- This article deals with the language family. For languages spoken on the territory of Iran, see Languages of Iran.
distribution: Southwest Asia, Central Asia, and western South AsiaGenetic
Iranian Subdivisions: Western IranianEastern IranianISO 639-2: ira Geographic distribution of the modern Iranian languages: Persian(yellow), Pashto(purple), Balochi(light green), and Kurdish(Green), as well as smaller communities of other Iranian languages (User-created map)
Today, there are an estimated 150-200 million native speakers of Iranian languages. The 2005 SIL enumerates 87 varieties of Iranian languages, per number of native speakers, the largest are Persian (ca. 70 million), Pashto (ca. 40 million), Kurdish (35 million) and Balochi (ca. 7 million); to compare these numbers against those for other languages, see list of languages by number of native speakers.
- 1 Name
- 2 Early Iranian languages
- 3 Middle Iranian languages
- 4 Arab conquest of Persia
- 5 Classification
- 6 Comparison table
- 7 See also
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
The 'Iranian' languages branch is so named because its principal member languages, including Persian, have been spoken in the area of the Iranian plateau since ancient times, however, as a linguistic classification, 'Iranian' implies no relation with the country of Iran, for which see Languages of Iran.
Early Iranian languagesHistorical distribution in 100 BC: shown is Sarmatia, Scythia, Bactria and the Parthian Empire.
Together with the other Indo-Iranian languages, the Iranian languages are descended from a common ancestor, Proto-Indo-Iranian. This language split up into:
- Indo-Aryan languages, including Sanskrit, attested from the 2nd millennium BC; this group includes the Dardic languages of the northwestern Indian subcontinent
- Nuristani languages in northeast Afghanistan
- Iranian languages, including Avestan (dated to roughly 1000 BC) and Old Persian (attested from 519 BC onwards).
Proto-Iranian thus dates to some time after Proto-Indo-Iranian breakup, or the early second millennium BC, 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, and Central Asia.
Linguistically, the Old Iranian languages are divided into two major families and sub classes:
- The eastern group
- The western group
- The southwestern group
- The northwestern group
The eastern group includes the Sogdian, Khwarezmian, Saka, and Avestan, (formerly also known as Zend or Old Bactrian). The northwestern branch includes Median, Parthian and Kurdish. The southwestern group includes Persian.
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. Again, geographically, one can classify these into two main families, Western and Eastern.
The former family includes the languages of Parthian (Arsacid Pahlavi) and Middle Persian, while Bactrian, Sogdian, Khwarezmian, Saka, and Old Ossetic (Scytho-Sarmatian) fall under the latter 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 proximity 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 usage from the 3rd century until the beginning of the 10th century. Pahlavi and Parthian were also the language of the Manichaeans, whose texts also survive in various non-Iranian languages, from Latin to Chinese. The Imperial Aramaic script used in this era experienced significant maturation.
Arab conquest of PersiaDark green: Countries where Iranian languages are official. Teal: Regional co-official/de facto status.
Following the Islamic Conquest of Persia (Iran), there were important changes in the role of the different dialects within the Persian empire. The old prestige form of Middle Iranian, also known as Pahlavi, was replaced by a new standard dialect called Dari as the official language of the court. The name Dari comes from the word darbar (دربار), which refers to the royal court, where many of the poets, protagonists, and patrons of the literature flourished (See Persian literature). The Saffarid dynasty in particular was the first in a line of many dynasties to officially adopt the new language in 875CE. Dari is believed to 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 ancestor of modern Standard Persian. Medieval Iranian scholars such as Abdullah Ibn al-Muqaffa (8th century) and Ibn al-Nadim (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 (see Ancient Azari language), and "Parsi" ("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 aforementioned 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 under plans by USSR's government in Central Asia.
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 spread through much of Central Asia, displacing various Iranian languages such as Sogdian and Bactrian in parts of what is today Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Sogdian barely survives in a small area of the Zarafshan valley east of Samarkand, and Saka (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. Turkic also displaced the Persian language spoken in Azerbaijan.
- Main article: List of Iranian languages
Iranian languages are divided into Eastern and Western subfamilies, totalling about 84 languages (SIL estimate). Of the most widely-spoken Iranian languages, Kurdish, Persian, and Balochi are all Western Iranian languages, while Pashto is an Eastern Iranian language.
