In Search of Saluqi Roots, On the Tazi Trail…

by Elizabeth Al-Hazzam Dawsari, June 1991

The fact that close geographic neighbors such as the Arabs and the Iranians, who have borrowed vocabulary words from one another yet have a different and seemingly unrelated name for a particular animal — the hound common to both, seems intriguing.  Because of the known “cross-pollenization” between these two specific Arab (Semitic) and Iranian/Aryan (Persian) cultures in the Middle East, I thought it would be interesting to track the Persian “Tazi” through the dictionary and see where the trail might lead, as opposed to the Arabic language Saluqi trail which may have its origins in Southern Arabia’s Sabaean past.  In my opinion, the linguistic path which can be followed from this cursory search is that the Persian word “Tazi” is associated with Arab-related animals, geneology and language.

The Iranian languages, which include Persian, are Indo-European by family definition.  Old Iranian forms the Aryan (Aryan = Iran) portion of the original European group. With the passage of time through recorded antiquity Old Iranian and Sanskrit, which forms the Indo portion of the family group, became increasingly divergent although they continued to share common grammatical, vowel, and vocabulary origins.

The Persian language can be divided into three basic developmental phases:

  1. a) Ancient — Recorded in the Achaemenid dynasty (B.C. 6th through the 4th centuries) which ultimately was destroyed by the Greek invasion of Alexander the Great, who died in Babylon in 323 B.C.  Alexander was followed by the Ptolemies, including the dynasty of Seleucuc, who was assasinated in 280 B.C.  His descendents fought to retain suzerainty until approximately 150 B.C.;
  2. b) Middle — Tracing from the independent Parthian kingdom founded 247 B.C. (B.C. 2nd century through the A.D. 3rd century) through the eastern Arsacids, who emerged in roughly 176 B.C., and the Sassanians (A.D. 224 until 651), all of which were “terminated” by the Arab conquest, beginning in 633 A.D., with its subsequent Islamic domination;
  3. c) Modern — Evolving after the Arab conquest into the Persian renaissance (A.D. 9th century to the present day) and still apparent today as a living language.

Today’s Modern Persian is derived from the Middle Persian used in the southern Iran.  Due to the conquest of Persia by the Arabs and Turks, many Arabic and Turkic words have been incorporated into Modern Persian vocabulary.  In addition, Modern Persian is written on the Arabic script just like Turkish was until the reforms of the 20th century.

Quite a few colloquial versions of Modern Persian are presently spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and even Russia (Tajiki).  Modern Persian includes languages such as Pushtu, which is spoken in Afghanistan, and Shughni, Wakhi, and Munjani, which are evolved from the Pamir group, Yaghnobi, derived from Sogdian, and Ossetic, a language spoken in the Caucasian mountains, which is related to the Sarmatian group of Saka.

The Kurds have been located predominantly in the Caspian region since antiquity in what today is known as northern Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and Russia.  The Kurds, the Baluchis, Kashan and Simnan, etc., represent groups speaking a form of northwestern idiomatic Modern Persian.

Southern colloquial Persian is spoken in the Iranian regions of Fars, Luristan, Khurasan, and Kerman.  This type of southern colloquial Persian is most closely related to Modern Literary Persian, which is expressed in the vast body of classical Persian literature and is reflected in the present-day speech of the intelligentsias and literati of all Persian-speaking countries.

Literary Persian, as opposed to colloquial or spoken Persian, is the form of the language which is written down—and included in dictionaries.  That’s where the written Tazi trail can be picked up easily.  Although a few people may consider the information contained in the dictionary to be scant, some saluki fanciers might enjoy traveling along this short Tazi language trail to do a little sightseeing.

The relationship between Modern Persian and Arabic has become intricately interwoven in the bodies of literature associated with both languages.   According to Steingass, “… sooner or later the student of Persian must become a student of Arabic also, if he aspires to take rank as a Persian scholar of real eminence.  When this moment has arrived, he will naturally have need of an Arabic dictionary … but what he will want until then is a copious Arabic vocabulary.”   (Preface)  The converse is equally true of the Arabic scholar;  eventually a foray into the Persian language must be made.

According to Steingass, the Persian word “Tazi” is an indigenous Iranian word with no apparent foreign influences from either Arabic or Turkic sources.  The Persian word  “Taz” is the imperfect form of the verb Takhtan, which translates into  “Hasten thou!”   “Taz” also means:   a greyhound;  ignoble, base;  a beloved object;  a beardless youth, especially one who behaves himself in an unseemly manner and talks indecently;  running, hastening,  making an assault.  (page 274)

The word “Taz” exhibits an interesting range of meanings.  Many derived or associated words follow in the dictionary if one continues to peruse the consonants “t” and “z”.  They include:


Tazik:    an Arab’s son raised in Persia;


Tazanda:   Running, making haste;


Tazi   (which according to some is derived from “Taz,” the name of a son of Siamak, but more probably is derived from Takhtan):   Arabic;  an Arabian horse;  a greyhound;  an assault;


Ba-Tazi:   In the Arabic language;   (page 275)


Taziyan:   Running, pursuing;  (plural form of Tazi) Arabs;  Arabian horses;  hunting dogs;  greyhounds;


Tazi-Khana:   a dog kennel;


Tazi-Zaban:   The Arabic language;


Tazi-Suwar:    Mounted on an Arabian horse;


Tazik:   One neither an Arab nor a Turk;  one of Arab blood but born and brought up in Persia;  a civilian (as opposed to military personnel);  the middle classes;


Tazi-Go:   Speaking the Arabic language;


Tazi-Nizhad:    An Arab by birth;


Tazi-Hush:   One who has the intellect or sagacity of an Arab.  (page 275)


This short expedition through the Persian dictionary to explore the word “Tazi” seems to reveal a linguistic relationship to animals and people Arabic in origin.  The association in the Persian language of “greyhounds”, “Arabian horses”, and “Arab by birth” bears closer examination by linguistic scholars especially since Steingass believes that the word “Tazi” is Persian in origin without foreign (Arabic or Turkic) influences.  It would be naive to attempt to draw a conclusion from a resource as limited in scope as the dictionary.  However, as one travels through history via archaeology, art, language and literature, even music, many seemingly obscure relationships are more easily observed.



Steingass, F.  A Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary, Including the Arabic Words and Phrases to Be Met with in Persian Literature, being Johnson and Richardson’s Persian, Arabic and English Dictionary, revised, enlarged, and entirely reconstructed.  Beirut:  Librairie du Liban, 1892.  Reprinted in 1970.