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(əvĕs`tən), language belonging to the Iranian group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. One of the earliest forms of the Iranian languages to survive, Avestan is also the tongue of the Avesta, or scriptures of ZoroastrianismZoroastrianism
, religion founded by Zoroaster, but with many later accretions. Scriptures

Zoroastrianism's scriptures are the Avesta or the Zend Avesta [Pahlavi avesta=law, zend=commentary].
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. See Indo-IranianIndo-Iranian,
subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages, spoken by more than a billion people, chiefly in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (see The Indo-European Family of Languages, table).
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See A. V. W. Jackson, An Avestan Grammar in Comparison with Sanskrit (1968).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



one of the ancient languages of the Iranic group, in which the Persian religious monument, the Avesta, was written.

Two Avestan dialects are distinguished: a more archaic dialect, Gathic, in which the prayers (Gathas) of the Persian religious reformer Zarathustra (Zoroaster) are written, and the Young Avestan dialect. The oldest portion of the Avesta dates to the first half of the first millenium B.C. Even then Avestan had ceased to be a spoken language, and it reflected the traditional canons of the spoken liturgical literature in its vocabulary, syntax, and style. Later, a complete break occurred between the Avestan language and the living Iranian languages; the Zoroastrian priesthood was the only repository of this dead language, which it used for liturgical purposes, as the Catholic clergy uses Latin. The Parsi Zoroastrians in India use Avestan texts in their religious services to this day.


Sokolov, S. N. Avestiiskii iazyk. Moscow, 1961.
Solokov, S. N. Iazyk Avesty (study guide). Leningrad, 1964
Bartholomae, C. Awestasprache und Altpersisch, vol. 1. Strasbourg, 1896.
Bartholomae, C. Altiranisches Wörterbuch, 2nd ed. Berlin, 1961.
Hoffmann, K. “Altiranisch.” In Iranistik, vol. 1: Abschnitt Linguistik. In Handbuch der Orientalistik, vol. 4, sec. 1. LeydenCologne, 1958.
Humbach, H. Die Gathas des Zarathustra, vols. 1–2. Heidelberg, 1959.
Reichelt, H. Awestisches Elementarbuch. Heidelberg, 1909.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.