Comparison tableEnglishZazakiKurdishPashtoBalochiMazandaraniPersianMiddle PersianParthianOld PersianAvestanbeautiful rind rind/delal/cûwan ṣhkulae/khkulae, ṣhayista/khayista sharr, soherâ ṣəmxâl/ Xəş-nəmâ zibâ/ xuš-chehreh hučihr, hužihr hužihr naiba vahu-, srîra blood goyni xwîn wina hon xun xūn xōn xōn vohuni bread non nan ḍoḍəy nân, nagan nûn nân nân nân bring ardene anîn/hênan rāwṛəm âvardan biyârden âvardan âwurdan, āwāy-, āwar-, bar- āwāy-, āwar-, bar- bara- bara, bar- brother bıra bira wror barādar birâr barādar brād, brâdar brād, brādar brâtar brâtar- come amaene hatin rātəm áhag, âmadan Biyamona, enen âmadan âmadan, awar awar, čām ây-, âgam âgam- cry berbaene girîn zhāṛəm/jāṛəm taukh bərmə/ qâ geristan griy-, bram- dark tari tarî tyārə thár siyo târîk târīg/k târīg, târēn sâmahe, sâma daughter çena keç/kîj/kenîşk/dot lur mind kijâ/ dether doxtar duxtar duxt, duxtar duxδar day roce roj wraż/wraz roshe rezh rûz rōz raucah- do kerdene kirin/kirdin kawəm khandagh hâkerden kardan kardan kartan kạrta- kәrәta- door çeber derge/derî war gelo bəli dar dar dar, bar duvara- dvara- die merdene mirin mṛəm mireg mərnen murdan murdan mạriya- mar- donkey her ker khar her xar xar xar egg hak hêk hagəi heyg merqâna toxm toxmag, xâyag taoxmag, xâyag taoxma- earth êrd (Arabic) herd/erd (Arabic) zməka/məzəka zemin zemi zamin zamīg zamīg zam- zãm, zam, zem evening shund êvar/êware māṣhām/mākhām begáh nəmâşun begáh sarshab êbêrag eye çım çav stərga ch.hem, chem bəj, Çəş chashm chašm chašm čaša- čašman- father pi bav/bawk plār pyt, abbâ piyer pedar pidar pid pitar pitar fear ters tirs vera terseg təşəpaş tars tars tars tạrsa- tares- fiancé washte dezgîran, destgirtî numzād nām zād xasgar nâm-zad - - fine weş xweş/baş ṣha/kha hosh xaar xosh dârmag srîra finger gisht til/qamik gwəṭa lenkwk, mordâneg angoos angošt angust dišti- fire adır agir wōr âch, âs tesh âtaš, âzar âdur, âtaxsh ādur âç- âtre-/aêsma- fish mosa masî kab mâhi mahi mâhi mâhig mâsyâg masyô, masya food / eat werdene xwarin khoṛə / khwrəm warag, vereg Xərak/ xəynen Gaza / xordan parwarz / xwâr, xwardīg parwarz / xwâr hareθra / ad-, at- go şiyaene çûn żəm jwzzegh shunen / burden raftan raftan, shudan ay- ai- ay-, fra-vaz god heq xwedê khwdae hwdâ homa, xəda khodâ bay, abragar baga- baya- good rınd baş, çak ṣhə/khə jawáin, šarr xâr xub / nîuū xūb, nêkog vahu- vohu, vaŋhu- grass vash giya, riwek, şênkatî wāṣhə/wākhə rem sabzeh, giyâh giyâ dâlūg urvarâ great gırs / pil gir, mezin, gewre loy mastar gat, belang, pila bozorg wuzurg, pīl vazraka- uta-, avañt hand dest dest/lep lās dast dess dast dast dast dasta- zasta- head ser ser sar, kaparae saghar kalə sar, kalleh sar heart zerre dil zṛə dil, hatyr dil del dil dil aηhuš horse astor hesp ās asp istar asp, astar asp, stōr asp, stōr aspa aspa- house çé(ké) mal kōr log səre xâneh xânag demâna-, nmâna- hunger vêşon birçîtî/birsiyetî lwəẓha/lwəga shudhagh veyshna gorosnegi gursag, shuy language (Also Tongue) zıwan / zon ziman zhəba/jəba zevân ziwân zabân zuwân izβân hazâna- hizvâ- laugh huyaene kenîn khandā khendegh, hendeg xandidan xandīdan karta Syaoθnâvareza- life jewiyaene jiyan/jîn zhwandūn zendegih zendegi zīndagīh, zīwišnīh žīwahr, žīw- gaêm, gaya- man merd mêr/piyaw saṛae/nər merd merd mard mard mard martiya- mašîm, mašya moon ashmê heyv/mang spoẓhmae/spogmae máh mithra mâh māh māh mâh- måŋha- mother mae dayik mōr mât, mâs mâr mâdar mādar mādar mâtar mâtar- mouth fek dev/dem khwlə daf dahân dahân, rumb åŋhânô, âh, åñh name name nav num num num nâm nâm nâman nãman night şewe şev shpa shaw, šap sheow shab shab xšap- xšap- open akerdene vekirin khlās božagh