Iranian Languages

By | December 15, 2021

About the place of origin, about the time of migrations and the reasons that determined them, about the precise ethnicity of the various peoples that appear on the Iranian plateau in historical times, nothing is known other than what can be deduced from their community of language and cultural heritage. The Iranian people speak languages ​​that show a remarkable concordance with the Arian languages ​​of India and particularly in the religious heritage they retain many points of contact with the Vedic world as they appear in history. On the basis of this we can wholesale postulate a phase in which the Iranians and the Indians were a people with only a place of their own within the great Indo-European unity. It is very probable that the strongest linguistic differentiation from the common phase in the Iranians, like the Indians, the they have suffered through contact with the populations of other languages ​​on which they came to juxtapose in their historical locations. At the beginning of the Achaemenid age we still see an Elamite kingdom existing in Susiana, which has its own language of such strong tradition as to be recognized as an official language in the inscriptions of the great kings; undoubtedly it is a people closely linked by race and language with the non-Indo-European populations of the Caucasus, which had not yet been reached by the Indo-European wave. Towards Mesopotamia, the Iranians then came to meet peoples of Semitic lineage already in possession of a very advanced civilization, whose contacts could certainly not fail to reflect on the structure of their languages. For Iran religion and languages, please check

On the other hand, the same invasion on the various parts of the plateau must not have occurred at one time, but at various times and by the work of highly differentiated tribes and groups from a linguistic and cultural point of view. Thus if it is true that the Manda, residents according to Assyrian sources north of Mesopotamia, are identical with the Medes of classical and Persian sources and if it is true that the air words, which appear in the text of Mitanni’s Kikkuli, are borrowed from language of this people, we must admit for the immigration of the Medes on the Iranian plateau a very remote antiquity and an area of ​​occupation extended to the northwest beyond today’s Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, the language of the Medes is not known to us except through a few words remembered in the classics and a few proper names. However, some facts which appear in the ancient Persian inscriptions and the language of the Avesta itself presuppose the influence of a language of advanced culture; and this can only be that of the kingdom of the Medes (see below). The very archaic elements which by the Magi were added to the religion of Zarathustra and which clearly date back to the period of the Indo-Iranian community (v.avesta ; Zoroastrianism) also confirm that the Medes have long had a position apart from other Iranian bloodlines and most likely preceded them in advancing on the plateau, as they preceded them in the theater of history. As a consequence of this, already in the most ancient documentation we have of it, the Iranian linguistic domain appears dialectologically differentiated in a very clear way.

The Proto-Iranian. – The documentation for the ancient phase is only partial; however, from the concordances that are found between the dialectal groups that have come down to us, it is possible to postulate with good approximation the common phase from which they differed.

Some features of this common (proto-Iranian) phase are found in the ancient Indian. Eg. continuation as a, indoeur ā. and, o, ē, ō and similarly of the diphthongs á i, ē̆ i, ō ??? i, á u, ē̆ u, ō ??? u as á i, á u. Anterior to this change is the air palatalization of the guttural in front of e, ē. The passage in i of the indistinct vowel ə occurs only in Indian and Iranian as opposed to all the other languages ​​that have a. In Iranian š and in a. ind. (cerebralization is Indian innovation) are the continuators of s after a vowel other than a and after k, r ; in both Indian and Iranian – final word nt reduces to n, etc. Also in the field of monology the concordance between Indian and Iranian is manifested in some important phenomena: the formation of some cases of the themes in – ā as from a theme in ā i̯, the formation of the loc. sing. in – á u in the themes in – i, the output in – n ā m of the gen. pl. vocal themes; in the domain of thematic formation and verb inflection, the use of themes in – ya for the expression of the passive, the formation of an aor. pass in – i, the extension to dual and plur. active of the strong form of the optative suffix, etc. Other concordances are also observed in the syntax domain, as is eg. the use of the locative and absolute genitive, the use of the enclitic form of the gen. and dat. sing. of the personal pronoun as accusative, etc. But undoubtedly it is in the lexicon that the very close genetic affinity between the ancient Indian and the ancient Iranian is revealed most. It will suffice to remember that this affinity manifests itself not only in the mass of bases common to the two languages, but also in typical morphological formations: gath. apaourv ī m “as never before”, a. ind. áp ū rvyam ; gath. ā nu š hak – “which follows according to the series”, a. ind. ā nu ṣ ak adv. “according to the series”; in terms of metaphorical meaning as ag ə ny ā -, “dairy cow”, a. ind. ághny ā – “cow” (also indicates clouds and rivers in the Vedas); in specific terms of the common religious heritage: av. i š ū dya – “thank the gods”, a. ind. i ṣ udhyá -; av. ahura -, a. pers. a (h) ura – “god”, a. ind. ásura -; to ϑ aurvan. “priest”, a. ind. átharvan -; av. yasna – “sacrifice, rite”, a. ind. yajñá -; zaotar – “priest”, a. ind. hótar -; av. haoma -, a. ind. sóma -, etc. The considerable amount of concordances and the commonality of essential elements in the mythological-religious heritage of India and ancient Īrān make it very probable that the two peoples spent a period of time in close contact before reaching their respective historical sites. Other characteristics of Indo-Iranian are common to other languages ​​of the Indo-European lineage and therefore allow to widen the genetic relationship of this group. One of these is the treatment as a spirant of the palatal velar.

The main innovations that have differentiated the common Iranian from the air phase are:

  1. The loss of aspirates. The aspirated middle consonants bh, dh, gh, ź h are continued by unaspirated middle consonants (b, d, g, z); the tenuous aspirates plr, th, kh, ś h are continued by the corresponding spirants f, ϑ, χ, s ; however, after sibilants and nasals, the soft aspirates followed by sonants are continued by soft non-aspirates (p, t, k).
  2. The passage of the tenuous into spirants. The soft consonants when they are not preceded by sibilants and followed by sonants pass into the corresponding voiceless spirants f, ϑ, χ, s.
  3. The palatal spirants developed in ary from the palatal velars, are continued by the sibilants sz, before n from š, after labials from š ž.
  4. The dental sibilant s is continued from h, except in front of explosive consonants and in n or after t and d, in which cases, like z, it is preserved; after labial s and z are continued by š ž.

Other minor innovations have occurred, as well as in the phonetic domain, in that of morphology and syntax. To these we must then add those innovations which have dialectologically differentiated the Iranian linguistic dominion and are due to the various influence of the languages ​​of the peoples with which the Iranians have come into contact in the various points of the plateau. It is difficult to establish whether the Iranians or the Indians have innovated more than the common phase; it should not be overlooked that in some cases the Iranian is more conservative than the Indian thus, for example, while the Indian confuses ê š (ê þ) and k š (k þ) in k ṣ, the Iranian keeps them distinct as š and as χ š.

Iranian Languages