Index / Languages / Iranian /
Indo-European Iranian language (Southwestern), spoken by an estimated 63 million (some estimates go as high as 85 million), principally in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan.
*) Official figures 5%, foreign estimates as high as 20%. LookLex sets it in the middle of the extremes.
For some letters, two transcriptions are provided. One is the correct one (bold), the other is the closest we get with standard computer letters.
Letters unique to Persian, compared to Arabic, are written with light background.
Ethnologue sets the number of Persian speakers in Iran is as low as 22 million in 1997, in this case making it only the second largest language of the country. This information does not correspond with any other data, so LookLex estimate is 36 million.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Persian dialekct is called Dari. In Tajikistan, Tajiki.
Some scholars classifies certain other languages as dialects of Persian, like Gilaki, Mazandarani, Talysh, Tati.
Old Persian was contemporary to Avestan, another Old Iranian language. Old Persian is preserved through cuneiform tablets found in the remains after the Achaemenid dynasty (550- 330 BCE). The oldest traces of Old Persian date to the 6th century BCE, but it was spoken until the 3rd century BCE.
Old Persian was spoken in southwestern Iran, while Avestan was spoken in northeastern Iran. In addition to the two languages there must have been at least a third. Median is mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus.
It is believed that there must have been a fair level of mutual intelligibility between the Iranian languages of this period, and more than there would be in later periods.
Middle Persian was a contemporary of Parthian, and during the Arsacid period, Persian was strongly influenced by Parthian. Middle Persian was the language used in the Sassanian Empire, and was called Pahlavi.
Middle Persian was, just like Old Persian, spoken in southwestern Iran, Parthian was spoken in the north, while a group of languages (Khwarezmian, Sogdian and Saka) were spoken in southeast.
The grammar of Middle Persian was simpler than in Old Persian. The script used was one of ambiguous script with multivalent letters, derived from Aramaic.
Middle Persian would last until the 9th century CE, even if its decline came with the introduction of Arabic already two centuries earlier.
Modern Persian, the language of Iran today, was developed as early as in the 9th century. It was in many fields a continuation of Middle Persian, but there were important influences coming from other Iranian languages.
Modern Persian used an expanded form of Arabic writing, introducing letters like ch, p, zh, g, and changing the pronunciation of Arabic zh into "za". There is also a large selection of Arabic words in Modern Persian, exceeding 40%.
The grammar of Modern Persian is simpler than the one of Middle Persian (just like Middle was simpler than Old Persian). Most of the inflectional systems are lost, and there is no system of case inflection. Possession is shown by a suffix called ezafeh. Tense, mood, voice and negative are likewise indicated by a series of prefixes and infixes (word elements inserted inside a word).
Dialects and sub-groups
Also written Aimak, this is a Persian dialect mainly found in Afghanistan, estimated in 1993 to 480,000 there and in Iran, 170,000. The poeple speaking Aimaq are also called in Aimaq, and are of mixed Iranian and Mongolian origins. In Iran they live in Mazanderan province, and are Muslims of the Sunni branch.
Language spoken by an estimated 2.2 million (2000), 80% living in Afghanistan. In Iran, there are 283,000 (1993). A large part of the Iranian Hazaragi speakers are refugees from Afghanistan. They are of the Hazara people, with a mixed Mongolian and Iranian ancestry.
Hazaragi is sometimes classified as a seperate language.
Spoken by about 40,000 in Israel, related to Dzhidi and Judeo-Persian.
Spoken by about 50,000 in Israel, it is close to Bukharic.