Avestan language

Avestan language

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Avestan
is an East Iranian language
Eastern Iranian languages
The Eastern Iranian languages are a subgroup of the Iranian languages emerging in Middle Iranian times .The Avestan language is often classified as early Eastern Iranian. The largest living Eastern Iranian language is Pashto, with some 50 million speakers between the Hindu Kush mountains in...

 known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian
Zoroastrianism
Zoroastrianism is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of prophet Zoroaster and was formerly among the world's largest religions. It was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in Greater Iran.In Zoroastrianism, the Creator Ahura Mazda is all good, and no evil...

 scripture, i.e. the Avesta
Avesta
The Avesta is the primary collection of sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, composed in the Avestan language.-Early transmission:The texts of the Avesta — which are all in the Avestan language — were composed over the course of several hundred years. The most important portion, the Gathas,...

, from which it derives its name. Its area of composition comprised – at least – Bactria
Bactria
Bactria and also appears in the Zend Avesta as Bukhdi. It is the ancient name of a historical region located between south of the Amu Darya and west of the Indus River...

(Gandahara, Vedic
Vedic
Vedic may refer to:* the Vedas, the oldest preserved Indic texts** Vedic Sanskrit, the language of these texts** Vedic period, during which these texts were produced** Vedic pantheon of gods mentioned in Vedas/vedic period...

: Gandhāra
Gandhara
Gandhāra , is the name of an ancient kingdom , located in northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. Gandhara was located mainly in the vale of Peshawar, the Potohar plateau and on the Kabul River...

), Arachosia
Arachosia
Arachosia is the Latinized form of the Greek name of an Achaemenid and Seleucid governorate in the eastern part of their respective empires, around modern-day southern Afghanistan. The Greek term "Arachosia" corresponds to the Iranian land of Harauti which was between Kandahar in Afghanistan and...

 (Quetta
Quetta
is the largest city and the provincial capital of the Balochistan Province of Pakistan. Known as the "Fruit Garden of Pakistan" due to the diversity of its plant and animal wildlife, Quetta is home to the Hazarganji Chiltan National Park, which contains some of the rarest species of wildlife in the...

), Drangiana
Drangiana
Drangiana or Zarangiana was a historical region of the Achaemenid Empire. This region comprises territory around lake Hâmûn, wetlands in endorheic Sīstān basin on the Irano-Afghan-Pakistan border, and its primary watershed Helmand river in nowadays southwestern Afghanistan and the "Nok Kondi" of...

 (Ribat
Ribat
A ribat is an Arabic term for a small fortification as built along a frontier during the first years of the Muslim conquest of North Africa to house military volunteers, called the murabitun...

), and Gedrosia
Gedrosia
Gedrosia from Pashto Gwadar-khua is the hellenized name of an area that corresponds to today's Balochistan. Eastern Balochistan is southwestern province of Pakistan and parts of southwestern and south-central Afghanistan and western Balochistan is divided between Iranian provinces of Hormozgan and...

 (Balochistan
Balochistan
Balochistan or Baluchistan is a region which covers parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. It can also refer to one of several modern and historical territories within that region:...

) have been regarded as a likely archaeological reflection of early East Iranian culture as described in the Avesta. Its status as a sacred language has ensured its continuing use for new compositions long after the language had ceased to be a living language.

Genealogy


Avestan, which is associated with northeastern Iran
Greater Iran
Greater Iran refers to the regions that have significant Iranian cultural influence. It roughly corresponds to the territory on the Iranian plateau and its bordering plains, stretching from Iraq, the Caucasus, and Turkey in the west to the Indus River in the east...

 and Old Persian, which belongs to the southwest, plus Gathic or the Old Avestan (language of the Gathas
Gathas
The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.-Structure and organization:...

, the Hymns of Zarathushtra – 2nd millennium BC) are the only languages (of what must have been a great variety) to have left written traces; they together constitute what is called the Old Iranian Languages
Iranian languages
The Iranian languages form a subfamily of the Indo-Iranian languages which in turn is a subgroup of Indo-European language family. They have been and are spoken by Iranian peoples....

. The Old Iranian language group is a branch of the Indo-Iranian language group
Indo-Iranian languages
The Indo-Iranian language group constitutes the easternmost extant branch of the Indo-European family of languages. It consists of three language groups: the Indo-Aryan, Iranian and Nuristani...

, which is in turn a branch of the Indo-European language group
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

.

Iranian languages are traditionally classified as "eastern" or "western", and within this framework Avestan is classified as Eastern Iranian
Iranian languages
The Iranian languages form a subfamily of the Indo-Iranian languages which in turn is a subgroup of Indo-European language family. They have been and are spoken by Iranian peoples....

