History of Persian language
Persian is one of the oldest languages of the world and one of the few old languages remaining in continuous use after several thousands of years. It belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, like Greek and Latin. The known history of the Persian language can be divided into three distinct periods: Old Persian, Middle Persian and New Persian.
The earliest dateable example of the language is the Behistun Inscription of the Achaemenid Darius I (522 - 486 BCE). However, this inscription does not represent the language form spoken at that era but an archaic form belonging to several centuries earlier, being used stylistically. Therefore, Old Persian (OP) dates back to about 3000 years ago.
Middle Persian (MP) can be divided into several periods within two remarkable eras: the Persian spoken at the era of the Parthian Empire (248 BCE - 226 CE) and the Persian during Sasanian Empire (226 - 651 CE). Over this period, the morphology of the language was simplified greatly. For example:
- MP doesn't differentiate genders. In OP, there are three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter.
- OP has three numbers: singular (one), dual (two) and plural (more than two). In MP, the dual has died out and there is only singular (one) and plural (more than one).
- In OP, nouns and adjectives are declined in seven cases. MP has lost the declension system.
- Verb conjugation has significantly simplified.
Much of the literature in Middle Persian was unfortunately destroyed with the Arab invasion during the Islamic conquest of Persia.
Islamic conquest of Persia marks the beginning of the modern history of Persian language and literature. However, it took about 200 years until Middle Persian transformed to New Persian. The starting point of New Persian is therefore around 850 CE to this day (about 1200 years!). Through its long way into the modern times, Persian developed a very large number of idioms, expressions and proverbs. It saw world-famous poets such as Ferdowsi, Rumi, Khayyâm, Hâfez and Sa'di. New Persian is not very different from Middle Persian in grammar. The main difference is in vocabulary because after the Arab invasion of Persia, many Arabic words entered Persian.
Today, Persian is mainly spoken in Iran (Persia), Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Bahrain having official status in the first three countries. It has more than 130 million speakers. Persian was historically a much more widely spoken language. It was once the official or cultural language of many regions and Islamic dynasties (such as Ottoman Empire). Persian was for a long time the lingua franca of the western parts of Islamic world and of Indian subcontinent (for five centuries prior to the British colonization). Persian has been a medium for literary and scientific contributions to the Islamic world as well as the Western. The status of Persian was comparable to Latin in the Christendom in the field of literature. At this time many Persian poets emerged from Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and regions under the control of Ottoman Empire. The heavy influence of Persian on other languages can still be witnessed across the Islamic world, and it is still appreciated as a literary and prestigious language among the educated elite, especially in fields of literature, history, mystics and art. Iran (Persia) was also a much bigger country until 200 years ago when it lost many territories, especially to Russia (for more information, read Wikipedia - Greater Iran). Consequently, Persian gradually faded in most of those regions.