languages spoken in iran

Iranian Languages

(Last Updated On: April 4, 2024)

Is there any country that fascinates you, or do you wish to go there? A culture that inspires you? Well, what about Iran? Did you know Iran is not just famous for its calligraphy, Persian literature, and carpets? Yes, today we are going to explore the ethnic diversity of Iran. We are going to talk about the Iranian language.

Thinking of Iran, what comes to your mind about it? Which language do people speak in Iran? Well, your answer will not be suitable enough since there are many forms of this language and much to explore.

The broad ethnic diversity of Iran indicates that the languages of Iran come from several linguistic origins. Also, Iranian languages constitute the major eastern branch of European languages, which is part of the larger Indo-Iranian family. According to an estimation, about 150 to 200 million people are native speakers of Iranian languages. Therefore, it is a part of the world’s major language families. Let’s take a look at this huge Iranian language family!

iranian languages
persian language

Which languages do people speak in Iran?

Starting from the languages in Iran, Persian is the primary language that Iranian natives use daily. It is much different from the Turkic language. According to the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Persian is of great use for students of linguistics in schools and official government communications. To make it easier in the workplace, postgraduate students are advised to learn complex sentences through detailed discussion. Other than Persian, there are Azeri, Kurdish, Gilaki, Mazandarani, Luri, Arabic, Balochi, and Turkmen. There are some minority languages which include Qashqai, Taleshi, and Baadi. If one wants to list all the languages that Iranian people speak, the list will be never-ending because numerous other lingos have become dead languages till now. An interesting thing about Iranian languages is that they have dialects and sub-branches that increase their diversity in terms of linguistic geography.

Utilizing the Persian script, the Persian language is part of the Iranian language family. The Persian alphabet, influenced by Arabic alphabets due to the Arab conquest, is both the native and literary language. In the 20th century, the Latin alphabet made some appearances, reflecting the dynamic nature of linguistic influences. Various Iranian dialects, including those in the North-Western group, are explored in academic works by scholars like John R. Perry, whose contributions can be found in publications from Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, University of California Press, Walter de Gruyter, and more. Unattested languages and Jewish languages are also part of Iran’s linguistic tapestry, with researchers like Prods Oktor, J. Garry & C. Rubino, R. Phillipson, and T. Varady delving into these topics.

Comprehensive resources from Taylor & Francis, H.W. Wilson, and Palgrave Macmillan contribute to our understanding of linguistic diversity in Iran, including insights into the Manichaean Middle Persian language. The North-Western Spoken group and scholars like G. Windfuhr provide further exploration, making Iran a fascinating mosaic of languages documented by various publishers and researchers.

History of Iranian Languages

The history of Iranian languages is deeply intertwined with the Islamic conquest and the influence of the Arabic language, as evidenced by the adoption of Arabic alphabets and the Arabic script. While Persian, an Eastern Iranian language, evolved as a literary language and eventually became the national language, neighbouring languages in Central Asia, such as Turkic languages, also experienced linguistic shifts. In the 19th century, the Latin alphabet entered Western Iran, contributing to language evolution.

The history of Iranian languages dates back to the 3rd century, encompassing diverse linguistic branches such as Indo-Aryan languages and Western Iranian, with Persian dialects emerging as prominent forms by the 7th and 8th centuries, eventually evolving into the national language of Iran. Scholarly works like the “Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum” and resources from the Oxford University Press document the development of these languages from the 4th to the 10th century, offering insights into their evolution and usage through prepositional phrases as evidenced in historical texts such as the Encyclopædia Iranica.

Encyclopedia Iranica is a valuable resource documenting the linguistic landscape, encompassing Eastern Iran, South Asia, and Western Iran, providing insights into the rich diversity of the Indo-European family within the context of Iranian languages. To navigate this linguistic history, language resources like pocket dictionaries play a crucial role in understanding the nuances of the dominant languages in different regions.

The Encyclopaedia Iranica, edited by Gernot Windfuhr, provides a comprehensive resource on the history of Iranian languages, tracing their evolution from the 8th to the 10th century. Foreign languages, introduced by sources like the Irish Presbyterian Mission Press in the 16th century, influenced the linguistic landscape documented in this scholarly work, published by Oxford University Press.

Iranian lingos descend from a single Proto-Iranian ancestor that extended from Proto-Indo-Iranian Languages about 4000 years ago. Further, they constitute the Indo-European language family. They do not have speakers only in their native country; instead, they have gained popularity in other states. Some regions where they have native speakers include the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, etc. These lingos have a rich history, and the vastly spoken areas spread from Mesopotamia to the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang, China.

Deeply rooted in history, different languages in Iran play a significant role in the country’s various regional and ethnonational identities. In the early years of formation, using Arabic and other languages was a plus point among Iranian languages. As a modern state, Iran has tried to change the country’s linguistic landscape to Persian. In this case, Arabic has been given the status of a formal language in Iran.

Two Major Groups

Linguistically, Iranian languages are divided into two major groups: East and West Iranian. Among the modern languages, Persian and Kurdish belong to the Western group. On the other hand, Pashto and Ossetic belong to the Eastern group. This division has two further groups, i.e., northern and southern subgroups.

