Persian writing system is technically called abjad or to put it simply, a consonant alphabet. It is different from a typical alphabet in that, only consonant sounds have a dedicated letter. Vowel sounds are denoted either with diacritical marks or by means of certain consonants. In Persian abjad, short vowels are marked with diacritics and long vowels are indicated with consonants. Examples:
- We write پدر (pdr) and read it as pedar (father). The vowels e and a are both absent in writing. When needed, they can be marked with diacritics: پِدَر
- We write دوست (dvst) and read it as dust (friend). Here, the consonant v denotes the vowel u.
Persian has been written in various abjad scripts since 2300 years ago. Arabic writing system is also an abjad and originates from similar scripts. Hence, it was not an unfamiliar script to Iranians. In fact, Iranians played the major role in its standardization and development (e.g. Ibn Muqla and Ibn al-Bawwab). Iranians also added letters for consonant sounds that were not found in Arabic. This extended version is called Perso-Arabic script and besides Persian, has been used for writing Ottoman Turkish, Kurdish, Urdu and several other languages.
A PERSONAL VIEW
Contrary to the general opinion, I think the abjad writing system is well suited to our language. Persian has existed for a very long time. It has seen various reigns, epochs, ... and naturally, has evolved into countless dialects and diverse vowel patterns. Focusing on New Persian, an abjad writing system has allowed it to be written in a constant form for over 1100 years. Readers can "fill the blanks" with the vowel sounds used in their target dialect, era or style. For example:
- We write پرسیدن (prsydn). It translates to porsidan in the standard dialect of Iran and to pursidan, in the standard dialect of Afghanistan (both o and u denote short vowels, here). There are many regional dialects inside Iran that pronounce it as pursidan too.
- The verb کردن (krdn) is read kardan in all the three standard dialects but in a regional dialect like that of Kerman, Yazd and Shiraz, it is pronounced kerdan.
- The verb رسیدن (rsydn) is normally pronounced residan in Iranian Persian but in the literary style, it is pronounced rasidan, which is its classical pronunciation.
During Sasanian era (224–651 CE), Iranians created Avestan alphabet in order to record Zoroastrian scripture precisely. It is comprised of 37 consonants and 16 vowels and is one of the most complete alphabets to this day. Our ancestors could use it for writing Persian as well but they knew that an abjad is more suited to a language that is spoken in a vast empire and by people from various dialects.
The versatility of Persian writing system has allowed it to be written almost uniformly across regions and generations. Persian speakers would not experience considerable difficulties in reading books and documents as scribed originally.
Read more on Persian writing system in the following pages: