Bisotun Inscription - Hersin, Kermanshah Province, Iran (Persia)

Bisotun Inscription – Hersin, Kermanshah Province, Iran

Iranian languages are divided into three historical stages: 1. Old Iranian, 2. Middle Iranian, and 3. New Iranian.

Old Iranian

Old Iranian languages that were spoken since Iranians were separated from other people of Aryan or Indo-European race in the second millennium BCE. These languages were dominant in all lands of Ancient Iran until the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BCE. These languages include Avestan, Sakan, Median, and Old Persian among which only written text from Old Persian and Avestan are still extant.

Middle Iranian

Middle Iranian languages were prevalent since the fall of the Achaemenid Empire in 330 BCE until centuries after Sassanid Empire was overthrown in 651 CE. Some written texts are left from this group of languages divided into Western Middle Iranian and Eastern Middle Iranian.

Western Middle Iranian include Parthian (also known as Pahlawani or Arsacid Pahlavi) and Middle Persian (also known as Pahlavi or Sassanid Pahlavi). Nonetheless, Eastern Middle Iranian languages were prevailed until the 13th century CE and comprise Bactrian, Khwarazmian, Sogdian, and Saka languages.

New Iranian languages

New Iranian languages gradually became dominant in various parts of Iran after the Arab conquest. Although some of New Iranian languages were spoken concurrent with some Middle Iranian languages, some structural progresses differentiated them from each other.

Iranian Languages at a Glance - Persia Advisor

Iranian Languages at a Glance
Infographic by Parinaz Ghashghaie


Farsi is the most important Iranian language. It has been the official language of the Iranian since Saffarid dynasty (9th century) and has been gradually replaced with other languages of middle Iran and it is common in various regions of the world, from India to Europe and from Aral Sea to Persian Gulf. In 10 th century, Farsi was developed in India and Asia Minor by Ghaznavid and Seljuq Dynasties respectively. Farsi language was also common in Ottoman Empire and some of their kings composed Farsi poems. As the colonialism spread in eastern countries, the importance and dominance of Farsi language was reduced. Today, Dari Perdian is common in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Iran. Since early 20th century, Farsi language found a separate path in each of these countries. The common Farsi language which is currently in use in Tajikistan, there are many Russian words and it is written with Russian alphabet as well. There are Pashto words in current Farsi language of Afghanistan as well as French words in common Farsi language of Iran.

Other New Iranian languages and dialects

Based on geographical and structural affinities, other New Iranian languages and dialects, which count hundreds, are divided into Western and Eastern New Iranian. Western New Iranian languages and dialects involve:

  1. Central Iran dialects (prevalent in Isfahan, Tehran, Hamadan, and Yazd regions)
  2. Languages and dialects of the Caspian bank (Gilaki, Mazanderani, and dialects of Semnan region)
  3. Languages and dialects of Northwest Iran (Tati, Talysh, and Azerbaijani)
  4. Languages and dialects of Southwest Iran (Sivandi, Lurish, and dialects of Fars province)
  5. Southeast Iran Languages and dialects (Larestani, Bashagardi, Kumzari)
  6. Kurdish
  7. Zaza and Gorani
  8. Balochi.

Eastern New Iranian Languages and dialects include:

  1. Ossetian
  2. Pashto
  3. Ormuri and Parchi
  4. Munji
  5. Yaghnobi
  6. Languages and dialects of Pamir region.

Local languages are spoken in local media of varied regions but, Farsi is the only educational language in all Iranian schools and universities.

Farsi writing system

Cuneiform was the earliest writing system in Iran. Iranians then used Parthian Pahlavi scripts in the Parthian era and Sassanian Pahlavi scripts during the Sassanid era. After the rise of Islam, Farsi scripts were shaped. Farsi alphabet has the same basis as Arabic alphabet. However, in the Farsi Alphabet four novel letters are added; /ɡ/(گ), /tʃ/ (چ), /p/ (پ), /ʒ/(ژ). Although modern Iranian calligraphy borrows from Kufic Arabic, Iranians have been a major role in the development of Islamic calligraphy. Iranians developed Farsi alphabet based on their language needs. Since the ninth century CE, Pahlavi script was gradually substituted with Persian alphabet because of its usage in court letters. Persian alphabet has 32 scripts.