"Middle Iranian" is the name given to the middle stage of development of the numerous Iranian languages and dialects
The middle stage of the Iranian languages begins around 450 BCE and ends around 650 CE. One of those Middle Iranian languages is Middle Persian, i.e. the middle stage of the language of the Persians, an Iranian people of Persia proper
, which lies in the south-western highlands on the border with Babylonia. The Persians called their language Parsik
, meaning "Persian".
Another Middle Iranian language was Parthian
, i.e. the language of the northwestern Iranian peoples of Parthia proper, which lies along the southern/south-eastern edge of the Caspian sea and is adjacent to the boundary between western and eastern Iranian languages. The Parthians called their language Parthawik
, meaning "Parthian". Via regular sound changes Parthawik
, from which the word 'Pahlavi' eventually evolved. The -ik
was a regular Middle Iranian appurtenant
suffix for "pertaining to". The New Persian equivalent of -ik
When the Arsacids
(who were Parthians) came to power in the 3rd-century BCE, they inherited the use of written Greek (from the successors of Alexander the Great
) as the language of government. Under the cultural influence of the Greeks (Hellenization
), some Middle Iranian languages, such as Bactrian
, also had begun to be written in Greek script. But yet other Middle Iranian languages began to be written in a script derived from Aramaic
. This occurred primarily because written
Aramaic had previously been the written language of government of the former Achaemenids
, and the government scribes had carried that practice all over the empire. This practice had led to others adopting Imperial Aramaic as the language of communications, both between Iranians and non-Iranians, as well as between Iranians.:1251–1253
The transition from Imperial Aramaic to Middle Iranian took place very slowly, with a slow increase of more and more Iranian words so that Aramaic with Iranian elements gradually changed into Iranian with Aramaic elements.:1151
Under Arsacid hegemony
, this Aramaic-derived writing system for Iranian languages came to be associated with the Parthians in particular (it may have originated in the Parthian chancellories:1151
), and thus the writing system came to be called pahlavi
Aside from Parthian, Aramaic-derived writing was adopted for at least four other Middle Iranian languages, one of which was Middle Persian. In the 3rd-century CE, the Parthian Arsacids were overthrown by the Sassanids, who were natives of the south-west and thus spoke Middle Persian as their native language. Under Sassanid hegemony, the Middle Persian language became a prestige dialect
and thus also came to be used by non-Persian Iranians. In the 7th-century, the Sassanids were overthrown by the Arabs. Under Arab influence, Iranian languages began be written in Arabic script
(adapted to Iranian phonology), while Middle Persian began to rapidly evolve into New Persian and the name parsik
became Arabicized farsi
. Not all Iranians were comfortable with these Arabic-influenced developments, in particular, members of the literate elite, which in Sassanid times consisted primarily of Zoroastrian priests. Those former elites vigorously rejected what they perceived as 'Un-Iranian
', and continued to use the "old" language (i.e. Middle Persian) and Aramaic-derived writing system.:33
In time, the name of the writing system, pahlavi
"Parthian", began to be applied to the "old" Middle Persian language as well, thus distinguishing it from the "new" language, farsi
Consequently, 'pahlavi' came to denote the particularly Zoroastrian, exclusively written, late form of Middle Persian.
Since almost all surviving Middle Persian literature
is in this particular late form of exclusively written Zoroastrian Middle Persian, in popular imagination the term 'Pahlavi' became synonymous with Middle Persian itself.
The ISO 639
language code for Middle Persian is pal
, which reflects the post-Sasanian era use of the term Pahlavi to refer to the language and not only the script.
Transition from Old Persian
In the classification of the Iranian languages, the Middle Period includes those languages which were common in Iran from the fall of the Achaemenid Empire
in the fourth century BCE up to the fall of the Sasanian Empire in the seventh century CE.
