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NEW PERSIAN


 

Shapour Suren-Pahlav

July 2007

 

 

  Persian Speaking Area (Click to enlarge)

New Persian is described linguistically as an Indo-European language. It is a member of the Western Iranian branch of the Iranian languages, which are themselves a subgroup of the Indo-Iranian (or Indo-Aryan) family of languages. As such, Persian is distantly related to the vast majority of European languages, including English.

 

Over the past three millennia, it has developed through three distinct stages: Old, Middle and New Persian.

 

 

Old-Persian

Old-Persian and Avestan are the two most prominent members of the Old Iranian languages.

 

Avestan is categorised as an Eastern Iranian language, and was spoken in northeastern and eastern Greater-Iran from the second half of the second millennium BCE (Old Avestan) down to about the beginning of the Achaemenid period (Younger Avestan)[1]. 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[2], which is more similar to the language of the oldest Old-Persian inscriptions than to Old Avestan[3]. Old Avestan is very close to Old Indic Rigveda and as such is a very archaic Indo-European linguistic type[4].

 

Old-Persian was the vernacular tongue of the Achaemenid monarchs[5], but had already been spoken for a few centuries prior to the rise of the Achaemenid dynasty[6].

 

Old-Persian script was called Aryan (OP. ariyā) by the Achaemenids. It is largely known from an extensive body of cuneiform inscriptions – especially from the time of Darius the Great (r. 522-486 BCE) and his son Xerxes (r. 486-465BCE)[7]. However, some scholars believe that Aryan was invented by the first Iranian dynasty, the Medes (728-550BCE), and then adopted by the Achaemenids as the imperial script[8].

 

 

Middle-Persian

Middle-Persian is one of the Middle Iranian languages. The two major languages in this group are Arsacid-Pahlavi (also called Parthian and Northwest Pahlavi[9]) and Sasanid-Pahlavi (or Southwest Pahlavi and, more commonly, Middle-Persian). The term Pahlavi is a noun derived from the adjective Pahlav[10], which is the equivalent of the Old-Persian word Parthava meaning ‘Parthian’[11].

 

Arsacid Pahlavi (Parthian) was the official language of the Arsacid dynastic empire (248BCE-224CE)[12]. It is also preserved in a large body of Manichean texts, which provide evidence for its continuation in Central Asia right up until the 10th century[13].

 

While Arsacid Pahlavi is categorised as a dialect within the Northwestern subgroup of Iranian languages, it retains many archaic Eastern Iranian features – probably because the founders of the Arsacid dynasty, the Parni tribe, were originally speakers of a Northeastern Iranian language similar to Scythian[14]. Parthian has no known direct linguistic ancestor[15], but is closely related to the other major Middle Iranian language, Sasanid-Pahlavi / Middle-Persian.

 

Middle-Persian was a successor to, and derived directly from, Old-Persian. It has a multiplicity of Southwestern Iranian features. Gradually developing into a distinct idiom after the reign of Emperor Xerxes[16], it became the official language of the Sasanid Empire (224-651CE) and as such was utilised in a noteworthy literature of Zoroastrian and also Manichean texts. Following the Arab invasions of Iran in the seventh century it developed into New-Persian.

 

 

New-Persian

New-Persian, or Persian for short, is categorised as one of the Modern Iranian languages, along with Kurdish, Baluchi, Pashto, Ossetic and number of other languages. It can be considered as having two phases: classical and modern – although both variants are mutually intelligible[17].

 

The period after the Islamic conquest is described by Iranian scholars as the ‘Two Centuries of Silence’. There is no inscriptional or textual evidence for New-Persian and only very scanty indications for the continuing use of Middle-Persian. However scholars consider it unlikely that Iranians deserted their mother tongue and only cultivated Arabic[18]. The lack of any literary evidence from this period will certainly have been compounded by the destruction of Iranian libraries by the Mongols under Genghis Khan and his successors – and there may also be other reasons unknown to us[19].

 

The subsequent ‘Persian renaissance’ was marked by the advent of Classical Persian. This emerged in Khorasan in eastern Iran[20] and so was strongly influenced by Eastern-Iranian linguistic elements[21]. Arabic also had a major impact: with large numbers of loanwords, increasing palatalisation and also the inclusion of some grammatical elements. A modified version of Arabic script was adopted and some letter changes were made. For the purposes of this paper, the most important of these was the use of /F/ for /P/. As Arabic has no /p/ phoneme, the area of Pārs, the Iranian people who originated there and their language came to be described by natives as ‘Fārs’ and ‘Fārsi’.

 

After these linguistic changes, Persian then remained essentially unchanged until the nineteenth century. At that time, what is now called Modern or Standard Persian developed from the Tehrani vernacular – following the adoption of Tehran as the capital city of Iran by the Qajar s in 1787.

