Gilaki language

Gilaki language

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The Gilaki language is a Caspian language
Caspian languages
Caspian languages are a branch of Northwestern Iranian languages spoken in northern Iran, south of the Caspian Sea.Caspian languages include:* Deilami* Gilaki * Mazanderani * Shahmirzadi-External links:*...

, and a member of the northwestern Iranian language
Iranian languages
The Iranian languages form a subfamily of the Indo-Iranian languages which in turn is a subgroup of Indo-European language family. They have been and are spoken by Iranian peoples....

 branch, spoken in Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

's Gīlān Province
Gilan Province
Gilan Province is one of the 31 provinces of Iran. It lies along the Caspian Sea, just west of the province of Mazandaran, east of the province of Ardabil, north of the provinces of Zanjan and Qazvin....


The language is divided into three dialects: Western Gilaki, Eastern Gilaki, and Galeshi (in the mountains of Gilan). Furthermore, the Gilaki language is closely related to Mazanderani, and the two languages have similar vocabularies. The western and eastern dialects are separated by the Sefid River
Sefid River
The Sefīd-Rūd is a river approximately long, rising in northwestern Iran and flowing generally northeast to meet the Caspian Sea at Rasht. The river is Iran's second longest river after the Karun....

. According to Ethnologue
Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a web and print publication of SIL International , a Christian linguistic service organization, which studies lesser-known languages, to provide the speakers with Bibles in their native language and support their efforts in language development.The Ethnologue...

, there were more than 3 million native speakers of Gilaki in 1993.

Gilaki also shares many features and structures with the Talysh language
Talysh language
The Talyshi language is a Northwestern Iranian language spoken in the northern regions of the Iranian provinces of Gilan and Ardabil and the southern regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Historically, the language and its people can be traced through the middle Iranian period back to the ancient...

 and with Zazaki
Zazaki language
Zazaki is an Indo-European language spoken primarily in eastern Turkey. According to Ethnologue, the language is a part of the northwestern group of the Iranian section of the Indo-European family. Zazaki shares many features, structures, and vocabulary with Gorani, Talyshi and other Caspian...

, the latter mainly spoken in Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

. There are some grammatical differences between Gilaki and standard Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, especially in possessive and adjectives. Unlike Persian, most possessive
Possessive may be:* Possessive case* Possessive adjective* Possessive pronoun* Possessive suffix* Possessive construction, pattern among words indicating possession * For possessive behavior in a relationship, see Attachment in adults...

s and adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

s precede the head noun, similar to English.
  • Example for noun-noun possessives in Western Gilaki: məhin zakan (Mæhin's children) (Bæče-ha-ye Mæhin in Persian
    Persian language
    Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

    ), Baγi gulan (garden flowers) (Gol-ha-ye Baγ in Persian). In Eastern Gilaki: Xirsi Kuti (bear cub) (Bæč-e Xers in Persian).

  • Example for adjectival modification: Western Gilaki: pilla-yi zakan (big children), Surx gul (red flower). Eastern Gilaki: Sərd aw (cold water) ( in Persian), kul čaqu (sharp knife) (čaqu-ye Tiz in Persian).

