- Iranian languages
Southwest Asia, Central Asia, and western South Asia Linguistic classification: Indo-European
Proto-language: Proto-Iranian Subdivisions: ISO 639-2 and 639-5: ira
The Iranian languages (also called Iranic 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 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 (a language of Achaemenid Iran) and Avestan (the language of Zarathushtra). Middle Iranian languages included Middle Persian (a language of Sassanid Iran) and Parthian (a language of Arsacid Iran). There are many Iranian languages, the largest amongst them are Persian, Pashto, Balochi and Kurdish.
Today, there are an estimated 150–200 million native speakers of Iranian languages. The Ethnologue lists 87 Iranian languages. Persian has about 65 million native speakers, Pashto about 50-60 million, Kurdish about 18 million, Lurish about 2.3 million, and Balochi about 7 million.
The term Iranian language is applied to any language which is "descended from a proto-Iranian parent language". As such these proto-languages were unattested and spoken first and presumably by people/tribes in Central Asia 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 term Iranian has been introduced 1836 by Christian Lassen, followed by Wilhelm Geiger and his Grundriss der Iranischen Philologie (1895) whereas Friedrich von Spiegel in 1859 prefers the term Eranian. Robert Needham Cust, however, used the term Irano-Aryan as early as 1878. Orientalists such as George Abraham Grierson and Max Müller 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 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.
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 was also considered as an Iranian language but was very soon (in 1875 effectively) established as a separate language in the Indo-European group of 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.
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. The Indo-Iranian languages are thought to have originated in Central Asia. The Andronovo culture 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 (and present-day Kazakhstan). It was in relative proximity to the other satem ethno-linguistic groups of the Indo-European 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), according to the reconstructed linguistic relationships of common Indo-European.
Proto-Iranian 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, and Central Asia.
Avestan, mainly attested through the Avesta, a collection of sacred texts connected to the Zoroastrian 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, which may have had an “official” status during the Median era (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 (Arsacid Pahlavi) and Middle Persian, while Bactrian, Sogdian, Khwarezmian, Saka, 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 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 (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 darbâr (دربار), which refers to the royal court, where many of the poets, protagonists, and patrons of the literature flourished. The Saffarid dynasty 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 (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, 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 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.