 

 

Nomenclature

The name Persian derives from the province of Pārs (modern Fārs) in southwestern Iran. This was itself named after the Persian tribes of Indo-European nomads who migrated, along with some other Iranian peoples, from territories east of the Caspian Sea onto the Iranian plateau in the middle[22] or later part of the second millennium BCE[23].

 

The Persians settled in the mountain country rising over the northeast side of the Persian Gulf and enclosing the high basin in the west in which Persepolis and Shiraz are situated[24], some time between the seventh and ninth centuries BCE[25]. The name survived as Fārs[26]. This region then became the birthplace of two Persian dynastic empires – the Achaemenids (550-530 BCE) and the Sasanids (224-651CE) – as well as the cradle of the Persian language.

 

Achaemenid Persians called their language (Old-Persian) Pārsa and the Greeks followed this in naming it Persis. From then on, other nations have predominantly named Persia and Persian using words based on the root Pārs-[27].

 

For example, the English use of the word ‘Persian’ has a five hundred year history[28] and is derived from the Latin Persianus, itself drawing on the Greek Persis. Similarly, the French word is Persane, the Germans use Persisch, the Italians Persiano and the Russians Persiska.

 

As outlined above, Persian only came to be described as ‘Fārsi’ by natives of Iran following the P/F letter substitution associated with the Arab conquests.

 

 

Persian Language in Post-Revolutionary Iran

Since 1979 and the rise of totalitarian-theocratic Islamic regime to power in Iran, the ruling clerics  have dedicated significant resources to restructuring Iranian culture and values. There have even been systematic undermining Persian.

 

Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic regime, publicly made no secret of his contempt for Persian language. According to Roya Hakakian[29]:

“. . He injected Persian with so many Arabic words that it confounded the ordinary listener, something for which he compensated by repetitiveness.”

 

This attitude was mirrored in the views of many other prominent members of the Islamic regime. Although the Friday Sermons organised by the Islamic Republic say little about the Persian language – indicating its perceived relative lack of importance – a detailed and explicit statement was made in 1981 by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in his role as the Islamic Republic’s Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council. On that occasion, he linked the fate of the Persian language directly to that of Persian nationality: in his view of the future, both shall vanish[30]:

. . we believe that the future [is] Arabic, not Persian . . on the day the united Islamic government is established, certainly its language cannot be anything but Arabic”.

 

Following Khomeini’s footsteps, many IR's self-proclaimed scholars such as Naser Pourpirar[31] demanded that the national language of Iran should be replaced with Arabic[32]:

“It is very unfortunate that we cannot put the Persian language aside and replace it with the language of Qur’an. However the future of Iran is at the hand of Islamic Unity. Spreading the Arabic language among Iranian youths and incorporating it more seriously into the education system . . can make a foundation for such Islamic Unity.”

 

Pourpirar has a startling range of views – including that most part of Iranian history including the Parthian and the Sasanian dynasties (248 BCE - 651CE) are baseless fabrications by Jewish-Orientalists, and that the indigenous peoples of Iran were wiped out by the ‘savage Slavic Achaemenids’ so that Iran was then free of human settlement until the Muslim Arabs arrived. He is however recognised as a scholar by the Islamic regime, who quote extensively from his written work.

 



[1] Prods Oktor Skjærvø, An Introduction to Old Persian (2005), http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~iranian/OldPersian/opcomplete.pdf; retrieved June 28, 2007.

[2]  Ronald G. Kent, Old Persian Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, 2nd rev. ed., American Oriental Society, New Haven, (1953).  P. 6.

[3] See idem, An Introduction to Old Persian (2005), http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~iranian/OldPersian/opcomplete.pdf; retrieved June 28, 2007.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See idem, Old Persian Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, 2nd rev. ed., American Oriental Society, New Haven, (1953). p. 6.

[6] See idem, An Introduction to Old Persian (2005), http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~iranian/OldPersian/opcomplete.pdf; retrieved June 28, 2007.

[7] See idem Old Persian Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, 2nd rev. ed., American Oriental Society, New Haven, (1953). p.6.

[8] M. Dandamayev and I. Medvedskaya, “Media”, Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, (January 6, 2006), http://www.iranica.com/newsite/articles/ot_grp10/ot_media_20060106.html; retrieved June 28, 2007.

[9]  See idem, Old Persian Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, 2nd rev. ed., American Oriental Society, New Haven, (1953). p.6.

[10] Hermann Collitz, “World Languages”, Language, Vol. 2, No. 1. (Mar., 1926), p.6.

[11] See idem, Old Persian Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, 2nd rev. ed., American Oriental Society, New Haven, (1953). p.7.