Some Gilaki words

Gilaki English Persian Persian Romanization
dim face روی/چهره ruy/čehreh
zäy baby/kid کودک/بچه kudæk/bæčé
pilə per grandfather پدربزرگ pedær bozorg
zəmat time زمان zaman
mərdə per father of the husband پدرشوهر pedær šohar
kark hen مرغ خانگی morgh khanegi
gäb cow گاو gāv
buĵor up بالا bāla
roĵä/kiĵi star ستاره setare
kor/kiĵä/kilka/läku girl دختر doxtær
re/rikä/ri boy پسر pesær
putär ant مورچه murčé
siftäl=garzak bee زنبور zanbur
piča=bamši cat/pussy cat گربه/پیشی gorbe/piši
nesä shadow سایه saye
vargadån to hang آویزان کردن/آویختن avixtan/avizan kardan
pilə=pila great بزرگ bozorg
zak child بچه bačče
per father پدر pedar
kåråš=kereš to draw on the ground کشیدن به دنبال be donbal kešidan
fuduštån to suck مکیدن makidan
vastån appetite or desire اشتها or میل ešteha or meyl
šondån pouring of liquids ریختن مایعات rixtan e mayeāt
lisk lubricious ليز / سور liz/sor
kərč brittle ترد و شکننده tord o šekanande
där tree دار و درخت där o deraxt
malĵå, čičini sparrow گنجشک gonješk
bušu go برو boro
fegir take it in your hand بگیر begir
fegir or fengir don't take in your hand نگیر nagir
purd bridge پل pol
si stone and mountain کوه و سنگ kuh o sang
kenes touch تماس tamås
morghanə egg تخم مرغ toxm e morgh
lanti snake مار mar
picha cat گربه gorbeh
kəlach crow کلاغ kalagh
gərmalət pepper فلفل felfel
pamador tomato گوجه فرنگی gojeh
vatərkəssən explode ترکیدن terkidan
šimi šin for you برای شما baraye šoma
mi šin for me برای من baraye man
kiškazay chicken جوجه jujeh
vərza male cow گاو نر gave nar
leše female cow گاو ماده gave maddeh
bijir down پائین pa'ein
luchan wink چشمک češmak
bəjar rice farm مزرعه برنج mazraeye berenj
vachukastan climb بالا رفتن bala raftan


Comparison of Gilaki and Kurdish

Gilaki English Kurdish
zay/zak baby/kid zarok
ĵor up jor/jûr
kiĵa/kilka girl kîj
daar tree dar
bošu go biçe
purd bridge pird
zama groom zawa
kaft fell keft/kewt


Gilaki has the same consonants as Persian, but different vowels. Here is a table of correspondences for the Western Gilaki of Rasht (as will be the variety used in the remainder of the article):
Gilaki Persian Example (Gilaki)
i e
e(ː) iː, eː/ei seb
ə æ, e mən
a zai
ɒ (perhaps allophonic) lɒ.nə
o uː, oː/ɔ d͡ʒoɾ
u o/uː ɡul

The consonants are:
Gilaki Consonants
  labial alveolar post-alveolar velar glottal
 voiceless stops p t t͡ʃ k ʔ
 voiced stops b d d͡ʒ ɡ  
 voiceless fricatives f s ʃ x h
 voiced fricatives v z ʒ ɣ  
 nasals m n      
 liquids   l, ɾ      
 glides     j    

Verb system

The verb system of Gilaki is very similar to that of Persian. All infinitives end in -tən/-dən, or in -V:n, where V: is a long vowel (from contraction of an original *-Vdən). The present stem is usually related to the infinitive, and the past stem is just the infinitive without -ən or -n (in the case of vowel stems).

Present indicative

The present indicative is formed by adding the personal endings to this stem:
Singular Plural
dinəm diním(i)
diní diníd(i)
diné diníd(i)

Present subjunctive

The present subjunctive is formed with the prefix bí-, bú-, or bə- (depending on the vowel in the stem) added to the indicative forms. Final /e/ neutralizes to /ə/ in the 3rd singular and the plural invariably lacks final /i/.
Singular Plural
bídinəm bídinim
bídini bídinid
bídinə bídinid

The negative of both the indicative and the subjunctive is formed in the same way, with n- instead of the b- of the subjunctive.


From xurdən, "to eat", we get the perfect stem xurd. To this are added unaccented personal endings and the unaccented b- prefix (or accented n- for the negative):
Singular Plural
buxúrdəm buxúrdim(i)
buxúrdi buxúrdid(i)
buxúrdə buxúrdid(i)


The imperfect is formed with what was originally a suffix -i:
xúrdim xúrdim(i)
xúrdi xúrdid(i)
xúrdi xúrdid(i)


The pluperfect is paraphrastically formed with the verb bon, "to be", and the past participle, which is in turn formed with the perfect stem+ə (which can assimilate to become i or u). The accent can fall on the last syllable of the participle or on the stem itself:
Singular Plural
buxurdə bum buxurdə bim
buxurdə bi buxurdə bid
buxurdə bu buxurdə bid

Past subjunctive

A curious innovation of Western Gilaki is the past subjunctive, which is formed with the (artificial) imperfect of bon+past participle:
Singular Plural
bidé bim bidé bim
bidé bi bidé bid
bidé be/bi bidé bid

This form is often found in the protasis and apodosis of unreal conditions, e.g., mən agə Əkbəra bidé bim, xušhal bubosti bim, "If I were to see/saw/had seen Akbar, I would be happy".


