The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Edited by Shapour Suren-Pahlav
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, 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”.
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.
Teach yourself Avestan Language (PDF), by Dr. Ervad Ramiyar Parvez Karanjia (2005)
Ronald G. Kent, Old Persian, “American Oriental Society
(1953). P. 6.
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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