. But this distinction is of limited meaning for Avestan, as the linguistic developments that later distinguish Eastern from Western Iranian had not yet occurred. Avestan does not display some typical (South-)Western Iranian innovations already visible in Old Persian, and so in this sense, "eastern" only means "non-western". That is not to say that Avestan does not display any characteristic innovations of its own - e.g. the sibilant pronunciation of the consonant in aša
Asha
Asha is the Avestan language term for a concept of cardinal importance to Zoroastrian theology and doctrine. In the moral sphere, aša/arta represents what has been called "the decisive confessional concept of Zoroastrianism." ...

, corresponding to original /rt/ that is preserved in the Old Persian form (arta), as well as Sanskrit (rta
Rta
In the Vedic religion, Ṛta is the principle of natural order which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it. In the hymns of the Vedas, Ṛta is described as that which is ultimately responsible for the proper functioning of the natural, moral and sacrificial...

).

Old Avestan is closely related to Old Persian and also fairly close in nature to Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit is an old Indo-Aryan language. It is an archaic form of Sanskrit, an early descendant of Proto-Indo-Iranian. It is closely related to Avestan, the oldest preserved Iranian language...

, and the Old Eastern Iranian
Eastern Iranian languages
The Eastern Iranian languages are a subgroup of the Iranian languages emerging in Middle Iranian times .The Avestan language is often classified as early Eastern Iranian. The largest living Eastern Iranian language is Pashto, with some 50 million speakers between the Hindu Kush mountains in...

 ancestor dialect of Pashto
Pashto language
Pashto , known as Afghani in Persian and Pathani in Punjabi , is the native language of the indigenous Pashtun people or Afghan people who are found primarily between an area south of the Amu Darya in Afghanistan and...

.

Forms and stages of development


The Avestan language is attested in roughly two forms, known as "Old Avestan" (or "Gathic Avestan") and "Younger Avestan". Younger Avestan did not evolve from Old Avestan; the two differ not only in time, but are also different dialects.
Every Avestan text, regardless of whether originally composed in Old or Younger Avestan, underwent several transformations. Karl Hoffmann traced the following stages for Avestan as found in the extant texts. In roughly chronological order:
  • The natural language of the composers of the Gathas
    Gathas
    The Gathas are 17 hymns believed to have been composed by Zarathusthra himself. They are the most sacred texts of the Zoroastrian faith.-Structure and organization:...

    , the Yasna Haptanghaiti
    Yasna Haptanghaiti
    The Yasna Haptanghaiti , Avestan for "Worship in Seven Chapters," is a set of 7 hymns within the greater Yasna collection, that is, within the primary liturgical texts of the Zoroastrian Avesta.-Age and importance:...

    , the four sacred prayers (Y. 27 and 54).
  • Changes precipitated by slow chanting
  • Changes to Old Avestan due to transmission by native speakers of Younger Avestan
  • The natural language of the composers of grammatically correct Younger Avestan texts
  • Deliberate changes introduced through "standardization"
  • Changes introduced by transfer to regions where Avestan was not spoken
  • Adaptions/Translations of portions of texts from other regions
  • Composition of ungrammatical late Avestan texts
  • Phonetic notation of the Avestan texts in the Sasanian archetype
  • Post-Sasanian deterioration of the written transmission due to incorrect pronunciation
  • Errors and corruptions introduced during copying

Many phonetic features cannot be ascribed with certainty to a particular stage since there may be more than one possibility. Every phonetic form that can be ascribed to the Sasanian archetype on the basis of critical assessment of the manuscript evidence must have gone through the stages mentioned above so that “Old Avestan” and “Young Avestan” really mean no more than “Old Avestan and Young Avestan of the Sasanian period
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

."

Alphabet



The script used for writing Avestan developed during the 3rd or 4th century AD. By then the language had been extinct for many centuries, and remained in use only as a liturgical language of the Avesta canon. As is still the case today, the liturgies were memorized by the priesthood and recited by rote.

The script devised to render Avestan was natively known as Din dabireh
Avestan alphabet
The Avestan alphabet is a writing system developed during Iran's Sassanid era to render the Avestan language.As a side effect of its development, the script was also used for Pazend, a method of writing Middle Persian that was used primarily for the Zend commentaries on the texts of the Avesta...

"religion writing". It has 53 distinct characters and is written right-to-left. Among the 53 characters are about 30 letters that are – through the addition of various loops and flourishes – variations of the 13 graphemes of the cursive Pahlavi script
Pahlavi scripts
Pahlavi or Pahlevi denotes a particular and exclusively written form of various Middle Iranian languages. The essential characteristics of Pahlavi are*the use of a specific Aramaic-derived script, the Pahlavi script;...