The most important and distinct development in the structure of Iranian languages of this period is the transformation from the synthetic form of the Old Period (Old Persian
) to an analytic
Transition to New Persian
The modern-day descendants of Middle Persian are New Persian
. The changes between late Middle and Early New Persian were very gradual, and in the 10th-11th centuries, Middle Persian texts were still intelligible to speakers of Early New Persian. However, there are definite differences that had taken place already by the 10th century:
- Sound changes, such as
- the dropping of unstressed initial vowels
- the epenthesis of vowels in initial consonant clusters
- the loss of -g when word final
- change of initial w- to either b- or (gw- → g-)
- Changes in the verbal system, notably the loss of distinctive subjunctive and optative forms, and the increasing use of verbal prefixes to express verbal moods
- a transition from split ergative back to consistent nominative-accusativemorphosyntactic alignment
- Changes in the vocabulary, particularly the establishment of a superstratum or adstratum of Arabic loanwords replacing many Aramaic loans and native terms.
- The substitution of Arabic script for Pahlavi script.
Traces of Middle Persian are found in remnants of Sasanian inscriptions
and Egyptian papyri
, coins and seals, fragments of Manichaean writings, and treatises and Zoroastrian books from the Sasanian era, as well as in the post-Sasanian Zoroastrian variant of the language sometimes known as Pahlavi
, which originally referred to the Pahlavi scripts
and that was also the preferred writing system for several other Middle Iranian languages. Aside from the Aramaic alphabet
-derived Pahlavi script,
Zoroastrian Middle Persian was occasionally also written in Pazend
, a system derived from the Avestan alphabet
that, unlike Pahlavi, indicated vowels and did not employ logograms
. Manichaean Middle Persian texts were written in the Manichaean alphabet
, which also derives from Aramaic but in an Eastern Iranian form via the Sogdian alphabet
Pahlavi Middle Persian
is the language of quite a large body of literature which details the traditions and prescriptions of Zoroastrianism
, which was the state religion of Sasanian Iran (224 to c. 650) before the Muslim conquest of Persia
. The earliest texts in Zoroastrian Middle Persian were probably written down in late Sasanian times (6th–7th centuries), although they represent the codification of earlier oral tradition.
However, most texts, including the translated versions of the Zoroastrian canon, date from the ninth to the 11th century, when Middle Persian had long ceased to be a spoken language, so they reflect the state of affairs in living Middle Persian only indirectly. The surviving manuscripts are usually 14th-century copies.
Other, less abundantly attested varieties are Manichaean Middle Persian
, used for a sizable amount of Manichaean
religious writings, including many theological texts, homilies
and hymns (3rd–9th, possibly 13th century), and the Middle Persian of the Church of the East
, evidenced in the Pahlavi Psalter
(7th century); these were used until the beginning of the second millennium in many places in Central Asia, including Turpan
and even localities in South India
All three differ minimally from one another and indeed the less ambiguous and archaizing scripts of the latter two have helped to elucidate some aspects of the Sasanian-era pronunciation of the former.
Below is transcription and translation of the first page of the facsimile known as Book of Arda Viraf
, originally written in a Pahlavi script.
pad nām ī yazdān ēdōn gōwēnd kū ēw-bār ahlaw zardušt dēn ī padīrift andar gēhān rawāg be kard. tā bawandagīh [ī] sēsad sāl dēn andar abēzagīh ud mardōm andar abē-gumānīh būd hēnd. ud pas gizistag gannāg mēnōg [ī] druwand gumān kardan ī mardōmān pad ēn dēn rāy ān gizistag *alek/sandar ī *hrōmāyīg ī muzrāyīg-mānišn wiyāb/ānēnīd *ud pad garān sezd ud *nibard ud *wišēg ō ērān-šahr *frēstīd. u-š ōy ērān dahibed ōzad ud dar ud xwadāyīh wišuft ud awērān kard. ud ēn dēn čiyōn hamāg abestāg ud zand [ī] abar gāw pōstīhā ī wirāstag pad āb ī zarr nibištag andar staxr [ī] pābagān pad diz [ī] *nibišt nihād ēstād. ōy petyārag ī wad-baxt ī ahlomōγ ī druwand ī anāg-kardār *aleksandar [ī] hrōmāyīg [ī] mu/zrāyīg-mānišn abar āwurd ud be sōxt.
In the name of God Thus they have said that once the righteous Zoroaster accepted a religion, he established it in the world. After/Within the period of 300 years (the) religion remained in holiness and the people were in peace and without any doubt. But then, the sinful, corrupt and deceitful spirit, in order to cause people doubt this religion, illusioned/led astray that Alexander the Roman, resident of Egypt, and sent him to Iran
with much anger and violence. He murdered the ruler of Iran
and ruined court, and the religion, as all the Avesta and Zand (which were) written on the ox-hide and decorated with water-of-gold (gold leaves) and had been placed/kept in Stakhr of Papak
in the 'citadel of the writings.' That wretched, ill-fated, heretic, evil/sinful Alexander, The Roman, who was dwelling in Egypt, and he burned them up.
