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1. of or relating to ancient Persia or modern Iran, their inhabitants, or their languages
2. a native, citizen, or inhabitant of modern Iran; an Iranian
3. a member of an Indo-European people of West Iranian speech who established a great empire in SW Asia in the 6th century bc
4. (loosely) the language of Iran or Persia in any of its ancient or modern forms, belonging to the West Iranian branch of the Indo-European family



(also Farsi), the language of the Persians. The official language of Iran. Persian is also spoken in a number of Arab countries, the total number of speakers exceeding 13.5 million (1970, estimate). It belongs to the Southwestern branch of the Iranian group of the Indo-European family of languages.

Three periods are distinguished in the history of Persian: old, middle, and new. Together with Tadzhik and the Dari (Farsi-Kabuli) language of Afghanistan, modern Persian is the genetic successor of Old Persian, Middle Persian, and New Persian of the classical period. Old Persian is attested by cuneiform inscriptions made to glorify kings of the Achaemenid dynasty, the texts dating from the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries B.C. Middle Persian is the language of texts from the third through seventh centuries A.D. New Persian of the classical period was spoken from the seventh century to approximately the 15th century; the first written records date from the ninth century. In the Middle Ages, Persian was used as a literary language in Azerbaijan and India. Persian has a number of dialects, the best known of which is the Tehran dialect.

The phonetic system of Persian contains six monophthongs, two diphthongs, and 23 consonant phonemes, with uvular and laryngeal series of consonants. Clusters of two or more consonants do not occur at the beginning of a word. Words are generally stressed on the final syllable. The morphology is characterized by a gender category and the absence of a case system for nouns. In the suffixal formation of plurals, vowel mutations are preserved for Arabic words. Analytic forms are more prevalent than inflected forms in the verb system, and there are many compound nominal verbs of the type guŝ dådän (“to listen”). There are full and enclitic forms for personal pronouns. Prepositions are more common than postpositions. The syntax is characterized by the use of the ezafeh suffix in attributive constructions: the word being defined receives the marker -e and is placed before the defining elements, as in ketåb-e xub (“good book”).

An Iranian stratum constitutes the basis of the Persian vocabulary; there are also a number of Arabisms and borrowings from Turkic. French, Russian, and English vocabulary items have entered the language since the 19th century. The Persian writing system is based on Arabic script.


Rubinchik, Iu. A. Sovremennyi persidskii iazyk. Moscow, 1960.
Peisikov, L. S. Voprosy sintaksisa persidskogo iazyka. Moscow, 1963.
Gaprindashvili, Sh. G., and Dzh. Sh. Giunashvili. Fonetika persidskogo iazyka. Tbilisi, 1964.
Persidsko-russkii slovar’, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1970.
Lambton, A. K. S. Persian Grammar. Cambridge, 1953.
Lazard, G. Grammaire du persan contemporain. Paris, 1957.
Hodge, C. T. Spoken Persian. Washington, D.C., 1960.



A telamon, esp. one portrayed in Persian dress.