Middle Persian language

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Middle Persian

Spoken in

Ancient Iran
speaker extinct
Language codes
ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3

pal (Zoroastrian Middle Persian)
xmn (Manichaean Middle Persian)

Middle Persian inscription (Pahlavi) of the Sassanid Shapur III. , Taq-e Bostan , Kermanshah

Middle Persian (Middle Persian name: Pārsīg ), also known as Pahlavi (language) or Pehlewi ( Pehlevi ), was a Central Iranian language , from which, after the Arab conquest of Persia , today's New Persian language developed alongside other Iranian languages . It is preserved in a variant of the Aramaic script in Pahlavi scripts and the Psalter script .

Distribution area

Middle Persian is originally from the southwestern Iranian province of Persis / Pars (now Fars ) and neighboring regions; it had gradually emerged from Old Persian after the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in Parthian times and was up to the 8th / 9th centuries. Century AD survived as a living language . In the Sassanid Empire (224–651 AD), Middle Persian was the official language and lingua franca. But even when this language passed into New Persian after the Islamization of Iran , Middle Persian is a "dead" sacral language from the Zoroastrians of Iran until the 10th, from the Manicheans in Central Asia (in the Turfanoase in Chinese Turkestan) until the 13th century has been used.


Most of the evidence of Middle Persian - which was (in the past, and in some cases still imprecisely called Pahlavi ) - comes from the Sassanid period or from an era when this language experienced a certain renaissance in the 9th (and 10th) centuries (In view of the increasing Islamization of Persia, the Zoroastrians tried harder around 800 to preserve and write down their heritage). The use and attestation of this language for more than a thousand years and its spread far beyond its southwestern Iranian homeland are the reason that these documents attest to different dialect characteristics and linguistic-historical developments. The language of the Zoroastrian books created in the 9th and 10th centuries AD, the so-called "Book Pahlavi", is characterized by a larger number of Parthian loanwords than the Manichaean texts, whose language is Middle Persian, so to speak embodied in its original, provincial purity. The Zoroastrian texts, on the other hand, reflect the late Sassanid language form, which for centuries, especially under the Arsacids , was exposed to Parthian influences in the areas of administrative, military and sometimes also religious terminology - after all, Parthian had emerged as a general means of communication throughout Iran under the Arsacids. and cultural language at a time when Middle Persian was still limited to Pars. Even after the Persian Sassanids came to power in the 3rd century AD, many Parthian noble families retained their power, so that the Parthian and Persian continued to influence each other. Parthian influences can also be assumed in pre-Assanid Middle Persian; This, too, is one of the reasons that the Old Persian of the Achaemenid inscriptions and the Middle Persian have linguistic differences, that is, that this does not immediately continue the former.

Apart from short coin legends, there are practically no language certificates from the time before the 3rd century AD, in which the early Sassanid rock and stone inscriptions set a special accent. Outstanding among these lapidary texts are the inscriptions of the kings Shapur I on the Ka'ba-yi Zardush (trilingual) and Narseh of Paikuli (bilingual) as well as those of the high priest Kartir . The other royal or private inscriptions - these are mostly grave inscriptions in italic style - are of lesser importance from a linguistic point of view, as are the coin legends (up to the 10th century), the inscriptions on seals, gems and bulls as well as the vessel inscriptions. Only a limited number of legal and administrative documents have survived: some parchment documents from Dura Europos (from the occupation in the 3rd century), several papyri from Egypt (from the occupation at the beginning of the 7th century) and post-Sassanid ostraka from Iran. Middle Persian inscriptions can only be found very rarely in the Roman sphere of influence.

The once rich Middle Persian literature of the Sassanid period is largely lost today. Of the well-known book texts in Middle Persian, the oldest is a fragment of a translation of the Psalms of the Old Testament found in Bulayiq ( Turfanoase ) . In terms of script and language, the time of origin must be younger than the great rock inscriptions of the 3rd century, but cannot be narrowed down further with certainty within the Sassanid period. The texts of the Zoroastrians , which were recorded from the late Sassanid period ( 6th century ), but have only survived in much more recent manuscripts (since the 14th century), are much more extensive. They include a translation of large parts of the Avesta corpus, other religious and didactic literature, but also profane literature. The dogmatic and legal treatises that make up the bulk of these books, however, did not emerge until the Pahlavi Renaissance, which we have already briefly mentioned, in the post-Assanid period. The Manichaean literature, written in Middle Persian and founded by the religious founder Mani (216-277) himself, also dates back to the 3rd century AD. Long fragments of his writing Schabuhragan, dedicated to King Shapur (Schabuhr) I, have survived . Numerous other works of dogmatic and homiletic content as well as hymns by Mani, his students and much later followers have become known fragmentarily from Turfan.


Apart from the Manichaean texts, for the recording of which the very phonetic Manichaean script was used, all Middle Persian text documents up to the fall of the Sassanid Empire are written in the heterographic writing system that goes back to the Aramaic , whose specifically Persian variant (of inscriptions, coins, papyri, books, etc. .) is traditionally called Pahlavi script . Even if this font was simplified further and further and its character shapes in the cursive book font came very close to each other - the complexity of the system is illustrated by the number of almost 1,000 heterograms - its main characteristic is conservatism or historicism: The up to the most recent texts practically unchanged writing conventions reflect the language of the Arsacid period and did not correspond to the current situation. The sound level of the texts written in this way can only be inferred by comparison with the other sources. Because knowledge of this script was gradually lost in the post-Assanid period, Zoroastrian texts were then partly recorded in the Avestian or Neo-Persian alphabet . These mechanical conversions are called Pasand or Parsi texts and they can sometimes provide insightful information about the actual sound level of this late period. The problems of paraphrase (be it a clear transliteration or an interpretive transcription) of this writing, for which a uniform procedure has not yet been found, are great.