There are two very common paraphrastic constructions for the present and past progressives. From the infinitive šon, "to go", we get:

Present progressive

Singular Plural
šón darəm šón darim
šón dari šón darid
šón darə šón darid

Past progressive

Singular Plural
šón də/du bum šón də/di bim
šón də/di bi šón də/di bid
šón də/du bu šón də/di bid

Compound verbs

There are many compound verbs in Gilaki, whose forms differ slightly from simple verbs. Most notably, bV- is never prefixed onto the stem, and the negative prefix nV- can act like an infix -n-, coming between the prefix and the stem. So from fagiftən, "to get", we get present indicative fagirəm, but present subjunctive fágirəm, and the negative of both, faángirəm or fanígirəm. The same applies to the negative of the past tenses: fángiftəm or fanígiftəm.

Nouns, cases and postpositions

Gilaki employs a combination of quasi-case endings and postpositions to do the work of many particles and prepositions in English and Persian.


There are essentially three "cases" in Gilaki, the nominative (or, better, unmarked, as it can serve other grammatical functions), the genitive, and the (definite) accusative. The accusative form is often used to express the simple indirect object in addition to the direct object. A noun in the genitive comes before the word it modifies. These "cases" are in origin actually just particles, similar to Persian ra.


For the word "per", father, we have:
Singular Plural
Nom per perán
Acc pera perána
Gen perə peránə

The genitive can change to -i, especially before some postpositions.


The 1st and 2nd person pronouns have special forms:
Singular Plural
Nom mən amán
Acc məra amána
Gen mi amí

Singular Plural
Nom tu šumán
Acc təra šumána
Gen ti šimí

The 3rd person (demonstrative) pronouns are regular: /un/, /u.ˈʃan/, /i.ˈʃan/


With the genitive can be combined many postpositions. Examples:
Gilaki English
re for
həmra with
ĵa from, than (in comparisons)
mian in
ĵor above
ĵir under
ru on top of

The personal pronouns have special forms with "-re": mere, tere, etc.


Gilaki adjectives come before the noun they modify, and may have the genitive "case ending" -ə/-i. They do not agree with the nouns they modify.

See also

  • Mazandarani language
    Mazandarani language
    Mazandarani or Tabari is an Iranian language of the Northwestern branch, spoken mainly in Iran's Mazandaran, Gilan and Golestan provinces...

    , another language in the Caspian subgroup of Northwest Iranian.

Further reading

  • Christensen, Arthur Emanuel. 1930. Dialect Guiläki de Recht [The Gilaki dialect of Rasht]. In Contributions à la dialectologie iranienne. Series: Kgl. danske videnskabernes selskab. Historisk-filologiske meddelelser; 17, 2. (translated into Persian 1995)
  • Purriyahi, Masud. 1971. Barresi-ye dastur-e guyesh-e Gilaki-ye Rasht [A Grammatical Study of the Gilaki dialect of Rasht]. Dissertation, Tehran University.
  • Sartippur, Jahangir. 1990/1369 A.P.
    Iranian calendar
    The Iranian calendars or sometimes called Persian calendars are a succession of calendars invented or used for over two millennia in Greater Iran...

    Vižegihā-ye Dasturi va Farhang-e vāžehā-ye Gilaki [Grammatical Characteristics and Glossary of Gilaki]. Rasht: Nashr-e Gilakan. Dictionary.
  • Shokri, Giti. 1998. Māzi-ye Naqli dar Guyeshhā-ye Gilaki va Mazandarāni [Present perfect in Gilani and Mazandarāni Dialects]. Nāme-ye Farhangestān 4(4(16)):59–69. (quarterly journal of Iranian Academy of Persian Language and Literature) Article abstract in English.

External links