|Southwest Asia, Central Asia, and western South Asia|
Countries and autonomous subdivisions where an Iranian language has official status and/or is spoken by a majority
The Iranian or Iranic languages form a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages, which in turn are a branch of the Indo-European language family. The speakers of Iranian languages are known as Iranian peoples.
Historical Iranian languages are grouped in three stages: Old Iranian (until 400 BCE), Middle Iranian (400 BCE – 900 CE), and New Iranian (since 900 CE). Of 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, Kurdish, and Balochi.
As of 2008, there were an estimated 150–200 million native speakers of Iranian languages. The Ethnologue lists 87 Iranian languages. Persian has about 75 million native speakers, Pashto about 50 million, Kurdish about 32 million, Balochi about 15 million, and Lori about 2.3 million.
The use of the term for the Iranian language family was introduced in 1836 by Christian Lassen. Robert Needham Cust used the term Irano-Aryan in 1878, and Orientalists such as George Abraham Grierson and Max Müller contrasted Irano-Aryan (Iranian) and Indo-Aryan (Indic). Some recent scholarship, primarily in German, has revived this convention A few sources use Iranic to avoid connections with the country of Iran. Still, Iranian remains the term used by the vast majority of English-language sources.
Soon after postulating an Indo-European family in the 19th century, the Iranian languages (Avestan, Old Persian, Pahlavi) together with Indic (Sanskrit, Prakrit) were recognized by works of the linguist Rasmus Rask in 1826 as the eastern branch of Indo-European languages. Due to an enormous amount of (middle) Iranian loanwords the Armenian language initially was also classified as an Iranian language but (in 1875) Hübschmann established it as a separate language branch of the Indo-European language family.
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 had developed such as southwestern (represented by Old Persian) and northeastern Sogdian and Sakan language (Scythian – not to be confused with the Saka language of Khotan and Tumxuk, which belong to the Southeastern Iranian group). 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).
Innovations of Proto-Iranian compared to Proto-Indo-Iranian
From Witzel, 2001.
- /s/ other than [ʃ] turns into [h]
- /pʰ/, /tʰ/, /kʰ/ turn into /f/, /θ/, /x/
- /bʰ/, /dʰ/, /gʰ/ merge into /b/, /d/, /g/
- the resulting /b/, /d/, /g/, as well as /p/, /t/, /k/, turn into fricatives whenever they lie in front of another consonant: the first three become [β], [ð], [γ], the latter merge into /f/, /θ/, /x/
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 the Middle Iranian languages can be classified 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 ultimately evolved from the Achaemenid Imperial Aramaic script, though Bactrian was written using an adapted Greek script.
Middle Persian (Pahlavi) was the official language under the Sasanian dynasty in Iran. It was in use from the 3rd century CE until the beginning of the 10th century. The script used for Middle Persian in this era underwent significant maturity. Middle Persian, Parthian and Sogdian were also used as literary languages by the Manichaeans, whose texts also survive in various non-Iranian languages, from Latin to Chinese. Manichaean texts were written in a script closely akin to the Syriac script.
