- Old Persian language
Old Persian Spoken in Ancient Iran Era Ancestor of Middle Persian Language family Writing system Old Persian cuneiform Language codes ISO 639-2 peo ISO 639-3 peo This page contains IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. History of the
Proto-Iranian (ca. 1500 BC)
Southwestern Iranian languages
Old Persian (c. 525 BC - 300 BC)
Old Persian cuneiform script
Middle Persian (c.300 BC-800 AD)
Pahlavi script • Manichaean script • Avestan script
Modern Persian (from 800 AD)
The Old Persian language is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages (the other being Avestan). Old Persian appears primarily in the inscriptions, clay tablets, and seals of the Achaemenid era (c. 600 BCE to 300 BCE). Examples of Old Persian have been found in what is now present-day Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt the most important attestation by far being the contents of the Behistun Inscription (dated to 525 BCE). Recent research into the vast Persepolis Fortification Archive at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago have unearthed Old Persian tablets (2007). This new text shows that the Old Persian language was a written language in use for practical recording and not only for royal display.
Origin and overview
As a written language, Old Persian is attested in royal Achaemenid inscriptions. It is an Iranian language and as such a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. The oldest known text written in Old Persian is from the Behistun Inscriptions. Old Persian is one of the oldest Indo-European languages which is attested in original texts.
The oldest date of use of Old Persian as a spoken language is not precisely known. According to certain historical assumptions about the early history and origin of ancient Persians in south-western Iran (where Achaemenids hailed from), Old Persian was originally spoken by a tribe called Parsuwash who arrived in the Iranian Plateau early in the 1st millennium BCE and finally migrated down into the area of present day Fārs province and their language, i.e. Old Persian, became the official language of the Achaemenid kings. Assyrian records, which in fact provide the earliest evidence for ancient Iranians (Persian and Median) presence on the Iranian Plateau, give a good chronology but only an approximate geographical indication of ancient Persians. In these records of the 9th century BCE, Parsuwash (along with Matai of Median) are first mentioned in the area of Lake Urmia in the records of Shalmaneser III. The exact identity of the Parsuwash is yet to be determined but from a linguistic viewpoint the word matches Old Persian pārsa itself coming directly from the older word *pārćwa. Also as Old Persian contains many words from another extinct Iranian language, Median, according to P. O. Skjærvø it is probable that Old Persian had already been spoken before formation of the Achaemenid Empire and during most of the first half of the first millennium BCE.
Old Persian belongs to the Iranian language family which is a branch of the Indo-Iranian language family, and is sibling to another branch called Indic languages. Indo-Iranian languages is itself within the large family of Indo-European languages. The common ancestors of Indo-Iranians came from Central Asia sometime in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. The extinct and unattested Median language is another Old Iranian language related to Old Persian (e.g. both are classified as Western Iranian languages and many Median names appeared in Old Persian texts) The group of Old Iranian languages was presumably a large group; however our knowledge of it is restricted mainly to Old Persian, Avestan and Median. The former are the only languages in that group which have left written original texts while Median is known mostly from loanwords in Old Persian.
By the 4th century, the late Achaemenid period, the inscriptions of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III differ enough from the language of Darius' inscriptions to be called a "pre-Middle Persian," or "post-Old Persian." Old Persian subsequently evolved into Middle Persian, which is in turn the genetic ancestor of New Persian. Professor Gilbert Lazard, a famous Iranologist and the author of the book Persian Grammar states:
The language known as New Persian, which usually is called at this period (early Islamic times) by the name of Parsi-Dari, can be classified linguistically as a continuation of Middle Persian, the official religious and literary language of Sassanian Iran, itself a continuation of Old Persian, the language of the Achaemenids. Unlike the other languages and dialects, ancient and modern, of the Iranian group such as Avestan, Parthian, Soghdian, Kurdish, Pashto, etc., Old, Middle and New Persian represent one and the same language at three states of its history. It had its origin in Fars and is differentiated by dialectical features, still easily recognizable from the dialect prevailing in north-western and eastern Iran.
Middle Persian, also sometimes called Pahlavi is a direct continuation of old Persian, and was used as the written official language of the country. Comparison of the evolution at each stage of the language shows great simplification in grammar and syntax. However, New Persian is a direct descendent of Middle and Old Persian.
Old Persian "presumably" has a Median language substrate. The Median element is readily identifiable because it did not share in the developments that were peculiar to Old Persian. Median forms "are found only in personal or geographical names [...] and some are typically from religious vocabulary and so could in principle also be influenced by Avestan." "Sometimes, both Median and Old Persian forms are found, which gave Old Persian a somewhat confusing and inconsistent look: 'horse,' for instance, is [attested in Old Persian as] both asa (OPers.) and aspa (Med.)."
