This project documents primarily the languages spoken in two villages of West Iran, Gawraǰū, and Zarde. We have also collected data from a number of closely-related varieties from Iraq. Linguistically, we consider all of them to belong to an overarching group, which we refer to as “Gorani”. Gorani belongs to the Iranian languages, themselves a branch of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European. Iranian is generally divided into West Iranian, and East Iranian, and West Iranian is traditionally further split into Northwest and Southwest Iranian. Persian (Farsî) is the most prominent member of Southwest Iranian, while Gorani, like Kurdish, Balochi, and several other languages, belongs to Northwest Iranian. There is, however, considerable confusion surrounding the name “Gorani”, so we will briefly discuss the background here.
In the earlier European tradition of Iranian linguistics, the term Goranî (also spelled Guranî) was used to refer to the language of the “Guran”, a people considered distinct from both the Kurds and the Persians, and inhabiting an area on the northwest fringe of the Zagros mountains close to the present-day border of Iran and Iraq. A number of other groups were also included in the Guran, for example, the Bajalan, who live as far west as Mosul in today’s Iraq (cf. Hadank 1930 for justification of this account). In part, this view of the matter is historically motivated and is based on the use of “Gorani” as the written language in the principality of Ardalan, which was dominant in the region from approximately the fourteenth to nineteenth centuries. Gorani is also the name for the language of the sacred texts of the Ahl-e Haqq (or Yaresan) religion, with which the Ardalan were closely linked and which was considerably more widespread in the region than it is today.

If one accepts this view, the language Hawrami (Hawramani), spoken in the Awraman district of Iran and around Halabja in Iraq, can be considered a “Gōrānī dialect” (MacKenzie 1966: 4). The core of “Gorani” thus comprises of Hawrami, and the Gorani spoken in areas such as Kandula (Hadank 1930: 76). It would also include the languages of the villages of Gawraǰū, of the village of Zarde, which were the principle focus of this documentation project. This is the view we adopt, and it is for this reason that we have chosen the term “Gorani” as the most appropriate cover term for the varieties we have been documenting.

However, present-day nomenclature among the inhabitants of the area is quite different. The term Gorani, if used at all as a language name, is only used to refer to the language of poetry and of the sacred texts of the Ahl-e Haqq. Otherwise, people refer rather generally to “Kurdī” for most varieties of Central and Southern Kurdish used as lingua francas throughout the region, and may even extend the term to other languages. The main distinction drawn by the people of the region is thus between “Kurdī”, and “Hawrami” used for the variety spoken in Paveh. The term Gorani is therefore not part of common usage among laypeople. Fieldwork in Iraq (2010) by Mahmoudveysi confirmed the existence of pockets of what we would refer to as Gorani in locations even as far as the north-west areas of the Mosul region in northern Iraq, which basically confirm Hadank’s (1930) view of the matter. But the speakers of these varieties refer to them with such names as Bāǰalānī, Kākāyī, Šexānī, Šabakī, and Zangana. The name Māčo (lit., ‘he says’) is also commonly used by the speakers concerned, usually as a collective term for these Iraqi varieties.

Linguistically, there is little doubt that these now isolated pockets are quite closely related to the Gorani dialects of Iran, such as Gawraǰūyī, and the dialect of Zarde. We take this as indicative of an earlier, much larger area in which various forms of Gorani were once spoken, but which progressively eroded through the encroachment of Kurdish. Outside of the core regions of Hawraman, the varieties of contemporary Iraq, as well as those of Gawraǰūyī and Zardeyī, constitute more or less remnant pockets of this earlier Gorani area. Such a view was already expounded by MacKenzie (1961a). Thus our usage of the term “Gorani” evokes a historical unity of which speakers of the scattered remnant dialects today are largely unaware. It is, of course, a matter of dispute whether scientific terminology should depart from laypeople’s perceptions, but in the present case, there seems to be good reason to maintain the term “Gorani”, in particular because no other term is available.

The genetic relationships between the individual Gorani languages remain poorly understood. However, Hawrami and the variety of Gorani spoken in the village of Kandula (north of Kermanshah) appear to be closest to each other (see Paul 2007: 291 and Hadank 1930), while that of Gawraǰū differs from these in a number of important respects (e.g., lack of gender, several differences in the paradigms of verbal agreement). Broadly speaking, Gawraǰūyī appears to have undergone stronger influence from Southern Kurdish, although it may be premature to attribute the differences to contact influence. The dialect of Zarde, on the other hand, is closer to the Hawrami (Paveh) and Kandulai end of the spectrum. Mahmoudveysi’s fieldwork in Iraq suggests that the dialects in Iraq are likewise remarkably similar to the Zarde variety, despite distances of hundreds of kilometers and a national border that separates them.

Traditionally, the small town of Gahvāre has been a cultural and administrative centre of the Gorani-speaking Ahl-e Haqq communities in the region. It lies approximately twenty kilometers northeast of Kerend, and Gahvāre is also a mere ten kilometers from Gawraǰū, but the road between the two is extremely poor. When Oskar Mann visited the town in 1902, a variety of Gorani was still widely spoken there, and Mann was able to gather extensive language material, reproduced in Hadank (1930: 436-455). However, when Ludwig Paul visited the township in 2004, only three speakers remained, all over seventy years old, and having only restricted competence in the language (Paul 2007). The language has thus been almost totally abandoned in favor of the local variety of Southern Kurdish, and more recently, Persian. In fact, it appears that Gorani is still spoken in only in two villages in the entire area, Gawraǰū and Zarde.

In sum, the language of Gawraǰūyī represents a remnant pocket of the Gorani that was once spoken across a wide area. An overview of the traditional Gorani speech zone, showing the most important villages and towns with the names of the tribes, is provided in the Map in the archive.