Persian is one of the oldest languages of the world and one of the few, remaining “alive and kicking” after several thousands of years. Like Sanskrit, Greek and Latin, it belongs to the Indo-European family of languages. The known history of Persian language is divided into three distinct periods: Old Persian, Middle Persian and New Persian.

Old Persian

The earliest example of the language is the Behistun Inscription established by the Persian king Darius I (522 - 486 B.C.E.). However, this inscription does not represent the language form spoken at that era but an archaic form belonging to at least, several centuries earlier. Therefore, Old Persian dates back to more than 3000 years ago. The following text is from the first line of Behistun inscription.

Adam \ Dârayavauš \ xšâyaθiya \ vazarka
I am Darius, the great king

Middle Persian

Middle Persian can be divided into two remarkable eras: the Persian spoken at the era of Parthian Empire (248 BCE - 226 CE) and the Persian during Sasanian Empire (226 - 651 CE). Over this period, the morphology of Persian was simplified greatly. Among other simplifications:

New Persian

Much of the literature in Middle Persian was unfortunately destroyed during the Islamic conquest of Persia. It took about 200 years until Middle Persian transformed into New Persian. Therefore, the starting point of New Persian is around 850 C.E. to this day. Through its long journey into the modern times, New Persian has developed an extensive lexicon and rich literature. It has introduced many renowned poets including Ferdowsi, Khayyam, Rumi, Saadi and Hafez. New Persian is not very different from Middle Persian in grammar. The main difference is in vocabulary because many Arabic words entered the language after the Arab invasion of Persia.

Today, Persian is spoken by more than 130 million people in Iran (known as “Persia” until 1935), Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Bahrain. It has official status in the first three countries. Persian was once the lingua franca of the western parts of Islamic world and of Indian subcontinent for five centuries prior to the British colonization of India. Persian’s status in literature is comparable to Latin. Many Persian poets have emerged from Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and regions under the control of Ottoman Empire. The heavy influence of Persian can be witnessed across the Islamic world. Virtually, all the originally-Arabic words that exist in Turkish and Urdu are Persian borrowings, having the spelling and senses as they do in Persian rather than in Arabic. Persian is still appreciated as a literary and prestigious language in the region.