Sunday, December 13, 2020

Gurani: Practical Language or Kurdish Literary Idiom?



Gurani: Practical Language or Kurdish Literary Idiom?


Dr. Behrooz Chaman Ara[1]
Assistant Professor of Kurdish Language and Literature
University of Kurdistan, Sanandaj


Dr. Cyrus Amiri
Assistant Professor of English
University of Kurdistan, Sanandaj


The family of Iranian languages consists of several groups, of which the Kurdish language(s) is among the most diverse and problematic. Lack of authentic knowledge of the present state of Kurdish languages and, in some cases, the absence of proper methodologies are among the main obstacles on the way to proper historical study of these languages. Among the most complicated issues in Kurdish studies is Gurani. Common to most linguistic studies of Gurani is their assumption of a mass migration of the Kurds from the Caucasus and northern Iran to the central Zagros area and a subsequent assimilation of local groups including the ‘Gurāns’. We have investigated the data and the assumptions of some of the more influential researches and have attempted to shed a new light on the concept of ‘Gurani’. The outcome of this study—besides a critique of the methodology of linguistic approaches to Gurani—is the redefinition of Gurani not as a distinct practical language or dialect but as a literary idiom which, cannot be cast into any linguistic categories. It is also shown how Gurani has played a vital role in preserving and transmitting cultural data of diverse groups of people in the Zagros area

Keywords: Iranian languages, Kurdish language, Gurani, literary tradition, Laki, Kalhori, Hawrami. 

  1. Introduction

The term Gurani denotes a number of different phenomena.[2] It is usually used to refer to a tribe,[3] a group of the Kurds,[4] or a language. When used to refer to a language, it is variously understood as an independent non-Kurdish language,[5] a dialect of Kurdish,[6] or a specialized religious idiom among the followers of the main branch of the Yarsan (Ahl-e Haqq).[7] The question of the Kurdish or non-Kurdish origins of Gurani is still a matter of debate among linguists and anthropologists.[8] The ethno-linguistically complex structure of south-eastern Kurdish areas has led researchers (mainly politicians and travellers of the early twentieth century) to look for probable ethnic diversity in the region and to track the probable migrations or displacements lying behind the assumed ethnic diversities.[9] Lack of reliable written resources has been among the main obstacles on the way of such investigations.


  1. Gurani Resources


For a long time, objective knowledge of Gurani was entirely based on one manuscript in the British Museum, “Or. 6444.” Today, the wide range of available materials indicates that Gurani literature is more extensive than it was generally assumed. Gurani literary tradition includes a wide range of oral and written texts containing, among others, heroic poetry, romances, and religious teachings.

Our knowledge of the early history of Gurani literature and its founding fathers is still insufficient.[10] Sometimes a supposedly ancient Kurdish poem (presumably from 7th–8th CE), which poignantly laments the Arab invasion of Persia, is posed as the earliest example of extant Gurani literature. Attributed to a certain Hurmozgan Parchment in Pahlavi script, this poem is widely regarded as inauthentic[11] since the existence of the claimed original document has not been affirmed. A common assumption, which does not seem to be accurate, dates the first appearance of Gurani back to the 9th century, in the poems of Bahlul-i Mahi in Kermanshah (Kurdish ‘Kirmashan’).[12]

For centuries Gurani poetry had been orally transmitted, until mid-15th and early 16th centuries when examples of Yarsan religious poetry, the narratives of the Kurdish Shanama and a body of lyrical poetry were record and collected.


One of the most important and interesting written records of Kurdish literary heritage is an anthology of lyric poetry in Gurani dating back to early 1780s. Based in Sanandaj (Kurdish Sine), the editor introduces himself as Abdulmu’min bin Djamal-ud-din Muhammed Latif. Sanandaj in those days was the capital of Khosraw Khan I of the Ardalān dynasty (ca. 14th-20th CE). Archived in the British Museum as Or. 6444, the manuscript contains 84 folios, of which 46 are Gurani verses by 37 poets and the rest are Arabic and Persian texts. Among the poets included in the anthology are Mahzuni, Shaikh Mostafa Takhti, Khana Qobadi, Yusof Yaska, and Ahmad Bag Komasi, Mawlana Farrokh Palangani, most of whom lived in the 17th and 18th centuries. After a few preliminary editing of the manuscript by E. B. Soane in 1921 and V. Minorsky in 1943, D. N. Mackenzie provided the first critical edition of some of the clearer parts of the anthology in an article in 1965.[13]

The poetry of Shaykh Shams-ud-din I (1506-1577) father of Shayx Mustafa Taxtayi (1544-1637) is probably the oldest poetry included in the anthologies of Gurani. Yusuf Yāska (Yāsama) (1592-1636), intellectual and founder of a school of poetry, was a significant early figure who transmitted down his teachings through his many disciples and exerted a lasting influence on the Gurani tradition.[14] Parishan-nama, by Mala Parishan, a unique Gurani text from 14/15th CE, is probably the oldest extant manuscript of Gurani poetry. He adapted the language of Gurani poetry to suit his purpose of disseminating Hurufist ideas.     

Alongside various oral narratives, extant Gurani writings can be broadly divided into the three groups of religious thoughts, epics and romances, and lyrical poetry.

2.1. Religious Thoughts

The bulk of written Yarsan teachings, known as kalam or daftar, are poetical texts in Gurani. In line with the principles of Yarsan faith, a great part of the kalams has been orally transmitted down by the Pirs and other spiritual leaders of the main Yarsani clans.[15] In most cases, Each Yarsani clan has its own tradition and interpretation of the kalams. Our knowledge of the exact dates of these texts is still inadequate and any opinion as to the beginnings of the written manuscripts of the kalams would be only one among many others.

What makes historical readings of Yarsan kalams or daftars especially difficult is the difficulty first to construct a coherent historical narrative of the faith—as it is narrated in the texts themselves—and then to establish a satisfying relationship between this internal history and other (external) histories of the faith or of the region. Generally speaking, Yarsan texts attribute the origins of their faith to old Iranian beliefs as understood and taught by Bahlul-i Mahi and revived—after its near eclipse in 13th and 14th centuries—by Sultan Sahak (d. 15th CE.) in Shahrizour. Faithful Yarsans adhere to a linear chronological relationship among the six daftars[16] and draw a timeline of the main events of their faith—such as the coming of their successive prophets—according to textual evidence from the daftars. However, it is usually difficult to identify the historical events and individuals referred to in these writings. 

