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Iranian Languages and Persian

IRANIAN LANGUAGES AND PERSIAN. Three suc cessive stages in the history of the Iranian languages, viz., ancient, middle and modern, in Persian, the principal branch of the group, correspond with epochs of national vicissitudes. Old Persian was used on the monuments of the Achaemenian dynasty (558-339 B.c.) destroyed by Alexander the Great. Middle Persian is known from the Parthian, or Arsacid period (25o B.C.—A.D. 225), even more from the Sassanian times (A.D. 225-651), terminated by the Arab conquest and domination. With the Persian Renaissance (ninth century A.D.) modern Persian, with some unsubstantial changes, appears again as still a living language. Other Iranian idioms passed through stages similar to those of Persian.

Ancient Iranian Languages.

Of the Median language we know only one word (67r luca, "dog") preserved by Herodotus (I., I 1 o) and several personal names. This material suffices to place Median among Iranian (northern Persian) idioms. Of the Old Scythic group of languages (Scythic and Sarmatian) only personal names in Greek inscriptions, found in South Russia, have come down to us. The only ancient Iranian languages really known to us are Avestic and Old Persian.

The former is the language of the Zoroastrian sacred books. By earlier European scholars it was improperly called Zend, which term designates only the commentary to the Avesta, written in Middle Persian (see below). The age of the Avesta is dubious. Two parts of it are clearly distinct : the so-called Gathas are more or less at the same linguistic stage as the most ancient Vedic hymns of Old Indian. These archaic fragments, though perhaps not directly or not wholly emanating from Zoroaster (q.v.), are authentic documents of the religious reform brought about by the Prophet of Iran. The greater part of the Avesta, the so-called "recent or younger Avesta," is a collection of texts of varying an tiquity and is characterised by a gradual simplification and a lax use of the grammatical forms. The Avesta when codified (towards A.D. 379) had long been a dead language known to the priests alone. In its present state the Avesta has the size of the Iliad and Odyssey put together. The original home of Avestic is doubtful.

Some scholars regarded it as the old Bactrian language but no decisive arguments can be drawn from the text itself. Others (Darmesteter, and recently, on linguistic evidence, Tedesco) place the home of Avestic in north-western Persia (Media), though, even in this case, Avestic could not be simply identified with Old Medic. The alphabet of the Avesta has no claim to antiquity, being the late Pahlavi script (see below) reformed by the addition of the missing signs. For linguistic purposes these late characters are in some cases definitely misleading.

Old Persian was used in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Achaemenian kings. The text is usually accompanied by transla tions into Elamitic and Akkadian (Assyro-Babylonian). The most important document is the famous inscription of Darius the Great (522-486 B.C.) on the rock of BihistUn, near Kermanshah, which was first read and published by Sir H. Rawlinson in Aryan Languages.—Within the Indo-European family of languages, Old Iranian and Sanskrit form the division of "Aryan" languages. (The terms Aryan and Iran have a common origin.) How near Old Iranian is to Sanskrit is seen from the comparison of a phrase translated from Avestic into Sanskrit : The original Avestic words, undisguised by the alphabet, would be still nearer to Sanskrit.

The principal phonetic distinctions of Iranian from Indian are: I. original s becomes h in Iranian ; 2. to Indian voiced and voice less aspirates correspond respectively Iranian voiced stops or spirants; 3. Iranian has z, absent in Indian; 4. Iranian diphthongs ai, au are found in Indian as 6, 6, etc. See above and the following examples: Later on the two branches, Indian and Iranian, have diverged widely.

Middle Persian.

Until the beginning of the loth century only "Pahlavi," among the Iranian languages, was known at the stage of linguistic development, where the original wealth of forms had disappeared but the language had not finally simplified its characteristics. This Sassanian Middle Persian was chiefly known under two aspects : a. as scarce rock-inscriptions, and b. as a written language.

a. The former are cut in an uncouth but sufficiently clear script. The earliest of them (before +A.D. 300) gives usually two versions of the same text : the one is identical with the "book-Pahlavi"; the other, considerably different, was surnamed "Chaldaeo-Pah lavi," an ill chosen term which was vaguely supposed to cover the surviving dialect of Parthian times.

b. The written Pahlavi ("book-Pahlavi") is the language of the later Zoroastrian literature coming down to the ninth century A.D., when the language was certainly dead. Pahlavi literature consists mainly of commentaries on the Avesta and treatises on religious subjects (in all some 587,000 words), and only to a much smaller degree (41,00o words) treats of historic and other lay matters. This literature is written in an exceptionally ambiguous and unsuitable alphabet in which many characters are confused ( one sign for g, d, y; one sign for v, n, r, etc.). Owing to such complications the name of the Supreme Deity Ohrmazd was long read by error Anhorna. Further difficulties are created by the use of numerous Semitic ideograms : it has long been discussed, whether yom ("day" in Semitic) was to be read as it stood, or replaced by its Persian equivalent rozh (as the Latin viz., is read in English namely). This latter opinion was accorded universal recognition only after 1900. The defects of the Pahlavi alphabet caused the Zoroastrians to transcribe some of their texts in later Avestic characters, in which case these writings are called Pazand.

Discoveries After I900.

Of exceptional importance have been the Middle-Persian documents (Christian and Manichaean) found, chiefly by the German expeditions in Turf an (Chinese Turkestan) and deciphered by Prof. F. W. K. Muller. All these fragments are written in a special alphabet, derived, as usual, from Semitic (Aramean), but clearly distinguishing single characters. The words formerly known only in Semitic disguise are here written in plain Persian. Besides many additions to vocabulary and gram

mar, the new texts have fully confirmed the existence in Middle Persian of two parallel dialects. The one, the descendant of Old Persian, was spoken in the south (Fars) and the other probably in the north-west (or north and west) of Persia. This latter has some special traits in common with Avestic but is not its lineal offspring. The southern dialect must have been originally called Parsik, while the term Pahlavik (another form of the name Parthian) belonged specially to the north-western dialect. The divergence of the dialects can then be traced down to modern days. Some differences will appear from the table on page 587.