 (i.e. "Book" Pahlavi) that is known from the post-Sassanian texts of Zoroastrian tradition. These symbols, like those of all the Pahlavi scripts, are in turn based on Aramaic script symbols. Avestan also incorporates several letters from other writing systems, most notably the vowels, which are mostly derived from Greek minuscules. A few letters were free inventions, as were also the symbols used for punctuation. Also, the Avestan alphabet has one letter that has no corresponding sound in the Avestan language; the character for /l/ (a sound that Avestan does not have) was added to write Pazend texts.

Avestan script is alphabetic, and the large number of letters suggests that its design was due to the need to render the orally recited texts with high phonetic precision. The correct enunciation of the liturgies was (and still is) considered necessary for the prayers to be effective.

The Zoroastrians of India, who represent one of the largest surviving Zoroastrian communities worldwide, also transcribe Avestan in Brahmi
Brāhmī script
Brāhmī is the modern name given to the oldest members of the Brahmic family of scripts. The best-known Brāhmī inscriptions are the rock-cut edicts of Ashoka in north-central India, dated to the 3rd century BCE. These are traditionally considered to be early known examples of Brāhmī writing...

-based scripts. This is a relatively recent development first seen in the ca. 12th century texts of Neryosang Dhaval and other Parsi Sanskritist theologians of that era, and which are roughly contemporary with the oldest surviving manuscripts in Avestan script. Today, Avestan is most commonly typeset in Gujarati script
Gujarati script
The Gujarati script , which like all Nāgarī writing systems is strictly speaking an abugida rather than an alphabet, is used to write the Gujarati and Kutchi languages...

 (Gujarati
Gujarati language
Gujarati is an Indo-Aryan language, and part of the greater Indo-European language family. It is derived from a language called Old Gujarati which is the ancestor language of the modern Gujarati and Rajasthani languages...

 being the traditional language of the Indian Zoroastrians). Some Avestan letters with no corresponding symbol are synthesized with additional diacritical marks, for example, the /z/ in zaraϑuštra is written with /j/ + dot below.

Phonology



Avestan has retained voiced sibilants, and has fricative rather than aspirate series. There are various conventions for transliteration of Dīn Dabireh, the one adopted for this article being:

Vowels:

Consonants:


The glides y and w are often transcribed as ii and uu, imitating Dīn Dabireh orthography.

Consonants

Labial
Labial consonant
Labial consonants are consonants in which one or both lips are the active articulator. This precludes linguolabials, in which the tip of the tongue reaches for the posterior side of the upper lip and which are considered coronals...

Dental Alveolar
Alveolar consonant
Alveolar consonants are articulated with the tongue against or close to the superior alveolar ridge, which is called that because it contains the alveoli of the superior teeth...

Post-alveolar
or palatal
Palatal consonant
Palatal consonants are consonants articulated with the body of the tongue raised against the hard palate...

Velar
Velar consonant
Velars are consonants articulated with the back part of the tongue against the soft palate, the back part of the roof of the mouth, known also as the velum)....

Labiovelar Glottal
Glottal consonant
Glottal consonants, also called laryngeal consonants, are consonants articulated with the glottis. Many phoneticians consider them, or at least the so-called fricative, to be transitional states of the glottis without a point of articulation as other consonants have; in fact, some do not consider...

Nasal
Nasal consonant
A nasal consonant is a type of consonant produced with a lowered velum in the mouth, allowing air to escape freely through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English are and , in words such as nose and mouth.- Definition :...

/m/ /n/ [ɲ] /ŋ/ /ŋʷ/
Plosive /p/ /b/ /t/ /d/ /tʃ/ /dʒ/ /k/ /ɡ/
Fricative
Fricative consonant
Fricatives are consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together. These may be the lower lip against the upper teeth, in the case of ; the back of the tongue against the soft palate, in the case of German , the final consonant of Bach; or...

/ɸ, f/ /β/ /θ/ /ð/ /s/ /z/ /ʃ/ /ʒ/ /x/ /ɣ/ /xʷ/ /h/
Approximant
Approximant consonant
Approximants are speech sounds that involve the articulators approaching each other but not narrowly enough or with enough articulatory precision to create turbulent airflow. Therefore, approximants fall between fricatives, which do produce a turbulent airstream, and vowels, which produce no...

/j/ /w/
Trill
Trill consonant
In phonetics, a trill is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the articulator and the place of articulation. Standard Spanish <rr> as in perro is an alveolar trill, while in Parisian French it is almost always uvular....

/r/


According to Beekes, [ð] and [ɣ] are allophones of /θ/ and /x/ respectively (in Old Avestan).

Vowels

  Front
Front vowel
A front vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a front vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far in front as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Front vowels are sometimes also...

Central
Central vowel
A central vowel is a type of vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a central vowel is that the tongue is positioned halfway between a front vowel and a back vowel...