The two main daftars of Yarsan, known as Divan-e Gawra (The Great Divan) and Kalam of Perdiwar, are in turn divided into a number of smaller books (periods) named after a pir, a spiritual figure, or a holy being who dominates the period. Each period contains the thoughts and teachings of a group of prominent Yarsani figures in the form of poetry. In the period of Abedin Jaff and his wife Narges Khanom of Shahrizour there is a sudden drastic change in both the language and the form of the Kalams, whereby Sorani diction and syntax replaces Gurani and Arabic quantitative prosody replaces the traditional syllabic meter[17]. 

A large number of Gurani texts represent Islamic teachings. For instance, the story of Rustam and Moghatel, which draws on the famous epic stories of Rustam, shows Rustam as the servant of Imam Ali (the first Imam of Shia Islam). Also, there are numerous manuscripts of Mowloud-name (Prophet Mohammad’s birth story) which keeps circulating among the Sunni Kurds. The stories of King Solomon, Heidar and Sonobar and Imam Ali are among the best-known examples of this class.

Didactic poetry forms a small portion of Gurani literature, which, due to the centrality of faith and religious rituals in people’s lives, are mostly religious teachings. The short book Rula Bezani[18] (Remember my Child!)—a father’s views on and experiences of life and his advice on good conduct for his children’s well-being— is among the fine examples of this class.

2.2. Epics and Romances

Epics and romances form a remarkable portion of Gurani poetry. Among the most important Gurani texts are the heroic narratives of the Kurdish Shanama.[19] These narratives, which draw on an ancient tradition, are found in manuscripts as well as in poetic compositions orally recited and transmitted by local storytellers known as naqqals. The extant manuscripts suggest that these narratives were first written down approximately in the early 16th century. The various manuscripts of the Kurdish Shanama exist under more than fifty different titles, together containing over sixty thousand verses and each forming a distinct part of the Kurdish Shanama cycle.[20]

Along with the narrative of the Kurdish Shanama there are stories of other comparably legendary heroes whose love stories, not heroic deeds, are of primary concern. Each of the love stories of Khosro and Shirin, Yusof and Zoleikha, Leyli and Majnoon, and Tarsa va Sheikh-e San’an, among others, contains hundreds of Gurani verse lines handed down in different forms by different storytellers. One significant manuscript of such narratives is a manuscript of Mam and Zin[21] which, some believe, is the first Gurani translation of a Kurmanji text.[22]

2.3. Lyrical Poetry

This body of texts includes various works by poets from different periods who have adapted the tradition of Gurani poetry to suit their historical moment. Among the poets of this mode is Mulla Mostafa Besarani (1641-1702) who had a lasting influence on subsequent generations of poets, including Abdurrahim Tawgozi (best known as Mawlawi the Kurd, or Ma’dumi). 

Gurani lyrical poetry is usually the expression of the poet’s thoughts and feelings sometimes couched in spiritual and mystical metaphors. Among the favourite themes are poetic observations, detailed description of the beloved’s beauties, lamentation over old age, and identification with natural phenomena and inanimate objects. Yusef Yaska is generally considered as the first writer of the so called “Gurani ghazal”— a form comparable to sonnet in the English language. The most outstanding figure in this tradition is Mawlawī the Kurd whose exquisite imagery, highly polished and consistent language as well as unique observations has given him a distinct place not only among the Gurani poets but also among all Kurdish men of letters.

  1. Poetics and Prosody

Today many manuscripts of Gurani poetry have been made available to researchers. Regardless of their poets, their poetic forms and the dates of their production, these poems display a set of common features which allow researchers to construct a poetics of Gurani as a long and unique tradition transmitted through generations of poets and storytellers from among the common folk.

Since Gurani poetry has been essentially oral and orally-transmitted, it has received little influenced from mainstream Persian poetry which circulated in learned circles of men of letters who mostly had backgrounds in Islamic learning.    

For some Iranists, poetry in Middle West Iranian languages is based on syllabic prosody. Accordingly, they regard the Yashts as well as their Indian counterparts, the Vedas, as originally composed in eight-syllabic verse lines[23]. For many others, including Hennings (1977, pp. 151-167; ibid, pp. 349-356), prosody in the Sassanid and the Parthian empires was accentual.

There is a good consensus among researchers on the syllabic nature of Gurani prosody. It is generally assumed that Yarsani religious poems are among the oldest Gurani texts. By accepting this assumption and accepting the claim of Yarsani kalams as to their origins in early Islamic centuries, it can be said that Gurani prosody is an immediate continuation of pre-Islamic prosody.  

The meter in Gurani poetry is “circular” syllabic, which means each verse line can be divided into two musically equivalent halves that can serve as distinct verse lines (Najafi 2011, p. 137).  As Najafi has meticulously observed, circular meter is distinguished from periodic meter[24] by the fact that its half lines can end in a long syllable.    

For Mahmoudveysi (2011) and Naghshbandi (2014), the meter in Gurani poetry is accentual-syllabic. However, as Jalal Khaleqi Motlagh has convincingly argued, it is difficult to imagine that Iranians had such an ear for accents in verse lines. For Khaleqi Motlagh, Pārsīg and Darig are more probably based on a syllabic prosody.

Adhering to the Pahlavi and Parthian traditions of the Pre-Islamic era, Gurani poetry seems to have strongly resisted Arabic aesthetics. Although some scholars have explained this conservatism in geographical terms, regarding the high inaccessible mountains of Hawraman as the main obstacle in the way of the Islamization of Gurani, it cannot be reduced to geographical reasons. It should be remembered that not only in Gurani but in most Iranian languages—especially of the West Iranian branch— regardless of their geography, folk poetry is mostly syllabic. Folk poetry in the larger Kurdish tradition, for instance, certifies this fact. Below are a few examples of different meters in Sorani and Kurmanji beits and an example of eight-syllabic verse line in Kalhori[25].        










