Gilaki, or Gilani, is a Northwestern Iranian language spoken as the main local language of the Caspian province of Gilan in northern Iran. Gilan is located to the west of Mazandaran province, and Gilaki shares a lot of characteristics with Mazandarani, leading many to argue that Gilaki and Mazandarani form a language continuum. Mutual intelligibility between Gilaki and Mazandarani is very limited, especially between geographically distant dialects of the languages. Even within Gilaki dialects, there is a lot of variation sometimes leading to difficulty in communication. Due to Gilan’s relatively decentralized demographics and paucity of written material, no standard version of Gilaki is agreed upon. In this article, all data are based on the dialect of Rasht (the capital of Gilan province), unless otherwise stated.
Gilaki is estimated by Ethnologue to be spoken by more than 2.8 million speakers (Simons, 2017) . Like many other Iranian languages (including Mazandarani), the language is being replaced by Persian rapidly. According to one study in Rasht, more than 75% of high school students report to use Persian exclusively in most contexts in their daily life (Kishekhaleh & Hamidoost, 2014).
With a few exceptions, Gilaki is an unwritten language. There has been a rise in Gilaki publications in prose and poetry during the past 80 years, but the scope of these works have been fairly limited. Some of the most notable contemporary Gilaki poems were published in Chalangar newspaper in mid 20th century. In the recent decades, there has been a comeback of mass media productions in Gilaki thanks to the establishment of the state-run provincial TV station in Gilan (which, by the way, only occasionally airs Gilaki shows) and the advent of the internet and social media. Relatively high degrees of media attention have also been given in recent years to incidents such as the publication of a comic book or a novel translation in Gilaki.
Gilaki’s consonant inventory is the same as Persian, and the consonants show fairly similar allophonic variations in different contexts. The vowel system, however, is more different and comes with a lot of dialectal variation. Different and sometimes contradictory accounts of the vowel system of Gilaki have been given in the literature (see Rastorgueva et al. 2012 for a detailed discussion of Gilaki vowels).
Leaving aside differences in quality of the vowels, the most conspicuous difference between the vowel systems of Gilaki and Persian is the presence of /ə/ in Gilaki (like Mazandarani). The /ə/ in many cases corresponds to Persian /æ/ (e.g. Gilaki /d͡ʒəngəl/ vs. Persian /d͡ʒængæl/ for “forest”) or Persian /e/ (e.g. Gilaki /ʃənɑ/ vs. Persian /ʃenɑ/ for “swimming”). The Persian /o/, which is usually mapped to an /ə/ in Mazandarani (but also in many cases to an /u/), is ususally mapped to an /u/ in Gilaki (e.g. Gilaki /durust/ vs. Persian /dorost/ for “correct”). Unlike Mazandarani, Gilaki allows /o/ in many words (e.g. /sob/ for “morning”). (All examples from Rastorgueva, 2012)
Like many Iranian languages, almost all content words except verbs are stress final. In verbs, some morphemes such as the negation prefix attract stress (Stilo, 2001). The perfective marking prefix /bə/, however, does not attract stress. The past simple verb /bə-χástidi/ (“they wanted”), for example, retains the stress on the first syllable of the stem (ibid.). This is unlike Mazandarani, where the verbal prefix (/bə/ or /bæ/) attracts stress.
Gilaki’s syntax is very similar to Mazandarani in its general structure. Some of the characteristic features of Gilaki (as well as Mazandarani) within the Iranian group are listed below:
1- The absence of pronominal clitics
2- The distinction between accusative and genitive pronouns
3- The use of the verbal prefixes /bə/ in the past simple tense and the bare form of the stem in the present tense
4- A rather strong tendency towards head-finalty (in both NPs and PPs), and the use of the Ezafe (pronounced as /ə/) for connecting adjectives to nouns as well as possessive constructions, but in the reverse order compared to Persian and Kurdish languages.
Examples of the way the Gilaki Ezafe is used are shown below.
ali ə per
ali EZF father
surχ ə gul
red EZF flower
Both nouns are stressed in the first example above (the possessive construction) but in the second example (the noun preceded by the adjective), unlike Kurdish languages and Persian, only the noun attracts stress.
Gilaki has three sets of personal pronouns, divided by case.
|1 sg (I)||mən||mə||mi|
|2 sg (you)||tu||tə||ti|
|3 sg (he/she)||un||un||unə|
|1 pl (we)||ama||ama||ami|
|2 pl (you)||ʃuma||ʃuma||ʃimi|
|3 pl (they)||uʃɑn||uʃɑn||uʃɑnə|
The pronouns in the table above are used in Rasht, the capital of Gilan province. Many of these pronouns, however, have different pronunciations in other dialects, and sometimes even alternative pronunciations in Rashti. Examples include /ame/ and /ʃime/ instead of /ami/ and /ʃimi/, as well as /an/ and /aʃan/ instead of /un/ and /uʃan/.
As in most other Iranian languages, each verb has a present stem and a past stem in Gilaki. The two are usually phonologically related but the relationship is by no means systematic or predictable.
The present simple verb is made by adding a personal ending to the present stem, as shown for the verb “to do” below.
|You (sg.) do.||kun-i|
|You (pl.) do.||kun-idi(i)|
In the past simple tense, in addition to the fact that the past stem is used, a verbal prefix precedes the stem. The third person singular ending is also different in the past simple tense.
|I took away.||bə-bərd-əm|
|You (sg.) took away.||bə-bərd-i|
|She/He/It took away.||bə-bərd-ə|
|We took away.||bə-bərd-im(i)|
|You (pl.) took away.||bə-bərd-id(i)|
|They took away.||bə-bərd-id(i)|
The verbal prefix morpheme is realized as /bə/ for the verb /bərdən/ (“to take away”), but with other verbs other variants of this morpheme can also emerge depending on the phonological context, e.g. /buχurdəm/ (“I ate”), and /bigiftəm/ (“I took”).
Certain verbs are special in that they are conjugated using other morphemes instead of allomorphs of /bə/. Two of the most common among such alternative morphemes are /də/ and /fa/.
/dəkəftə/ “she/he/it fell”
/fagiftə/ “she/he/it received”
These morphemes not only differ from /bə/ in their surface form, but also have a different distribution pattern. These preverbs are not always in complementary distribution with /bə/. Most notably, unlike /bə/, they do not disappear when the verb is negated. Compare the two examples below:
Normal verbs (/bə/ is deleted in negated past tense):
/nu-kudəm/ “I didn’t do”
/nu-χordə/ “did not eat”
Verbs with preverbs (/fa/ and /u/ are preserved in negated past tense):
/fa-nə-giftəm/ “I didn’t receive”
/u-nə-sadəm/ “I did not raise”
This difference in distribution between /bə/ and other verbal prefix morphemes in Gilaki puts it in contrast with the sister language Mazandarani, where the default verbal prefix (/bæ/) is in complementary distribution with the other, less common, verbal prefixes that corresponds to prefixes such as /fa/ and /də/ in Gilaki.
Kishekhaleh, M., Hamidoost, M. (2014). Bilingualism Phenomenon in Geographical of Rasht. “Pajhuheshhaye zabanshenasi e tatbiqi”. Tehran
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
Simons, Gary F. and Charles D. Fennig (eds.). 2017. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Twentieth edition. Dallas, Texas: SIL International. Online version: http://www.ethnologue.com.
Stilo, D. (2001). Gilan, ix. Languages. In Encyclopædia Iranica, Vol. 10, Fasc 6: Germany VI.-Gindaros (pp. 660-668). Bibliotheca Persica Pr..