Introduction to Afghan Persian Part 3 – Grammar

Posted  17 Nov 2020

Last week we had a brief overview of the main lexical differences between Afghan Persian and Iranian Persian. I forgot to mention one very important point – the names of months used in Afghanistan.

The calendar most currently in use in Afghanistan is the Solar Hijri Calendar identical to the one used in Iran. The difference is in the names. In Iran, the solar months are named according to the Zoroastrian tradition, but in Afghanistan, as well as traditionally in Central Asia, they are named after the Zodiac signs. Yes, in Afghanistan, you will never forget which sign you are. The following table contrasts the Afghan names (i.e. the same Zodiac signs you are familiar with, but in Persian) with the Iranian names as well as the corresponding time periods on the Gregorian Calendar. Each month usually begins on the 21st day of the Gregorian month, give or take one day, and ends on the 20th day of the next Gregorian month, give or take one day. I will only put down the corresponding months for each Solar Hijri month as a result of this variation:

Gregorian equivalentIranian nameAfghan nameZodiac sign
March – Aprilفروردین  Farvardīnحمل HamalAries
April – Mayاردیبهشت  Ordībeheshtثور SawrTaurus
May – Juneخرداد Khordādجوزا JawzāGemini
June – Julyتیر Tīrسرطان SaratānCancer
July – Augustمرداد Mordādاسد AsadLeo
August – Septemberشهریور Shahrīvarسنلمه SonbolaVirgo
September – Octoberمهر Mehrمیزان MīzānLibra
October – Novemberآبان Ābānعقرب ʿAqrabScorpio
November – Decemberآذر Āzarقوس QawsSagittarius
December – Januaryدی Deyجدی JadīCapricorn
January – Februaryبهمن Bahmanدلو Dalw(v)Aquarius
February – Marchاسفند Esfandحوت HūtPisces

 

Now let’s turn to this week’s topic – the grammar of Afghan Persian. In fact, Afghan Persian grammar, both standard and colloquial, differs so little from Iranian Persian grammar that there is not much to talk about in general. However, some differences still exist:

  1. No expression of the progressive aspect

Unlike Iranian Persian and Tajik Persian, there is no morphological expression of the progressive (i.e. the English ‘to bedoing something’) in Afghan Persian. The Iranian construction with داشتن dāshtan plus the present tense/past continuous, therefore, does not exist in Afghan Persian. کتاب می‌خوانم kitāb mēkhānom, then, means either ‘I read books’ (in Iranian:  کتاب می‌خوانم ketāb mīkhānam) or ‘I am reading books/a book’ (in Iranian: in Iranian: دارم کتاب می‌خوانم dāram ketāb mīkhānam). Similarly, بازی می‌کردم bāzī mēka(r)dom is either ‘I used to play’ (in Iranian بازی می‌کردم bāzī mīkardam) or ‘I was playing’ (in Iranian: داشتم بازی می‌کردم dāshtam bāzī mīkardam). The Tajik expression, as I mentioned a while ago in my post about Tajik grammar, is with the past participle of the verb expressing the action in question + ایستاده истода – the past participle of the verb ایستادن истодан ‘to stand’ + ‘to be’ in the present or past tense: карда истодаам karda istādaam‘I am doing’, etc.

 

  1. Past participle + توانستن tawānistan

We know that in Persian, the verb توانستن tawānistan expresses two things, just like its equivalent in English, ‘can’ – 1. ‘to be able to’, either in general or circumstantial (cf. ‘I can sing’, i.e. I know how to sing in general or ‘I can’t sing now because my throat is hearting’); 2. ‘it is possible that’ (cf. ‘[I can sing, but] I can’t sing tonight because I will be studying).

