Persian (local name: فارسی, Fārsi Template:IPA-fa, sometimes used in English: see Nomenclature) is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is widely spoken in Iran (and in the Iranian diaspora), Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and to some extent in Armenia, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Bahrain. The Persian language, whose native names are فارسی Fārsi, Dari or Fārsi-ye-Dari (Dari Persian), is classified by most linguists as a continuation of Middle Persian, the official religious and literary language of Sassanid Persia, itself a continuation of Old Persian, the language of Persian Empire in the Achaemenid era. Persian is a pluricentric language and its grammar is similar to that of many contemporary European languages. The Persian language has been a medium for literary and scientific contributions to the eastern half of the Muslim world.
Persian has had a considerable influence on neighboring languages, particularly the Turkic languages in Central Asia, Caucasus, and Anatolia, neighboring Iranian languages, as well as Armenian, Arabic and other languages. It has also exerted a strong influence on South Asian languages, especially Urdu, as well as Hindi, Punjabi, Sindhi, Saraiki, Sylheti, and Bengali.
Persian belongs to the Western group of the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family, which also includes Kurdish, Mazandarani, Gilaki, Talyshi and Baluchi. The language is in the Southwestern Iranian group, along with the Larestani and Luri languages, and the Tat Persian of the Caucasus.
Contemporary local nomenclature
"court") is the local official name in Afghanistan, since 1964
- Farsi (Template:Rtl-lang—transliteration: Fârsi) is the local name of the language in Iran, and is sometimes used in English when referring to the language there
- Tajiki (тоҷикӣ in the Cyrillic Tajik alphabet) is the local name in Central Asia, especially in Tajikistan
Persian, the more widely used name of the language in English, is an anglicized form derived from Latin *Persianus < Latin Persia < Greek Πέρσις Pérsis, a Hellenized form of Old Persian Parsa. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term Persian as a language name is first attested in English in the mid-16th century. Native Iranian Persian speakers call it Fârsi. Fârsi is the arabicized form of Pârsi, due to a lack of the 'p' phoneme in Standard Arabic. In English, this language is historically known as "Persian", though some Persian speakers migrating to the West continued to use "Farsi" to identify their language in English and the word gained some currency in English-speaking countries. "Farsi" is encountered in some linguistic literature as a name for the language, used both by Iranian and by foreign authors. According to the OED, the term Farsi was first used in English in the mid-20th century. The Academy of Persian Language and Literature has declared that the name "Persian" is more appropriate, as it has the longer tradition in the western languages and better expresses the role of the language as a mark of cultural and national continuity. Most Persian language scholars such as Ehsan Yarshater and Kamran Talattof have also rejected the usage of "Farsi" in their articles.
The international language encoding standard ISO 639-1 uses the code "fa", as its coding system is mostly based on the local names. The more detailed standard ISO 639-3 uses the name "Persian" (code "fas") for the dialect continuum spoken across Iran and Afghanistan. This consists of the individual languages Dari (Afghan Persian) and Iranian Persian.
A similar terminology, but with even more subdivisions, is also adopted by the LINGUIST List, where "Persian" appears as a sub-grouping under "Southwest Western Iranian". Currently, VOA, BBC, DW, and RFE/RL use "Persian Service" for their broadcasts in the language. RFE/RL also includes a Tajik service, and an Afghan (Dari) service. This is also the case for the American Association of Teachers of Persian, The Centre for Promotion of Persian Language and Literature, and many of the leading scholars of Persian language.
Persian is an Iranian tongue belonging to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. In general, Iranian languages are known from three periods, usually referred to as Old, Middle, and New (Modern) periods. These correspond to three eras in Iranian history; Old era being the period from sometime before Achaemenids, the Achaemenid era and sometime after Achaemenids (that is to 400-300 BC), Middle era being the next period most officially Sassanid era and sometime in post-Sassanid era, and the New era being the period afterwards down to present day.
According to available documents, the Persian language is "the only Iranian language" for which close phylological relationships between all of its three stages are established and so that Old, Middle, and New Persian represent one and the same language of Persian, that is New Persian is a direct descendent of Middle and Old Persian.
