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Edited by Shapour Suren-Pahlav




Avestan is categorised as an Eastern Iranian language, and was spoken in northeastern and eastern Iran from the second half of the second millennium BCE (Old Avestan) down to about the beginning of the Achaemenid period (Younger Avestan). The tongue although is an Eastern-Iranian language, but also features the Western Iranian languages too, that is why linguists believe it was spoken before the Iranian branch split into two subgroups.


It is also the language of the sacred texts of the Zoroastrian religion. The Gathas or metrical sermons of the prophet Zarathushtra were composed some time in the second millennium BCE in Older or Gathic Avestan. Later texts are recorded in Later or Younger Avestan, which constitutes a subsequent and distinct linguistic phase[1], which is more similar to the language of the oldest Old Persian inscriptions than to Old Avestan.  


Old Avestan is very close to Old Indic Rigveda and as such is a very archaic Indo-European linguistic type. However, the Younger Avestan itself has two forms, one called Original Younger Avestan as mentioned above, and the other, Artificial Younger Avestan. The Artificial Young Avestan is a corrupt form of the language, a form that was never spoken and was used by the Zoroastrian priests in later times in order to compile or compose new religious texts. Vidaevdat (or Vendidad) is the most significant collection ecclesiastical texts within the greater compendium of the Avesta that were composed in Artificial Young Avestan. Nonetheless, “every verbal form in the Avesta, from the Gathas to the latest fragments, is subjected to meticulous morphological analysis, with due attention to both philological and linguistic considerations”[2].


Avestan is not a dead language, just extinct from popular communication, and still in use for the sacral purposes by the Zoroastrian communities of Iran and India. 



Further reading:

Teach yourself Avestan Language (PDF), by Dr. Ervad Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia (2005)




[1]  Ronald G. Kent, Old Persian, “American Oriental Society (1953). P. 6.

[2] Nicholas Sims-Williams, “New Studies on the Verbal System of Old and Middle Iranian”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 52, No. 2. (1989), p.255.


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