Iranian languages

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Iranian languages,

group of languages belonging to the Indo-Iranian family of the Indo-European family of languages. 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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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Iranian Languages


a group of genetically related languages belonging to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Iranian languages are spoken not only in Iran but also in Afghanistan, in parts of Iraq, Pakistan and India, and, in the USSR, in Tadzhikistan and Ossetia and in parts of the Transcaucasian republics and Turkmenia.

The history of the Iranian languages since their separation from the common Indo-European stock may be divided provisionally into three periods: the ancient period (early second millennium B.C. to the fourth and third centuries B.C.), encompassing Median, Avestan, Old Persian, and various Scythian languages; the middle period (fourth and third centuries B.C. to the eighth and ninth centuries A.D.), with Middle Persian (Pahlavi), Parthian, Bactrian, Sogdian, Kliwarezmian, Sakian, and Middle Ossetic (Alan); and the modern period (from the eighth and ninth centuries to the present), with Persian, Ta-dzhik, Dari (Farsi-Kabuli), Pashto (Afghan), Baluchi, Kurdish, Ossetic, Tat, and a number of unwritten languages (Pamir, Yag-nobi, and Talish).

According to the existing classification, based mainly on phonetic indicators, all Iranian languages are divided into two large groups, the Western and Eastern. The basic differential indicators are the spirantization of Ancient Iranian stops b-, d-, and g- in Eastern Iranian (Pashto wror, “brother” < Ancient Iranian bratar-) and their retention in Western Iranian (Persian beradär, “brother”); the presence in Eastern Iranian and the absence in Western Iranian of the affricates c, 3 (compare Pashto color, “four” < Ancient Iranian čaθwār-, but Persian čähar); and the loss in Eastern Iranian and preservation in Western Iranian of h- (compare Pashto ova, “seven” < Ancient Iranian hapta, but Persian häft).

In turn, the Western Iranian group is subdivided into Northwestern and Southwestern groups according to the following indicators: (1) Ancient Iranian θr in Northwestern Iranian yields (h) r (compare Parthian puhr, “son”) while Southwestern Iranian yields i (compare Persian pesär, Tadzhik pisar, “son” <Ancient Iranian puθra-); (2) Ancient Iranian z in Southwestern Iranian is reflected as d (Persian dan-), while Northwestern Iranian yields z (Kurdish zan-, present tense root of the verb “to know”); and (3) Ancient Iranian ǰ before vowels in Northwestern Iranian yields ž/ǰ (compare Parthian žan, “woman”), while Southwestern Iranian yields z (compare Persian zän, “woman”

<Ancient Iranian ǰanay-).

The Eastern Iranian group is subdivided into Northeastern (Scythian) and Southeastern subgroups. There are several distinguishing indicators: (1) Ancient Iranian Or in Northeastern Iranian yields tr (compare Yagnobi tiray, “three”), while Southeastern Iranian yields r or c (compare Shugni aray, Yazghulami city, “three” < Ancient Iranian -θray); (2) the plural noun marker for Northeastern Iranian is -t < Ancient Iranian wa; and (3) the voicing of the Ancient Iranian -š- in Southeastern Iranian (compare Pashto ywaž/g, Shughni ẙũǰ “ear” < Ancient Iranian gauša-).


Abaev, V. I. Istoriko-etimologicheskii slovar’ osetinskogo iazyka, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Oranskii, I. M. Vvedenie v iranskuiu filologiiu. Moscow, 1960.
Iazyki narodov SSSR, vol. 1. Moscow, 1966.
Bartholomae, C. Altiranisches Wbrterbuch, 2nd ed. Berlin, 1961.
Grundriss der iranischen Philologie, vol. 1, parts 1–2. Strasbourg, 1895–1901.
Handbuch der Orientalistik. Leiden-Cologne, 1958.


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