Middle Persian

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Middle Persian
Pahlavi
Pārsīg
Region Sasanian Iran
Ethnicity Persian people
Era evolved into New Persian by the 9th century; continues as a liturgical language but with a modernized pronunciation.
Early forms
Old Persian
  • Middle Persian
Pahlavi scripts, Manichaean script, Avestan script
Language codes
ISO 639-2 pal
ISO 639-3 Either:
pal – Pahlavi Middle Persian
xmn – Manichaean Middle Persian
Glottolog pahl1241  (Pahlavi)[1]
Linguasphere 58-AAC-ca

Middle Persian, also known as Pārsīg or Pahlavi or Pehlevi, (Persian:پارسی میانه / Pārsi-e Miāneh ،پارسیگ/Pārsīg), which more properly refers to its writing system,[2] is the Middle Iranian language/ethnolect of southwestern Iran that during Sassanid times (224–654 CE) 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.

The native name for Middle Persian (and perhaps for Old Persian also) was Pārsīg, "(language) of Pārs". The word is consequently (the origin of) the native name for the Modern Persian language—Pārsī.

Middle Persian was most frequently written in the Pahlavi writing system,[3] which was also the preferred writing system for other Middle Iranian languages. Even though Middle Persian had been influenced by Aramaic,[4] other forms of written Middle Persian include Pazend, a system derived from Avestan that, unlike Pahlavi, indicated vowels and did not employ Aramaic logograms. The ISO 639 language code for Middle Persian is 'pal', which reflects the post-Sassanid era use of the term Pahlavi to refer to the language and not only the script.

Transition from Old Persian[edit]

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

In the classification of the Iranian languages, the Middle Period includes those languages which were common in Iran from the fall of the Achaemenids in the 4th century BCE up to the fall of the Sassanids in the 7th 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 Persian[edit]

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 origin
  • The substitution of Arabic script for Pahlavi script.

Surviving literature[edit]

Pahlavi Middle Persian is the language of quite a large body of Zoroastrian literature which details the traditions and prescriptions of the Zoroastrian religion, which was the state religion of Sassanid Iran (224 to ca. 650) before Iran was invaded by the Arab armies that spread Islam. The earliest texts in Zoroastrian Middle Persian were probably written down in late Sassanid times (6th–7th centuries), although they represent the codification of earlier oral tradition.[5] However, most texts, including the translated versions of the Zoroastrian canon, date from the 9th 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.[2] 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 Nestorian Christians, evidenced in the Pahlavi Psalter (7th century); these were used until the beginning of the second millennium in many places in Central Asia, including Turfan and even localities in Southern India.[6] 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 Sassanian-era pronunciation of the former.[7]

Samples[edit]

Below is transliteration and translation of the first page of the facsimile known as Arda Wiraz Namag or The Book of the Righteous Wiraz, originally written in Pahlavi script.[8]

A sample Middle Persian poem from manuscript of Jamasp Asana:

In New Persian:

Translation:

A sample of other Middle Persian texts:

Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian words[edit]

Middle Persian English Modern Persian
ōhāy yes ârē
no na
tū cē? and yourself? tō cē?
bastag closed bastē
uzēn way out rāh-e birun
sēb apple sib
āzādīh, spās thanks sepās
ōy bērōn ast he/she is outside ân birun ast
drod hello dorood
ped drod goodbye bedrood
drakht tree dērakht
nāmag mail nāmeh
ayādgār memoir yādēgār
pursišn question porseš
ēdōn they ānhā
gōwēnd they said guyand
Hrōmāyīg Roman Rumi
sōkht burned sukht
Tāzīg Arab Arab
Ērān Iran Irān
Pārsīg Persian Fārsi
zāl old pīr
pardīz, wahišt paradise pardīz, bēhēsht
pātakhshah padishah pādēshāh
rang color rang
shamshēr, shafshēr sword shamshir
wāzār bazaar bāzār
spāh army sēpāh
pusar son pēsar
nām name nām
māh moon māh
wuzurg, vazurg big / great bozorg
zurvān time zamān
khwâstan to want khâstan
kay when kēy
dêrûž yesterday dīrûz
māhig fish māhi
yazdān god yazdān, khōda
ēkh ice yakh
pusar-ī Frahāt the son of Farhad pēsar-ē Farhād
khwārdan to eat khārdan
spēd white sēfid
gul rose gōl, vēl
kafsh shoe kafsh
sāl year sāl
havâ weather / air havâ
dāmād bridegroom / son-in-law dāmād
dukhtar daughter, girl, gal, lass, maid dokhtar
āb water āb
brâdar, brād brother barâdar, berâdar
arzān cheap, inexpensive arzân
ars tear ašk
tābestān summer tâbestân
āsmān sky, heaven âsemân
āhang tune, melody, harmony, song, medley âhang
abr cloud abr
gōrāb sock jôrâb, jurāb
almās diamond, adamant almās
warg leaf, sheet, folio barg
wārān rain bârân

Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian names[edit]

Middle Persian English Modern Persian
Rokhsāna Roxana Roksāne, Roušanā, Roušanak
Zardušt Zoroaster Zartosht, Zardosht
Mihran Mehran Mehrân
Jāwēd Javid Jâvid
Nāhid Nahid Nāhid
Māh-Izād Mazyar Mazyār
Shahriyār Shahriyar Shahriyār
Frāsiyāb, Frāsiyāv, Frāsiyāk, Freangrāsyāk Afrasiab Afrāsiyāb
Yazdākird Yazdegerd Yazdegerd
Wardākhsh, Walākhsh Balash Balāsh
Aparvēz Parviz Parvīz
Pērōz Piruz Fīrūz, Pīrūz
Pōran Boran Bōran
Vistahm Vistahm Bestam, Bistam
Khusraw, Husrō, Kēsra Khosrau Khosro, Khosrow, Kasra
Narsē Narseh Narsēh
Wahrām Bahram Bahrām
Shāhpuhr Shapur Shāpūr
Mihrdād Mithridates, Mithradates Mēhrdād
Pišīn Afshin Afshīn
Jamshēd Jamshid Jamshīd
Frahāt Farhad Farhād
Khwarshēd Khurshid Khurshīd
Spandiyār Isfandiyar Esfandiyār, Isfandiyār
Artakhšatr Ardashir Ardeshīr, Ardashīr
Pāpak, Pābak Babak Bābak
Frēdun, Frēdōn Fereydun Fereydūn

See also[edit]

References and bibliography[edit]

  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Pahlavi". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ a b "Linguist List - Description of Pehlevi". Detroit: Eastern Michigan University. 2007. 
  3. ^ See also Omniglot.com's page on Middle Persian scripts
  4. ^ Literacy in the Persianate World: Writing and the Social Order, ed. Brian Spooner, William L. Hanaway, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 14.
  5. ^ Sundermann, Werner. 1989. Mittelpersisch. P. 141. In Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (ed. Rüdiger Schmidt).
  6. ^ Sundermann, Werner. 1989. Mittelpersisch. P. 138. In Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (ed. Rüdiger Schmidt).
  7. ^ Sundermann, Werner. 1989. Mittelpersisch. P. 143. In Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum (ed. Rüdiger Schmidt).
  8. ^ R. Mehri's Parsik/Pahlavi Web page (archived copy) at the Internet Archive