شیرین خانم له‌ هه‌وشێ








نقره‌ ها بان که‌وشێ








پای په‌تییه‌ و که‌وش نه‌یرێ






باڵای به‌رزه‌ و خه‌وش نه‌یرێ







(Jahanfard 2017, p.192)                                                                                                                     

Except for the opening line, each line in Gurani poetry is made up of 10 syllables (Chaman Ara 2015, pp. 54-56). There is usually a manifest break after the fifth syllable in each line, except for cases where there is an ezafe sign between the fifth and the sixth syllables.  In the following couplet the break in the middle of each line is marked by a comma.

Figure 1: Syllable division and the position of caesura in Gurani line


dīdanī dīdār ,  kaft ew qiyāmat                        bīnayī dīdam , to wa silāmat

5                                      5                                          5                               5         



In the second line of the following couplet, the sixth syllable coincides with the ezafe sign “i” which combines the two words “dawr” and “rūsam” in an ezafe construction:      

Rustam found a resting place in the meadow,


Na pāy markhzar, pīlatan jā kard

Rakhsh (his horse) came and began grazing around him.


Rakhsh āmā na dawr-i rūsam çara kard

(Chaman Ara 2015, p. 83-Vrs. 19)

In this case, as in similar cases, a break between the fifth and the sixth syllables would lead to a drastic change in the meaning of the verse. If the reader halts in the middle of the second line, the result would be a ridiculously different sentence: “Rakhsh came in a circle and Rustam began grazing.”  

Another example is the following couplet:

From the heathen to the Christian and the alien


War na har je gawr, tā tarsā ū farang

Who has killed his own son in a battle?


Kī kushtan farzand-e wēsh na wekht-e jeng

(Chaman Ara 2015, p. 219- Vrs. 1033)

Where an emphatic stop in the middle of the second line would result in a very different sentence which can be translated as “who has killed the son, and himself in the battle?  

In Gurani speech, ezafe is signaled by a schwa. Unlike in the Kurdish-Latin script where ezafe is marked by the letter “i” (as in the above examples), in Kurdo-Arabic script this vowel finds no written mark, which makes proper reading difficult for the unversed reader. In Sorani Kurdish, ezafe is signaled by the long vowel “i:” which is marked by a letter in both the Kurdish-Latin and the Kurdo-Arabic script.  

Conditioned by mainstream Persian and Arabi poetry (in which the opening verse line is always a complete one), many copyreaders of Gurani make for the missing five syllables of opening line by repeating the existing half line. Indeed, it seems that in most Gurani verses the opening half line is intentionally so earmarked as to suggest the title or the main idea of the poem. Most poetry by Mahzuni, Mulla Taher Hawramani, Yusef Yaska, Mirza Shafi’ Kulyayi, Seyed Yaqub Mahidashti (d. 1808), among others, apply the same technique, so that it can be regarded as one of the main features of Gurani prosody. In late Gurani versification, due to the rise of lyrical themes, poems get shorter and the convention of writing out the first half of the opening line is forgotten and poets begin to compose lines in equal measure, as it is the case in Persian and Arabic lyrics.   

It is interesting to see how in each of the following opening couplets from four different poems by Mahzuni, the first five-syllable line serves also as the title of the poem.

My fiends! Who has touched?

Who has touched pain as I have touched it?


Yaran kē diyen

Ser rishte-y xeman, çūn min kē diyen


Oh heart! He bemoaned

One day he bemoaned, when death was well-nigh.


Diłe zarīsh kerd

Wext-i mergish bī, rwē zarīsh kerd


Oh, thoughtless heart!

Oh feckless, heedless, thoughtless heart!


Diłe kemter wīr

Diłe-y kem xeyał, kem fam-i kem wīr


My Zuleika is young,

Her two eyes are like two fawns.


Zilēxam sawan

Du dīdash wēne-y welede-y sawan


(Soltani 2010, p. 206 & 228-9)

The following opening couplets from four different poems by Mawlawī exemplify how in late Gurani poetry the first line is composed as a metrically full line, with less intensity or significance:

The spring is back, the season of joy,

The scent of the blossoming freedom.


Amawa wahār, wahār-i shādī

Boy ‘atr-i nasīm, ghonça-y āzādī


Tonight, my cries are shameless, I know,

A melody keeps spiraling in my head.


imshaw diyāren, bāngim bē sharman

zāyała-y samtūr-i kalam wa garman


You are come my dear; how I missed you,

How long I waited, looking at the door.


āzīzim āmāy, āy bēqarār wēm

āy āy çamarā, āy intizār wēm


You light of my eyes, may you live for good,

I will be waiting you in the world to come.


bīnāyī dīdam, to wa siłāmat

dīdanī dīdār, kaft aw qiyāmat


(Modarres 1961, p. 41)

The difficulty of distinguishing between Hawrami and Gurani dictions is among the reasons why some scholars have considered the meter in Gurani as quantitative. The following poem by Khana Qobadi (1700-1772)—a poet who tried his hand at both traditions—is a revealing example of how close the two poetic languages are and also of how easy it is for the versed reader to distinguish between the two:     

Oh dear! May your face not be hidden from my eyes.


Camīnit nāzanīn lādēw, chanim pinhān nabū shallā


And if hidden so, may it not be forgotten in the soul.


agar gāyēw ja cham dūr bo, ja dił nisyān nabū shallā


(Salehi 2001, p. 129)

The meter in the above poem is mafa’īlon tetrameter (u---), a favorite foot in Arabic prosody which is different in nature from Gurani versification.

Unlike Hawrami, Gurani is a language with exclusively poetic use. It has never been used as an everyday practical language, and there is not even a single piece of prose among the extant Gurani texts. That is why the prose headings of Gurani verse narratives are always Persian and sometimes Arabic. The existence of a set of frequently-used common words has led many scholars to disregard the essential differences between Hawrami as a living language (with both literary and practical purposes) and Gurani as an exclusively literary idiom.