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 regions in which Iranian languages were spoken were 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||x̌kulay, x̌āista||sharr, soherâ||ṣəmxâl/xəş-nəmâ||zibā/xuš-čehr(e)||hučihr, hužihr||hužihr||naiba||vahu-, srîra||ræsughd|
|bread||nan||nan||ḍoḍəi, nəghān||nān, nagan||nûn||nān||nān||nān||dzul|
|bring||ardene||anîn/hênan/weranîn, hawirdin||rā wṛəl||âurten, yārag, ārag||biyârden||āwurdan, biyār ("(you) bring!")||āwurdan, āwāy-, āwar-, bar-||āwāy-, āwar-, bar-||bara-||bara, bar-||xæssyn|
|brother||bira||bira,||wror||brāt, brās||birâr||barādar||brād, brâdar||brād, brādar||brātar||brātar-||æfsymær|
|come||amayene||hatin||rā tləl||āhag, āyag||biyamona, enen||āmadan||āmadan, awar||awar, čām||āy-, āgam||āgam-||cæwyn|
|cry||berbayene||girîn, giryan||žaṛəl||greewag, greeten||bərmə/ qâ||gerīstan/gerīye||griy-, bram-||kæwyn|
|dark||tarî||tarî/tarîk||tor||thár||siyo||tārīk||tārīg/k||tārīg, tārēn||sâmahe, sâma||tar|
|daughter||kêna||keç, kîj, qîz, dot/kiç, kîj, kenîşk, düet(kelhur)||lur||dohtir, duttag||kijâ, dether||doxtar||duxtar||duxt, duxtar||duxδar||čyzg (Iron), kizgæ (Digor)|
|door||çeber||derî, derge/derke, derga||war||gelo, darwāzag||bəli||dar||dar||dar, bar||duvara-||dvara-||dwar|
|egg||hak||hêk/hêlke||hagəi||heyg, heyk||merqâna||toxm, xāya ("testicle")||toxmag, xâyag||taoxmag, xâyag||taoxma-||ajk|
|earth||êrd ('Arabic (origin)')||erd, zemîn/herd (uncertain origin)||zməka||zemin||zemi||zamīn||zamīg||zamīg||zam-||zãm, zam, zem||zæxx|
|eye||çim||çav/çaw||stərga||ch.hem, chem||bəj, çəş||čashm||čašm||čašm||čaša-||čašman-||cæst|
|father||pî||bav/bab, bawk, ba||plār||pit, piss||piyer||pedar, pidar||pidar||pid||pitar||pitar||fyd|
|fear||ters||tirs||wēra, tars||turs, terseg||təşəpaş||tars||tars||tars||tạrsa-||tares-||tas|
|fine||weş||xweş||x̌a||wash, hosh||xaar||xoš, xūb, beh||dārmag||srîra||xorz, dzæbæx|
|finger||gişt||til/qamik, engust, pence||gwəta||lenkutk, mordâneg||angoos||angošt||angust||dišti-||ængwyldz|
|fire||adir||agir/awir, agir||or||âch, âs||tesh||ātaš, āzar||âdur, âtaxsh||ādur||âç-||âtre-/aêsma-||art|
|food / eat||werdene||xwarin / xwardin||xwāṛə, xurāk / xwaṛəl||warag, warâk||xərak / xəynen||xordan / xurāk / ġhazā||parwarz / xwâr, xwardīg||parwarz / xwâr||hareθra / ad-, at-||xærinag|
|go||şîyayene||çûn, rroştin||tləl||jwzzegh, shutin||shunen / burden||raftan||raftan||ay-||ai-||ay-, fra-vaz||cæwyn|
|god||heq||xwedê/xwa, xudê||xwdāi||hwdâ||homa, xəda||xudā||yazdān||baga-||baya-||xwycaw|
|good||rind||baş, rind/baş, çak||x̌ə||jawáin, šarr||xâr||xub, nīkū, beh||xūb, nêkog||vahu-||vohu, vaŋhu-||xorz|
|grass||vaş||giya/gya||wāx̌ə||rem, sabzag||sabzeh, giyāh||giyâ||dâlūg||urvarâ||kærdæg|
|great||girs / pîl||mezin, gir/gewre, mezin||loy, stər||mastar, mazan||gat, belang, pila||bozorg,setabr||wuzurg, pīl||vazraka-||uta-, avañt||styr|