The known history of the Persian language can be divided into the following three distinct periods:
Old Persian evolved from Proto-Iranian as it evolved in the Iranian plateau's southwest. The earliest dateable example of the language is the Behistun Inscription of the Achaemenid Darius I (r. 522 BC – ca. 486 BC). Although purportedly older texts also exist (such as the inscription on the tomb of Cyrus II at Pasargadae), these are actually younger examples of the language. Old Persian was written in Old Persian cuneiform, a script unique to that language and is generally assumed to be an invention of Darius I's reign.
After Aramaic, or rather the Achaemenid form of it known as Imperial Aramaic, Old Persian is the most commonly attested language of the Achaemenid age. While examples of Old Persian have been found wherever the Achaemenids held territories, the language is attested primarily in the inscriptions of Western Iran, in particular in Parsa "Persia" in the southwest, the homeland of the tribes that the Achaemenids (and later the Sassanids) came from.
In contrast to later Persian, written Old Persian had an extensively inflected grammar, with eight cases, each declension subject to both gender (masculine, feminine, neuter) and number (singular, dual, plural).
In contrast to Old Persian, whose spoken and written forms must have been dramatically different from one another, written Middle Persian reflected oral use. The complex conjugation and declension of Old Persian yielded to the structure of Middle Persian in which the dual number disappeared, leaving only singular and plural, as did gender. Middle Persian used postpositions to indicate the different roles of words, for example an -i suffix to denote a possessive "from/of" rather than the multiple (subject to gender and number) genitive caseforms of a word.
Although the "middle period" of the Iranian languages formally begins with the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, the transition from Old- to Middle Persian had probably already begun before the 4th century. However, Middle Persian is not actually attested until 600 years later when it appears in Sassanid era (224–651) inscriptions, so any form of the language before this date cannot be described with any degree of certainty. Moreover, as a literary language, Middle Persian is not attested until much later, to the 6th or 7th century. And from the 8th century onwards, Middle Persian gradually began yielding to New Persian, with the middle-period form only continuing in the texts of Zoroastrian tradition.
The native name of Middle Persian was Parsik or Parsig, after the name of the ethnic group of the southwest, that is, "of Pars", Old Persian Parsa, New Persian Fars. This is the origin of the name Farsi as it is today used to signify New Persian. Following the collapse of the Sassanid state, Parsik came to be applied exclusively to (either Middle or New) Persian that was written in Arabic script. From about the 9th century onwards, as Middle Persian was on the threshold of becoming New Persian, the older form of the language came to be erroneously called Pahlavi, which was actually but one of the writing systems used to render both Middle Persian as well as various other Middle Iranian languages. That writing system had previously been adopted by the Sassanids (who were Persians, i.e. from the southwest) from the preceding Arsacids (who were Parthians, i.e. from the northeast). While Rouzbeh (Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa, 8th century) still distinguished between Pahlavi (i.e. Parthian) and Farsi (i.e. Middle Persian), this distinction is not evident in Arab commentaries written after that date.
Gernot Windfuhr considers new Persian as an evolution of the Old Persian language and the Middle Persian language but also states that none of the known Middle Persian dialects is the direct predecessor of the [New] Persian  Professor. Ludwig Paul states: "The language of the Shahnameh should be seen as one instance of continuous historical development from Middle to New Persian"
The history of New Persian itself spans more than 1,000–1,200 years. The development of the language in its last period is often divided into three stages dubbed early, classical, and contemporary. Many educated native speakers of the language can in fact understand early texts in Persian with minimal adjustment, because of the morphology and, to a lesser extent, the lexicon of the language have remained relatively stable for the most part of a millennium.
Early New Persian
Template:See also The Islamic conquest of Persia marks the beginning of the new history of Persian language and literature. This period produced world class Persian language poets and the language served, for a long span of time, as the lingua franca of the eastern parts of Islamic world and South Asia. It was also the official and cultural language of many Islamic dynasties, including Samanids, Buyids, Tahirids, Ziyarids, the Mughal Empire, Timurids, Ghaznavid, Seljuq, Khwarezmids, Safavid, Afsharids, Zand, Qajar, Ottomans and also many Mughal successor states such as the Nizams etc. For example, Persian was the only oriental language known and used by Marco Polo at the Court of Kublai Khan and in his journeys through China. The heavy influence of Persian on other languages can still be witnessed across the Islamic world, especially, and it is still appreciated as a literary and prestigious language among the educated elite, especially in fields of music (for example Qawwali) and art (Persian literature). After the Arab invasion of Persia, Persian began to adopt many words from Arabic and as time went by, a few words were even taken from Altaic languages under the Mongol Empire and Turco-Persian society.