Overview of Middle Persian grammar



Middle Persian has singular and plural. The singular is not marked. The plural is marked by the suffixes
- ān from old Persian -
- īhā
Singular forms can denote plurals after numerals or quantitative pronouns:
Example: dō bunistag "2 Urprinzipien "
was kas "many people"

In addition, Middle Persian knows the abstract suffix - īh , which also functions as a collective or plural:
zanīh "women"
gurgīh "wolves"
šēdaspīh "Romans" (ie "having white horses")


Middle Persian distinguishes, but not consistently and in the later texts less and less, a direct form (nominative; originated from the nominative old Persian singular - a , avestical - ō ) and an oblique form (all other cases, from old Persian genitive singular - ahyā , avestical - ahe ; genitive plural - ā / ī / ūnām ):

* as "horse" Singular Plural
to you. as as
obl. as ē as ān

In addition, the following markings have been preserved for r strains

brād "brother" Singular Plural
to you. brād brād ar
obl. brād ar brād arān

Adjectives can be found alongside simple adjectives as compounds, participles, nouns agentis. Adjectives inflect like nouns. The word order is optional:
frēstagān wuzurgān = wuzurgān frēstagān

Word order in nouns

A) The ruling noun precedes the dependent noun:
1. With relative particle ( Ezāfe ):
xwadāy ī xwadāyān "Lord of lords"
dēn ī woe "the good religion"
pus ī man "my son"

2. Without relative particle:
pusān rōšnān " Sons of Lights "'
šahryār wuzurg " the great prince "

If the ruling noun is marked with the indefinite article, the ezāfe :
dast-ē jām " a handful of cups "
kanīzag-ē weh " a good girl "
B) The dependent noun precedes the ruling:
ērān šahr "land of Iranians"
ādarān šah "king of fires"
garm xwarišn "hot food"
man pus "my son"

sentence for a relative pronoun as accusative object:
u-mān mā bar ō gumāngarīh "And do not lead us in temptation"


can be increased:

A) Comparative : - tar , - dar (after vowel, rmn) Az and act
as comparative articles az wad wattar "worse than bad" kam wattar ast kū "it is less bad than" B) Superlative : - tom , - dom ( after vowel, rmn) Some adjectives take a superlative suffix - is : wahišt "paradise"


verbal personal endings in the present tense stem

Indic. Conj. Imper. Opt.
1. Sg. - ēm - ān - tom - ēn
2nd Sg. - ēh - āy - ø
3rd Sg. - ēd - ād - ēh
1st pl. - om , - ēm
2nd pl. - ēd - ād - ēd
3rd pl. - ēnd - and


be Indic. Conj. Opt. Imper. Imperf.
1. Sg. hēm
2nd Sg. bāš
3rd Sg. ast hām anād
1st pl. hōm
2nd pl. hēd hān bāwēd
3rd pl. hand hand anānd

Present participle
- āg and - ān , and frozen formations on - and .

Participium necessitatis or verbal nouns - išn .

Participation of the past - t , - day

Together with the copula, the participles of the past form the past tempora.
Infinitive : - tan

Notes and individual references

  1. The origin of this name refers to the Parthians (pronunciation: parθawa , where θ corresponds to the English pronunciation of th ). The sound change R to L and θ to H , combined with a change of sound sequences ( metathesis ) that occurs in many language developments, led to the term Pahlawī .

See also


  • Desmond Durkin Master Serious: Grammar of West Central Iranian. (Parthian and Middle Persian) (= Austrian Academy of Sciences. Meeting reports of the philosophical-historical class. 850 = Publications on Iranian Studies. 73 = Grammatica Iranica. 1). Publishing house of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 2014, ISBN 978-3-7001-7556-8 (also: Münster, University, habilitation paper, 2012).
  • Philippe Gignoux: Glossaire des Inscriptions Pehlevies et Parthes (= Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum. Supplementary Series. Volume 1, ZDB -ID 187662-4 ). Lund Humphries et al. a., London 1972.
  • Henrik Samuel Nyberg : A Manual of Pahlavi. 2 volumes. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1964–1974;
    • Volume 1: Texts, Alphabets, Index, Paradigms, Notes and an Introduction. 2nd edition of the auxiliary book of Pehlevi. 1964;
    • Volume 2: Ideograms, Glossary, Abbreviations, Index, Grammatical Survey, Corrigenda to Part I. 1974, ISBN 3-447-01580-2 .
  • Rüdiger Schmitt : An overview of the Central Iranian languages. In: Rüdiger Schmitt (Ed.): Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum. Reichert, Wiesbaden 1989, ISBN 3-88226-413-6 , pp. 95-105.
  • P. Oktor Skjærvø: Aramaic Scripts for Iranian Languages. In: Peter T. Daniels , William Bright (Eds.): The World's Writing Systems. Oxford University Press, New York NY u. a. 1996, ISBN 0-19-507993-0 , pp. 515-535.

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