3.1.Verse Epistles and Poetic Repartees

Gurani tradition includes a number of figures who have composed many of their poems as parts of a dialogue carried out with another poet across a long distance and over a sustained period of time. In some cases, such poetic dialogues constitute a large portion of the poet’s career, so that a number of Gurani poets have been known to audiences not as individuals, but each in relation to his corresponding poet with whom he constitutes a literary couple. Usually, one of the poets initiates the dialogue by sending a poem or verse epistle to his hamfard (soul mate) inquiring about his health, discussing a matter, or describing a person or a scene. The typical poem of this class implicitly invites an appropriate response in the manner and on the topic established by the initiating poet.       

As a principle, the opening half line of the first poem or verse epistle—which in Gurani tradition serves as the title, the central idea, or the (musical) theme of the poem—should be used as the opening line of the reply poem too. It is an effective way to form a common ground (both thematically and formally) for poetic cooperation. An inevitable aspect of such poetic cooperation is artistic competition, as each of the two poets tries to outdo his co-author in artist quality.      

Among the best examples of Gurani dialogue poems are poetic repartees—  extemporaneously-composed oral poems each of which constitutes a step in a long dialogue by two poets in the presence of other people in an assembly, or majlis. Among the favorite examples of this class are the repartees of Shaka (Shakaram ca. 1703-1776), a salt peddler, and his hamfard, Khan Mansour (ca. 1693-1776), a powerful Khan under Nader Shah (1688-1747), whose shared love of poetry brought them together across an immeasurable social chasm and eternalized them in people’s minds as indivisible friends. Poetry by Yarsan authorities and pirs include some of the earliest examples of Gurani poetic dialogues.              

The poems of Shaka and Khan Mansour, which have been made available to us through anthologies and collective memory, are mostly descriptive poems about nature and earthy beauty in a remarkably polished language rich with imagery and rhetorical figures. 

In some poetic repartees, the two poets restrict the dialogue both thematically and formally, so that proper continuation of the composition gets increasingly difficult. In a series of poetic repartees by Tirkamir Azad Bakht (ca. 1747-1820) and Najaf Chharzabari Mahidashti (1786-1900), known as “Najaf and Tirkamir,” for instance, the two poets engage in a long descriptive dialogue detailing the beauties of an imagined lady, from top to toe, showing off the readiness of their poetic inventions. What makes this dialogue particularly difficult is the requirement to repeat a single verse line after every four lines, relating it to the previous ones through an intermediary verse line (bridging hemistich) which makes it an integral part of the previous verses (see below). Each poet picks up the subject described in the last verse of his hamfard (here, a part of the imagined lady’s body) describing it in his own way and repeating the question “ya son’i āngoshti kam sen’etkaren?” (what master artist has made this?) which constitutes the refrain of the repartees. Moreover, Tirkamir and Najaf are required to repeat or build on each other’s images and rhetorical figures and instill minute variations to the result of ecstatic approval from their immediate audience.

They build on each other’s repartees, moving from one part of the lady’s body to the next until they meet at a final point, exhausting the woman’s body as well as their own poetic resources. The poem ends in a final invocation of God, expressing the poets’ fear of having tainted the beauty and honor of the lady through their undeserving verses. The following illustration shows the structure of this poetic dialogue:  

The first poet

·   The First hemistich

·   Second verse

·   Third verse

·   Refrain


Figure 2: The Structure of the Repartee









A_______ ________











A___     __________

The Second poet

  • First Line
  • Second Line
  • Third Line
  • Refrain
  • Bridging hemistich






  1. Linguistic studies of Gurani

Attempts to define Kurdish and Gurani as two distinct languages or as a single one has resulted in different theories in the fields of Kurdish linguistics and anthropology. In his famous history of medieval Kurdistan (1597 CE), Sharaf-Khan-i Bedlisi regards Guran as one of the four major Kurdish tribes.[26] Mokri provides some details of the ‘Gurani dialect’[27]. I. M. Oransky classifies Gurani, alongside “Zaza and other dialects,”[28] as one of a range of Kurdish dialects of north-western Iranian languages which, for him, originated from ancient Parthian and Median languages[29] (emphasis added). Elsewhere, however, he seems to regard Gurani and Zaza as related to the central group of Iranian dialects[30] (Semnani) and the languages of Fars (Sivand as well as the coasts of the Caspian Sea).[31]

The assumption that Gurani is related to modern Persian was first introduced by E. B. Soane (1921, pp. 59-60) who drew on H. Schindller’s extensive studies of Aryan dialects in Persia. For Soane “the Gurani of the Anthology” has been affected by Modern Persian. He also finds a close affinity between modern Persian dialects and “the peculiar Zāzā language of mid-Kurdistan.”[32] Soane’s study, in its turn, has influenced later studies of Gurani such as Hadank (1930) and Mackenzie (1961; 2002) among others.

Among the major criticisms of Soane’s study, and similar studies of this class, is that they are based on the historical-comparative method of language classification. It is exactly why A. Christensen (1921) compares “Auramānī” with “Semnānī” and Hadank compares “Kandūlaī” with “Semnānī,” while it is obvious that all southern Kurdish dialects share certain features (including vocabulary) with other Iranian languages and dialects.[33]


Soane’s assumption is further developed by D. N. Mackenzie who categorises Gurani as a koiné[34] alongside Semnānī and languages spoken in the north of Dasht-e Kavir[35]. However, the prevailing view of linguists is summarized in the following excerpt from Mackenzie:


The cradle of all Gurani dialects (as of the closely related Zaza, or Dimlī [q.v.], dialects), was probably in the Caspian provinces. From there their speakers migrated en bloc to the southern Zagros at an unknown early date, and the Iraqi group after them to their present positions. The dialects were presumably once much more widely spoken, but many Gurani-speaking areas were subsequently overrun by Kurdish speakers, leading to a merging of the two languages evident from the differences between the archaic Northern and the Gurani-influenced Central Kurdish dialects.[36]


The weakness of this assumption, which Mackenzie (1961) himself seems to have been aware of, is that there is no historical document or archaeological data to support the assumed migration. Moreover, there is no available evidence to show that Gurani has ever been used as a spoken language.[37] Mackenzie does not provide a clear and consistent definition of the term “Gurani.” He sometimes applies the term broadly to refer to a combination of the dialects nowadays spoken in southern Zagros, from Hawraman (Awrāmān) to the modern Loristān province, but he often applies it more specifically to Hawrami, which is spoken in the Awrāmān region[38].

