Iranian languages

Iranian languages

Overview
The Iranian languages (also called Iranic languages) form a subfamily of the Indo-Iranian
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...

 languages which in turn is a subgroup of Indo-European language family
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...

. They have been and are spoken by Iranian peoples
Iranian peoples
The Iranian peoples are an Indo-European ethnic-linguistic group, consisting of the speakers of Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family, as such forming a branch of Indo-European-speaking peoples...

.

The Iranian languages are considered in three stages of Old (until 400 BCE), Middle (400 BCE – 900 CE), and New (since 900 CE) stages. From the Old Iranian languages the better understood and recorded ones are Old Persian
Old Persian language
The Old Persian language is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages . Old Persian appears primarily in the inscriptions, clay tablets, and seals of the Achaemenid era...

 (a language of Achaemenid Iran) and Avestan
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 (the language of Zarathushtra).
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Encyclopedia
The Iranian languages (also called Iranic languages) form a subfamily of the Indo-Iranian
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...

 languages which in turn is a subgroup of Indo-European language family
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...

. They have been and are spoken by Iranian peoples
Iranian peoples
The Iranian peoples are an Indo-European ethnic-linguistic group, consisting of the speakers of Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family, as such forming a branch of Indo-European-speaking peoples...

.

The Iranian languages are considered in three stages of Old (until 400 BCE), Middle (400 BCE – 900 CE), and New (since 900 CE) stages. From the Old Iranian languages the better understood and recorded ones are Old Persian
Old Persian language
The Old Persian language is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages . Old Persian appears primarily in the inscriptions, clay tablets, and seals of the Achaemenid era...

 (a language of Achaemenid Iran) and Avestan
Avestan language
Avestan is an East Iranian language known only from its use as the language of Zoroastrian scripture, i.e. the Avesta, from which it derives its name...

 (the language of Zarathushtra). Middle Iranian languages included Middle Persian
Middle Persian
Middle Persian , indigenously known as "Pârsig" sometimes referred to as Pahlavi or Pehlevi, is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. Middle Persian is classified as a...

 (a language of Sassanid Iran) and Parthian
Parthian language
The Parthian language, also known as Arsacid Pahlavi and Pahlavanik, is a now-extinct ancient Northwestern Iranian language spoken in Parthia, a region of northeastern ancient Persia during the rule of the Parthian empire....

 (a language of Arsacid Iran). There are many Iranian languages, the largest amongst them are Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, Pashto, Balochi
Balochi
Balochi or Baluchi may refer to:* Baloch people, an ethnic group primarily found in the Balochistan region of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan* Beluch, a Baluch ethnic sub-group in Turkmenistan* Balochi language* Balochi dialects...

 and Kurdish
Kurdish language
Kurdish is a dialect continuum spoken by the Kurds in western Asia. It is part of the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian group of Indo-European languages....

.

Today, there are an estimated 150–200 million native speakers of Iranian languages.
The Ethnologue
Ethnologue
Ethnologue: Languages of the World is a web and print publication of SIL International , a Christian linguistic service organization, which studies lesser-known languages, to provide the speakers with Bibles in their native language and support their efforts in language development.The Ethnologue...

 lists 87 Iranian languages. Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 has about 65 million native speakers, Pashto about 50-60 million, Kurdish
Kurdish language
Kurdish is a dialect continuum spoken by the Kurds in western Asia. It is part of the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian group of Indo-European languages....

 about 18 million, Lurish about 2.3 million, and Balochi
Balochi language
Balochi is a Northwestern Iranian language. It is the principal language of the Baloch of Balochistan, Pakistan, eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan. It is also spoken as a second language by some Brahui. It is designated as one of nine official languages of Pakistan.-Vowels:The Balochi vowel...

 about 7 million.

The term



The term Iranian language is applied to any language which is "descended from a proto-Iranian
Proto-Iranian
Proto-Iranian, is the reconstructed proto-language of the Iranian languages branch of Indo-European language family, and as such, the ancestor of the Iranian languages such as Persian, Sogdian, Zazaki, Mazandarani, Kurdish and others...

 parent language". As such these proto-languages were unattested and spoken first and presumably by people/tribes in Central Asia
Central Asia
Central Asia is a core region of the Asian continent from the Caspian Sea in the west, China in the east, Afghanistan in the south, and Russia in the north...

 sometime in the late 3rd to early 2nd millennium BCE. The area in which Iranian languages, i.e. descendants of proto-Iranian language, have been spoken stretches from western China to western Europe. The proto-Iranian language was related to, also unattested, proto-Indo-Aryan language. The proto-Indo-Aryan gave birth to various Indic languages over the time.

The collection of all Iranian languages and all Indo-Aryan languages and "perhaps separate" Nuristani languages is called the Indo-Iranian (IIr.) branch of the Indo-European language family.