vâ-hekârden bâz-kardan abâz-kardan būxtaka- būxta- peace kotpy aştî rogha ârâm âshti, ârâmeš, ârâmî âštih, râmīšn râm, râmīšn šiyâti- râma- pig xoz beraz khug/seḍar khug xi xūk xūk varâza (wild pig) place ja cih/şûn żae hend jâh/gâh gâh gâh gâθu- gâtu-, gâtav- read wendene xwendin lwalawəm wánagh baxinden xândan xwândan say vatene gotin/wutin wāyəm gushagh baotena goftan, gap(-zadan) guftan, gōw-, wâxtan gōw- gaub- mrû- sister wae xweşk khōr gwhâr xâxer xâhar/xwâhar xwahar small qıc piçûk kuchnae, waṛukae lekem pətik, bechuk, perushk kuchak, kam, xurd, rîz kam, rangas kam kamna- kamna- son qıj kur zoe pisar, phusagh pisser pesar, pûr, baça pur, pusar puhr puça pūθra- soul gan giyan ravân rūwân, gyân rūwân, gyân urvan- spring usar bihar sparlae/pusarlae wehâr bahâr wahâr vâhara- θūravâhara- tall berz bilind/berz jəg bwrz boland / bârez buland, borz bârež barez- three hire sê dre se se se sê hrē çi- θri- village dewe gund, dê kəlae helk deh deh, wis wiž dahyu- vîs-, dahyu- want waştene xwestin/wîstin ghwāṛəm lotagh bexanen xâstan xwâstan water owe av ōbə âf ab âb/aw âb âb âpi avô- when key kengê kəla ked kay kay ka čim- wind va ba bād gwáth wâ bâd wâd vâta- wolf verg gur lewə/shermuṣh gurkh varg gorg gurg varka- vehrka woman ceniye jin/afret ṣhəza/khəza jan zhənya zan zan žan hâīrīšī-, nâirikâ- year serre sal kāl sâl sâl sâl θard ýâre, sarәd yes / no ya / né erê / na ho (wo) / na, ya ere / na hâ (âre) / na hâ / ney hâ / ney yâ / nay, mâ yâ / noit, mâ yesterday vizêri duh/dwênê parun zí direz diruz dêrûž EnglishZazakiKurdishPashtoBalochiMazandaraniPersianMiddle PersianParthianOld PersianAvestan
- ^ Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.) (2005). "Report for Iranian languages". Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas: SIL International.
- Schmitt, Rüdiger (ed.) (1989). Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum. Wiesbaden: Reichert. ISBN 3-88226-413-6.
- Sims-Williams, Nicholas (1996). "Iranian languages". Encyclopedia Iranica 7. Cosa Mesa: Mazda. 238-245.
- Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.) (1996). "Iran". Encyclopedia Iranica 7. Cosa Mesa: Mazda.
- Frye, Richard N. (1996). "Peoples of Iran". Encyclopedia Iranica 7. Cosa Mesa: Mazda.
- Windfuhr, Gernot L. (1995). "Cases in Iranian languages and dialects". Encyclopedia Iranica 5. Cosa Mesa: Mazda.
- Lazard, Gilbert (1996). "Dari". Encyclopedia Iranica 7. Cosa Mesa: Mazda.
- Henning, Walter B. (1954). "The Ancient language of Azarbaijan". Transactions of the Philological Society. doi:10.1111/j.1467-968X.1954.tb00282.x.
- Rezakhani, Khodadad (2001). The Iranian Language Family.
- erani.tk Lists of many similarities between some Iranian languages, in English and Turkish
- Society for Iranian Linguistics
-  Iranian EFL Journal
Afghanistan • China (Taxkorgan)1 • Georgia ( South Ossetia2) • Iran • Iraq ( Kurdistan) • Russia ( North Ossetia-Alania) • Pakistan (North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan) • Tajikistan • Uzbekistan (1.3 million to 11 million Tajiks)
(1) Taxkorgan Tajik
Autonomous County, officially recognised minority in the People's Republic of China.
(2) South Ossetia is a self-proclaimed republic within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia. It is presently not recognized by any country.
The geographical spread of Persian: Afghanistan • Australia• Bahrain • Canada • Denmark • France • Germany • Iran • Iraq • Kuwait • New Zealand • The Netherlands • Norway • Qatar • Sweden • Tajikistan • Turkey • United Arab Emirates • United Kingdom • USA • Uzbekistan
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