Joyce Blau, however, categorises the dialects in the Zagros area among the southern Kurdish dialects (of Kermanshahi, Sanjabi, Kalhuri, Laki, and Lori-of Poshtkuh) which she describes as a group of non-homogenous dialects that have never turned into a literary language.[39] For her, the language spoken in Khanaqin[40] is among the central Kurdish dialects, while we know that Khanaqin is at the centre of the Kalhuri-speaking regions which are linguistically distinct from the Sorani-speaking regions. However, in her recent work[41], Blau regards Gurani as a ‘spoken language’ which “became the common literary language in southern Kurdistan at the courts of Baban and Soran dynasties which were settled on the western slopes of the Zagros.” By distinguishing spoken Hawrami from “Literary Gurani” (or Hawrami), Sediq Moftizadeh (2017, p. 54-58), underlines the importance of Gurani as a traditional literary language.


In his 2002 article, however, Mackenzie offers a comparative phonological study (outlined below) and suggests that Gurani is historically distinguished form both Kurdish and Persian.

Among Mackenzie’s errors is his inconsistent and selective use the term “Kurdish,” particularly when he tries to differentia it from Gurani. His examples of “Kurdish” are only those which support his argument.  Moreover, he does not acknowledge his sources for the Gurani data he includes in his study, most of which are not found in Gurani resources.

In an attempt to draw a clear line between Kurdish and Gurani, Mackenzie identifies seven phonological differences between the two, illustrating each point by a few examples. His examples of Gurani, however, seem to be selected not from extant written texts but from the spoken varieties close to Hawrami. In what follows, we examine his examples in the light of authentic Gurani sources.

4.1  the preservation of initial *w-, e.g.,












Indeed, Gurani texts do not display the phonological features outlined by Mackenzie, including the tendency to preserve the initial w-. The correct Gurani forms of the Kurdish examples above are bād (wind), barf (snow), barg (leaf), ba (to/with), and bawr (tiger).

| in Gur. texts: bād/bā

wātash pāławān xātir bikar shad


parī Rakhsh-i wēt xam bidar ba bād

                                                                                                        Rostam and Sohrāb, vrs. 66

wāt | Kal. wat/wet, Lak. wet, Gahv. wat, Hawr. wāt (Sor. got, Lor. got)

warwa | Gur. texts, barf/bafr, Kal. wafr, Lak. wafr, Sor. bafr[43]

4.2  The development of initial *hw- > w- in all dialects (but with occasional secondary h- in Bāǰalānī),















“to sleep”]







war | in Gur. texts, xwar:

mast-i bāda-y laʽł fānūs-i gawhar


shawq dā na jāmrēz wēna-y shawq-i xwar



Rostam and Sohrāb, vrs. 89

wē- | Gur. texts, wē-, Lak. wē-, Kal. (Khezelī), wē-, Hawr. wē-

warm | Gur. texts, xāw/xāw

siłāy rūy  jang na war kirdawa


sar niyā ba gwirz xāwish birdawa



Rostam and Sohrāb, vrs. 20

shī na nū-tūy xaw, hīč nabī bīdār


bē xabar ja kār-i ay čarx-i makār



Rostam and Sohrāb, vrs. 21

 Kal. xaw, Lak. xaw, Sor. xaw

wāła | Gur. texts, xwāhar:

xwāharish ki dī mājarā-y hujīr


siyā bī ja qār, wēna-y zamharīr



Rostam and Sohrāb, vrs. 300

Kal. xwayshk/xwaysheg, Lak. xwē/xwayshk, Sor. xwayshk

4.3  the coalescence of initial *y- and * wy-

in y-,

















yawa |  is nowhere found in Gur. resources.

jarg | has no records in available Gur. resources. Instead the word jarg is constantly used. The following example from the Kurdish Shanama is one among many:

wa mawdāy ałmās, biranda-y xatar


jargish pāra kard, ja dił shē wa bar



Rostam and Sohrāb, vrs. 873

4.4  initial *dw- > b-,







bara |has no records in our resources, instead some components of dar- such as dargā(h) “doorway,” and darwāza “gate” are used.  Other variations are Kal. dar, Lak. dar and Sor. dar

sū saḥar ja waxt-i hingāma-y xwirūs


xēzā ja dargā, ṣidā-y tapł u kūs



Rostam and Sohrāb, vrs. 213

4.5  initial *x- > h-,










har has no even one record in available Gur. texts. Also, Gur. typically uses ĉashma and occasionally hāna. Typically change of initial x- to h- can be seen almost everywhere in Hawr. and Lak. e.g. Lak. hare(g) “soil,”, hoār “down,” and har “donkey”. 

4.6  -rd- > -l- in distinctly non-Persian words,
















The Gur. words for “flower” and “heart” are guł and dił respectively; they are the same in Kalhori, Laki and Sorani. The following couplet from Rostam and Sohrāb exemplifies the fact.  

ba wāta-y badān, bad-wāzān-i jaŋ


wēt madar wa xam, dił māwar wa taŋ



Rostam and Sohrāb, vrs. 184




araq çun shawnem, neshtan na rūy guł


Tar kardan tātā-y, toghrāka-y sunbuł



Mawlawi, 1961: 31

4.7  the retention of -m, also < *-shm,











It is notable that Kalhuri and Laki words for “earth” and “eye” are the same as the Gurani examples mentioned above.

To reach his desired conclusion, Mackenzie has used Hawrami words instead of Gurani in the examples above. It gets the more surprising when we remember that Mackenzie has had access to the Gurani anthology of British Museum (Or. 6444).[44]

Indeed, the bulk of Mackenzie’s researches on Gurani revolve around his attempt to find a proto-Hawrami-Zaza which he names “Gurani” and defines it as language distinct from Kurdish.  Mackenzie’s naming is problematic, since his purely linguistic hypothesis—regardless of its validity—is contaminated by a number of well-established extra-linguistic meanings attached to the word Gurani, and Mackenzie, himself, has been misled by the sheer number of meanings attached the word Gurani.