The term Iranian has been introduced 1836 by Christian Lassen
Christian Lassen
Christian Lassen was a Norwegian-German orientalist.-Life:He was born at Bergen, Norway. Having received a university education at Oslo, he went to Germany and continued his studies at the University of Heidelberg and the University of Bonn. In Bonn, Lassen acquired a sound knowledge of Sanskrit...

, followed by Wilhelm Geiger
Wilhelm Geiger
Wilhelm Ludwig Geiger was a German Orientalist, in the fields of Indian and Iranian languages. He was known as a specialist in Pali, Sinhala language and the Dhivehi language of the Maldives.-Life:...

 and his Grundriss der Iranischen Philologie (1895) whereas Friedrich von Spiegel
Friedrich von Spiegel
Friedrich Spiegel was a German orientalist. He was one of the pioneers in the field of Iranian philology.- Biography :...

 in 1859 prefers the term Eranian. Robert Needham Cust
Robert Needham Cust
Robert Needham Cust was a British colonial administrator and linguist.He was educated at Eton College, Trinity College, Cambridge, Haileybury and the College of Fort William, Calcutta, graduating from the last-named institution in 1844. He then worked for the East India Company, in Hoshiarpur and...

, however, used the term Irano-Aryan as early as 1878. Orientalists such as George Abraham Grierson
George Abraham Grierson
Sir George Abraham Grierson OM KCIE was born to a prominent Dublin family in 1851. His father and grandfather, both also named George, were well-known printers and publishers.-Biography:Educated at St...

 and Max Müller
Max Müller
Friedrich Max Müller , more regularly known as Max Müller, was a German philologist and Orientalist, one of the founders of the western academic field of Indian studies and the discipline of comparative religion...

 also differentiated between Irano-Aryan and Indo-Aryan. Grierson also uses the term Eranian. Recent scholarship has seen a revival of the term Irano-Aryan in analogy to Indo-Aryan. The linguist Ahmad Hasan Dani
Ahmad Hasan Dani
Professor Ahmad Hasan Dani FRAS, SI, HI , was a Pakistani intellectual, archaeologist, historian, and linguist. He was among the foremost authorities on Central Asian and South Asian archaeology and history. He introduced archaeology as a discipline in higher education in Pakistan and Bangladesh...

 uses the term and asserts Iranian is short for Irano-Aryan. The linguist Gilbert Lazard, specialist for Persian, has been using the term consequently in his publications, whereas Mohammad Djafar suggests to establish Aryan for the branch.

Classification



Soon after the formation of Indo-European family of languages in 19th century, the Iranian languages (Avestan, Old Persian, ...) together with the Indic languages (Sanskrit, ..) were recognized by works of the linguist Rasmus Rask in 1826 as the eastern branch of Indo-European languages. The Armenian language
Armenian language
The Armenian language is an Indo-European language spoken by the Armenian people. It is the official language of the Republic of Armenia as well as in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The language is also widely spoken by Armenian communities in the Armenian diaspora...

 was also considered as an Iranian language but was very soon (in 1875 effectively) established as a separate language in the Indo-European
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...

 group of languages.

Iranian languages are divided into Eastern
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...

 and Western
Western Iranian languages
The Western Iranian languages are a subgroup of the Iranian languages, attested from the time of Old Persian .The two sub-branches are:*Northwestern Iranian languages*Southwestern Iranian languages...

 subfamilies, totalling about 84 languages (SIL estimate). Of the most widely-spoken Iranian languages, Kurdish
Kurdish language
Kurdish is a dialect continuum spoken by the Kurds in western Asia. It is part of the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian group of Indo-European languages....

, Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

, and Balochi
Balochi language
Balochi is a Northwestern Iranian language. It is the principal language of the Baloch of Balochistan, Pakistan, eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan. It is also spoken as a second language by some Brahui. It is designated as one of nine official languages of Pakistan.-Vowels:The Balochi vowel...

 are all Western Iranian languages, while Pashto is an Eastern Iranian language.

Proto-Iranian and Old Iranian languages



Together with the other Indo-Iranian languages, the Iranian languages are descended from a common ancestor, Proto-Indo-Iranian
Proto-Indo-Iranian language
Proto-Indo-Iranian is the reconstructed proto-language of the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European. Its speakers, the hypothetical Proto-Indo-Iranians, are assumed to have lived in the late 3rd millennium BC, and are usually connected with the early Andronovo archaeological...

.
The Indo-Iranian languages are thought to have originated in Central Asia. The Andronovo culture
Andronovo culture
The Andronovo culture, is a collection of similar local Bronze Age cultures that flourished ca. 21200–1400 BCE in western Siberia and the west Asiatic steppe. It is probably better termed an archaeological complex or archaeological horizon...

 is the suggested candidate for the common Indo-Iranian culture ca. 2000 BC.

