|Big and small||Iranian Persian is simpler in this respect: ‘big’ is بزرگ/ bozorg, and ‘small’ is کوچیک/ kūčīk, but Tajik Persian is more complex, In Tajik Persian, бузург/buzurg has mainly a conceptual meaning, i.e. ‘great’, and when it comes to size and age, the word is калон/kalān. کلان/kalān exists in Iranian Persian, too, but mainly in compounds, e.g. کلانشهر/kalānšahr‘metropolis’, اقتصاد کلان/eqteṣād-e kalān ‘macroeconomics’, etc. Tajik ‘small’ also distinguishes two categories: for size, it is mainly майда/mayda, which is also the word for ‘change (as in money)’, for age, it is хурд/khurd. When it comes to small as in ‘degree’ (English ‘a little’, ‘a bit’), the word is also майда/mayda, or реза/reza. The word кӯчак/kōčak (Ir: کوچیک/kūčīk) also exists in Tajik, but enjoys less frequency in common speech than it does in Iranian Persian. When it comes to age, Tajiks prefer to use the word хурд/ḫurd. As a result, the word хурдӣ/ḫurdi has the meaning of ‘childhood days’ in Tajik, as you will hear Tajiks say ман аз хурдӣ/man az ḫurdī… ‘since I was a child…’, дар хурдӣ/dar ḫurdī… ‘as a child, in childhood’, etc. Хурд/ḫurd may remind you of the word خرده (Taj. ḫurda vs. Ir. ḫorde) in Iranian Persian, which means ‘a small piece’.|
|Good||In Tajik, the word for ‘good’ is often нағз/naghz, although хуб/ḫūb also exists and is frequently used. نغز/naghz in Iranian Persian only appears in classical poetry.|
|Speech||Tajik Persian, like Afghan Persian, prefers гап/gap to ҳарф/harf for ‘speech, (uttered) words’. Thus, ‘to speak’ is most commonly гап задан/gap zadan in Tajik (and Afghan) Persian instead of the more Iranian حرف زدن/ḥarf zadan. گپ/gap also exists in Iranian Persian, where it is an informal word, ‘chitchat’.|
|Now||Although الآن/alān is also found in Tajik, the far more common word is ҳозир/hāzir. The Arabic original of the word, حاضر, means ‘present’, which gave the meaning of ‘ready’ in Iranian Persian. In Tajik, however, it means ‘now, right now’, perhaps from expressions such as در حال حاضر/dar ḥāl-i ḥāżir ‘currently’, used in Iranian and Tajik Persian.|
|Very||The two words for ‘very’ in Persian, خیلی and بسیار, are used with different frequencies in the three modern varieties: Iranians prefer خیلی by a large margin, Afghans favour بسیار, and Tajiks tend to use both indifferently, although with a slight preference of бисёр/bisyār over хеле/ḫele. In terms of intensity, the Tajik хеле/ḫele may be more intense than бисёр/bisyār, where as the Iranian خیلی/ḫeylī is less intense than بسیار/besyār. The classical pronunciation of خیلی is ḫaylē, which has not been retained by the common pronunciation of either varieties. خیلی/ḫaylē, as we will see right below, comes from the classical word خیل/ḫayl ‘group’, with the indefinite ending ی/-ē (-ī in Iranian), and literally means ‘a (whole) group (of)’, i.e. ‘a lot’. بسیار/bisyār comes from the Middle Persian was ‘a lot, many/much, abundant’, which gave the classical Persian bas you may have encountered in reading classical poetry.|
|Kind||The word for ‘kind’, apart from the Arabic loan نوع/nawʿ which exists in higher registers in both varieties, is commonly طور/ṭowr in Iranian, but хел/ḫēl in Tajik. خیل is a rare word in Iranian Persian, where, pronounced as kheyl, it means ‘group’ and used to designate ‘a group of horses’. Thus, Ir. čeṭowr ‘how (lit. what kind)’ is Taj. чи хел/či ḫēl, Ir. اینطور/īnṭowr is Taj. ин хел/īn ḫēl, Ir. آنطور/ānṭowr is Taj. он хел/ān ḫēl. The colloquial Iranian چه جوری/če jūrī, این جوری/īn jūrī, اون (آن) جوری/ūn(ān) jūrī, do not exist in Tajik, although the word جور/jūr, pronounced as ҷӯр/jōr, is found in Tajik, and means ‘the like’, ‘the congruent’, and therefore ‘companion’ – which is a meaning found in Iranian Persian, too – in fact, the Tajik slang word for ‘mate, buddy’ is ҷӯра/jōra.|
The most common word for ‘tomorrow’ in Tajik is not фардо/fardā, but пагоҳ/pagāh, leaving фардо/fardā with a formal – almost poetic – meaning. پگاه/pagāh exists in the classical, literary register in Iranian Persian, where it means ‘dawn, early morning’.
