In Persian, letters are written from right to left and digits from left to right. Persian writing system is technically called “abjad”. It is different from a typical alphabet in that, only consonant sounds have a dedicated letter. Vowel sounds are either denoted with diacritical marks or represented by certain consonants. Therefore, Persian writing can be called a consonantal alphabet. Short vowels are denoted with diacritics and long vowels are represented with consonants. For example:

History of Abjad

Persian has been written in various abjad scripts since 2300 years ago. Arabic writing system is also an abjad and originates from kindred scripts. It was not an unfamiliar writing system to Iranians and in fact, Iranians (“Ibn Muqla” and “Ibn al-Bawwab” among other figures) played the major role in the standardization and development of Arabic script. Iranians also added letters for the consonant sounds that were not found in Arabic. This extended version is called Perso-Arabic script and has been used for writing Ottoman Turkish, Kurdish, Urdu and several other languages.

The evolution of how ⟨ایران⟩ (Iran) is written from Middle Persian to New Persian and ultimately, in the cursive Nasta’liq style. Arabic script is a sibling of Middle Persian scripts.

Benefits of Abjad

Persian has been spoken for thousands of years. It has countless dialects and diverse vowel patterns. Limiting our discussion to New Persian, an abjad writing system has allowed it to be written in a consistent form for more than 1100 years. Vowels are normally absent in writing. Readers infer or supply them according to the target dialect, era or style. For example:

During Sasanian era (224–651 CE), Iranians devised Avestan alphabet in order to record Zoroastrian scripture precisely. Avestan alphabet consists 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 has various dialects. Avestan was a dead language by then and needed to be recorded accurately but Persian was an alive language with a different set of requirements to meet. The versatility of Persian writing system has allowed it to be written almost uniformly across regions and generations. Persian speakers would not encounter considerable difficulty in reading historic texts and manuscripts. Dialects typically differ in vowels rather than in consonants. With vowels out, the language can be written in a uniform orthography.

A photo from the oldest surviving manuscript of Shahname known as Florence Shahname. It belongs to 1217 C.E. yet Persian speakers can easily read it because Persian still follows the same orthography even though some vowels may be pronounced differently now (depending on the dialect).