It was situated precisely in the western part of Central Asia that borders present-day Russia
Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 (and present-day Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

). It was in relative proximity to the other satem ethno-linguistic groups of the Indo-European
Indo-European
Indo-European may refer to:* Indo-European languages** Aryan race, a 19th century and early 20th century term for those peoples who are the native speakers of Indo-European languages...

 family, like Thracian, Balto-Slavic and others, and to common Indo-European's original homeland (more precisely, the steppes of southern Russia to the north of the Caucasus
Caucasus
The Caucasus, also Caucas or Caucasia , is a geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia, and situated between the Black and the Caspian sea...

), according to the reconstructed linguistic relationships of common Indo-European.

Proto-Iranian
Proto-Iranian
Proto-Iranian, is the reconstructed proto-language of the Iranian languages branch of Indo-European language family, and as such, the ancestor of the Iranian languages such as Persian, Sogdian, Zazaki, Mazandarani, Kurdish and others...

thus dates to some time after Proto-Indo-Iranian break-up, or the early second millennium BCE, as the Old Iranian languages began to break off and evolve separately as the various Iranian tribes migrated and settled in vast areas of southeastern Europe, the Iranian plateau
Iranian plateau
The Iranian plateau, or Iranic plateau, is a geological formation in Southwest Asia. It is the part of the Eurasian Plate wedged between the Arabian and Indian plates, situated between the Zagros mountains to the west, the Caspian Sea and the Kopet Dag to the north, the Hormuz Strait and Persian...

, and Central Asia.

Avestan, mainly attested through 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,...

, a collection of sacred texts connected to the 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...

 religion, is considered to belong to a central Iranian group, where only peripheral groups such as southwestern (represented by Old Persian) and northeastern Sogdian and Sakan language (Scythian) had developed. Among the less known Old Iranian languages is Median, spoken in western and central 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...

, which may have had an “official” status during the Median era
Medes
The MedesThe Medes...

 (ca. 700–559 BC). Apart from place and personal names, some words reported in Herodotus' Histories and some preserved forms in Achaemenid inscriptions, there are numerous non-Persian words in the Old Persian texts that are commonly considered Median. Some of the modern Western and Central Iranian dialects are also likely to be descended from Median.

Other such languages are Carduchi (the predecessor to Kurdish) and Parthian (which evolved into the language of the later empire).

Middle Iranian languages


What is known in Iranian linguistic history as the "Middle Iranian" era is thought to begin around the 4th century BCE lasting through the 9th century. Linguistically and historically one can classify these into two main families, Western and Eastern.

The Western family includes Parthian
Parthian language
The Parthian language, also known as Arsacid Pahlavi and Pahlavanik, is a now-extinct ancient Northwestern Iranian language spoken in Parthia, a region of northeastern ancient Persia during the rule of the Parthian empire....

 (Arsacid
Parthia
Parthia is a region of north-eastern Iran, best known for having been the political and cultural base of the Arsacid dynasty, rulers of the Parthian Empire....

 Pahlavi) and Middle Persian
Middle Persian
Middle Persian , indigenously known as "Pârsig" sometimes referred to as Pahlavi or Pehlevi, is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of Southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions as well. Middle Persian is classified as a...

, while Bactrian
Bactrian language
The Bactrian language is an extinct Eastern Iranian language which was spoken in the Central Asian region of Bactria. Linguistically, it is classified as belonging to the middle period of the East Iranian branch...

, Sogdian
Sogdian language
The Sogdian language is a Middle Iranian language that was spoken in Sogdiana , located in modern day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan ....

, Khwarezmian
Khwarezmian language
Khwarezmian, also known as Khwarazmian or Chorasmian, is the name of an extinct East Iranian language closely related to Sogdian. The language was spoken in the area of Khwarezm , centered in the lower Amu Darya south of the Aral Sea .Our knowledge of Khwarezmian is...

, Saka
Saka language
Saka or Sakan is a Middle Iranian language attested from the medieval Buddhist kingdoms of Khotan and Tumxuk in what in now Xinjiang, China. Both dialects share features with modern Wakhi and Pashto. Many Prakrit terms were borrowed from Khotanese into the Tocharian languages.Khotanese is attested...

, and Old Ossetic (Scytho-Sarmatian) fall under the Eastern category. The two languages of the western group were linguistically very close to each other, but quite distinct from their eastern counterparts. On the other hand, the Eastern group retained some similarity to Avestan. They were inscribed in various Aramaic-derived alphabets, which had evolved from the Achaemenid Imperial Aramaic.

Middle Persian (Pahlavi) was the official language of the Sassanids. It was in use from the 3rd century CE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

 until the beginning of the 10th century. Pahlavi and Parthian were also the languages of the Manichaeans, whose texts also survive in various non-Iranian languages, from Latin to Chinese. The Imperial Aramaic script used in this era underwent significant maturing.

