History of the Persian Language

Persian is an Iranian language that belongs to the Indo-Iranian sub-group of the Indo-European language family. Iranian languages generally fall under three periods referred to as old, middle and modern:

  • Old era – Before, during and after the Achaemenid era
  • Middle era – Sassanid and Post-Sassanid era
  • Modern Era – Post-Sassanid era to the present day

The oldest records of Old Persian date back to the Persian Empire in the 6th century B.C. and according to available documents, it is the only Iranian language whose distinct stages represent the same language. Modern Persian therefore, directly stems from Middle and Old Persian.

Old Persian

The most commonly attested language of the Achaemenid age after Aramaic, Old Persian evolved from Proto-Iranian, the earliest record of which is the Behistun Inscription of Achaemenid Darius I. It was written in Old Persian cuneiform, a unique script which is believed to have been invented during the reign of Darius I.

Middle Persian

Though the middle era formally begins only with the fall of the Achaemenid Empire, the transition from Old to Middle Persian probably started before the 4th century. As opposed to Old Persian, where the spoken and written forms varied greatly from each other, written Middle Persian reflected the oral version. The native name of Middle Persian was Parsik or Parsig – the origin of Farsi, as New Persian is referred to, today.

New Persian

New Persian spans more about 1000-1200 years, the development of which in the last period is considered in three stages – early, classical and contemporary periods. It is a curious fact that all contemporary speakers of Persian, understand the ancient texts as well as the grammatical differences. Since the 9th century, Russian, French, English and several other languages have contributed and enriched the technical vocabulary of Persian.

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