bæʃurdæn/ – “to wash”). It disappears in the presence of the negation prefixes /næ/ and /nə/.
The verbal prefix used for the verb “to wash” (/bæ/) is the most common verbal prefix, but many verbs have other verbal prefixes. Examples of the other common verbal prefixes are shown below:
/hɑ/: (/hæ/ in many dialects)
/hɑkərdæn/ “to do”
/həniʃtæn/ “to sit down”
/dævəssæn/ “to close”
/dəmɑssæn/: “to stick”
The verbal prefixes /hə/ and /də/ are probably phonologically reduced forms of /hɑ/ and /dæ/ respectively. All of these verbal prefixes are very uncommon compared to /bæ/ and its reduced form /bə/, suggesting that /bæ/ is the default verbal prefix and the rest are the marked forms, possibly carrying semantic information at least in earlier forms of the language. This is further supported by the fact that in Mazandarani’s sister language, Gilaki, the verbal prefix /bə/ is in complementary distribution with the other less common verbal prefixes in some tenses (e.g. past simple), but even though it disappears in negated forms, the other verbal prefixes co-occur with the negation morpheme (see Rastorgueva, 2012).
Borjian, H. (2009). Tabari Texts (Mutun-i Ṭabari). Tehran: Ayene-ye Miras. (In Persian)
Rastorgueva, V. S., Kerimova, A. A., Mamedzade, A. K., Pireiko, L. A., Edel’man, D. I., & Lockwood, R. M. (2012). The Gilaki Language. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.Rastorgueva, V. S., Kerimova, A. A., Mamedzade, A. K., Pireiko, L. A., Edel’man, D. I., & Lockwood, R. M. (2012). The Gilaki Language. Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.Chicago