5        Further Linguistic Studies

Many scholars of Gurani have based their works on Mackenzie’s study. A 2011 study, titled The Gorānī language of Gawrajū[45] which is the product of an extensive research project, follows Mackenzie’s hypothesis and intends to address and identify a mixed variety of a Kurdish dialect as the Gorani language of Gawrajū in the vicinity of Hawraman region in the Kermanshah Province of Iran. According to the authors (Mahmoudveysi et al 2011, p. 1):

The inhabitants of the village belong overwhelmingly to the Ahl-e Haqq, or Yarsesan, religious group. They speak a peculiar dialect, close to the Gorānī language used for the sacred texts of this religion. However, they also use a variety of Southern Kurdish as a lingua franca.


This short introduction has a number of implications: (1) the authors regard Gurani as a specific spoken language; (2) Gurani has a range of varieties or dialects; (3) the sacred texts of Yaresan can be regarded as a version of Gurani; (4) Gurani as a language is different from Kurdish; (5) the Gurani speakers of Gawrajū use a variety of Southern Kurdish as a lingua franca.


The book is replete with comparable claims which are briefly dealt with here:

5.1  Phonetically, Gawrajuyi is comparable to Kalhuri and Laki. The two vowels/ü/ and /ö/ which appear frequently in Gawrajuyi as well as in Kalhuri and Laki, seldom appear in Gurani texts, except for those which have been produced or influenced by Kalhuri or Laki speakers.


5.2  Gawrajuyi evidently has typical features of nominal morphology such as -(a)k(a) <rūła-kān (DEF-PL) ‘children’> which are totally absent in Gurani[46]. It is notable that -(a)k(a) is similarly used by the speakers of Sorani (Central Kurdish) and the dialects of Southern Kurdish, including Laki and Kalhori:

[Gawrajuyi,         -(a)k(a):                      kor-aka (the boy)]

Sorani,                 -(a)k(a):                      kor-aka 

Laki,                    -(a)k(a):                      kor-aka

Kalhuri,                -(a)g(a):                      kor-aga


5.3  Gawrajuyi is distinguished from Hawrami by the case of nouns distinguish number (singular and plural), and definiteness, but neither gender nor case. (ibid, p. 12)

5.4  Number marking on nouns: (e.g. Sing. Unmarked, PL)

[Gawrajuyi                     -ān, -(a)kān                 didān-ān (teeth), kor-akān, (boys)]

Sorani,                            -ān, -(a)kān                 diyān-ān (teeth), kor-akān

Laki,                               -ān, -al                         dinān-ān (teeth), kor-al,

Kalhuri,                          -ān, -(a)gān, -ayl         digān-ān (teeth), kor-ayl

Gurani,                           -ān                               dinān-ān

5.5  Definiteness suffix of -(y)aka <dit-aka ‘the girl’>, is similar to its counterpart in Laki <dit-aka> and Sorani <kiĉ-aka, ‘the girl’ > as well as Kalhuri by changing k to g <dit-aga, düat-aga>, also the indefiniteness suffixes are similar to their counterparts in Laki and Sorani:


[Gawrajuyi,        -(y)ē, -(y)ēk     āsyāw-ē / āsyāw-ēk (a mill)]

Laki,                   -(y)ē, -(y)ēk     āsyāw-ē / āsyāw-ēk

Sorani,                -(y)ē, -(y)ēk     āsyāw-ē / āsyāw-ēk

Kalhuri,              -(y)ē, -(y)ēg     āsyāw-ē / āsyāw-ēg

Gurani                -(y)ē,    -----      āsyāw-ē


[Gawrajuyi,        -(y)ī                 ya qūr-ī arā-m bāra (bring me a jug)]

Laki,                   -(y)ī                 ya qūr-ī ara-m bār

Kalhori,              -(y)ī                 ya(y) qūr-ē(g) arā-m bār


5.6  The Ezafe

In this case we should bear in mind that the adjectives or possessives in Gurani, as in Southern Kurdish dialects, generally follow the head noun to which they are linked by an audible or no audible ezafe vowel. Thus, for example we may expect kū bīsitün, kū-i bīsitün, or kū-y bīsitün (mountain of Bisotun) as well as the reverse form bīsitün kū to refer to mount Bisotun in Kermanshah.


5.7  Personal Pronouns

The first following table demonstrates the resemblance between independent personal pronouns in Gawrajuyi and Hawrami,[47] while the second table distinguishes both from the similar class in Gurani and Kalhuri.


Figure 3: Personal Pronouns in Gawrajuyi, Hawrami, Literary Gurani and Kalhuri

























[ān(a), [īn(a), ānī, īnī

ānān(a), īnān(a), ānānī, īnānī]


ād, ā, āda, ā
























`īwa, `üa



awān, āwān


aü (way)

awān, wān



5.8  Glossary Comparison

The first column of the following table contains a number of frequently used Gawrajuyi words recorded by the authors in their fieldwork, and the next four columns contain their Kalhuri, Laki, Hawrami and Gurani equivalents respectively. Interestingly, only 1 out of 15 of these Gawrajuyi words coincides with its Hawrami equivalent (line 11). As it is indicated by the table, Gawrajuyi is most closely affiliated with Kalhori and Laki, at least in vocabulary, contradicts the claims of the authors (lines 3, 4, 5, 7, 12, 13, 14, 15).


Figure 4: Glossary Comparison








[hānī (spring)]






[didān (tuth)]

dinān, digān


did(g, y)an



[dit (girl)]

düat, dit



duxtar, kināĉa


[ne-ma-zānim (I don’t know)]






[arā (why, to, toward)]






[mashū (he/she goes)]

ĉū (g)



maĉū, mashū


[sē (three)]



[xwiyā (God)]






[bāra (bring)]






[kat-it (you fell)

kaft-ī(d), kat-ī(d)







ay, ī




[shü (husband)]






[zü (quick)]

zū, zü


[žan (woman)]






[žinaft (he/she has heard)]

žinaft, shinaft



žinaft, shinaft


The above tables and their analyses show the phonological, morphological and grammatically analogies between the so called “Gawrajuyi” language and the Kurdish dialects of Laki and Kalhuri. They also indicate a meaningful distinction between the so called “Gorānī of Gawrajū” and the literary Gurani which is familiar to us from the Kalams of Yarsan and the Kurdish Shanama narratives.

