Persian Language

The official language of Iran, Persian (also called Farsi) is a member of the Indo-Iranian group of languages constituting the easternmost major branch of the Indo-European language family. Historically, Persian is divided into Old Persian, Middle Persian (Pahlavi), and Modern Persian.

Old Persian was spoken until approximately the 3rd century BC. Middle Persian was spoken from the 3rd century BC to about the 9th century AD. A notable feature of Modern Persian is that it has changed very little over the thousand years or more of its existence as a literary language. Thus, the poems of Rudaki, the first notable Persian poet, who died in the year 940 AD, are perfectly intelligible to the modern reader. Modern Persian grammar is much simpler than its ancestral forms. Modern Persian has no system of case inflections. Possession is shown by the addition of a special suffix (called the ezafeh) to the possessive noun. Verbs retain a set of personal endings, but a series of prefixes and infixes (word elements inserted within a word), as well as auxiliary verbs, are used instead of a single complex inflec- ~ tional system to mark tense, mood, voice, and the negative. Persian vocabulary was heavily influenced by Arabic, which for a long time was the language of the learned and still remains the language of the religion. In its turn, Persian had a significant influence in neighboring lands. In Indian courts, Persian language and poetry was the vogue with the ruling classes. By fusing with Hindi, Persian gave rise to the Urdu language. Persian also influenced the language and literature of Turkey. It provided the form and style of Turkish verse, which also contained many words borrowed from Persian vocabulary.

The monument to Ferdowsi stands beside his mausoleum in his native Tus in Khorasan (photo by Naser Mizbani).

The monument to Ferdowsi stands beside his mausoleum in his native Tus in Khorasan (photo by Naser Mizbani).

At the age of eight, Rostam displayed his courage by killing a rabid great white elephant by a single blow of a mace.

At the age of eight, Rostam displayed his courage by killing a rabid great white elephant by a single blow of a mace.

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Plates inscribed in cuneiform are indispensable sources of recovering the structure of the Old Persian language.

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