A sample Middle Persian poem from manuscript of Jamasp Asana:
Original in Middle Persian:
Dārom andarz-ē az dānāgān
Az guft-ī pēšēnīgān
Ō šmāh bē wizārom
Pad rāstīh andar gēhān
Agar ēn az man padīrēd
Bavēd sūd-ī dō gēhān
Dāram andarz-i az dānāyān
دارم اندرزی از دانایان
Az gofte-ye pišiniyān
از گفتهٔ پیشینیان
Be šomā be-gozāram
به شما بگزارم
Be rāstī andar jahān
به راستی اندر جهان
agar īn az man pazīrid
اگر این از من پذیرد
Bovad sūd-e dō jahān
بوَد سود دو جهان
Translation into English:
I have a counsel from the wise,
from the advises of the ancients,
I will pass it upon you
By truth in the world
If you accept this counsel
It will be your benefits for this life and the next
Other sample texts
Šābuhr šāhān šāh ī hormizdān hamāg kišwarīgān pad paykārišn yazdān āhang kard ud hamāg gōwišn ō uskār ud wizōyišn āwurd pas az bōxtan ī ādūrbād pad gōwišn ī passāxt abāg hamāg ōyšān jud-sardagān ud nask-ōšmurdān-iz ī jud-ristagān ēn-iz guft kū nūn ka-mān dēn pad stī dēn dīd kas-iz ag-dēnīh bē nē hilēm wēš abar tuxšāg tuxšēm ud ham gōnag kard.
, the king of kings, son of Hormizd
, induced all countrymen to orient themselves to god by disputation, and put forth all oral traditions for consideration and examination. After the triumph of Ādurbād, through his declaration put to trial by ordeal (in disputation) with all those sectaries and heretics who recognized (studied) the Nasks, he made the following statement: ‘Now that we have gained an insight into the Religion in the worldly existence, we shall not tolerate anyone of false religion, and we shall be more zealous.
Andar xwadāyīh šābuhr ī ohrmazdān tāzīgān mad hēnd ušān xōrīg ī rudbār grift was sāl pad xwār tāzišn dāšt t šābuhr ō xwadāyīh mad oyšān tāzīgān spōxt ud šahr aziš stād ud was šāh tāzīgān ābaxšēnēd ud was maragīh.
During the rulership of Shapur
, the son of Hormizd
, the Arabs came; they took Xorig Rūdbār; for many years with contempt (they) rushed until Shapur came to rulership; he destroyed the Arabs and took the land and destroyed many Arab rulers and pulled out many number of shoulders.
There are a number of affixes
in Middle Persian that did not survive into Modern Persian:
Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian vocabulary
There are a number of phonological differences between Middle Persian and New Persian. The long vowels of Middle Persian did not survive in many present-day dialects. Also, initial consonant clusters
were very common in Middle Persian (e.g. سپاس sp
ās "thanks"). However, New Persian
does not allow initial consonant clusters, whereas final consonant clusters are common (e.g. اسب
Since many long vowels of Middle Persian did not survive, a number of homophones
were created in New Persian. For example, šir
, meaning "milk" and "lion", respectively, are now both pronounced šir
. In this case, the correct pronunciation has been preserved in Kurdish and Tajiki.
Middle Persian cognates in other languages
There is a number of Persian loanwords in English
, many of which can be traced to Middle Persian. The lexicon of Classical Arabic
also contains many borrowings from Middle Persian. In such borrowings Iranian consonants that sound foreign to Arabic, g
, and ž
, have been replaced by q/k
, and s/z
. The exact Arabic renderings of the suffixes -ik/-ig
is often used to deduce the different periods of borrowing.
The following is a parallel word list of cognates:
Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian names
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j Asatrian, Mushegh (2006). "Iranian Elements in Arabic: The State of Research". Iran & the Caucasus. 10 (1): 87–106. doi:10.1163/157338406777979386.
