KERMANSHAH vii. Languages and Dialects [2016]



vii. Languages and Dialects

Kermanshah Province (henceforth Kermanshahan, for brevity and distinctness from Kermanshah, the city) is linguistically characterized by a triad of Kurdish, Gurāni, and Persian within a multifaceted, areal-tribal-social setting. These are supplemented by Neo-Aramaic, which, until lately, was spoken in pockets by area Jewry, as well as an isolated Turkic dialect spoken in the Sonqor valley.

The languages of Kermanshahan spread into the neighboring provinces and across the national border into Iraqi Kurdistan, forming a complex set of dialect continua and isolated pockets. Kermanshahan’s linguistic arrangement has not been systematically studied in detail, nor is the number of speakers of individual dialects known.

In broad picture, Kurdish forms the linguistic backdrop of the province; Gurāni is spoken in several western and northwestern settlements; and Persian is a means of formal and written communication, including mass media, but also a vernacular in urban centers, especially Kermanshah. Turkophones are reportedly notable only in  Sonqor. In such a milieu, bilingualism in Kurdish and Persian is the norm. As Gurāni villages are usually within larger Kurdophonic settings (Figure 1), the Gurān are typically trilingual in Gurāni, Persian, and Kurdish. Gurāni is steadily losing ground to Kurdish (Šahbāzi, 2013).

Kurdish. The main Kurdish language groups spoken in Kermanshahan are Sorani or Central Kurdish in the northwest and Southern Kurdish in the rest of the province (Figure 1).

Southern Kurdish is also known as Kermanshahi Kurdish, even if the latter term more specifically corresponds to the variety spoken in and around the city of Kermanshah. Hence Southern Kurdish is also called Kermāšāni after the Kurdish name of the city (see, e.g., Ḵorsand; Šams). Kermāšāni enjoys high prestige in the province, especially the variety spoken in the inner city of Kermanshah. It was based on this contemporary urban variety that Partow Kermānšāhi composed verses and the nationally acclaimed singer Šahrām Nāẓeri sang his Kurdish songs.

Other Southern Kurdish dialects in the province are most commonly named after traditional tribal groupings rather than their location or linguistic classification. Thus Kolyāʾi is current in the northeastern sub-province of Sonqor, which was until lately known as Sonqor-e Kolyāʾi. The Zangana dialect, also a tribal namesake, has speakers in the valleys to the south of the city of Kermanshah. Kalhori, itself a large dialect named after the Kalhor (q.v.) tribe, prevails in the sub-provinces of Eslāmābād-e Ḡarb (formerly Šāhābād), Gilān-e Ḡarb, and southern Qaṣr-e Širin, as well as in adjoining areas of Ilām Province and Iraq’s Dyala (Diāla) Province. Another Kurdish dialect continuum that spreads across southwestern Kermanshahan–Ilām–Iraq is known as Feyli or Fayli; M. Aliakbari et al. propose ‘Ilāmi’ as an alternative designation, on the grounds that Ilām is home to most of its speakers, but also to avoid confusion with Feyli/Feili, a Northern Lori dialect (see LORI LANGUAGE i. LORI DIALECTS). It appears that the Southern Kurdish Feyli owes its name to the Little Lor governors (wāli) in the Qajar period, who administered Poštkuh of Lorestān, corresponding to the modern province of Ilām (cf. Fattah, pp. 70-74).

As I. K. Fattah shows in his broad study, Les dialectes kurdes méridionaux, all these Southern Kurdish varieties are interrelated and largely mutually intelligible. However, in addition to the aforesaid varieties, there is Laki, an ethno-linguistic variety which is spoken in Kermanshahan along its border with Lorestān Province, the latter being home to the main body of Laki speakers. The classification of Laki as a dialect of Southern Kurdish or as a distinct Kurdish language in its own right remains controversial in the literature (for recent discussion, see Fattah, pp. 55-62; Aliakbari et al.).