In 1924 Professor Herzfeld published an entirely revised text of the largest of all Sassanian inscriptions, that of the ruins of Pai Kuli, near Sulaimaniya. Meanwhile, an original Middle Persian document of the earlier Arsacid times was found in Avroman (Persian Kurdistan), together with some important Greek parch ments of that epoch (published by E. H. Minns in 1915). The Persian document was finally deciphered by H. S. Nyberg (1923).

The existence of a different branch of the Middle Iranian lan guages has now been demonstrated. To it belongs the Sogdian language of which the documents were chiefly discovered and de ciphered by the French scholars, and another called by some German scholars (Leumann) "nordarisch," but now supposed to be Sacian, i.e., the language of the people Sacae. These two lan guages possess some traits in common; moreover, Sogdian has par ticularly close affinities with the "Scythic" group of the Iranian languages (see above).

Modern Languages.

All present Iranian languages display in different degrees a tendency towards an analytic stage (simpli fication of the sounds and in morphology, to the use of new auxiliary tenses, etc.).

Of these languages by far the most important is the literary Persian, as found in the extensive Persian literature and in the present day speech of the more educated classes of the Persian speaking countries. Modern Persian is a direct descendant of the southern middle Persian, but it has borrowed many words in the north-western form, and numerous Arabic and Turkish elements. It is written in Arabic characters. Though Modern Persian is one and the same language, local variations, spoken in Persia, Af ghan istan, India and Russian Turkistan (Tajiki), are Parallel to literary Persian, in most Persian towns, and espe cially villages, special dialects are in use. The dialects of ,Fars, Luristan, Khurasan and perhaps Kerman, belong to the same southern (south-western?) group as the literary Persian. On the other hand, very numerous and different vernaculars represent the remains of former north-western idioms. Such are the local dialects of the Caspian provinces, the language of the Kurds (spread over a vast area and sporadically found in northern Syria and even close to Angora in Asia Minor), the language of the Baluches and of isolated groups (as those of Kashan, Simnan, etc.).

Among modern Iranian languages of the "eastern" and "north ern" group are the Afghan language (Pushtu [q.v1), Ormuri, the various dialects of the Pamir group (Shughni, Wakhi, Munjani, etc.), Yaghnobi (a modern descendant of the Middle Sogdian), Ossetic (spoken in the heart of the Caucasian mountains south of Vladikavkaz, survivor of the once powerful "Sarmatian" group [see above] spoken in South Russia). In 1927 some new written material was found in the Khvarizmian language which seems to have been in use in the oasis of Khiva as late as the 14th century A.D. This Khvarizmian must be a survival, or a de scendant, of a sister-language of the Middle Sogdian.

BIBLioGRAPHY.—Detailed monographs on the Iranian languages with complete bibliography will be found in vol. i. of Grundriss d. Iran. Philologie, edited by Geiger and Kuhn, Strassburg (part I., 1895-1901) (part II., 1898-1901), supplement on Ossetic (1903). Later important works are: Bartholomae, Altiranisches Worterbuch (Strassburg 1904) ; Bartholomae, Zum altiranischen Worterbuch, Indogerm. Forschungen, Beiheft to vol. xix. (Strassburg 1906) ; Meillet, Grammaire du vieux perse (1915). For the discovery of Middle-Persian texts see F. W. K.

Muller, Handschriften-Reste aus Turf an, Sitzungsber. Berl. Akad., 1904 (the texts have been re-edited by Salemann, Manichae ische Studien, I., Memoires de PAcademie de St. Petersbourg, VIII., No. 10 [1908], pp. 1-172 ; see also Salemann's further articles) ; texts in "nord-arisch" (Sacian) have been published chiefly by Leumann in 1912, 1919 and 1920; Gauthiot, Essai de Grammaire sogdienne, I. (1914-23, second volume to be published in 1929) ; P. Tedesco, Dia lektologie d. westiranischen Turfantexte, Le Monde Oriental, Uppsala, XV. (1921) fasc. 1-3 (a general survey of western dialects) ; Grierson, Linguistic survey of India, vol. x., Sisecimens of languages of the Eranian family (Calcutta, 1921) ; also vol. i. pg. 27; Herzfeld, Paikuli, Monument and inscription of the early history of the Sasanian Empire (1924) • The best theoretical grammar of Modern Persian is Salemann and Zhukovski's Persische Grammatik (1889). In the Otto-Gaspey-Sauer series (Heidelberg) have appeared two detailed practical grammars by St. Clair Tisdall (in English) and S. Beck (in German). Philott, Higher Persian Grammar (Calcutta , 935 pp. ; F. Rosen, Shumd fdrsi harf mizanid? [Do you speak Persian ?] (Leipzig 1890), several German and English editions. European dictionaries: Vullers, Lexicon Persico-latinum (Bonn, 1855), 2 vols. and an annex (complete and important for scientific work) ; Desmaisons, Dictionnaire persan-fran pis, 4 vols. (Rome 1908-14) Steingass, A comprehensive Persian English Dictionary (1892), 1,539 pp.; Abdullah Ghaffirov, Persidsko russki slovar (Moscow, 1914-27), 2 vols. (important phraseology).

(V. F. M.).

language, middle, modern, avestic and avesta