[12] See idem, “World Languages”, Language, Vol. 2, No. 1. (Mar., 1926), p.6.

[13] Gernot L. Windfuhr, “Persian”, The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4., American Schools of Oriental Research, Oxford University Press (1997) p. 293.

[14] P. Lecoq, “Aparna”, Encyclopaedia Iranica Online,  http://www.iranica.com/newsite/articles/v2f2/v2f2a023.html; retrieved June 21, 2007.

[15] See idem, “Persian”, The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4., American Schools of Oriental Research, Oxford University Press (1997) p. 293.

[16] Joseph Wiesehöfer, Ancient Persia, Tauris Paublishers, (1996), p8.

[17] C. E. Wilson, “The Formation of Modern Persian, the Beginnings and Progress of the Literature, and the So-Called Renaissance”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, Vol. 2, No. 2. (1922), p.217.

[18] Ibid., p.116.

[19] Ibid. p. 222.

[20] “It was in the east, remote from the centers of Arabic culture and with large segments of the population (notably, the dehqāns, the Persian-speaking native aristocracy [. . ]) having no particular attachment to that culture, facilitated the rise of new Persian and its spread as the lingua franca of the region as well as encouraging literary composition in that language”, quoted from: J. S. Meisami, “The Past in Service of the Present: Two Views of History in Medieval Persia”, Poetics Today, Vol. 14, No. 2, Cultural Processes in Muslim and Arab Societies: Medieval and Early Modern Periods. (Summer, 1993), p.249.

[21] W. B. Henning, “Sogdian Loan-Words in New Persian”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, Vol. 10, No. 1. (1939), pp. 93-106.

[22] T. Cuyler Young Jr., “Persians”, The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4., American Schools of Oriental Research, Oxford University Press (1997) p. 295.

[23] Josef Wieshöfer, “Fars: History in Pre-Islamic Period”, Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, http://www.iranica.com/articles/v9f3/v9f393a.html#ii; retrieved June 19, 2007.

[24] J. M. Cook, “The Rise of the Achaemenids and Establishment of their Empire”, in The Median and Achaemenid Periods, The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, (1993), p. 238.

[25] See idem., “Persians”, The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 4., American Schools of Oriental Research, Oxford University Press (1997) p. 295.

[26] See idem., “The Rise of the Achaemenids and Establishment of their Empire”, in The Median and Achaemenid Periods, The Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 2, Cambridge University Press, (1993), p. 238.

[27] Named after an Iranian tribe settled in southwest Iran around 1500 B.C.E. In the Achaemenid inscriptions it was called Parsa, in Elamite Parsin, in modern Persian Fārs, and in Arabic Fars, or Fâris) — it became the general name of the whole country under the Achaemenid dynasty (550-330 B.C.E.).

[28] Lewis, G., “The Naming of Names”, Bulletin British Society of Middle Eastern Studies vol. XI., No. 2., p123.

[29] Roya Hakakian, “Persian . . . or Iranian”, The Wall Street Journal Online, dated December 28, 2006, http://www.royahakakian.com/newsletter/WSJ_Persian_or_Iranian.html; retrieved June 14, 2007.

[30] Hashemi Rafsanjani, Friday Sermon dated January 08, 1982, quoted in: Ludwig Paul, “‘Iranian Nation’ and Iranian-Islamic Revolutionary Ideology”, Die Welt des Islams, New Ser., Vol. 39, Issue 2. (Jul., 1999), pp. 183-217.

[31] Naser Pourpirar is a former member of Communist Tudeh Party, who was expelled for theft from party’s fund, according to Nur ul-Din Kianuri (see: “Khāterāt-e Nūr ul-Dīn Kiānūri”, Etela'at Daily, Tehran SH/1372 – in Persian). According to Alirexza Nourizadeh, an Iranian journalist based in UK, Pourpirar was an interrogator with the Islamic Revolutionary Courts. who later proclaimed himself as a scholar. He believes a significant portion of Iranian history, including the Parthian and the Sasanian dynasties are baseless-fabrications by Jewish-Orientalists and Zionists. He also claims that Abu-Moslem-e Khorrasani, Babak-e Khorramdin, Mani, Mazdak and Zoroaster historical figures were invented by modern Jewish historians, and the Achaemenids were “savage Slavic people” which with the help of Jews of Susa massacred the indigenous people of ancient Iran who incidentally were Arabs, to the point that Iran was completely wiped out of human settlement until the beginning of Islam (See; Naser Pourpirar, “Haq va Sabr”, Official Weblog of Pourpirar, http://www.naria.blogfa.com; (in Persian) retrieved June 14, 2007)

[32] Naser Porpirar, Poli bar Gozašteh, Asnād va Natijeh, Kārang, Tehran (SH 1380). p. 259 (in Persian).

 

 

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