Use in South Asia
Template:See also For five centuries prior to the British colonization, Persian was widely used as a second language in South Asia. It took prominence as the language of culture and education in several Muslim courts in South Asia and became the sole "official language" under the Mughal emperors. Coinciding with the Safavid rule over Iran, when (royal) patronage of Persian poets was curtailed, the centre of Persian culture and literature moved to the Mughal Empire, which had huge financial resources to employ a veritable army of Persian courtly poets, lexicographers and other literati. Beginning in 1843, though, English gradually replaced Persian in importance on the South Asia. Evidence of Persian's historical influence there can be seen in the extent of its influence on the languages of the South Asia, as well as the popularity that Persian literature still enjoys in that region. Persian exerted a strong influence on Urdu, the national language of Pakistan.
Since the nineteenth century, Russian, French and English and many other languages have contributed to the technical vocabulary of Persian. The Iranian National Academy of Persian Language and Literature is responsible for evaluating these new words in order to initiate and advise their Persian equivalents. The language itself has greatly developed during the centuries.
Template:Persian languages There are three modern varieties of standard Persian:
- Iranian Persian is the variety of Persian spoken in Iran, sometimes referred to as Farsi (in Persian) or just Persian (in English).
- Afghan Persian (or Dari), is the Persian spoken in Afghanistan. It is also referred to as Eastern Persian, and officially as Dari.
- Tajik Persian (Tajiki) is the variety of Persian used in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia, but unlike the Persian used in Iran and Afghanistan, it is written in the Cyrillic script rather than Persian script.
The three mentioned varieties are based on the classic Persian literature. There are also several local dialects from Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan which slightly differ from the standard Persian. Hazaragi (in Central Afghanistan and Pakistan), Herati (in Western Afghanistan), Darwazi (in Afghanistan and Tajikistan), Tehrani (in Iran) and Dehwari (in Pakistan) are examples of these dialects. Educated speakers of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan can understand one another with a relatively high degree of mutual intelligibility, give or take minor differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar - much in the same relationship as shared between British and American English.
The following are some closely related languages to Persian:
- Luri (or Lori), spoken mainly in the southwestern Iranian provinces of Lorestan, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad Province, some western parts of Fars Province and some parts of Khuzestan.
- Tat, spoken in parts of Azerbaijan, Russia, etc. It includes Judeo-Tat & Christian-Tat.
- Lari (in southern Iran)
Iranian Persian has six vowels and twenty-three consonants.
Historically, Persian has distinguished length: Early New Persian possessed a series of five long vowels (/iː/ , /uː/ , /ɒː/ , /oː/
) along with three short vowels /æ/ , /i/
. At some point prior to the sixteenth century within the general area that is today encompassed by modern Iran, /eː/
and /iː/ merged into /iː/
, and /oː/
and /uː/ merged into /uː/
. Thus, the older contrasts between words like shēr "lion" and shīr "milk," were lost. There are exceptions to this rule and in some words, "ē" and "ō" are preserved or merged into the diphthongs [eɪ]
and [oʊ] (which are descendents of the diphthongs [æɪ] and [æʊ] in Early New Persian), instead of merging into /iː/ and /uː/
. Examples of this exception can be found in words such as [roʊʃæn]
However, in the eastern varieties, the archaic distinction of /eː/
and /iː/ (respectively known as Yā-ye majhūl and Yā-ye ma'rūf) is still preserved, as well as the distinction of /oː/ and /uː/ (known as Wāw-e majhūl and Wāw-e ma'rūf). On the other hand, in standard Tajik, the length distinction has disappeared and /iː/ merged with /i/
, and /uː/
. Therefore, contemporary Afghan dialects are the closest one can get to the vowel inventory of Early New Persian.
According to most studies on the subject (e.g. Samareh 1977, Pisowicz 1985, Najafi 2001,) the three vowels which are traditionally considered long (/i/ , /u/ , /ɒ/ ) are currently distinguished from their short counterparts (/e/ , /o/ , /æ/ ) by position of articulation, rather than by length. However, there are studies (e.g. Hayes 1979, Windfuhr 1979) which consider vowel-length to be the active feature of this system, i.e. /ɒ/, /i/, and /u/ are phonologically long or bimoraic whereas /æ/, /e/, and /o/ are phonologically short or monomoraic.