Two major groups of Iranian languages, the North-Western group and the Manichaean Middle Persian group, have evolved since the 10th century, shaping the linguistic landscape with influences from modern languages. Scholars like T. Skutnabb-Kangas, whose contributions are found in publications from Psychology Press and other academic sources, can explore the development of Manichaean Middle Persian and its impact on native languages. By delving into linguistic evolution, researchers provide valuable insights into the rich tapestry of Iranian languages, bridging historical gaps and enriching our understanding through resources like the English dictionary.

50 Iranian Languages

The Iranian lingos consists of three chronological stages: Old, Middle, and New. The 50 Iranian languages have these three stages. Following is a brief description of all the stages:

persian iran language
languages of iran

Old Age

Firstly, there are four languages: Old Persian, Avestan, Median, and Scythian. Old Persian was introduced in the 5th to 6th centuries B.C. in the Fars region. Persian tribes speak it. It was one of the official languages of the Achaemenid Empire, along with Akkadian, Elamite, and Aramaic. Belonging to the southwestern group, it has an inflected grammar structure. Avestan was introduced in the period between 1500 and 500 BC. Its writing system includes 51 letters. The native speakers of Avestan lived sometime between the second half of the 2nd millennium and the early half of the 1st mil. BC.

The Persian language has a rich history, with roots tracing back to the 3rd century and significant developments occurring by the 6th century, leading to the establishment of Persian dialects as the official language by the 9th century. The Persian alphabet emerged during this time, shaping the language’s structure and usage, while prepositional phrases became integral to its grammar. This linguistic heritage continued to evolve, culminating in its modern form in the 20th century.

Median has the same era of discovery as Avestan. It was the language of Median tribes. No one knows about the grammatical structure of Median. As for the Scythian language, it was discovered in the middle of the 1st millennium B.C. The native speakers of this language belong to the Scythian tribe. There are no traces of its written records.

Middle Age

During the middle ages of the Persian language, from the 4th century to the 20th century, significant developments occurred, including the refinement of prepositional phrases and the establishment of the Persian alphabet, shaping the language’s structure and usage by the 7th and 9th centuries.

Secondly, there are two lingos among the western Middle Iranian dialects: Middle Persian and Parthian. At the same time, the eastern middle Iranian languages include Sogdian, Bactrian, Khotanese, Khwarezmian, and Tumshuqese. These lingos belong to the years between the 1st and 8th centuries. In Middle Persian, the writing system was a little more developed. It has native speakers of Old Persian’s direct descendants and New Persian’s ancestors. People speak Parthian in the Parthia Proper. The writing system includes the Parthian and Manichaean alphabet. It was the language of the people living in Khorasan.

Sogdian, the language of the kingdom of Sogdiana, is known as modern Uzbekistan. The only surviving dialect related to Sogdian is spoken in the Yaghnob Valley in Northwest Tajikistan. In addition to that, it has rich literature. Khotanese has a Brahmi writing system. Its native speakers belong to the Khotan region. The main religion in Khotan during the second millennium was Buddhism. Tumshuqese is a closely related dialect of Khotanese. It was spoken in the area around what is modern Tumshuq. It displays more archaic features. Bactria is famous in Bactria (North Afghanistan, South Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan). Moreover, there is only one piece of literature available in this lingo.

New Age

Finally, in the third stage, there are four groups in New Iranian languages. These are South-Western New Iranian Languages, North-Western New Iranian Languages, North-Eastern New Iranian Languages, and South-Eastern New Iranian Languages. The first group includes Persian (New Persian), South Luri (dialects), Dari (Afghani Persian), Kumzari, Tajiki (Tajik Persian), Bashkardi, Caucasian Persian/Tati, Farsi dialects, Bakhtiari, Larestan dialects, and North Luri (dialects). The second group includes Balochi, Semnani, Kurdish, Sangsari, Gorani, Sivandi, Zaza/Dimli, Tati/Azari dialects, Gilaki, Semnan dialects, Talyshi, Central dialects, Mazandarani, and Laki. The third group includes Pashto, Ishkashmi, Ossetic, Sanglichi, Yaghnobi, Zebaki [Pamir Languages], Munji, Shughni-Rushani languages, Yidgha, Yazghulami, Wakhi, and Wanji. Central Dialects include Sorani and Mukri also. Lastly, the fourth and the last group include Parachi and Ormuri.

The new Iranian languages were discovered from the 8th century until today. Many languages in this group have no grammar structures or writing systems because they are unknown. But each one of them belongs to a specific region in Iran. According to some historical linguistics, some languages may still be hidden due to their extinction even before mankind started to research them.

Conclusion

To conclude, the Iranian language can become very confusing for a person. Though the late 19th century has caused changes in the culture, this article summarizes all the possible languages that Iran could have. There is no comprehensive dictionary of Iranian languages. But if you want to explore more about them, you can read a book named ‘Iranian languages’ by Gernot Windfuhr. It has further descriptions of this language. The introductory chapters provide descriptions with ample examples. The central dialects of this lingo are spoken throughout the territory.

Further, there has been a lot of language development. The modern world demands the use of principal languages in everything. You can guess its importance from the language used in this article. Consequently, these things have diminished the importance of ancient languages, but compared to their long history, they still have a huge significance. And without a doubt, we can say that Iran is a multilingual country. If you have any difficulty regarding Iranian languages or need help with translation, contact us today!

50 iranian languages
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