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What Is Judeo-Median—and How Does it Differ from Judeo-Persian?

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The Iranian languages spoken by the Jews are often lumped under the term “Judeo-Persian.” Yet properly construed, the latter term refers to forms of Persian written with the Hebrew script. The corpus of Judeo-Persian texts is significant for both linguistic and literary reasons, because it includes some of the earliest documents of New Persian, and because it constitutes a sizable literature written by Persian Jews. However, there are also several spoken languages, different from Judeo-Persian, that also belong to the Iranian stock and are associated with Jewish populations in Iran. What we refer to here as “Judeo-Median” are a number of languages that have their core in central Iran and are/were spoken by the Jewry of Isfahan, Kashan, Yazd, and outlying western towns. All of these varieties are on the verge of extinction, both in their original homeland and in diaspora. Belonging to the Northwest group of Iranian languages, Judeo-Median differs from Persian (a Southwest language) not only in pedigree but also in its vocabulary and grammar—rendering it unintelligible to Persian monolinguals. This article studies the Judeo-Median dialects collectively, exhibiting their major similarities and differences, and attempting to enumerate and arrive at a tentative classification.

Affiliations: 1: Columbia UniversityNew York, nyUSA


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