Since we are on گاه/gāh, which in Middle Persian means ‘time (period)’ among other meanings, the word بیگاه/bēgāh, a bit archaic in Iranian Persian (pronounced bīgāh), is used in Tajik Persian to mean ‘late(r)’: when a shop-owner tells you they will close late, they say they will close бегоҳ/bēgāh, which is a very vague time period extending from late afternoon/early evening till whenever the speaker thinks is late…
|Open and close||Of course, we have باز/bāz and بسته/basta in both varieties, but the most common words in Tajik Persian are кушода/kušāda for ‘open’, and пӯшида/pōšīda for ‘closed’, which of course came from the verbs кушодан/kušādan (in Iranian گشودن/gošūdan) and پوشیدن/pūšīdan. This pair is my all-time favourite, as they sound very poetic from the point of view of Iranian and even Afghan Persian, which is closer to Tajik than to Iranian. A Tajik person may say ‘Дара кушо/кун/Dara kušā/pōš’ to ask you to open/close the door, whereas an Afghan would say ‘دره واز/بند کو (کن)/Dara wāz/band ko(n)’, and an Iranian ‘درو باز کن/ببند/Daro bāz kon/beband’. You may know پوشیدن/pōšīdan as to ‘put on (clothes)’, but it also means ‘to cover’, and therefore the meaning ‘to close’ in Tajik Persian. The word маҳкам/mahkam (< محکم/muḥkam ‘tight, firm’) is also frequently heard in Tajik to mean ‘closed’, especially when describing a place closed down upon official order.|
|Up and down||Tajik Persian speakers use the compound verbs баромадан/barāmadan ‘come/go out, come/go up’ and фуромадан/furāmadan ‘come/go down’ more than Iranian Persian speakers, who prefer the composite verbs بیرون رفتن/bīrūn raftan for ‘to go out’, بالا رفتن/bālā raftan ‘to go up’, and پایین آمدن/رفتن/pāyīn āmadan/raftan ‘to come/go down’. Note that in Tajik, the conceptualisation of upward and outward movements is the same – баромадан/barāmadan. Although Iranian Persian has برآمدن/barāmadan and فرو آمدن/forū āmadan, they are used in higher registers. The present prefix ме/mē – comes, in Tajik, before the prefixes бар/bar– and фур(ӯ)/fur(ō)-, unlike in Iranian, where it comes after them, e.g. Taj. мебароям/mēbarāyam vs. Ir. برمیایم/barmīyāyam.|
|Beautiful||The ubiquitous Iranian قشنگ/qašang does not exist in Tajik daily parlance, nor is the Afghan مقبول/maqbūl often used. The most frequently used word for ‘beautiful’ in Tajik is the good old زیبا/zēbā. For humans, specifically, the nice word хушрӯ/ḫušrō (lit. ‘merry-faced’), which would also make sense in Iranian Persian, may be used, too.|
|Cool||The Iranian slang expressionباحال/bāḥāl does not exist in Tajik. When Tajiks say ‘cool’, they normally say зӯр/zōr, which normally means ‘strength’ in both varieties.|
|Difficult||The common Persian word سخت/saḫt is not generally used in Tajikistan to mean ‘difficult’, but ‘firm’. ‘Difficult’ in Tajikistan is usually мушкил/muškil, and душвор/dušvār if you wish to be more formal. These two words tend to belong to the formal register in Iranian Persian. سختی/saḫtī, however, does mean ‘difficulty’ in Tajikistan.|
|Colours||The most common Tajik word for ‘red’ is сурх/surḫ, which sounds quite literary in Iranian Persian. The other colours are largely the same in Iran and Tajikistan. Worth noting is that green tea – which is the most common tea in Central Asia – is чойи кабуд/čāy-i kabūd (lit. ‘(dark) blue tea’.|