English Zazaki Kurmanji/Sorani Pashto Balochi Mazandarani Persian Middle Persian Parthian Old Persian Avestan Ossetic beautiful rind rind,bedew, delal/cwan ʂkulai/xkulai, ʂɑjista/xɑjista sharr, soherâ ṣəmxâl/ Xəş-nəmâ zibâ/ xuš-chehreh hučihr, hužihr hužihr naiba vahu-, srîra ræsughd blood goyni xwîn/xwên wina hon xun xūn xōn gōxan vohuni- tug bread nan nan ɖoɖəi, nəɣɑn nân, nagan nûn nân nân nân dzul bring ardene anîn/hênan/weranîn, hawirdin rɑ wɺ̡əl âurten, yārag, ārag biyârden âvardan/biyar âwurdan, āwāy-, āwar-, bar- āwāy-, āwar-, bar- bara- bara, bar- xæssyn brother bıra bira wror brāt, brās birâr barādar brād, brâdar brād, brādar brâtar brâtar- æfsymær come amayene hatin/wara rɑ tləl āhag, āyag Biyamona, enen âmadan âmadan, awar awar, čām ây-, âgam âgam- cæwyn cry berbayene girîn ʒaɺ̡əl greewag, greeten bərmə/ qâ geristan/geryeh griy-, bram- kæwyn dark tari tarî/tarîk tjɑrə thár siyo târîk târīg/k târīg, târēn sâmahe, sâma tar daughter/girl çena keç, kîj,qîz, dot/kiç, kîj, kenîşk lur dohtir, duttag kijâ/ dether doxtar duxtar duxt, duxtar duxδar čyzg (Iron), kizgæ (Digor) day roce/roje/roze roj wrad͡z roç rezh rûz rōz raucah- raocah- bon do kerdene kirin/kirdin kawəl kanag, kurtin hâkerden kardan kardan kartan kạrta- kәrәta- kænyn door çeber derge/derke, derga war, daɺ̡a gelo, darwāzag bəli dar dar dar, bar duvara- dvara- dwar die merdene mirin/mirdin mrəl mireg mərnen murdan murdan mạriya- mar- mælyn donkey her ker xar her xar xar xar xæræg egg hak hêk/hêlke hagəi heyg, heyk merqâna toxm toxmag, xâyag taoxmag, xâyag taoxma- ajk earth êrd (uncertain origin) erd/herd (uncertain origin) zməka zemin zemi zamin zamīg zamīg zam- zãm, zam, zem zæxx evening shan êvar/êware mɑʂɑm/mɑxɑm begáh nəmâşun begáh sarshab êbêrag izær eye çım çav/çaw stərga ch.hem, chem bəj, Çəş chashm chašm chašm čaša- čašman- cæst father pi bav/bab, bawk plɑr pit, piss piyer pedar pidar pid pitar pitar fyd fear ters tirs vera, tars turs, terseg təşəpaş tars tars tars tạrsa- tares- tas fiancé washte dezgîran t͡ʃanɣol nām zād xasgar nâm-zad - - usag fine weş xweş ʂa/xa wash, hosh xaar xosh dârmag srîra xorz / dzæbæx finger gisht til/qamik, engust gwəta lenkutk, mordâneg angoos angošt angust dišti- ængwyldz fire adır agir/awir, agir or âch, âs tesh âtaš, âzar âdur, âtaxsh ādur âç- âtre-/aêsma- art fish mase masî kab mâhi, mâhig mahi mâhi mâhig mâsyâg masya kæsag food / eat werdene xwarin/xwardin xoɺ̡ə / xwaɺ̡əl warag, warâk Xərak/ xəynen Gaza / xordan parwarz / xwâr, xwardīg parwarz / xwâr hareθra / ad-, at- xærinag go şiyayene çûn tləl jwzzegh, shutin shunen / burden raftan raftan, shudan ay- ai- ay-, fra-vaz cæwyn god heq xwedê/xwa xwdai hwdâ homa, xəda khodâ bay, abragar baga- baya- xwycaw good rınd baş, rind/baş, çak ʂə/xə jawáin, šarr xâr xub / nîuū xūb, nêkog vahu- vohu, vaŋhu- xorz grass vaş giya/gya wɑʂə/wɑxə rem, sabzag sabzeh, giyâh giyâ dâlūg urvarâ kærdæg great gırs / pil mezin/gewre, mezin loj, ɣwara mastar, mazan gat, belang, pila bozorg wuzurg, pīl vazraka- uta-, avañt styr hand dest dest lɑs dast dess dast dast dast dasta- zasta- k'ux / arm head ser ser sar, kakaɺ̡ai saghar kalə sar, kalleh sar sairi sær heart zerre dil/dill zɺ̡ə dil, hatyr dil/dill del dil dil aηhuš zærdæ horse estor hesp/esp ɑs asp istar asp, astar asp, stōr asp, stōr aspa aspa- bæx house keye mal/mall, xanu kor, xuna log, dawâr səre xâneh xânag demâna-, nmâna- xædzar hunger vêşan birçîtî/birsêtî lwəʐa/lwəga shudhagh veyshna gorosnegi gursag, shuy stong language (also tongue) zıwan, zon ziman/ziman, ziwan ʒəba zevân, zobân ziwân zabân zuwân izβân hazâna- hizvâ- ævzag laugh huyayene kenîn/pêkenîn, kenîn xandəl khendegh, hendeg xandidan xandīdan karta Syaoθnâvareza- xudyn life jewiyaene jiyan ʒwandun zendegih, zind zendegi zīndagīh, zīwišnīh žīwahr, žīw- gaêm, gaya- card man merd mêr/ pyaw saɺ̡ai, meɺ̡ə merd merd mard mard mard martiya- mašîm, mašya adæjmag