Persian (فارسی) is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran (Persia), and the neighbouring Afghanistan (officially known as Dari since 1958 for political reasons), Tajikistan (officially known as Tajiki since the Soviet era), and other countries which historically came under Persian influence. The Persian language is classified as a continuation of Middle Persian, the official religious and literary language of Sassanid Persia, itself a continuation of Old Persian, the language of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Persian is a pluricentric language and its grammar is similar to that of many contemporary European languages. Persian is unrelated to Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, although there are many Arabic loanwords in Persian. Persian is so called because it originated from Persis (Pars) with the advent of the Achaemenid Empire, hence the name Persian (Parsi or Farsi).
There are approximately 110 million Persian speakers worldwide, with the language holding official status in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. For centuries Persian has also been a prestigious cultural language in Central Asia, South Asia, and Western Asia. Persian is used as a liturgical language of Islam in not only Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, but also in Pakistan and North India.
Persian has had a considerable (mainly lexical) influence on neighboring languages, particularly the Turkic languages in Central Asia, Caucasus, and Anatolia, neighboring Iranian languages, as well as Armenian, and Indo-Aryan languages, especially Urdu. It also exerted some influence on Arabic, particularly Bahraini Arabic, while borrowing much vocabulary from it after the Muslim conquest of Persia.
With a long history of literature in the form of Middle Persian before Islam, Persian was the first language in Muslim civilization to break through Arabic’s monopoly on writing, and the writing of poetry in Persian was established as a court tradition in many eastern courts. Some of the famous works of Persian literature are the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, works of Rumi, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Divan of Hafiz and poems of Saadi.
Persian belongs to the Western branch of the Iranian family of Indo-European languages, which also includes Kurdish, Mazandarani, Gilaki, Talyshi, and Baluchi. The language is in the Southwestern Iranian group, along with the Larestani, Kumzari and Luri languages.
Persian, the more widely used name of the language in English historically, is an anglicized form derived from Latin *Persianus < Latin Persia < Greek Πέρσις Pérsis, a Hellenized form of Old Persian Parsa. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term Persian as a language name is first attested in English in the mid-16th century. Native Iranian Persian speakers call it Fārsi. Farsi is the Arabicized form of Pārsi, due to a lack of the 'p' phoneme in Standard Arabic (i.e., the 'p' was replaced with an 'f'). The origin of the name Farsi and the place of origin of the language which is Fars is, of course, the Arabicized form of Pârs. In English, this language has historically been known as "Persian", though "Farsi" has also gained some currency. According to the OED, the term Farsi was first used in English in 1926, while Parsi dates to 1790. "Farsi" is encountered in some linguistic literature as a name for the language, used both by Iranian and by foreign authors.
Persian is an Iranian language belonging to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. In general, Iranian languages are known from three periods, usually referred to as Old, Middle, and New (Modern) periods. These correspond to three eras in Iranian history; Old era being the period from sometime before Achaemenids, the Achaemenid era and sometime after Achaemenids (that is to 400–300 BC), Middle era being the next period most officially Sassanid era and sometime in post-Sassanid era, and the New era being the period afterwards down to present day.
According to available documents, the Persian language is "the only Iranian language" for which close philological relationships between all of its three stages are established and so that Old, Middle, and New Persian represent one and the same language of Persian, that is New Persian is a direct descendent of Middle and Old Persian.
There are three modern varieties of standard Persian:
- Western Persian (Persian, Iranian Persian, or Farsi) is spoken in Iran, and by minorities in Iraq and the Persian Gulf states.
- Eastern Persian (Dari Persian, Afghan Persian, or Dari) is spoken in Afghanistan.
- Tajiki (Tajik Persian) is spoken in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It is written in the Cyrillic script.