Farsi Language History

The Farsi language is an Indo-European language. It is a dialect spoken by Persian people living mainly in Iran, where 62% of the population speaks the Farsi language and writes using the Persian alphabet. People also speak the Persian language in Afghanistan and Tajikistan. However, these dialects are distinct from the Farsi language, known as Dari (Afghanistan) and Tajik (Tajikistan).

There are around 70 million native speakers of the Persian language when combining those that speak the Dari, Tajik, and Farsi language dialects. An additional 50 million have learned the Persian alphabet, vocabulary, and pronunciation as a second language. Overall, this means there are around 110 million speakers worldwide. This puts Farsi among the top 20 most spoken languages, with a particular significance for Persian people in the Middle East and Asia.

Unsurprisingly, the Farsi language is the official language of Iran. It is also spoken by large populations in neighbouring countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and the UAE. Meanwhile, the Tajik and Dari dialects of the Persian language hold official status in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, respectively. Both Dari and Farsi use the Persian alphabet, while Persian people write Tajik using the Cyrillic alphabet.

The formation of these three major dialects of the Persian language is due to geopolitical reasons and a rich and exciting history. There we uncover the history of the Farsi language, from its origins in the Middle East to its status in the present day. We also divulge into the formation of the writing system and how Persian has impacted other languages spoken around the world.

Origins & Roots of the Farsi Language

The history of the Farsi language spans almost 3,000 years. Its origins can be traced back to the Achaemenid Dynasty (522 BC to 486 BC), thanks to inscriptions found in Iran from this period. Back then, the language was known as the Old Persian language and was spoken by Persian people in the Parswash tribe. They were thought to arrive in Iran in the first millennium BC.

Old Persian soon travelled around Iran and became widely spoken in the region, primarily as it was the official language of Achaemenid kings. When the Achaemenid Empire fells, the language was formally transitioned into Middle Persian. This language version almost lost all case inflections while the use of prepositions and tenses increased.

The Persian alphabet used to write Persian evolved with the language. Pahlavi scripts were used primarily in the religious scripts of the Zoroastrians in the 3rd and 4th centuries. The Manichaean script was used until the 9th century. Meanwhile, the Muslim conquest of Iran saw the introduction of the Perso-Arabic script. It is this latter script that the Farsi language is written in today.

Modern “Persian Language”

Middle Persian is the ancestor of the modern Farsi language spoken in Iran today. The change to this current language started when Persian people began using a newer version of the language in the 9th century, characterised by the use of the Arabic script. This language version is from the Dari area and incorporated many foreign Arabic words. It was known as New Persian.

New Persian spread gradually throughout Iran in the 10th and 11th centuries and evolved into Classical Persian. Many renowned poets wrote in the Classical Persian alphabet, including Khayyam, Rudaki, and Daqiqi. It became the most commonly spoken language among the Eastern Islamic nations, and dialects started to form among the different Persian-speaking countries.

When Tehran became the capital of Persia in 1787,  the Persian language began to change again. After this significant milestone, the dialect of Tehran became the norm and the foundation of Modern Persian. This version of Persian formed the basis Farsi language we used today, known as “Contemporary Standard Persian.”

Alphabets & Writing System

Throughout history, the Persian language has been written in many different scripts: Old Persian Cuneiform, Aramaic, Avestan, Cyrillic, and Latin alphabets. This changed when the Islamic conquest of the Persian-Sassanian Empire took place in 642 AD. After that, Arabic became the language of government, culture, and especially religion.

When New Persian appeared during the 9th century, it used an adapted version of the Arabic script. This Persian alphabet added four letters to the Arabic alphabet to have 32 letters in total. Some characters were also modified, but writing the letters in their original Arabic form is not typically deemed incorrect. This is the alphabet used to write the modern Farsi language today!

Like all Arabic scripts, the Farsi language is written from right to left. Persian people also don’t use vowels in written text – the Farsi writing system is a consonantal alphabet known as “abjad.” This is a feature of all Arabic scripts and Semitic languages. The vowel sounds are filled in when speaking, which is a major challenge for people learning Farsi as a second language.

Influence of Farsi on Other Languages

The Farsi language has a vibrant past, evolving from the Old Persian language to Modern Persian. Throughout its development, the language has heavily influenced others. Primarily, words from the Persian vocabulary have heavily shaped the vocabularies of Urdu and other Indian languages. Urdu even uses a modified version of the Persian alphabet as its official writing system.

The Farsi language also heavily impacted the Turkish language. Despite coming from the Altaic language family, around 1% of the Turkish vocabulary comprises Persian words. This is mainly due to the geographical proximity of the two countries. But surprisingly, words originating from the Farsi language have spread as far as Malaysia!

There are even many words originating from Persian that have made their way into English and other European languages. For example, take a look at the origin of the following words: “pyjama,” “khaki,” “jasmine,” and “bazaar.” These words have one thing in common: they were initially spoken by Persian people and have made their way into the English language over time.

Farsi Translation Services

Translating to or from the Farsi language benefits businesses of all shapes and sizes. With content written in the Persian alphabet, UK businesses can market their services to Persian people in Iran and the Middle East. Meanwhile, Farsi-speaking organisations can translate into other languages to appeal to a more diverse global audience.

At Renaissance Translations, we have a team of professional Farsi language translators able to translate a wide range of content types. Some of the industries we have Persian language experts in include engineering, medicine, marketing, and business. We also offer various language services, including technical translations, proofreading services, and multilingual DTP.

Contact us to discuss your specific translation needs or request a quote from our Farsi language experts by clicking here.