Mahmoudveysi et al admit that many people of Kermanshah province as well as Gawrajuyi speakers consider themselves ethnically and linguistically ‘Kurdish’ and refer to their language as Kurdī. However, the overall tendency of their research is to problematize this common belief by, first, creating a linguistic boundary between Gawrajuyi and Kurdish and, then, transcending that boundary to the advantage of the first, confiscating the whole Gurani literary tradition as the product of their hypothetical language, Gawrajuyi.[49]

A thorough comparative analysis of the characteristics of ‘the Gorānī language of Gawrajū’ and the Gurani used in the sacred texts of Yarsan would clearly demonstrate the differences between the two.


  1. Gurani as a Literary Idiom

However, Kreyenbroek and Chamanara (2012) proposed a new categorization of what should be understood under the term “Gurani”, regardless of whether it should eventually be considered as Kurdish or not. According to the authors, Gurani is divided into mutually exclusive categories of “literary Gurani” and “spoken Gurani”.

Here, “spoken Gurani” is used as a practical collective term for a group of linguistically related dialects spoken in Hawraman and Gurān regions of Iranian Kurdistan as well as a number of enclaves in Khanaqin and Mosul in Iraqi Kurdistan. The “literary Gurani”, on the other hand, is defined as an exclusively literary idiom intended to be intelligible to speakers of a range of “Zagrosian” languages in Iranian Kurdistan.[50] It was used as the language of literature in the Ardalān dynasty and those in Kermanshah and Loristan while it has also been the language of a large part of the religious writings of the Yarsan community. The literary Gurani has also served as the performance language of various oral literary genres among different ethno-linguistic communities of the region, such as Kalhurs, Hawramis, Laks and part of the Lors.

For Kreyenbroek and Chamanara, this literary idiom is neither a koiné nor an independent form of Kurdish.[51] The reasons for defining Gurani as a composite literary language include: 1) the striking diversity of its features and 2) its non-homogeneous borrowings, both syntactical and lexical, from the various dialects in the Zagros areas.

Besides dissimilarities in vocabulary, Hawrami and Gurani display significant other differences regarding syntax. Hawrami displays ergative case in past tense sentences while Gurani often displays accusative structure or a tendency to move from ergative structure to the accusative. This tendency has resulted in a semi-ergative structure which means Gurani is in transit from an ergative towards an accusative language. Also, Hawrami indicates singular first and third persons differently (as /u/ and /o/ respectively) while in Gurani both pronouns are indicated by /u/.  As to the semantics, Hawrami displays number agreement between a noun and its modifiers as well as gender agreement for verbs, while Gurani displays none of these features.  And in the case of phonology, there are phonological differences between frequently used words (see section 5) in both languages.  


  1. Conclusion

Adopting a critical stance, this article provided a descriptive-historical study of Gurani. We maintained that Gurani has been an exclusively poetic idiom, distinct from a number of dialects with which it is erroneously identified, and that the linguistic question of its Kurdish, or non-Kurdish, affiliations is an ill-founded query. There is no evidence to show that Gurani has ever been used as a language for everyday communications. Instead it has served as the literary lingua franca of linguistically various groups of local people. Analysis of frequently-used words and phrases indicate that Gurani is most closely affiliated with Laki and Hawrami in vocabulary and to Kalhori and Lori in syntax. Phonemically, it is flexible, varying from place to place, so that narrators in each region insist on their preferred pronunciations. Although changes in pronunciations sometimes will change the meanings of the words, there is consensus among the speakers of Hawrami, Laki, Kalhori, Lori, as well as among some groups of Sorani speakers, on the true meanings of the words.

Gurani has been the bulwark of an oral culture, helping to preserve, nurture and transmit their intellectual properties most of which has been already forgotten. The last narrators of Gurani stories are passing the last years of their lives, making immediate access to the tradition increasingly difficult.




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[1] Corresponding author

[2] For more about the etymology and historical background of the terms Guran and Guranisee Minorsky1943, pp. 75-103. For a brief introduction to Gurani literature, see Blau 2010, pp. 7-9.

[3] See Hadank 1930; Minorsky 1943.

[4] Lerch1857-1858.

[5] See Mackenzie 1961; 1999; 2002; Mann 1909, pp. XXIII; Ibid1930; Mahmoudveysi et al 2012, p. 2.

[6] Leezenberg 1992, p. 1.

[7] Kreyenbroek 2005c, p. 2; Cf. D. N. Mackenzie, 'Some Gorānī Lyric Verse', Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, pp. 255-83 (London: 1965).; For Blau (2010, p. 7), “[t]he term Gurāni derives from Gurān, the name of an Iranian-speaking people who today occupy regions to the north and west of Kermanshah, in the Iraq-Iran border are. Like Kurdish, their language belongs to the north-west group of Iranian languages.”

[8] On this, see Hassanpour 1998.

[9] Among the most influential works are Minorsky 1943; Hadank 1930; and Akopov 1952, 1969.

[10] Some scholars have questioned the authenticity of this supposedly ancient Kurdish text (Bahar 1937, Yasemi 1940, Mackenzie 1963a, pp. 170-3, Keyvan 1966, pp. 236-40).  

[11] In this respect see McKenzie 1963a.

[12] Safizdeh 2008, p.15.

[13] Mackenzie 1965, pp. 255–283.

[14] See Soltani 1998; Blau 2010, 8.

[15] In this respect see Kreyenbroek 2010, pp. 70-1.

[16] Known as Barge barge, Heftewane period, Giłēm we kûł, Çihil Ten period, Abedin period, the Little Saranjam (see Seddiq Safizadeh, Ahl-e Haqq: Piran va Mashahir [Ahl-e Haqq:Pirs and the elders], (Tehran: Hiramnd, 1999, p. 23).

[17] For more on the this see Safizadeh 1999, pp. 301-309.

[18] Kept in Berlin State Library under the number Ms. Or. Oct. 1198.