- ^ MacKenzie, D. N. (1986). A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. OUP. p. 65.
- ^ Versteegh, K. (2001). "Linguistic Contacts between Arabic and Other Languages". Arabica. 48 (4): 470–508. doi:10.1163/157005801323163825.
- ^ Henning, Walter Bruno (1958), Mitteliranisch, Handbuch der Orientalistik I, IV, I, Leiden: Brill.
- ^ Gershevitch, Ilya (1983), "Bactrian Literature", in Yarshatar, Ehsan (ed.), The Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian Periods, Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3(2), Cambridge University Press, pp. 1250–1260, ISBN 0-521-24693-8.
- ^ a b Boyce, Mary (1983), "Parthian Writings and Literature", in Yarshatar, Ehsan (ed.), The Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian Periods, Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3(2), Cambridge University Press, pp. 1151–1165, ISBN 0-521-24693-8.
- ^ a b c Boyce, Mary (1968), Middle Persian Literature, Handbuch der Orientalistik 1, IV, 2, Leiden: Brill, pp. 31–66.
- ^ Cereti, Carlo (2009), "Pahlavi Literature", Encyclopedia Iranica, (online edition).
- ^ a b Dabir-Moghaddam, Mohammad (2018). "Typological Approaches and Dialects". In Sedighi, Anousha; Shabani-Jadidi, Pouneh (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Persian Linguistics. OUP. p. 80.
- ^ Karimi, Yadgar (2012). "The Evolution of Ergativity in the Iranian Languages". Acta Linguistica Asiatica. 2 (1): 23–44. doi:10.4312/ala.2.1.23-44. ISSN 2232-3317.
- ^ Noda, Keigou (1983). "Ergativity in Middle Persian". Gengo Kenkyu. 84: 105–125. doi:10.11435/gengo1939.1983.84_105.
- ^ Kümmel, Martin Joachim (2018). Areal developments in the history of Iranic: West vs. East (PDF). University of Jena. Talk given at Workshop 7, Discovering (micro-)areal patterns in Eurasia. p. 27.
- ^ a b "Linguist List - Description of Pehlevi". Detroit: Eastern Michigan University. 2007.
- ^ See also Omniglot.com's page on Middle Persian scripts
- ^ Spooner, Brian; Hanaway, William L. (2012). Literacy in the Persianate World: Writing and the Social Order. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-1-934536-56-8., p. 14.
- ^ Sundermann, Werner. 1989. Mittelpersisch. P. 141. In Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (ed. Rüdiger Schmitt).
- ^ Sundermann, Werner. 1989. Mittelpersisch. P. 138. In Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (ed. Rüdiger Schmitt).
- ^ Sundermann, Werner. 1989. Mittelpersisch. P. 143. In Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (ed. Rüdiger Schmitt).
- ^ R. Mehri's Parsik/Pahlavi Web page (archived copy) at the Internet Archive
- ^ Joneidi, F. (1966). Pahlavi Script and Language (Arsacid and Sassanid) نامه پهلوانی: آموزش خط و زبان پهلوی اشکانی و ساسانی (p. 54). Balkh (نشر بلخ).
- ^ David Neil MacKenzie (1971). A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. London: Oxford University Press.
- ^ Joneidi, F. (1972). The Story of Iran. First Book: Beginning of Time to Dormancy of Mount Damavand (داستان ایران بر بنیاد گفتارهای ایرانی، دفتر نخست: از آغاز تا خاموشی دماوند).
- ^ Strazny, P. (2005). Encyclopedia of linguistics (p. 325). New York: Fitzroy Dearborn.
- ^ a b c d e Mackenzie, D. N. (2014). A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-61396-8.
- ^ a b c d e f g "ARABIC LANGUAGE ii. Iranian loanwords in Arabic". Encyclopædia Iranica. 15 December 1986. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
- ^ a b c d e Joneidi, F. (1965). Dictionary of Pahlavi Ideograms (فرهنگ هزوارش هاي دبيره پهلوي) (p. 8). Balkh (نشر بلخ).
- ^ a b c Tietze, A.; Lazard, G. (1967). "Persian Loanwords in Anatolian Turkish". Oriens. 20: 125–168. doi:10.1163/18778372-02001007.
Last edited on 6 May 2021, at 16:48
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