The Sorani-speaking parts of Kermanshahan stand slightly offset north of a line connecting Qaṣr-e Širin, Zahāb, and Ravānsar, and running further northeast, along the provincial border to Kāmyārān and Qorva in Kordestān (Fattah, map on p. vi). The town Kerend is Sorani-speaking, and there are Sorani speakers in Pāva and Nowsud along with speakers of Avromani and Gurāni. See Figure 1; see also Figure 1 in KERMANSHAH i. GEOGRAPHY, above.

Gurāni. Kermanshahan embraces the larger share of the Gurāni (Gōrāni) speaking areas. The language consists of two dialect groups, Gurāni and Avromani (also known as Hawrāmi). Gurāni-speaking settlements are clustered in three areas in western and central Kermanshahan: to the west of Kerend; in the region around Zahāb (or Sar-e pol-e Zohāb) and Qaṣr-e Širin (the Bājalāni dialect; MacKenzie, 1956); and in Kandula, in the northwest of Kermanshah. Gurāni settlements are also scattered across the border into Iraq. In recent years, comprehensive fieldwork has been conducted in the villages of Gowrājub, near Kerend (Šahbāzi, 2008; Mahmoudveysi et al.), and Zarda, 12 km northeast of Zahāb (Mahmoudveysi and Bailey).

Avromani has its stronghold in Avroman (q.v.), in the northwestern corner of the province. Its domain extends from Pāva northwestward, across administrative borders but no very far, into Kordestān Province and Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan (see map in MacKenzie, 1966, p. 5).

Persian. Persian has strong currency in the urban centers, above all in Kermanshah. Although still understudied, the presence of Persian in the city can by no means be recent, considering the enduring status of Kermanshah as the administrative hub of the region coupled with its commercial and transit significance. However, one cannot rule out the effect of modernism in the expanding role of Persian through schooling and mass media and its adoption as vernacular by the urban middle class as a token of social status. Language redistribution in Kermanshah occurred during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), on the part of the refugees who formed new, Kurdish-speaking, peripheral neighborhoods. These 20th-century vicissitudes may serve as a model of what may have happened throughout history to affect the standing of Persian in Kermanshah: cycles of expansion and contraction of the national language could be a function of the engagement of the city with the national economy and administration during periods of political and economic stability, on the one hand, and, on the other, an influx of surrounding Kurdish tribes during urban downturns, which would result in control of the city by tribal chieftains and emigration of bureaucrats. 

A recent study by Zohra Behju reveals that Kermanshahi Persian is no different from the modern spoken Persian in morphosyntax. Chief phonological features are w (for v) and āN, as in ḵāna “house” and tānessan “to be able to”; these sounds are likely to be influenced by Kurdish rather than having been inherited from Classical Persian. Some notable characteristics are the object pronouns (sg. mana, tona, una), verb stems (niš- : nešd- “sit,” present bas- “tie”), lenition (xāwidan “to sleep,” ḵordo-wud “he had eaten,” dāšda-wāši “that you have”), and Kurdish-driven vocabulary, such as lavaridan “to graze,” šivāndan “to stir,” kerāndan “to drag.” On Kermanshahi Persian, see also Kazāzi.

Neo-Aramaic. Neo-Aramaic-speaking Jewish communities of Kermanshahan were found mainly in the rural areas and towns of Qaṣr-e Širin, Zahāb, Kerend, and Kangāvar. These communities are extensions of those in Kordestān Province of Iran and adjoining area in Iraq; hence their dialects are collectively classified under the Kurdistan Jewish branch of Northeastern Neo-Aramaic, as a language group having Sanandaj at its geographic center and Kerend at its southern frontier. The city of Kermanshah does not historically belong to this dialect area, although it absorbed Aramaic speakers from rural areas (Hopkins, 1999, 2000; cf. IRAN vii. NON-IRANIAN LANGUAGES (10). ARAMAIC).

The Jews of Kordestān-Kermanshahan call themselves hulāyə and their language lišāna nowšən (our tongue), equaling the exonyms lešān-e hulāi used by Iranian-speaking Jews and zwāni mūsāī used in Kurdish. Almost all the speakers have immigrated (field interviews with informants in Great Neck, New York, August 2014). It should be noted that the bulk of the Jewish residents of the city of Kermanshah were Persophonic, having come in modern times from Mašhad and elsewhere in Persia and from Bukhara (see KERMANSHAH viii).

