Middle Persian is the Middle Iranian language or ethnolect of southwestern Iran that during the Sasanian Empire (224–654) became a prestige dialect and so came to be spoken in other regions of the empire as well. Middle Persian is classified as a Western Iranian language. It descends from Old Persian and is the linguistic ancestor of Modern Persian.
|Pārsīk or Pārsīg|
|Era||evolved into Early New Persian by the 9th century; thereafter used only by Zoroastrian priests for exegesis and religious instruction.|
|Pahlavi scripts, Manichaean alphabet, Avestan alphabet|
Traces of Middle Persian, or Parsik, 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.
"Middle Iranian" is the name given to middle stage of development of the numerous Iranian languages and dialects.:1 The middle stage of 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 peoples 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 became Pahlawik, from which the word 'Pahlavi' eventually evolved. The -ik in parsik and parthawik was a regular Middle Iranian appurtenant suffix for "pertaining to". The New Persian equivalent of -ik is -i.
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 "Parthian" too.:33
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.:32-33 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 PersianEdit
|History of the
|Proto-Iranian (c. 1500 BCE)
|Old Persian (c. 525 – 300 BCE)
|Middle Persian (c. 300 BCE – 800 CE)
|Modern Persian (from 800)|
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 and Avestan) to an analytic form:
Transition to New PersianEdit
The modern-day descendant of Middle Persian is 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
- Changes in the vocabulary, especially the substitution of a large number of Arabic loanwords for words of native or Aramaic origin
- The substitution of Arabic script for Pahlavi script.
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:
Other sample textsEdit
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.
Shapur, 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.
|Middle Persian||English||Other Indo-European||Example(s)|
|A-||Privative prefix, un-, non-, not-||Greek a- (e.g. atom)||a-spās 'ungrateful', a-bim 'fearless', a-čār 'inevitable', a-dād 'unjust'|
|An-||Prevocalic privative prefix, un-, non-||English -un, German ant-||an-ērān 'non-Iranian', an-ast 'non-existent'|
|-ik (-ig in Late Middle Persian)||Having to do with, having the nature of, made of, caused by, similar to||English -ic, Latin -icus, Greek –ikos, Slavic -isku||Pārsīk 'Persian', Āsōrik 'Assyrian', Pahlavik 'Parthian', Hrōmāyīk/Hrōmīk 'Byzantine, Roman', Tāzīk 'Arab'|
|Middle Persian||Other Indo-European||Example(s)|
|-gerd||Russian -grad, German -gart||Mithradatgerd "Mithridates City", Susangerd (City of Susan), Darabgerd "Darius City", Bahramjerd "Bahram City", Dastgerd, Virugerd, Borujerd|
|-vīl||-ville, villa, village in English/French, Italian villaggio||Ardabil "Holy City", Erbil, Kabul and Zabol|
|-āpāt (later -ābād)||Ashkābād > Ashgabat "Land of Arsaces"|
|-stān||English stead 'town', Russian stan 'settlement', common root with Germanic stand||Tapurstan, Sakastan|
Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian vocabularyEdit
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 spās "thanks"). However, New Persian does not allow initial consonant clusters, whereas final consonant clusters are common (e.g. اسب asb "horse").
|Early Middle Persian||English||Early New Persian||Notes||Other Indo-European|
|Drōt||Hello (lit. 'health')||Dōrūd (درود)|
|Pat-drōt||Goodbye||Bē dōrūd (به درود), later bedrūd (بدرود)|
|Spās||Thanks||Sipās (سپاس)||Spās in kurdish||PIE speḱ-|
|Pat||To, at, in, on||Bē (به)|
|Šēr1||Lion||Šēr (شیر)||From Old Persian *šagra-. Preserved as Tajiki шер šer and Kurdish (شێر) šēr|
|Šīr1||Milk||Šīr (شیر)||From Old Persian **xšīra-. Tajiki шир šir and Kurdish (šīr, شیر)||from PIE *swēyd-|
|Āhsan||Iron||Āhan (آهن)||Āsin (آسِن) in Kurdish||German Eisen|
|Arjat||Silver||Extinct||floodlike "silvar" ("سیل وار ")||Latin argentum (French argent), Armenian arsat, Old Irish airget, PIE h₂erǵn̥t-, an n-stem|
|Arž||Silver coinage||Arj (ارج) 'value/worth'||Same as Arg (АргЪ) 'price' in Ossetian|
|Ēvārak||Evening||Extinct in Modern Persian||Survived as ēvār (ایوار) in Kurdish and Lurish|
|Tāpstān||(adjective for) summer||تابستان Tābestān|
|Hāmīn||Summer||Extinct||Hāmīn has survived in Balochi, and Central Kurdish.
Survived as Hāvīn in Northern Kurdish.
|Stārak, Star||Star||Setāre (ستاره)||Stār, Stērk in Northern Kurdish||Latin stella, Old English steorra, Gothic stairno, Old Norse stjarna|
|Fratom||First||Extinct||Preserved as pronin in Sangsari language||First, primary, Greek prim|
|Fratāg||Tomorrow||Fardā (فردا)||Fra- 'towards' + tāg 'light'||Greek pro-, Lithuanian pra, etc.
