|Era||evolved into New Persian by the 9th century; thereafter used only by Zoroastrian priests for exegesis and religious instruction.|
|Pahlavi scripts, Manichaean script, Avestan script|
pal – Zoroastrian Middle Persian ("Pahlavi")
xmn – Manichaean Middle Persian (Manichaean script)
Middle Persian or Sassanian 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—Parsi or Fārsī.
Middle Persian is primarily attested in the post-Sassanian Zoroastrian variant of the language known as Pahlavi, which originally referred to the Pahlavi writing system, and that was also the preferred writing system for several other Middle Iranian languages. Aside from the Aramaic-derived Pahlavi script, Zoroastrian Middle Persian was occasionally also written in Parsik, which uses the Arabic abjad, and in Pazend, a system derived from Avestan that, unlike Pahlavi, indicated vowels and did not employ Aramaic logograms. Manichaean Middle Persian texts were written in Manichaean script, which also derives from Aramaic but in an Eastern Iranian form via Sogdian.
- Transition from Old Persian 1
- Transition to New Persian 2
- Surviving literature 3
- Samples 4
- Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian words 5
- Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian names 6
- See also 7
- References and bibliography 8
Transition from Old Persian
History of the
Proto-Iranian (ca. 1500 BC)
Old Persian (c. 525 BC - 300 BC)
Middle Persian (c.300 BC-800 AD)
|Modern Persian (from 800 AD)|
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:
- nouns, pronouns, and adjectives lost their case inflections
- prepositions were used to indicate the different roles of words.
- many tenses began to be formed from a composite form
Transition to New Persian
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.
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 c. 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. 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. 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. 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.
SamplesBelow is transcription 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.
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.
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:
Dārom andarz-ē az dānāgān
Az guft-ī pēšēnīgān
Ō šmāh bē wizārom
Pad rāstīh andar gēhān
Agar ēn az man padīrēd
Bavēd sūd-ī dō gēhān
In New Persian:
Dāram andarz-ē az dānāyān
دارم اندرزی از داناگان
Az gufta-yi pēšēniyān
از گفتهٔ پیشینیان
Be šumā be gozāram
به شما بگزارم (گزارش دهم
Be rāstī andar jahān
به راستی اندر جهان
agar īn az man pazīrēd
اگر این از من پذیرید
Buwad sūd-i dō jahān
بوَد سود دو جهان
from the advices of the ancients,
I will pass it upon you
By truth in the world
If you accept this counsel
It will be your benefits for this life and the next
A sample of other Middle Persian texts:
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.
During the rulership of Shapur, the son of Hormizd, the Arabs came; they took Xorig Rūdbār; for many years with contempt (they) rushed until Shapur came to rulership; he destroyed the Arabs and took the land and destroyed many Arab rulers and pulled out many number of shoulders.
Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian words
|Middle Persian||English||Modern Persian|
|tū cē?||and yourself?||tō cē?|
|uzēn||way out||rāh-e birun|
|ōy bērōn ast||he/she is outside||ân birun ast|
|pardīz, wahišt||paradise||pardīz, bēhēsht|
|wuzurg, vazurg||big / great||bozorg|
|pusar-ī Frahāt||the son of Farhad||pēsar-ē Farhād|
|havâ||weather / air||havâ|
|dāmād||bridegroom / son-in-law||dāmād|
|dukhtar||daughter, girl, gal, lass, maid||dokhtar|
|brâdar, brād||brother||barâdar, berâdar|
|āhang||tune, melody, harmony, song, medley||âhang|
|warg||leaf, sheet, folio||barg|
Comparison of Middle Persian and Modern Persian names
|Middle Persian||English||Modern Persian|
|Rokhsāna||Roxana||Roksāne, Roušanā, Roušanak|
|Frāsiyāb, Frāsiyāv, Frāsiyāk, Freangrāsyāk||Afrasiab||Afrāsiyāb|
|Khusraw, Husrō, Kēsra||Khosrau||Khosro, Khosrow, Kasra|
- Avestan language
- Old Persian language
- Parthian language
- Persian language
- History of Persian language
- Pahlavi literature
References and bibliography
- See also Omniglot.com's page on Middle Persian scripts
- Literacy in the Persianate World: Writing and the Social Order, ed. Brian Spooner, William L. Hanaway, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), 14.
- 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
- 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)