Turkic. In the northwestern town of Sonqor, an isolated ‘Sohqori’ Turkic dialect is spoken within a Kurdish surrounding. Gerhard Doerfer classified this idiom as a distinctive member of Southern Oghuz or Afshar group of Turkic languages (apud Bulut, p. 245). The number of speakers of Sonqori is about 40,000 in the Sonqor valley, the large majority of whom live in the town of Sonqor. The residents of the town are typically trilingular in Turkish, Kurdish, and Persian (Bulut).

An outstanding characteristic of Sonqori morphosyntax is the substantial impact it has received from Iranian, chiefly due to its long and intensive contact with a Kurdish environment. As Bulut has demonstrated, Sonqori has borrowed several grammatical clitics from Iranian languages, including the adjective suffic -tar (as in čuxdar “more,” cf. Pers. bištar “id.”), the indefinite article -i (as in šaʿeri “a poet”), the definite article -aka (from Kurdish; e.g., ušaḡ-ækæ-le “the children”).  Following the Persian norm, Sonqori combines a nominal verb form with a Turkish auxiliary, e.g., calquing sohbæt ile- “talk” from Persian ṣoḥbat kardan. Notwithstanding the strong Iranian influence, Bulut maintains that Sonqori has essentially retained its Turkic character by way of pronouns, adverbs, verbs, a minimum of case morphology, pospositional phrases, a system of verb paradigms, among other inherent grammatical features.

Historical note. In his seminal article “The Origins of Kurdish,” D. N. MacKenzie (having observed that Gurāni is more closely related to the Caspian languages than to the Kurdish dialects that surround them) hypothesizes an “occupation of the southern Zagros and surrounding area by the Goran,” and, “in more recent times, a secondary expansion of the Kurds, from the north, which led to their overrunning and gradually absorbing all but the surviving Goran,” but leaves the timing of these hypothetical movements at loose ends (MacKenzie, 1961, p. 86).

The question remains: what could have been the language of Kermanshahan before the coming of the Gurān and the Kurds? Neither the Achaemenid royal inscriptions of Bisotun nor the Avroman Documents tell anything about the local language, and the paucity of direct linguistic evidence makes it necessary to resort to historical geography. One may consider a ‘Median’ variety, on the grounds that at least eastern Kermanshahan was in the territory of Media (later known as Pahla/Fahla, Jebāl, ʿErāq-e ʿAjam). This claim is attested by the toponyms Māhidašt (locally: Māyešt) and Māyen Kuh (north of Sonqor), with the element Māh/Māy (< OIr. Māda-) corresponding to Media, as well as by the early Islamic sources (where geography of the region first comes to light in some detail). Therein we learn that Qermāsin (Kermanshah) was one of the four seats of Jebāl (Le Strange, p. 187) and that, of the eight regions that constituted the territory of Fahla (Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, p. 57), there were Dinavar, which is just to the east of Kangāvar, and Mehrajān-qaḏaq and Māsabaḏān, which, according to Le Strange (p. 202), would be to the south of the present Māhidašt.

Accordingly, one expects some documentation from Kermanshahan regarding the medieval literary genre known as fahlaviyāt, since the provenances of some works of that type are recognized as having been in several regions of Fahla. None, however, comes closer than Hamadan to Kermanshah. This may be explained in multiple ways: an absence of the fahlaviyāt tradition in Kermanshahan, deficiency in documentation or preservation of manuscripts, or an early disappearance of the Fahlavi/Median language in Kermanshahan. Nevertheless, in this context, one cannot leave unmentioned the ōrāma, as an alternative designation for a fahlavi poem, and ōrāman/ōrāmanān, as fahlavi melodies (laḥn-e ōrāman o bayt-e pahlavi; Šams-al-Din Rāzi, p. 143). It is very likely indeed that this term is connected to the Avromani dialect of the Gurāni language, but whether Avromani was then spoken in its current home, Avroman (Hawrāmān), in the far corner of Kermanshahan, or somewhere along the Gurān migration route from a probable Caspian region, remains an open question.