[19] See Chaman Ara 2013, pp. 163–177 ; idem 2015.

[20] The existing documents available to the authors of this article include divers versions of the booklets of Rostam-nama, Bahman-nama, Framarz-nama, Rostam and Yakdas, Rostam and Isfandiyar etc. and one manuscript, collected by Oskar Mann, containing some stories of the Kurdish Shahnama (Ms.Or.Oct.1154-1199) and (Petermann 13), which is kept in the State Library of Berlin.  There is one manuscript of Rostam and Zardahaŋ and Manja and Bejan in the National Library of Iran, as well as a single booklet of Shamqal and Rustam (No.9787) and Haft Lashkar (No. 13689) in Library, Museum and Document Centre of the Iranian Parliament, neither of which has been edited or described.

[21] Kept in Berlin State Library under the number PPN781512824.

[22] Our knowledge about this manuscript is still inadequate and the question of its being a translation or an originally Gurani text is not yet satisfactorily answered.

[23]  For more on this see: Benvenuste 1930; idem 1932, pp. 93-245.

[24]  Khanlari (1967, p. 219) believes that Arabic prosody has no sign of circular meter and this meter in fact addresses a line with a halt at in the middle.

[25]  For more in this regard, see Jahandard 2017, vol. I.


[26] Bidlisi 1965, p. 24; the other three tribes are Kurmanj, Lur, Kalhur (Ibid).

[27] Mokri 1994, pp. 70-85

[28] Mann (1909) was the first to delineate the differences between Zaza and Gurani on the one hand, and Kurmanji and Sorani on the other hand. For more on this topic see Leezenberg1992, p. 11.

[29] Oransky 1379Š /2000, pp. 330-1.

[30] Ibid 311. The most important phonemic difference mentioned by him is the transformation of the phoneme /z/ into /d/ in the verb dānestӕn ‘to know’ and the noun dāmād ‘groom’, and also the transformation of /vr/ of Avestan and ancient Persian into /hr/ in the north-western accents (of Parthian pnhr for pesar ‘boy’ and her for se ‘three’) and in the form of /s/ in the accents of south west (in Middle Persian pus for pesӕr ‘boy’ and se for se ‘three’ were recorded). (Ibid).

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid, p. 60.

[33] In one case, to demonstrate the similarity between the two dialects of Kandulaī and Semnāni, Hadank compares the word äsp (Horse) in kandūlaī with its equivalent in Semnānī, äsp, (Hadank, 1930, p. 67). We know that the Kandūlaī-Semnānī word äsp coincides with its equivalents in Kalhori, Lakī, Lori, and even in some northern Kurdish dialects. We may find such common words in all Kurdish dialects. It is however, erroneous to build on such similarities and claim that Kurdish belongs to the central group of Iranian languages.

[34] Mackenzie 2002, pp. 401-3; 1965, p. 258. This term was first used for ‘literary’ Gurani by Rieu 1881, pp. 728-34 and has been widely used ever since. Cf. J. Blau 1996, pp. 1-32; Ibid 2010, pp. 7-9; Fattah 2000, pp. 68-70.

[35] Mackenzie 1961, pp. 68-86.

[36] Ibid, p. 86; Idem 2002, pp. 401-3.

[37] Some scholars think of Gurani as a spoken language with various dialects (See Hadank,1930, p. 76; V. Minorsky, 1943, p. 76; Mackenzie, 2002, pp. 401-3, and recently P. Mahmoudveysi et al, 2011. However, there are manifest differences between the dialects attributed to Gurani (difference in case of gender in Hawrami and Zarda and the confusing appearance of ergativity which differentiates the dialect of Hawrami from its southern neighbors such as the dialect of Zarda and all the regions of Qasre Shirin, Sarpule Ẓahab and beyond). Logically It seems insubstantial simultaneously the existing and absence of ergativity and gender in speak!

[38] In his research on the differences between the north-western and north-eastern languages of Iran, Mackenzie points to a significant difference, namely the syntactic use of modifiers (Izafe). He places Kurdish, Baluchi, and the northern dialects near the Caspian Sea in a non-geographical diagram according to which Gurani is among the languages spoken in central Iran. Mackenzie builds on the limited information he provides from the dialects in the mountainous area of Hawraman and notes that Gurani could be regarded as a language with its own literature (Mackenzie 2002, pp. 401-3). While here Mackenzie counted Gurani as an independent dialect, he later defined it as a literary language.

[39] Blau 1989, p. 54.

[40] The city of Khanaqin has a population of 150,000. Located in Diyala province in the east of Iraq near the Iranian cities of Qasr-e Shirin, Sarpol-e Zahab and Aywan. The main spoken dialect of the population of Khanaqin is Kalhuri.

[41] Blau 2010, p. 7.

[42] All directly quoted data in this article are put in brackets.

[43]  Kal. (Kalhuri), Hawr. (Hawrami), Sor. (Sorani), Gur. (Gurani)

[44] See Soltani 1998.

[45] Mahmoudveysi et al 2011.

[46] Gurani, here, refers to the sacred texts of Yarsan and the Kurdish (Gurani) Shanama.

[47] Here, we use the term “Hawrami” in its broad ethno-linguistic sense, while it is obvious that to refer to all the various speakers of Hawraman (Awraman) as “Hawrami” is inaccurate and puzzling. The speakers of ‘Hawramani of Zhawarou’ use ergativity (as in Laki and Sorani) both in speaking and in poetry, whereas the speakers of ‘Hawraman of Luhoun’ use the accusative form (Kalhuri).

[48] Based on Mahmoudveysi et all 2011.

[49] The authors remark that “the term Kurdish is fraught with difficulties.” Indeed instead of defining the boundaries of the terms ‘Gorānī’ and ‘Kurdish’, they attempt to problematize both by exaggerating linguistic uncertainties regarding Kurdish.

[50] Note that this conceptualization differs from the prevalent view held by Mackenzie (EIr) or Blau (2010, p. 7) which sees the literary Gurani as a variety derived and based on the spoken Gurani dialects of Gurān and Hawrāmān regions.

[51] Kreyenbroek and Chamanara 2013, pp. 151-69.

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