Indo-Iranian languages

Indo-Iranian languages

Aryan, Aryanic
South Asia, Western Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe
Linguistic classification: Indo-European
  • Indo-Iranian
Proto-language: Proto-Indo-Iranian
ISO 639-5: iir
Glottolog: indo1320[1]
The approximate present-day distribution of the Indo-European branches of Eurasia:

The Indo-Iranian languages, also called Indo-Iranic,[2][3] and known in older literature as Aryan languages,[4] constitute the easternmost extant branch of the Indo-European language family. It has more than 1 billion speakers stretching from the Caucasus (Ossetian) and Europe (Romani) eastward to Xinjiang (Sarikoli) and Assam (Assamese) and south to Maldives (Maldivian) and Fiji (Fiji Hindi), forming the majority of all Indo-European speakers. Ethnologue recognizes 313 Indo-Iranian languages, which make up over two-thirds of all Indo-European languages.[5]

The common ancestor of all of the languages in this family is called Proto-Indo-Iranian—also known as Common Aryan—which was spoken in approximately the late 3rd millennium BC. The three branches of modern Indo-Iranian languages are Indo-Aryan, Iranian, and Nuristani. Additionally, sometimes a fourth independent branch, Dardic, is posited, but recent scholarship in general places Dardic languages as archaic members of the Indo-Aryan branch.[6]


Indo-Iranian consists of three groups:

Among the Indo-Aryan branch, major languages are: Hindustani (Hindi–Urdu, ~590 million[7]), Bengali (205 million[8]), Punjabi (100 million), Marathi (75 million), Gujarati (50 million), Bhojpuri (40 million), Awadhi (40 million), Maithili (35 million), Oriya (35 million), Marwari (30 million), Sindhi (25 million), Rajasthani (20 million), Chhattisgarhi (18 million), Assamese (15 million), Sinhalese (16 million), Nepali (17 million), and Rangpuri (15 million). Among the Iranian branch, major languages are Persian (60 million), Pashto (ca. 50 million), Kurdish (35 million),[9] and Balochi (30 million). Numerous smaller Indo-Iranian languages exist.


The Indo-Iranian languages derive from a reconstructed common proto-language, called Proto-Indo-Iranian.

Indo-Iranian languages were once spoken across an even wider area. The Scythians, were described by Roman writer Strabo as inhabiting the lands to the north of the Black Sea in present-day Ukraine, Moldova and Romania. The river-names Don, Dnieper, Danube etc. are possibly of Indo-Iranian origin. The so-called Migration Period saw Indo-Iranian languages disappear from Eastern Europe, apart from the ancestor of Ossetian in the Caucasus, with the arrival of the Turkic-speaking Pechenegs and others by the 8th century AD.

The oldest attested Indo-Iranian languages are Vedic Sanskrit (ancient Indo-Aryan), Older and Younger Avestan and Old Persian (ancient Iranian languages). A few words from a fourth language (very closely related to Indo-Aryan; see Indo-Aryan superstrate in Mitanni) are attested in documents from the ancient Mitanni kingdom in northern Mesopotamia and Syria and the Hittite kingdom in Anatolia.


Innovations shared with other languages affected by the satem sound changes include:

  • Fronting and assibilation of the Proto-Indo-European palato-velar stops: *ḱ, *ǵʰ, *ǵ > *ĉ, *ĵʰ, *ĵ
  • The merger of the PIE labiovelar and plain velar stops: *kʷ, *gʷʰ, *gʷ > *k, *gʰ, *g
  • The Ruki sound law

Innovations shared with Greek include:

  • The vocalization of the PIE syllabic nasals *m̥, *n̥ to *a
  • Grassmann's law

Innovations unique to Indo-Iranian include:

  • The lowering of PIE *e to *a
    • *o was also lowered to *a, though this occurred in several other Indo-European languages as well.
  • Brugmann's law


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Indo-Iranian". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Pre-Pāṇinian Linguistic Studies By D. D. Mahulkar
  3. ^ Linguistic Analysis: From Data to Theory By Annarita Puglielli, Mara Frascarelli
  4. ^ Numeral Types and Changes Worldwide, by Jadranka (EDT) Gvozdanovic, Language Arts & Disciplines,1999, Page 221. Retrieved 2013-01-02. 
  5. ^ "Indo-Iranian".  
  6. ^ Bashir, Elena (2007). Jain, Danesh; Cardona, George, eds. The Indo-Aryan languages. p. 905.  
  7. ^ Edwards, Viv. "Urdu/Hindi Today". BBC. 
  8. ^ Thompson, Irene. "Bengali". AboutWorldLanguages. Retrieved March 29, 2013. 
  9. ^ CIA- The World Factbook: 14.7 million in Turkey (18%)[1], 4.9–6.5 million in Iraq (15-20%)[2], 8 million in Iran (10%)[3] (all for 2014), plus several million in Syria, neighboring countries, and the diaspora


  • Chakrabarti, Byomkes (1994). A comparative study of Santali and Bengali. Calcutta: K.P. Bagchi & Co. ISBN 81-7074-128-9
  •, abstract of the study of Minoan language and its link with Indo-Iranian (Hubert La Marle)
  • Indo-Iranian Languages and Peoples, edited by Nicholas Sims-Williams. Published 2002 for the British Academy by Oxford University Press

External links