Old Persian texts were written from left to right in the syllabic Old Persian cuneiform script and had 36 phonetic characters and 8 logograms. The usage of such characters are not obligatory. The script was surprisingly not a result of evolution of the script used in the nearby civilisation of Mesopotamia. Despite the fact that Old Persian was written in cuneiform script, the script was not a direct continuation of Mesopotamian tradition and in fact, according to Schmitt, was a "deliberate creation of the sixth century BCE".
The origin of the Old Persian cuneiform script and the identification of the date and process of introduction is a matter of discussion among Iranian scholars without general agreement being reached. The factors making the decision difficult are, among others, the difficult passage DB (IV lines 88–92) from Darius the Great who speaks of a new “form of writing” being made by himself which is said to be “in Aryan”, and analysis of certain Old Persian inscriptions that are "supposed or claimed" to predate Darius the Great. Although it is true that the oldest attested OP inscriptions are from Behistun monument from Darius, the creation of this "new type of writing" is seemingly, according to Schmitt, "to have begun already under Cyrus the Great".
The script shows a few changes in the shape of characters during the period it was used. This can be seen as a standardization of the heights of wedges which in the beginning (i.e. in DB) took only half the height of a line.
The following phonemes are expressed in the Old Persian script:
- Long: /aː/ /iː/ /uː/
- Short: /a/ /i/ /u/
Palatal Velar Glottal Plosive p /p/ b /b/ t /t/ d /d/ c /c/ j /ɟ/ k /k/ g /ɡ/ Nasal m /m/ n /n/ Fricative f /f/ θ /θ/ ç /ç/ x /x/ h /h/ Sibilant s /s/ z /z/ š /ʃ/ Rhotic r /r/ Lateral l /l/ Approximant v /ʋ/ y /j/
Old Persian stems:
- a-stems (-a, -am, -ā)
- i-stems (-iš, iy)
- u- (and au-) stems (-uš, -uv)
- consonantal stems (n, r, h)
-a -am -ā Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Nominative -a -ā -ā, -āha -am -ā -ā -ā -ā -ā Vocative -ā -ā Accusative -am -ām Instrumental/
-ā -aibiyā -aibiš -ā -aibiyā -aibiš -āyā -ābiyā -ābiš Dative -ahyā, -ahya -ahyā, -ahya Genitive -āyā -ānām -āyā -ānām -āyā -ānām Locative -aiy -aišuvā -aiy -aišuvā -āšuvā -iš -iy -uš -uv Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Nominative -iš -īy -iya -iy -in -īn -uš -ūv -uva -uv -un -ūn Vocative -i -u Accusative -im -iš -um -ūn Instrumental/
-auš -ībiyā -ībiš -auš -ībiyā -ībiš -auv -ūbiyā -ūbiš -auv -ūbiyā -ūbiš Dative -aiš -aiš -auš -auš Genitive -īyā -īnām -īyā -īnām -ūvā -ūnām -ūvā -ūnām Locative -auv -išuvā -auv -išuvā -āvā -ušuvā -āvā -ušuvā
Adjectives are declinable in similar way.
Active, Middle (them. pres. -aiy-, -ataiy-), Passive (-ya-).
Mostly the forms of first and third persons are attested. The only preserved Dual form is ajīvatam 'both lived'.
Present, Active Athematic Thematic 'be' 'bring' Sg. 1.pers. aʰmiy barāmiy 3.pers. astiy baratiy Pl. 1.pers. aʰmahiy barāmahiy 3.pers. hatiy baratiy Imperfect, Active Athematic Thematic 'do, make' 'be, become' Sg. 1.pers. akunavam abavam 3.pers. akunauš abava Pl. 1.pers. akumā abavāmā 3.pers. akunava abava Present participle Active Middle -nt- -amna- Past participle -ta- Infinitive -tanaiy
Proto-Indo-Iranian Old Persian Middle Persian Modern Persian meaning *asuras mazdhās Ahuramazda Ohrmazd Ormazd اورمزد Ahura Mazda *aśwas aspa asp asb اسب horse *kāma kāma kām kām کام benefit *daiwas daiva dēw div دیو devil drayah drayā daryā دریا sea *źhasta- dasta dast dast دست hand *bhāgī bāji bāj bāj باج/باژ toll *bhrātr- brātar brādar barādar برادر brother *bhūmiš būmi būm būm بوم region, land *martya martya mard mard مرد man *māsa māha māh māh ماه moon, month *vāsara vāhara Bahār bahār بهار spring stūpā stūnā stūn sotūn ستون stand (column) šiyāta šād šād شاد happy *ṛtam arta ard ord اُرد order *drauźh- droga drōgh dorōgh دروغ lie
- ^ Roland G. Kent, Old Persian, 1953
- ^ a b "Everyday text shows that Old Persian was probably more commonly used than previously thought " accessed September 2010 from 
- ^ a b (Schmitt 2008, pp. 80–1)
- ^ a b c (Skjærvø 2006, vi(2). Documentation. Old Persian.)