German tag 'day'
|Mūrt||Died||Mōrd (مرد)||Latin morta, English murd-er, Old Russian mirtvu, Lithuanian mirtis|
|Rōč||Day||Rūz (روز)||From rōšn 'light'. Kurdish rōž (رۆژ), also preserved as rōč (رُوچ) in Balochi||Armenian lois 'light', Latin lux 'light'|
|Sāl||Year||Sāl (سال)||Sanskrit sarð 'year', Armenian sārd 'sun', German sonne, Russian solntsi|
|Mātar||Mother||Mādar (مادر)||Latin māter, Old Church Slavonic mater, Lithuanian motina|
|Pētar||Father||Pēdar (پدر)||Latin pater (Italian padre), Old High German fater|
|Brātar||Brother||Barādar (برادر)||Old Ch. Slavonic brat(r)u, Lithuanian brolis, Latin frāter, Old Irish brathair, O. H. German bruoder|
|Xāhar||Sister||Xāhar (خواهر)||Armenian khoyr|
|Dōxtar||Daughter||Dōxtar (دختر)||Gothic dauhtar, O. H. German tohter, Old Prussian duckti, Armenian dowstr, Lithuanian dukte|
1 Since many long vowels of Middle Persian did not survive, a number of homophones were created in New Persian. For example, šir and šer, 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 loanwords in other languagesEdit
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, č, p, and ž, have been replaced by q/k, j, š, f/b, and s/z. Here is a parallel word list of such terms:
|Middle Persian||English||Indo-European Cognates||Arabic Borrowing||English|
|Srat||Street||Latin strata 'street', Welsh srat 'plain'; from PIE root stere- 'to spread, extend, stretch out' (Avestan star-, Latin sternere, Old Church Slavonic stira)||Sirāt (صراط)||Path|
|Tarjōmak||Translation||French traduction, Italian traduzione, Greek dragomanos; from PIE root tra- 'to across, over, beyond'||Tarjama (ترجمة)||Translation|
|Burg||Tower||Germanic burg 'castle' or 'fort'||Burj (برج)||Tower|
|A-sar; A- (negation prefix) + sar (end, beginning)||Infinite, endless||A- prefix in Greek; Sanskrit siras, Hittite harsar 'head'||Azal (أزل)||Infinite|
|A-pad; a- (prefix of negation) + pad (end)||Infinity||-||Abad (أبد)||Infinity, forever|
|Dēn (from Avestan daena)||Religion||Dīn (دين)||Religion|
|Bōstān (bō 'aroma, scent' + -stan place-name element)||Garden||Bustān (بستان)||Garden|
|Tag||Crown, tiara||Tāj (تاج)||Crown|
|Pargār||Compass||Firjār (فرجار)||Compass (drawing tool)|
|Ravāk (older form of ravāg; from the root rav (v. raftan) 'to go')||Current||Riwāq (رواق)||Place of passage, corridor|
|Gund||Army, troop||Jund (جند)||Army|
|Rōstāk||Village, district, province||Ruzdāq (رزداق)||Village|
Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian namesEdit
|Middle Persian||New Persian||Old Persian||English|
|Āleksandar, Sukandar||Eskandar||Alexander the Great|
|Ōhrmazd||Hormizd||Ahura Mazda||Ahura Mazda, astr. Jupiter|
|Middle Persian test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Pahlavi". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- "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 1-934536-56-3., p. 14.
- Henning, Walter Bruno (1958), Mitteliranisch, Handbuch der Orientalistik I, IV, I, Leiden: Brill.
- Gershevitch, Ilya (1983), "Bactrian Literature", in Yarshatar, Ehsan, The Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian Periods, Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3(2), Cambridge University Press, pp. 1250–1260, ISBN 0-521-24693-8.
- Boyce, Mary (1983), "Parthian Writings and Literature", in Yarshatar, Ehsan, The Seleucid, Parthian and Sassanian Periods, Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3(2), Cambridge University Press, pp. 1151–1165, ISBN 0-521-24693-8.
- 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).
- Sundermann, Werner. 1989. Mittelpersisch. P. 141. In Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (ed. Rüdiger Schmidt).
- Sundermann, Werner. 1989. Mittelpersisch. P. 138. In Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (ed. Rüdiger Schmidt).
- Sundermann, Werner. 1989. Mittelpersisch. P. 143. In Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (ed. Rüdiger Schmidt).
- 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.
- Mackenzie, D. N. (2014). A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-61396-8.
- "ARABIC LANGUAGE ii. Iranian loanwords in Arabic". Encyclopædia Iranica. 15 December 1986. Retrieved 31 December 2015.
- Joneidi, F. (1965). Dictionary of Pahlavi Ideograms (فرهنگ هزوارش هاي دبيره پهلوي) (p. 8). Balkh (نشر بلخ).
- Lessons in Pahlavi-Pazend by S.D.Bharuchī and E.S.D.Bharucha (1908) at the Internet Archive - Part 1 and 2
- Middle Persian texts on TITUS
- Scholar Raham Asha's website, including many Middle Persian texts in original and translation
- An organization promoting the revival of Middle Persian as a literary and spoken language (contains a grammar and lessons)
- Edward Thomas (1868). Early Sassanian inscriptions, seals and coins. Trübner. p. 137. Retrieved 2011-07-05.