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Indo-Iranian languages constitute the easternmost branch group of the Indo-European language family. They are among the best attested languages of this family having records that date back thousands of years. The ancestral Indo-European language is thought to have arizen around the southern part of the Urals. Somewhere between 4000-3500 BCE some speakers of this ancestral language moved east and south of the Caspian Sea into what is now Iran, and into what is now Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Eventually, the languages of these areas formed the Indo-Iranian Branch. There have been competing theories regarding the spread of the Indo-European languages.

The Indo-Iranian Branch of the Indo-European Language Family has traditionally been split into two sub-branches: the Indo-Aryan and the Iranian language groups. According to Ethnologue, there are 220 Indo-Aryan languages, some of which had yet to be definitively classified. The number of people who speak many of them was unknown. Chances were that you had never heard of some of them although many of these languages have sizable populations of speakers. These languages were spoken primarily in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan.

Scattered throughout central, southern, and eastern Iran are small groups speaking many different Indo-Iranian languages. In the southern part of the Central Plateau are such small nomadic and seminomadic tribes. Other tribes, related to groups in neighboring Afghanistan and nations formerly part of the Soviet Union, are found in Khorasan. Also in Khorasan are an estimated 25,000 Tajiks, a settled farming people related to the Tajiks of Afghanistan and the Soviet Union (now in various central Asian republics including the appropriately named Tajikistan).

Distinguishable, but comparatively smaller, Indo-Iranian-speaking minorities comprised the following tribally organized settled groups: the Hazareh, Barbai, Teimuri, Jamshidi, and Afghani in Khorasan, the Qadikolahi and Palavi in Mazandaran, and the Sasani and Agajani in the Talesh region of Gilan.

The origins and dispersal of farming and pastoral nomadism in southwestern Asia are complex, and there is controversy about whether they were associated with cultural transmission or demic diffusion. In addition, the spread of these technological innovations has been associated with the dispersal of Dravidian and Indo-Iranian languages in southwestern Asia.

Intriguingly, the population of modern Iran, speaking a major Indo-European language (Farsi), appears to have had little genetic influence from the Indo-Iranians. It was possible that the pre-Indo-European population of Iran-effectively an eastern extension of the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, might have reached sufficient population densities to have swamped any genetic contribution from a small number of immigrating Indo-Iranians. If so, this might have been a case of language replacement through the "elite-dominance" model. Alternatively, an Indo-Iranian language may have been the lingua franca of the steppe nomads and the surrounding settled populations, facilitating communication between the two. Over time, this language could have become the predominant language in Persia, reinforced and standardized by rulers such as Cyrus the Great and Darius in the mid-first millennium BCE.

Whichever model is correct, the Iranians from the western part of the country have appeared to be more similar genetically to Afro-Asiatic-speaking Middle Eastern populations than they are to Central Asians or Indians. This contrasts with Eastern Iranian populations. It is likely that the Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut deserts in the center of the country have acted as significant barriers to gene flow.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:45:46 ZULU