(The author would like to thank Soruš Šahbāzi for the information he furnished from his current fieldwork throughout the province.)


Mohammad Aliakbari, Mojtaba Gheitasi, and Erik Anonby, “On Language Distribution in Ilam Province, Iran,” Iranian Studies, 48/6, 2015, pp. 835-50.

Zohra Behju, “Feʿl dar fārsi-e kermānšāhi,” in Ḥ. Reżāʾi Bāḡbidi, ed., Majmuʿa maqālāt-e noḵostin hamandiši-e guyeš-šenāsi-e Irān, Tehran, 2002, pp. 61-84.

Christiane Bulut, “Iranian Influences in Sonqor Turkic,” in É. Á. Csató et al., eds., Linguistic Convergence and Areal Diffusion: Case Studies for Iranian, Semitic and Turkic, London, 2005, pp. 241-69.

G. Doerfer and W. Hesche, Südoghosische Materialien aus Afghanistan und Iran, Wiesbaden, 1989. 

Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, Ketāb al-masālek wa’l-mamālek, ed. M. J. de Goeje, Leiden, 1889.

Ismaïl Kamandâr Fattah, Les dialectes kurdes méridionaux: étude linguistique et dialectologique, Acta Iranica 37, Liège, 2000.

Simon Hopkins, “The Neo-Aramaic Dialects of Iran,” in S. Shaked and A. Netzer, eds., Irano-Judaica: Studies Relating to Jewish Contacts with Persian Culture throughout the Ages IV, Jerusalem, 1999, pp. 311-27.

Idem, “Preterite and Perfect in the Jewish Neo-Aramaic of Kerend (Southern Iranian Kurdistan),” in W. Arnold and H. Bobzin, eds., Festschrift für Otto Jastrow, 2000, pp. 281-98.

M.-J. Kazāzi, “Pārsi-e kermānšāhi dar goftogu bā Mir Jalāl-al-Din-e Kazāzi,” Goftogu, ser. no. 61, 2013, pp. 9-25.

Arsalān Ḵorsand, “Tawṣif-e sāḵtemān-e feʿl dar lahja-ye kermāšāni,” Majalla-ye zabānšenāsi 5/1, 1988, pp. 90-108.

G. Le Strange, The Lands of the Eastern Caliphate, Cambridge, 1905.

Parvin Mahmoudveysi and Denise Bailey, The Gorani Language of Zarda, a Village of West Iran. Texts, Grammar and Lexicon, Wiesbaden, 2013.

P. Mahmoudveysi, D. Bailey, L. Paul, and G. Haig, The Gorani Language of Gawraǰū, a Village of West Iran. Texts, Grammar, and Lexicon, Wiesbaden, 2012. D. N. MacKenzie, “Bāǰalānī,” BSOAS 18, 1956, pp. 418-35.

Idem, “The Origins of Kurdish,” Transactions of the Philological Society, 1961, pp. 68-86.

Idem, Kurdish Dialect Studies, 2 vols., London, 1961-62.

Idem, The Dialect of Awroman (Hawrāmān-ī Luhōn), Hist.-Filos. Skr. Dan. Vid. Selsk. 4, no. 3, Copenhagen, 1966. 

Soruš Šahbāzi, “Barrasi-e guyeš-e gurāni-e rustā-ye Gowrājub (Qešlāq),” Masters’ thesis, University of Tehran, 2008.

Idem, “Guyeš-e gurāni-e gowrājubi dar āstāna-ye enqerāż,” Foruzeš, Autumn 2013, pp. 79-82.

Ṣādeq Šams, Negāh-i be farhang-e mardom-e Kermāšān, Tehran, 1999.

Šams-al-Din Rāzi, al-Muʿjam fī maʿāyīri ašʿāri’l-ʿAjam, ed. M. Qazvini, Leiden, 1909.

(Habib Borjian)

Originally Published: June 13, 2016

Last Updated: June 13, 2016

Cite this entry:

Habib Borjian, “KERMANSHAH vii. Languages and Dialects [2016],” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2016, available at (accessed on 13 June 2016).