Old Persian language


Old Persian language
Old Persian
Spoken in Ancient Iran
Era Ancestor of Middle Persian
Language family
Writing system Old Persian cuneiform
Language codes
ISO 639-2 peo
ISO 639-3 peo
History of the
Persian language
Proto-Iranian (ca. 1500 BC)

Southwestern Iranian languages


Old Persian (c. 525 BC - 300 BC)

Old Persian cuneiform script


Middle Persian (c.300 BC-800 AD)

Pahlavi scriptManichaean scriptAvestan script


Modern Persian (from 800 AD)

Perso-Arabic script

The Old Persian language is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages (the other being Avestan). Old Persian appears primarily in the inscriptions, clay tablets, and seals of the Achaemenid era (c. 600 BCE to 300 BCE). Examples of Old Persian have been found in what is now present-day Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt[1] the most important attestation by far being the contents of the Behistun Inscription (dated to 525 BCE). Recent research into the vast Persepolis Fortification Archive at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago have unearthed Old Persian tablets (2007).[2] This new text shows that the Old Persian language was a written language in use for practical recording and not only for royal display.[2]

Contents

Origin and overview

As a written language, Old Persian is attested in royal Achaemenid inscriptions. It is an Iranian language and as such a member of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. The oldest known text written in Old Persian is from the Behistun Inscriptions.[3] Old Persian is one of the oldest Indo-European languages which is attested in original texts.[4]

The oldest date of use of Old Persian as a spoken language is not precisely known. According to certain historical assumptions about the early history and origin of ancient Persians in south-western Iran (where Achaemenids hailed from), Old Persian was originally spoken by a tribe called Parsuwash who arrived in the Iranian Plateau early in the 1st millennium BCE and finally migrated down into the area of present day Fārs province and their language, i.e. Old Persian, became the official language of the Achaemenid kings.[4] Assyrian records, which in fact provide the earliest evidence for ancient Iranians (Persian and Median) presence on the Iranian Plateau, give a good chronology but only an approximate geographical indication of ancient Persians. In these records of the 9th century BCE, Parsuwash (along with Matai of Median) are first mentioned in the area of Lake Urmia in the records of Shalmaneser III.[5] The exact identity of the Parsuwash is yet to be determined but from a linguistic viewpoint the word matches Old Persian pārsa itself coming directly from the older word *pārćwa.[5] Also as Old Persian contains many words from another extinct Iranian language, Median, according to P. O. Skjærvø it is probable that Old Persian had already been spoken before formation of the Achaemenid Empire and during most of the first half of the first millennium BCE.[4]

Classification

Old Persian belongs to the Iranian language family which is a branch of the Indo-Iranian language family, and is sibling to another branch called Indic languages. Indo-Iranian languages is itself within the large family of Indo-European languages. The common ancestors of Indo-Iranians came from Central Asia sometime in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. The extinct and unattested Median language is another Old Iranian language related to Old Persian (e.g. both are classified as Western Iranian languages and many Median names appeared in Old Persian texts)[6] The group of Old Iranian languages was presumably a large group; however our knowledge of it is restricted mainly to Old Persian, Avestan and Median. The former are the only languages in that group which have left written original texts while Median is known mostly from loanwords in Old Persian.[7]

Language evolution

By the 4th century, the late Achaemenid period, the inscriptions of Artaxerxes II and Artaxerxes III differ enough from the language of Darius' inscriptions to be called a "pre-Middle Persian," or "post-Old Persian."[8] Old Persian subsequently evolved into Middle Persian, which is in turn the genetic ancestor of New Persian. Professor Gilbert Lazard, a famous Iranologist and the author of the book Persian Grammar states:[9]

The language known as New Persian, which usually is called at this period (early Islamic times) by the name of Parsi-Dari, can be classified linguistically as a continuation of Middle Persian, the official religious and literary language of Sassanian Iran, itself a continuation of Old Persian, the language of the Achaemenids. Unlike the other languages and dialects, ancient and modern, of the Iranian group such as Avestan, Parthian, Soghdian, Kurdish, Pashto, etc., Old, Middle and New Persian represent one and the same language at three states of its history. It had its origin in Fars and is differentiated by dialectical features, still easily recognizable from the dialect prevailing in north-western and eastern Iran.