moon ashmê heyv/mang spoʐmai/spogmai, mjɑʃt máh mithra mâh māh māh mâh- måŋha- mæj mother maye dayik, mak mor mât, mâs mâr mâdar mādar mādar mâtar mâtar- mad mouth fek dev/dem xwlə dap dahân dahân, rumb åŋhânô, âh, åñh dzyx name name nav/naw num nâm num nâm nâm nâman nãman nom night şewe şev/şew ʃpa šap, shaw sheow shab shab xšap- xšap- æxsæv open akerdene vekirin/kirdinewe prɑnistəl, xlɑsawəl pabožagh, paç vâ-hekârden bâz-kardan abâz-kardan būxtaka- būxta- gom kænyn peace kotpy aştî roɣa ârâm âshti, ârâmeš, ârâmî âštih, râmīšn râm, râmīšn šiyâti- râma- fidyddzinad pig xoz beraz xug, seɖar khug xi xūk xūk hū xwy place ja cih/jê d͡zɑj hend, jâgah jâh/gâh gâh gâh gâθu- gâtu-, gâtav- ran read wendene xwendin/xwêndin lwastəl wánagh baxinden xândan xwândan kæsyn say vatene gotin/witin, gutin wajəl gushagh baotena goftan, gap(-zadan) guftan, gōw-, wâxtan gōw- gaub- mrû- dzuryn sister wae xweşk,xoe xor gwhâr xâxer xâhar/xwâhar xwahar x ̌aŋhar- "sister" xo small qıc biçûk kut͡ʃnai, waɺ̡ukai, kam gwand, hurd pətik, bechuk, perushk kuchak, kam, xurd, rîz kam, rangas kam kamna- kamna- chysyl son qıj kur/kurr zoj baç, phusagh pisser pesar, pûr, baça pur, pusar puhr puça pūθra- fyrt soul gan gyan, rewan arwɑ rawân ravân rūwân, gyân rūwân, gyân urvan- ud spring usar bihar/behar psarlai bhârgâh wehâr bahâr wahâr vâhara- θūravâhara- tall berz bilind/berz lwaɺ̡, d͡ʒəg bwrz, buland boland / bârez buland, borz bârež barez- bærzond ten des deh/de les deh da dah dah datha dasa dæs three hire sê dre sey se se sê hrē çi- θri- ærtæ village dewe gund/dê kəlai helk, kallag, dê deh deh, wis wiž dahyu- vîs-, dahyu- vîs qæw want waştene xwestin/wîstin ɣuʂtəl/ɣuxtəl lotagh bexanen xâstan xwâstan fændyn water owe av/aw obə âp ab âb/aw âb âb âpi avô- don when key kengê/key, kengê kəla ked kay kay ka čim- kæd wind va ba bɑd gwáth wâ bâd wâd vâta- dymgæ / wad wolf verg gur/gurg lewə, ʃarmuʂ/ʃarmux gurkh varg gorg gurg varka- vehrka birægh woman ceniye jin ʂəd͡za/xəd͡za jan zhənya zan zan žan gǝnā, γnā, ǰaini-, sylgojmag / us year serre sal/sall kɑl sâl sâl sâl θard ýâre, sarәd az yes / no ya / né erê,bêle, a / na ho (wo) / na, ja ere / na baleh, ârē, hā / na, nee hâ / ney hâ / ney yâ / nay, mâ yâ / noit, mâ o / næ yesterday vizêri duh/dwênê parun zí direz diruz dêrûž diya(ka) zyō znon English Zazaki Kurmanji/Sorani Pashto Balochi Mazandarani Persian Middle Persian Parthian Old Persian Avestan Ossetic
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That is why we distinguish between the Aryan languages of Iran, or Irano-Aryan, and the Aryan languages of India, or Indo-Aryan. For the sake of brevity, Iranian is commonly used instead of Irano-Aryan ...
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Iranian languages OldEasternWesternMedian · Old Persian MiddleEasternWestern ModernEasternWestern Italics indicate extinct languages Iranian-speaking nations and autonomous entities
Afghanistan • China (Tashkurgan)1 • Georgia ( South Ossetia)2 • Iran • Iraq ( Kurdistan) • Russia ( North Ossetia-Alania • Dagestan)
Pakistan ( Khyber Pakhtunkhwa • _
Balochistan)•_ Balochistan) • Tajikistan • Uzbekistan
(1) Tashkurgan 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 only recognized by 4 UN member states.
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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Southern WesternOthers Iranian Old · Middle OldWesternEastern MiddleWesternEastern Modern WesternSouth (Persid)North EasternOthers Other Indo-Iranian languages Dardic NuristaniOthers Italics indicate extinct languages.
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