|hand||dest||dest||lās||dast||dess||dast||dast||dast||dasta-||zasta-||k'ux / arm|
|horse||estor||hesp/esp, hês(t)ir||ās/aspa||asp||istar||asp, astar||asp, stōr||asp, stōr||aspa||aspa-||bæx|
|house||keye||mal/mall, xanu||kor, xuna||log, dawâr||səre||xāna||xânag||demâna-, nmâna-||xædzar|
|language (also tongue)||ziwan, zon||ziman/ziman, ziwan||žəba||zevān, zobān||ziwān||zabān||zuwān||izβān||hazâna-||hizvā-||ævzag|
|laugh||huyayene||kenîn/pêkenîn, kenîn||xandəl||khendegh, hendeg||xandidan||xandīdan, xanda||karta||Syaoθnâvareza-||xudyn|
|life||jewiyaene||jiyan||žwandun||zendegih, zind||zendegi||zīndagīh, zīwišnīh||žīwahr, žīw-||gaêm, gaya-||card|
|man||merd||mêr/ pyaw, mêrd||saṛay, mēṛə||merd||merd||mard||mard||mard||martiya-||mašîm, mašya||adæjmag|
|moon||aşme, meng||heyv/mang||spogməi, myāšt||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, fek/dem||xwlə||dap||dahân||dahân, rumb||åŋhânô, âh, åñh||dzyx|
|open||akerdene||vekirin/kirdinewe||prānistəl, xlāsawəl||pabožagh, paç||vâ-hekârden||bâz-kardan||abâz-kardan, višādag||būxtaka-||būxta-||gom kænyn|
|peace||kotpy||aştî, aramî||rogha||ârâm||âshti, ârâmeš, ârâmî||âštih, râmīšn||râm, râmīšn||šiyâti-||râma-||fidyddzinad|
|place||ja||cih/jê||dzāi||hend, jâgah||jâh/gâh||gâh||gâh||gâθu-||gâtu-, gâtav-||ran|
|say||vatene||gotin/witin, gutin||wayəl||gushagh||baotena||goftan, gap(-zadan)||guftan, gōw-, wâxtan||gōw-||gaub-||mrû-||dzuryn|
|sister||wae||xweh, xweşk, xoe, xoyşk||xor||gwhâr||xâxer||xâhar/xwâhar||xwahar||x ̌aŋhar- "sister"||xo|
|small||qic||biçûk||kučnay, waṛukay, kamkay||gwand, hurd||pətik, bechuk, perushk||kuchak, kam, xurd, rîz||kam, rangas||kam||kamna-||kamna-||chysyl|
|son||qij, lac||kur, law/kurr||zoi||baç, phusagh||pisser||pesar, pûr, baça||pur, pusar||puhr||puça||pūθra-||fyrt|
|soul||gan||gan, gyan, rewan||arwā||rawân||ravân||rūwân, gyân||rūwân, gyân||urvan-||ud|
|tall||berz||bilind/berz||lwaṛ, ǰəg||bwrz, buland||boland / bârez||buland, borz||bârež||barez-||bærzond|
|village||dewe||gund/dê||kəlay||helk, kallag, dê||deh||deh, wis||wiž||dahyu-||vîs-, dahyu-||vîs||qæw|
|wind||va||ba||bād, siləi||gwáth||wâ||bâd||wâd||vâta-||dymgæ / wad|
|woman||ceniye||jin||x̌ədza||jan||zhənya||zan||zan||žan||gǝnā, γnā, ǰaini-,||sylgojmag / us|
|yes / no||ya / ne||erê, belê, a / na, ne||wo (ao) / na, ya||ere / na||baleh, ârē, hā / na, nee||ōhāy / ne||hâ / ney||yâ / nay, mâ||yâ / noit, mâ||o / næ|
|English||Zazaki||Kurmanji/Sorani||Pashto||Balochi||Mazandarani||Persian||Middle Persian||Parthian||Old Persian||Avestan||Ossetic|
- Bailey, H. W. (1979). Dictionary of Khotan Saka. Cambridge University Press. 1979. 1st Paperback edition 2010. ISBN 978-0-521-14250-2.
- Society for Iranian Linguistics
- Iranian EFL Journal
- Audio and video recordings for over 50 languages spoken in Iran
- Iranian language tree = Russian, identical with above classification.