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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the language of the Parthians from the beginning of the first millennium B.C. to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. Parthian belonged to the Northwestern subgroup of Iranian languages and was similar to the ancient Median dialects. As one of the official languages of the Parthian kingdom, it was spoken far to the west of Parthia proper. Although there are no direct descendants of Parthian among the modern Iranian languages, the vocabulary of Parthian penetrated numerous Iranian languages, especially Persian, and Armenian as well. The script was derived from the Aramaic alphabet in the late second century B.C. The oldest written records, archives from ancient Nisa in southern Turkmenia, date to the first century B.C. One of the versions of the Sassanid inscriptions was composed in Parthian in the third century. Manichaean texts, the earliest of which date to the third and fourth centuries, are not written with ideograms and are very important to the study of Parthian phonetics, grammatical structure, and vocabulary.

Phonetic differences between Ancient Iranian and Parthian include the change of [θw] to [f], [dw] to [b], [θr] to [hr], and postvocalic [č] to [ž]. The grammatical structure of Parthian is characterized by the affinity of Ancient Iranian nominal stems, the absence of inflected case forms, and the use of analytic verb forms to replace the ancient system of past tenses. Dialect differentiation may be inferred from several historical phonetic differences; for example, the Ancient Iranian [d] yielded the Parthian [—δ] and [—h]. The vocabulary exhibits similarities with Eastern Iranian languages and has a stratum of borrowings from Sakian dialects, evidently associated with the penetration of Sakian tribes into Parthia in the mid-third century B.C. The Parthian language was assimilated by Persian, which spread under the Sassanids in the fifth and sixth centuries throughout what used to be Parthia.


Livshits, V. A. “Iranskie iazyki narodov Srednei Azzii.” In Narody Srednei Azii i Kazakhstana, vol. 1. Moscow, 1962.
Ghilain, A. Essai sur la langue parthe. Louvain, 1939.
Henning, W. B. “Mitteliranisch.” In Handbuch der Orientalistik, division 1, vol. 4. ch. 1: “Linguistik.” Leiden-Cologne, 1958.
Gignoux, P. Glossaire des inscriptions pehlevies et parthes. London, 1972.


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