New Iranian languages




Following the Islamic Conquest of Persia
Islamic conquest of Persia
The Muslim conquest of Persia led to the end of the Sassanid Empire in 644, the fall of Sassanid dynasty in 651 and the eventual decline of the Zoroastrian religion in Persia...

 (Iran), there were important changes in the role of the different dialects within the Persian Empire. The old prestige form of Middle Iranian
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;...

, also known as Pahlavi, was replaced by a new standard dialect called Dari
Dari (Persian)
Dari or Fārsī-ye Darī in historical terms refers to the Persian court language of the Sassanids. In contemporary usage, the term refers to the dialects of modern Persian language spoken in Afghanistan, and hence known as Afghan Persian in some Western sources. It is the term officially recognized...

 as the official language of the court. The name Dari comes from the word darbâr (دربار), which refers to the royal court, where many of the poets, protagonists, and patrons of the literature flourished. The Saffarid dynasty
Saffarid dynasty
The Saffarids or the Saffarid dynasty was a Persian empire which ruled in Sistan , a historical region in southeastern Iran, southwestern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan...

 in particular was the first in a line of many dynasties to officially adopt the new language in 875 CE. Dari may have been heavily influenced by regional dialects of eastern Iran, whereas the earlier Pahlavi standard was based more on western dialects. This new prestige dialect became the basis of Standard New Persian. Medieval Iranian scholars such as Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa
Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa
Abū-Muhammad Abd-Allāh Rūzbeh ibn Dādūya/Dādōē , known as Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ , Ibn Muqaffa/Ebn-e Moghaffa , or Rūzbeh pūr-e Dādūya , was a Persian thinker and a Zoroastrian convert to Islam.-Biography:...

 (8th century) and Ibn al-Nadim
Ibn al-Nadim
Abu'l-Faraj Muhammad bin Is'hāq al-Nadim , whose father was known as al-Warrāq was a Shia Muslim scholar and bibliographer. Some scholars regard him as a Persian, but this is not certain. He is famous as the author of the Kitāb al-Fihrist...

 (10th century) associated the term "Dari" with the eastern province of Khorasan, while they used the term "Pahlavi" to describe the dialects of the northwestern areas between Isfahan and Azerbaijan
Ancient Azari language
Azari is the name used for the Iranian language composed of groups of dialects which were spoken in Azerbaijan at one time. Some linguists have also designated the southern Tati dialects of Azerbaijan like those spoken by the Tats around Khalkhal, Harzand and Keringan as a remnant of Azari...

, and "Pârsi" ("Persian" proper) to describe the Dialects of Fars. They also noted that the unofficial language of the royalty itself was yet another dialect, "Khuzi", associated with the western province of Khuzestan.

The Islamic conquest also brought with it the adoption of Arabic script for writing Persian, Pashto and Balochi. All three were adapted to the writing by the addition of a few letters. This development probably occurred some time during the second half of the 8th century, when the old middle Persian script began dwindling in usage. The Arabic script remains in use in contemporary modern Persian. Tajik script was first Latinised in the 1920s under the then Soviet nationality policy. The script was however subsequently Cyrillicized in the 1930s by the Soviet government.

The geographical area in which Iranian languages were spoken was pushed back in several areas by newly neighbouring languages. Arabic spread into some parts of Western Iran (Khuzestan), and Turkic languages
Turkic languages
The Turkic languages constitute a language family of at least thirty five languages, spoken by Turkic peoples across a vast area from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean to Siberia and Western China, and are considered to be part of the proposed Altaic language family.Turkic languages are spoken...

 spread through much of Central Asia, displacing various Iranian languages such as Sogdian
Sogdian language
The Sogdian language is a Middle Iranian language that was spoken in Sogdiana , located in modern day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan ....

 and Bactrian
Bactrian language
The Bactrian language is an extinct Eastern Iranian language which was spoken in the Central Asian region of Bactria. Linguistically, it is classified as belonging to the middle period of the East Iranian branch...

 in parts of what is today Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan , formerly also known as Turkmenia is one of the Turkic states in Central Asia. Until 1991, it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic . Turkmenistan is one of the six independent Turkic states...

, Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

 and Tajikistan
Tajikistan
Tajikistan , officially the Republic of Tajikistan , is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia. Afghanistan borders it to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east....

. Sogdian
Sogdian language
The Sogdian language is a Middle Iranian language that was spoken in Sogdiana , located in modern day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan ....

 barely survives in a small area of the Zarafshan valley east of Samarkand, and Saka
Saka
The Saka were a Scythian tribe or group of tribes....

(as Sariqoli) in parts of southern Xinjiang as well as Ossetic in the Caucasus. Various small Iranian languages in the Pamirs survive that are derived from Eastern Iranian.

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