Back
Back vowel
A back vowel is a type of vowel sound used in spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a back vowel is that the tongue is positioned as far back as possible in the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant. Back vowels are sometimes also called dark...

short long short long short long
Close
Close vowel
A close vowel is a type of vowel sound used in many spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a close vowel is that the tongue is positioned as close as possible to the roof of the mouth without creating a constriction that would be classified as a consonant.This term is prescribed by the...

/i/ /iː/   /u/ /uː/
Mid
Mid vowel
A mid vowel is a vowel sound used in some spoken languages. The defining characteristic of a mid vowel is that the tongue is positioned mid-way between an open vowel and a close vowel...

/e/ /eː/ /ə/ /əː/ /o/ /oː/
Open
Open vowel
An open vowel is defined as a vowel sound in which the tongue is positioned as far as possible from the roof of the mouth. Open vowels are sometimes also called low vowels in reference to the low position of the tongue...

  /a/
/aː/ /ɒː/
Nasal
Nasal vowel
A nasal vowel is a vowel that is produced with a lowering of the velum so that air escapes both through nose as well as the mouth. By contrast, oral vowels are ordinary vowels without this nasalisation...

  /ã/  

Nouns

Case "normal" endings a-stems: (masc. neut.)
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative -s -ō (-as), -ā -ō (yasn-ō) -a (vīr-a) -a (-yasna)
Vocative - -ō (-as), -ā -a (ahur-a)
-a (yasn-a), -ånghō
Accusative -em -ō (-as, -ns), -ā -em (ahur-em) -a (vīr-a) -ą (haom-ą)
Instrumental -byā -bīš -a (ahur-a) -aēibya (vīr-aēibya) -āiš (yasn-āiš)
Dative -byā -byō (-byas) -āi (ahur-āi) -aēibya (vīr-aēibya) -aēibyō (yasn-aēibyō)
Ablative -at -byā -byō -āt (yasn-āt) -aēibya (vīr-aēibya) -aēibyō (yasn-aēibyō)
Genitive -ō (-as) -ąm -ahe (ahur-ahe) -ayå (vīr-ayå) -anąm (yasn-anąm)
Locative -i -ō, -yō -su, -hu, -šva -e (yesn-e) -ayō (zast-ayō) -aēšu (vīr-aēšu), -aēšva

Verbs

Primary active endings
Person Sg. Du. Pl.
1. -mi -vahi -mahi
2. -hi -tha -tha
3. -ti -tō, -thō -ngti

Sample text




Latin alphabet
Avestan alphabet
Gujarati script approximation
ahiiā. yāsā. nəmaŋhā. ustānazastō.1 rafəδrahiiā.maniiə̄uš.2 mazdā.3 pouruuīm.4 spəṇtahiiā. aṣ̌ā. vīspə̄ṇg.5 š́iiaoϑanā.6vaŋhə̄uš. xratūm.7 manaŋhō. yā. xṣ̌nəuuīṣ̌ā.8 gə̄ušcā. uruuānəm.9:: (du. bār)::ahiiā. yāsā. nəmaŋhā. ustānazastō. rafəδrahiiā.maniiə̄uš. mazdā. pouruuīm. spəṇtahiiā. aṣ̌ā. vīspə̄ṇg. š́iiaoϑanā.vaŋhə̄uš. xratūm. manaŋhō. yā. xṣ̌nəuuīṣ̌ā. gə̄ušcā. uruuānəm.::

અહીઆ। યાસા। નામંગહા। ઉસ્તાનજ઼સ્તો।૧ રફ઼ાધરહીઆ।મનીઆઉસ્̌।૨ મજ઼્દા।૩ પોઉરુઉઈમ્।૪ સ્પાણ્તહીઆ। અષ્̌આ। વીસ્પાણ્ગ્।૫ સ્̌́ઇઇઅઓથઅના।૬વંગહાઉસ્̌। ક્સરતૂમ્।૭ મનંગહો। યા। ક્સષ્̌નાઉઉઈષ્̌આ।૮ ગાઉસ્̌ચા। ઉરુઉઆનામ્।૯:: (દુ। બાર્)::અહીઆ। યાસા। નામંગહા। ઉસ્તાનજ઼સ્તો। રફ઼ાધરહીઆ।મનીઆઉસ્̌। મજ઼્દા। પોઉરુઉઈમ્। સ્પાણ્તહીઆ। અષ્̌આ। વીસ્પાણ્ગ્। સ્̌́ઇઇઅઓથઅના।વવંગહાઉસ્̌। ક્સરતૂમ્। મનંગહો। યા। ક્સષ્̌નાઉઉઈષ્̌આ। ગાઉસ્̌ચા। ઉરુઉઆનામ્।::

Further reading