Middle Persian, also sometimes called Pahlavi is a direct continuation of old Persian, and was used as the written official language of the country.[10][11] Comparison of the evolution at each stage of the language shows great simplification in grammar and syntax. However, New Persian is a direct descendent of Middle and Old Persian.[12]

Substrates

Old Persian "presumably"[8] has a Median language substrate. The Median element is readily identifiable because it did not share in the developments that were peculiar to Old Persian. Median forms "are found only in personal or geographical names [...] and some are typically from religious vocabulary and so could in principle also be influenced by Avestan." "Sometimes, both Median and Old Persian forms are found, which gave Old Persian a somewhat confusing and inconsistent look: 'horse,' for instance, is [attested in Old Persian as] both asa (OPers.) and aspa (Med.)."[8]

Script

Old Persian texts were written from left to right in the syllabic Old Persian cuneiform script and had 36 phonetic characters and 8 logograms. The usage of such characters are not obligatory.[13] The script was surprisingly[14] not a result of evolution of the script used in the nearby civilisation of Mesopotamia.[15] Despite the fact that Old Persian was written in cuneiform script, the script was not a direct continuation of Mesopotamian tradition and in fact, according to Schmitt, was a "deliberate creation of the sixth century BCE".[15]

The origin of the Old Persian cuneiform script and the identification of the date and process of introduction is a matter of discussion among Iranian scholars without general agreement being reached. The factors making the decision difficult are, among others, the difficult passage DB (IV lines 88–92) from Darius the Great who speaks of a new “form of writing” being made by himself which is said to be “in Aryan”, and analysis of certain Old Persian inscriptions that are "supposed or claimed" to predate Darius the Great. Although it is true that the oldest attested OP inscriptions are from Behistun monument from Darius, the creation of this "new type of writing" is seemingly, according to Schmitt, "to have begun already under Cyrus the Great".[3]

The script shows a few changes in the shape of characters during the period it was used. This can be seen as a standardization of the heights of wedges which in the beginning (i.e. in DB) took only half the height of a line.[16]

Phonology

The following phonemes are expressed in the Old Persian script:

Vowels

  • Long: /aː/ /iː/ /uː/
  • Short: /a/ /i/ /u/

Consonants

  Labial Dental/
Alveolar
Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive p /p/ b /b/ t /t/ d /d/ c /c/ j /ɟ/ k /k/ g /ɡ/    
Nasal   m /m/   n /n/            
Fricative f /f/   θ /θ/   ç /ç/ x /x/   h /h/  
Sibilant     s /s/ z /z/ š /ʃ/          
Rhotic       r /r/            
Lateral       l /l/            
Approximant   v /ʋ/       y /j/        

Grammar

Nouns

Old Persian stems:

  • a-stems (-a, -am, -ā)
  • i-stems (-iš, iy)
  • u- (and au-) stems (-uš, -uv)
  • consonantal stems (n, r, h)
-a -am
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative -a -ā, -āha -am
Vocative
Accusative -am -ām
Instrumental/
Ablative
-aibiyā -aibiš -aibiyā -aibiš -āyā -ābiyā -ābiš
Dative -ahyā, -ahya -ahyā, -ahya
Genitive -āyā -ānām -āyā -ānām -āyā -ānām
Locative -aiy -aišuvā -aiy -aišuvā -āšuvā
-iš -iy -uš -uv
Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural Singular Dual Plural
Nominative -iš -īy -iya -iy -in -īn -uš -ūv -uva -uv -un -ūn
Vocative -i -u
Accusative -im -iš -um -ūn
Instrumental/
Ablative
-auš -ībiyā -ībiš -auš -ībiyā -ībiš -auv -ūbiyā -ūbiš -auv -ūbiyā -ūbiš
Dative -aiš -aiš -auš -auš
Genitive -īyā -īnām -īyā -īnām -ūvā -ūnām -ūvā -ūnām
Locative -auv -išuvā -auv -išuvā -āvā -ušuvā -āvā -ušuvā

Adjectives are declinable in similar way.

Verbs

Voices
Active, Middle (them. pres. -aiy-, -ataiy-), Passive (-ya-).

Mostly the forms of first and third persons are attested. The only preserved Dual form is ajīvatam 'both lived'.