|Fruits and vegetables||Among fruits, the most interesting difference is in the term for watermelon, which is called тарбуз/tarbuz in Tajikistan and never هندوانه/hendvāne. ‘Pear’ is not گلابی/golābī, but нок/nāk if it has a tapered shape or муруд/murud (or амруд/amrud) if it is of the rounded kind. Both words exist in Iranian Persian, too. Among vegetables, my all-time favourite is the word for carrot, which is сабзӣ/sabzī in Tajik. I have long wondered what it has to do with the colour green…|
|Places||Names for public establishments can be different in Tajik. To name a few: an exit is баромадгоҳ/barāmadgāh (lit. ‘come-out place, cf. баромадан/barāmadan above), an entrance is даромадгоҳ/darāmadgāh (lit. ‘come-in place’), a barber’s shop is сартарошхона/sartarāšḫāna (lit. ‘head-shaving house’), a museum is осоргоҳ/āsārgāh (lit. ‘relics house’), and a toilet (bathroom) is ҳоҷатхона/hājatḫāna (lit. ‘necessity house’). The official word for hospital is бемористон/bēmāristān, like in Iran, but colloquially, people may also say духтурхона/duḫturḫāna (lit. ‘doctor house’), шифохона/šifāḫāna (lit. ‘recovery/treatment house’, which is the standard word in Afghanistan), or even дармонгоҳ/darmāngāh (lit. ‘remedy place’). A hotel is most commonly меҳмонхона/mehmānḫāna (lit. ‘guest house’) in Tajikistan, even when it is grand and big, whereas in Iran, a grand and big hotel is the English word هتل/hotel, whereas a simpler and smaller place is مهمانپذیر/mehmānpazīr.|
|Song||The most common word for ‘song’, is суруд/surud, which means ‘hymn’ in Iran.|
In Tajik, the Persian adjective سیر/sēr ‘satiate, full’ and the conjunction/preposition تا/tā ‘until’ can be used as prefixes. سیر/sēr (pronounced as sīr in Iranian) is also attested in Iranian Persian as a prefix in compound words, but it is far more productive in Tajik and tends to supplant پر/pur ‘full’, which is preferred in Iranian. Thus, what Iranians describe as پرشمار/por-šomār ‘numerous’ would more likely to be described as сершумор/sēr–šumār by Tajiks, who also have words such as серамал/sēr-amal ‘dynamic’, серфарзанд/sēr-farzand ‘having many children’, сералаф/sēr-alaf ‘full of grass’, сериддаъо/sēr-iddaʾā ‘pretentious’ etc. – instances which, in Iranian Persian, would have پر/por– as the prefix, or form an adjectival phrase with پر از/por az ‘full of’ instead of being compounds. As ser- is written together with the next element in Tajik, visually the сер/sēr– compounds may not be immediately transparent, although the meanings are evident.
Perhaps under the influence of Russian, where the word for ‘until’, до/do, is very productive in creating compounds, the Persian preposition ta in Tajik, in the form of то/tā, is also used to form compounds – a phenomenon unattested in Iranian Persian. As the Russian word also means ‘before’, the Tajik to, similar in form and sound to the Russian word, has acquired that meaning, too, and is used in compounds as the equivalent to the English pre-. Therefore, ‘pre-Islamic’ is тоисломӣ/tāislāmī. This use of то/tā is mainly confined to academic parlance where there is a need to create equivalents of Russian compounds starting with до/do– ‘pre-‘.