- ^ a b (Skjærvø 2006, vi(1). Earliest Evidence)
- ^ (Schmitt 2008, p. 76)
- ^ ((Skjærvø 2006)
- ^ a b c Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2005), An Introduction to Old Persian (2nd ed.), Cambridge: Harvard, http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~iranian/OldPersian/opcomplete.pdf
- ^ (Lazard, Gilbert 1975, “The Rise of the New Persian Language” in Frye, R. N., The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 4, pp. 595-632, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- ^ Ulrich Ammon, Norbert Dittmar, Klaus J. Mattheier, Peter Trudgill, "Sociolinguistics Hsk 3/3 Series Volume 3 of Sociolinguistics: An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society", Walter de Gruyter, 2006. 2nd edition. pg 1912: "Middle Persian, also called Pahlavi is a direct continuation of old Persian, and was used as the written official language of the country." "However, after the Moslem conquest and the collapse of the Sassanids, Arabic became the dominant language of the country and Pahlavi lost its importance, and was gradually replaced by Dari, a variety of Middle Persian, with considerable loan elements from Arabic and Parthian."
- ^ Bo Utas, "Semitic on Iranian", in "Linguistic convergence and areal diffusion: case studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic" editors (Éva Ágnes Csató, Bo Isaksson, Carina Jahani),Routledge, 2005. pg 71: "As already mentioned, it is not likely that the scribes of Sassanian chanceries had any idea about the Old Persian cuneiform writing and the language couched in it. Still, the Middle Persian language that appeared in the third century AD may be seen as a continuation of Old Persian
- ^ Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2006), Iran, vi. Iranian languages and scripts, 13.
- ^ (Schmitt 2008, p. 78)
- ^ (Schmitt 2008, p. 78) Excerpt: "It remains unclear why the Persians did not take over the Mesopotamian system in earlier times, as the Elamites and other peoples of the Near East had, and, for that matter, why the Persians did not adopt the Aramaic consonantal script.."
- ^ a b (Schmitt 2008, p. 77)
- ^ (Schmitt 2008, p. 79)
- Brandenstein, Wilhelm (1964), Handbuch des Altpersischen, Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz
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- Edwin Lee Johnson (1917). Historical grammar of the ancient Persian language. Volume 8 of Vanderbilt oriental series. American book company. pp. 251. http://books.google.com/books?id=Xu3VOxbgDNsC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
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- Edwin Lee Johnson (1910). Herbert Cushing Tolman. ed. Cuneiform supplement (autographed) to the author's Ancient Persian lexicon and texts: with brief historical synopsis of the language. Volume 7 of Vanderbilt oriental series. American Book Co.. pp. 122. http://books.google.com/books?id=JiVgAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
- translated by Herbert Cushing Tolman (1908). Ancient Persian lexicon and the texts of the Achaemenidan inscriptions transliterated and translated with special reference to their recent re-examination, by Herbert Cushing Tolman .... Volume 6 of Vanderbilt oriental series. American Book Company. pp. 134. http://books.google.com/books?id=-iRgAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
- Herbert Cushing Tolman (1908). Ancient Persian lexicon and the texts of the Achaemenidan inscriptions transliterated and translated with special reference to their recent re-examination, by Herbert Cushing Tolman .... Volume 6 of Vanderbilt oriental series. American Book Company. pp. 134. http://books.google.com/books?id=dPlfAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
- Darius I (King of Persia) (1908). Translated by Herbert Cushing Tolman. ed. The Behistan inscription of King Darius: translation and critical notes to the Persian text with special reference to recent re-examinations of the rock. Volume 1, Issue 1 of Vanderbilt University studies ATLA monograph preservation program Volume 3384 of Harvard College Library preservation microfilm program (reprint ed.). Vanderbilt University. pp. 39. http://books.google.com/books?id=_AYVAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
- Darius I (King of Persia) (1908). Herbert Cushing Tolman. ed. The Behistan inscription of King Darius: translation and critical notes to the Persian text with special reference to recent re-examinations of the rock. Volume 1, Issue 1 of Vanderbilt University studies. Vanderbilt university. pp. 39. http://books.google.com/books?id=T7JFAQAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. Retrieved 2011-07-06.
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- Schmitt, R. (2008), "Old Persian", in Roger D. Woodard, The Ancient Languages of Asia and the Americas (illustrated ed.), Cambridge University Press, pp. 76–100, ISBN 0521684943
- Asatrian, Garnik (Expected November 2010), Etymological Dictionary of Persian, Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series, 12, Brill Academic Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-18341-4, http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=24857
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