Present, Active
Athematic Thematic
'be' 'bring'
Sg. 1.pers. miy barāmiy
3.pers. astiy baratiy
Pl. 1.pers. mahiy barāmahiy
3.pers. hatiy baratiy
Imperfect, Active
Athematic Thematic
'do, make' 'be, become'
Sg. 1.pers. akunavam abavam
3.pers. akunauš abava
Pl. 1.pers. aku abavāmā
3.pers. akunava abava
Present participle
Active Middle
-nt- -amna-
Past participle
-ta-
Infinitive
-tanaiy

Lexicon

Proto-Indo-Iranian Old Persian Middle Persian Modern Persian meaning
*asuras mazdhās Ahuramazda Ohrmazd Ormazd اورمزد Ahura Mazda
*aśwas aspa asp asb اسب horse
*kāma kāma kām kām کام benefit
*daiwas daiva dēw div دیو devil
drayah drayā daryā دریا sea
*źhasta- dasta dast dast دست hand
*bhāgī bāji bāj bāj باج/باژ toll
*bhrātr- brātar brādar barādar برادر brother
*bhūmiš būmi būm būm بوم region, land
*martya martya mard mard مرد man
*māsa māha māh māh ماه moon, month
*vāsara vāhara Bahār bahār بهار spring
stūpā stūnā stūn sotūn ستون stand (column)
šiyāta šād šād شاد happy
*ṛtam arta ard ord اُرد order
*drauźh- droga drōgh dorōgh دروغ lie

See also


Notes

  1. ^ Roland G. Kent, Old Persian, 1953
  2. ^ a b "Everyday text shows that Old Persian was probably more commonly used than previously thought " accessed September 2010 from [1]
  3. ^ a b (Schmitt 2008, pp. 80–1)
  4. ^ a b c (Skjærvø 2006, vi(2). Documentation. Old Persian.)
  5. ^ a b (Skjærvø 2006, vi(1). Earliest Evidence)
  6. ^ (Schmitt 2008, p. 76)
  7. ^ ((Skjærvø 2006)
  8. ^ a b c Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2005), An Introduction to Old Persian (2nd ed.), Cambridge: Harvard, http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~iranian/OldPersian/opcomplete.pdf 
  9. ^ (Lazard, Gilbert 1975, “The Rise of the New Persian Language” in Frye, R. N., The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 4, pp. 595-632, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  10. ^ Ulrich Ammon, Norbert Dittmar, Klaus J. Mattheier, Peter Trudgill, "Sociolinguistics Hsk 3/3 Series Volume 3 of Sociolinguistics: An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society", Walter de Gruyter, 2006. 2nd edition. pg 1912: "Middle Persian, also called Pahlavi is a direct continuation of old Persian, and was used as the written official language of the country." "However, after the Moslem conquest and the collapse of the Sassanids, Arabic became the dominant language of the country and Pahlavi lost its importance, and was gradually replaced by Dari, a variety of Middle Persian, with considerable loan elements from Arabic and Parthian."
  11. ^ Bo Utas, "Semitic on Iranian", in "Linguistic convergence and areal diffusion: case studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic" editors (Éva Ágnes Csató, Bo Isaksson, Carina Jahani),Routledge, 2005. pg 71: "As already mentioned, it is not likely that the scribes of Sassanian chanceries had any idea about the Old Persian cuneiform writing and the language couched in it. Still, the Middle Persian language that appeared in the third century AD may be seen as a continuation of Old Persian
  12. ^ Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2006), Iran, vi. Iranian languages and scripts, 13. 
  13. ^ (Schmitt 2008, p. 78)
  14. ^ (Schmitt 2008, p. 78) Excerpt: "It remains unclear why the Persians did not take over the Mesopotamian system in earlier times, as the Elamites and other peoples of the Near East had, and, for that matter, why the Persians did not adopt the Aramaic consonantal script.."
  15. ^ a b (Schmitt 2008, p. 77)
  16. ^ (Schmitt 2008, p. 79)

Bibliography

  • Brandenstein, Wilhelm (1964), Handbuch des Altpersischen, Wiesbaden: O. Harrassowitz 
  • Hinz, Walther (1966), Altpersischer Wortschatz, Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus 
  • Kent, Roland G. (1953), Old Persian: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, New Haven: American Oriental Society 
  • Sims-Williams, Nicholas (1996), "Iranian languages", Encyclopedia Iranica, 7, Costa Mesa: Mazda : 238-245
  • Schmitt, Rüdiger (1989), "Altpersisch", in R. Schmitt, Compendium linguarum Iranicarum, Wiesbaden: Reichert : 56–85
  • Schmitt, R. (2008), "Old Persian", in Roger D. Woodard, The Ancient Languages of Asia and the Americas (illustrated ed.), Cambridge University Press, pp. 76–100, ISBN 0521684943 
  • Skjærvø, Prods Oktor (2006), "Iran, vi. Iranian languages and scripts", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 13, http://www.iranica.com/articles/iran-vi-iranian-languages-and-scripts 
  • Tolman, Herbert Cushing (1908), Ancient Persian Lexicon and the Texts of the Achaemenidan Inscriptions Transliterated and Translated with Special Reference to Their Recent Re-examination, New York/Cincinnati: American Book Company 

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