In Iranian Persian, as learners are taught, the potentiality/ability verb توانستن precedes the verb in the subjunctive: می‌توانم بخوانم mītavānam bekhānam ‘I can read/sing’ (of course, colloquially, it is میتونم mītūnam). In Afghan Persian, however, the action in question is generally expressed by its verb in the past participle that comes before توانستن: خوانده می‌توانم khānda mētawānam (colloquially, میتانم mētānom), but the subjunctive construction also exists. In fact, for many Afghan Persian speakers, there is a subtle nuance: the past participle + توانستن construction tends to express general or circumstantial ability, and the subjunctive construction tends to express possibility. Thus, ‘I can see you’, as in I am not blind and/or you are within visible distance is تورا دیده می‌توانم Turā dīda mētawānam (colloquially, توره دیده می‌تانم Tura dīda mētānom), but ‘I can see you (next Wednesday, because I am free)’ is می‌توانم تورا ببینم Mētawānam turā be(i)bīnam (colloquially, میتانم توره ببینم Mētānom tura be(i)bīnom). This said, some Afghan speakers do use the past participle + توانستن construction indiscriminately in both cases, which means that in Afghan Persian, the past participle + توانستن construction is the preferred morphology for توانستن.

 

  1. Remnants of classical Persian grammar

Afghan Persian is closer to the Persian spoken in history, not only due to its pronunciation and lexicon, but also its grammar. One of the most prominent remnant of classical Persian grammar is the use of the particle را as a dative marker. Surely, like in Iranian Persian, را also marks the definite direct object in Afghan Persian, but at its origin, it was a marker for the indirect object (dative marker) which late spread to the accusative case (the case for direct object). Therefore, it is not rare to hear Afghan say مرا گفت marā (colloquially مره mara) goft ‘he/she/it said to me’, instead of the Iranian به من گفت be man goft. You can see a lot of examples like this classical Persian literature.

The other remnant of classical Persian grammar I would like to mention is the use of م- ma– as the imperative negative particle. It is not universal to all Afghan Persian speakers, but many prefer م- ma– to ن- na– when making a negative command, i.e. مگو Magō instead of نگو Nagō(ū) ‘Don’t say’.

 

  1. About prepositions

Most of the prepositions in Afghan Persian are the same in form and use as in Iranian Persian. There are some differences, however. For example, the Iranian تو ‘in, inside, at’ as a colloquial replacement for the more formal در dar is non-existent in Afghan Persian, where the colloquial word for در dar is just it pronounced without the final r, i.e. ده da. The comitative preposition با ‘with’, however, is intact in colloquial Iranian Persian but sounds quite formal in Afghan Persian. Colloquial Afghan Persian prefers a totally different preposition, کتی katī (some speakers may shorten it further to کت kat) which may have come from Turkic (the Turkic noun qat means ‘layer’, and indeed, in colloquial Tajik Persian, ‘with’ is either kati or qati). Alternatively, many Afghan Persian speakers use the word همراه hamrāh (colloquially pronounced as امرا amrā) as the preposition ‘with’. Thus, ‘with me’ in colloquial Afghan Persian is either کتی مه katī ma or امرایم amrāya(o)m.

Another thing worth mentioning is that the Iranian inflected prepositions, such as بهت behet (= به تو be tō) ‘to you’, ازشazash (از او= az ū) ‘from him/her/it’, باهشون bāheshūn (= با ایشان\آن‌ها bā īshān/ānhā) ‘with them/him/she’ in Iranian Persian are not commonly used (in fact, as far as I know, not used at all) in Afghan Persian. When you use a preposition with a pronoun, you simply say the preposition followed by the pronoun in its original form – I guess this must be a relief for learners of Persian grammar.

 

Here we are, having become acquainted with the major phonological, lexical and grammatical differences between Afghan Persian and Iranian Persian. The best way to get more familiar with Afghan Persian, however, is to stop seeing it as a completely different language but as a variety of the form of Persian you already know – just the way how you treat different versions of English, French, Portuguese, German, Spanish etc. – and to start learning Persian also with the huge quantity of Afghan resources there are on the Internet. The Afghan network TOLO TV https://www.youtube.com/user/TOLOTV is the perfect place to start.

 

Iskandar Ding

 

[featured image: Mazar-e Sharif https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nowruz_in_northern_Afghanistan_in_March_2011.jpg]