There are also some studies which consider quality and quantity to be both active in the Iranian system (e.g. Toosarvandani 2004). This view offers a synthetic analysis which includes both quality and quantity, often suggesting that modern Persian vowels are in a transition state between the quantitative system of classical Persian and a hypothetical future Persian which will eliminate all traces of quantity, and retain quality as the only active feature.
Suffice it to say that the length-distinction is strictly observed by careful reciters of classic-style poetry, for all varieties (including the Tajik).
|Plosive||p b||t d||k ɡ||[ɢ]||ʔ|
|Fricative||f v||s z||ʃ ʒ||x ɣ||h|
(Where symbols appear in pairs, the one to the right represents a voiced consonant. Allophones are in phonetic brackets.)
Suffixes predominate Persian morphology, though there is a small number of prefixes. Verbs can express tense and aspect, and they agree with the subject in person and number. There is no grammatical gender in Persian, nor are pronouns marked for natural gender.
Normal declarative sentences are structured as "(S) (PP) (O) V". This means sentences can comprise optional subjects, prepositional phrases, and objects, followed by a required verb. If the object is specific, then the object is followed by the word rā and precedes prepositional phrases: "(S) (O + rā) (PP) V".
Native word formation
Persian makes extensive use of word building and combining affixes, stems, nouns and adjectives. Persian frequently uses derivational agglutination to form new words from nouns, adjectives, and verbal stems. New words are extensively formed by compounding – two existing words combining into a new one, as is common in German. Professor Mahmoud Hessaby demonstrated that Persian can derive 226 million words.
While having a lesser influence on Arabic and other languages of Mesopotamia and its core vocabulary being of Middle Persian origin, New Persian contains a considerable amount of Arabic lexical items, which were Persianized and often took a different meaning and usage than the Arabic original. The Arabic vocabulary in other Iranic, Turkic and Indic languages are generally understood to be have been copied from New Persian.
John R. Perry in his article "Areas and Semantic Fields of Arabic" indicates his belief that the overall range of Arabic synonyms vocabulary used along or interchangeable with their equivalents Persian words varies from 2.4% frequency in the Shahnama, 14% in material culture, 24% in intellectual life to 40% of everyday literary activity. Most of the Arabic words used in Persian are either synonyms of native terms or could be (and often have been) glossed in Persian. The Arabic vocabulary in Persian is thus suppletive, rather than basic and has enriched New Persian.
The inclusion of Mongolian and Turkic elements in the Persian language should also be mentioned, not only because of the political role a succession of Turkic dynasties played in Iranian history, but also because of the immense prestige Persian language and literature enjoyed in the wider (non-Arab) Islamic world, which was often ruled by sultans and emirs with a Turkic background. The Turkish and Mongolian vocabulary in Persian is minor in comparison and these words were mainly confined to military, pastoral terms and political sector (titles, administration, etc.) until new military and political titles were coined based partially on Middle Persian (e.g. Artesh for army instead of Qoshun) in the 20th century.
There are also adaptations from French (mainly in the late 19th century and early 20th century) and Russian (mainly in the late 19th century and early 20th century). Like most languages of the world, there is an increasing amount of English vocabulary entering the Persian language. The Persian academy (Farhangestan) has coined Persian equivalents for some of these terms. There are more words adopted from French than from English because Persian speakers more easily pronounce French words.
Persian has likewise influenced the vocabularies of other languages, especially other Indo-Iranian languages like Urdu and to a lesser extent Hindi, etc., as well as Turkic languages like Ottoman Turkish, Chagatai language, Tatar language, Turkish Turkmen, Azeri and Uzbek, Afro-Asiatic languages like Assyrian and Arabic, and even Dravidian languages especially Telugu and Brahui. Several languages of southwest Asia have also been influenced, including Armenian and Georgian. Persian has even influenced the Malay spoken in Malaysia and Swahili in Africa. Many Persian words have also found their way into other Indo-European languages including the English language. Persian has also had a significant lexical influence, via Turkish, on Serbian, especially as spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Use of occasional foreign synonyms instead of Persian words can be a common practice in everyday communications as an alternative expression. In some instances in addition to the Persian vocabulary, the equivalent synonyms from multiple foreign languages can be used. For example, the phrase "thank you" can be expressed using the French word merci (stressed however on the first syllable), by the hybrid Persian-Arabic word moteshaker-am, or by the pure Persian word sepasgozar-am.