The language of Hazara

Jul 7, 2010 by

Hazara (not to be confused with Khazars, the putative progenitors of the Ashkenazi Jewry) are an ethnic group who live mainly in the central region of Afghanistan (see the highlighted dark green area in the picture below).

Genetically, the Hazara are primarily a mixture of Eastern Eurasian and Western Eurasian peoples. A Mongol element in their ancestry has been discovered by studies in genetic genealogy as well, which have identified a particular lineage of the Y-chromosome characteristic of people of Mongolian descent, the so-called “Y-chromosome of Genghis Khan”. This genetic signature is virtually absent outside the limits of the Mongol Empire except among the Hazara, where it reaches its highest frequency anywhere. About two thirds of the Hazara men carry the Y-chromosome of Ghengis Khan! Still, some of the Hazara look decidedly Eastern European:

From the religious point of view, the Hazara are overwhelmingly Shia Muslims, and as such are persecuted by the Pashtun majority. By sending Sunni clerics to every village in Hazarajat, Abdur Rahman (the first ruler to bring the country of Afghanistan under a centralized Afghan government) forced some of the Hazaras to attend Sunni mosques and abandon Shiism He imposed tougher regulations on Hazaras by
forcing them to pay heavy taxes. This policy of forced Pushtunization often spills beyond the mere religious conversion: for example, a Taliban commander Maulawi Mohammed Hanif is cited in his announcement of the Taliban policy as saying:

“The policy of the Taliban is to exterminate the Hazaras.”

This policy of forced Pushtunization (or else!) has affected not only the religious but also the linguistic aspects of the Hazaras lives. Although traditionally the Hazara spoke (and many in rural areas still speak) Hazargi, many are now switching to other Persian dialects, such as the standard literary Persian (usually the Kābolī dialect) or regional varieties of Persian (for example, the Khorāsānī dialect in the western region of Herat); see the map below. Still, the number of people still speaking Hazargi is reported to be over 1.7 million people.

It is still debated whether Hazargi should be considered a separate language (Ethnologue considers it so) or a dialect of Persian (Farsi). One way or another it is a member of the Iranian (Indo-Iranian) branch of the Indo-European family and is closely related to Dari (itself considered either a dialect of Persian or a separate language; it is an official language of Afghanistan).

Hazargi has a significant number of Turkic and some Mongolian loanwords, in particular, Hazaragi in the Daykundi regions has a significant admixture of Altaic influence in the language.

Until recently, a very small number of Hazaras near Herat still spoke the Moghol language, a dialect of the Mongol language and once spoken by the army of Genghis Khan. It is near extinction by now, with only about 200 people in two villages still speaking it (mostly older adults at that).

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