Member of the Iranian group of the Indo-Iranian
subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Indo-Iranian languages). The official language of Iran, it has about 38
million speakers in Iran and another 8 million in Afghanistan. Historically the Persian language falls into three periods:
Old, Middle, and Modern. Old Persian is known chiefly from cuneiform inscriptions dating from the time of the Achaemenid kings
of ancient Persia (6th—4th cent. ). Old Persian was highly inflected, as was Avestan, which is regarded by some as a
form of Old Persian and by others as a separate tongue. Avestan was the language of the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism that are known as the Avesta (probably composed c.7th—5th
cent. ). Middle Persian derives directly from Old Persian. Also called Pahlavi, Middle Persian prevailed under the Sassanid,
or Sassanian, rulers of Persia (3d—7th cent. ). Grammatically, much simplification of inflection took place in Middle
Persian, which was recorded both in an Aramaic alphabet and in a script called Pahlavi. Middle Persian also had a noteworthy
literature of Manichaean and Zoroastrian texts. The modern form of Persian evolved directly from Middle Persian and may be
said to have begun in the 9th or 10th cent. It has not changed much since that date. The grammar of Modern Persian is comparatively
simple. The inflection of nouns and verbs has been greatly reduced since the ancient stage of the language. A number of Arabic
words were added to the vocabulary as the result of the conquest of the Persians by the Muslim Arabs in the 7th cent. Modern
Persian is the medium of an old and great literature and is written in a modification of the Arabic alphabet. Modern Persian
is also known as Fārsī.
Old Persian was contemporary to Avestan, another Old Iranian language. Old Persian is preserved through cuneiform tablets
found in the remains after the Achaemenid dynasty (550- 330 BCE). The oldest traces of Old Persian date to the 6th century
BCE, but it was spoken until the 3rd century BCE.
Old Persian was spoken in southwestern Iran, while Avestan was spoken in northeastern Iran. In addition to the two languages
there must have been at least a third. Median is mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus.
It is believed that there must have been a fair level of mutual intelligibility between the Iranian languages of this period,
and more than there would be in later periods.
Middle Persian was a contemporary of Parthian, and during the Arsacid period, Persian was strongly influenced by Parthian.
Middle Persian was the language used in the Sassanian Empire, and was called Pahlavi.
Middle Persian was, just like Old Persian, spoken in southwestern Iran, Parthian was spoken in the north, while a group of
languages (Khwarezmian, Sogdian and Saka) were spoken in southeast.
The grammar of Middle Persian was simpler than in Old Persian. The script used was one of ambiguous script with multivalent
letters, derived from Aramaic.
Middle Persian would last until the 9th century CE, even if its decline came with the introduction of Arabic already two centuries
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