New Persian

What is known as New Persian is the result of the development of Old Persian through Middle Persian; although it is not only Middle Persian which has influenced New Persian, for the latter has also been influenced by other Iranian dialects such as Avestan, Parthian, and Sogdian (a north eastern Iranian language), among others. For instance, although the word for ‘son’ in New Persian is پسر pesar, which reflects its normal development from the Old Persian puça and Middle Persian pus, in New Persian (especially in Classical Persian) another word, پور pūr, is also used, which shows a northern influence (< Parthian puhr, Avestan puθra-, etc.). In Classical Persian the word pūr is used extensively; in Modern Persian it is used either in poetry, or as a member of a compound names, such as شاپور Šāpūr, and last names, such as Mohammad-pūr. In the Persian epic book, the Shāhnāme, Ferdowsi relates the covering of Sohrāb’s body after his death as follows:

بـفرمود تا ديبـه خـسروان کـشيدند بر روی پور جوان
befarmūd tā dībah-e xosrovān/kašīdand bar rū-ye pūr-e javān
‘He ordered to spread a kingly brocaded silk over the young boy[’s body].’

In which case, pūr means ‘(young) boy, youth,’ and not necessarily ‘son.’

A study of the word for mountain peak in New Persian, namely čaγād (with /γ/ “gh” for /g/) shows that it was not derived directly from the Middle Persian čagād, but the /γ/ reflects a northern influence. The same may be said about New Persian peyγām ‘message’ for Middle Persian paygām. Many of these words in New Persian reflect the influence of the Classical Persian, as well. Since many Iranian dialects, and not only Persian, have contributed to Modern Persian, this language contains a rich lexical treasury.

To this must be added the contribution of the Arabic language (and some other languages, such as Greek, Aramaic, Turkish, etc.). As a result, as far as the vocabulary is concerned, Persian is probably one of the richest languages in the world today. Very few other languages have such voluminous lexica as the Farhang-e Dehkhodā, with 18 volumes, and Farhang-e Mo’īn, with 6 volumes. And very few have such a bountiful body of synonyms as پاییز , خزان , برگریزان and خریف ‘autumn’; or such a usage of different forms and derivatives of the same word borrowed from different dialects. For instance, let us look at the word mey ‘wine’. It is from Middle Persian may (Avestan maδu– ‘honey,’ Old Iranian mádhu – ‘sweet, honey’; it is cognate with English “mead”). In New Persian mol ‘wine’ is also used (< Old Iranian mṛd ‘grapevine’). In addition, the derivative madhuš ‘unconscious, swooning, dumbfounded’ is also used, in which the /dh/ segment shows northern characteristics (for example, Avestan maδa– ‘intoxication,’ Sanskrit madhu– ‘sweet, honey, a sweet nectar’, etc.).

Generally speaking, as mentioned in the Preface, the development of the New Persian language may be divided into two major and several minor periods. The two major periods are the periods before and after the Islamic conquest of Iran. The period before Islam may also be divided into two periods: the OP and the Middle Persian. It must be understood that during both periods other old and middle Iranian dialects also did exist in other regions within the Iranian world (such as Avestan, in the north-east, and Parthian, in the north). It also must be understood that by Persian (old, middle, new, etc.) we mean either the primary dialects spoken in the area which is generally known as Persia proper (that is, today’s province of Fars, in south-western Iran), or the official language used by the two Persian empires, the Achaemenians and the Sassanians, especially as the administrative language of these empires. Therefore, if later on the word Persian is used for dialects other than those spoken in the Persia proper, such as Dari of Afghanistan, and Tajiki, in Tajikestan, it refers to the period after the dominance of the Persian empire over a larger area than the Persia proper, during the reign of the Achaemenians (650 – 350 B.C.) and the Sassanians (c. 230 – 650 A.D.), one of whose consequences at each period was to enforce the Persian language as the administrative and official language of the empire.

Under the Achaemenians the empire was very large and extended over an area between the northern borders of China, in the east, and northern Africa and Asia Minor, in the west, covering many lands, as can be seen in the following map:

Map of the Achaemenian Empire

Map: Copyright © 2001-2006 Iran Chamber Society

Since immediately before the Islamic conquest the official language of Iran was Middle Persian, this language continued to be the language used in Iran even after the Islamicisation of Iran. That is to say, it was from this language that the New Persian was developed. It took roughly three hundred years for this new variation of Persian to develop. New Persian, in turn, may be divided into two periods (regardless of the dialectal variations): Classical Persian and Modern Persian.

A very important problem in dealing with Modern Persian is that of the Tehrani dialect. Ever since Tehran became the capital city of Iran, Modern Persian has been influence by the Tehrani dialect, a northern Iranian dialect, with many foreign influences. Technically, Tehrani is not a “Persian” dialect. In many regards, it is not a pure dialect whatsoever. First of all, since the old Tehran expanded and many local villages were assimilated into it, what is called Tehrani today, in addition to the original Tehrani dialect, is in fact an amalgamation of several local dialects, such as those of Varāmīn, Tajrīsh, Shemīrān, Sangelaj, and many more. To this must be added the influence of Turkish, which is spoken by a very large community that has resided in Tehran for many centuries. In certain instances this has even caused the Tehrani dialect to lose some of its Iranian characteristics. One such instance is the case of غ γeyn, which has entirely disappeared in Tehrani in favor of ق qāf; hence, Tehrani morq vs. morγ ‘bird, chicken’ in other dialects, while /q/ is not a Persian phoneme, to begin with. The palatalization of the plosive velars /k/ and /g/, especially before e and i, is another one of these mutations. In other words, in the Tehrani dialect, /k/ is pronounced between /k/ and /č/, and /g/ is pronounced very close to /j/. This is not the case in other dialects, such as Mashhadi, Shīrazi, Bakhtiyari, Būshehri, Gīlaki, Balūchi, etc. Since Tehrani now is considered the official language of Iran, an alarming problem is that in modern days these influences upon Tehrani dialect are relayed by the media to other dialects; so much so that, for instance, many dialects have now started to use the Tehrani word vāse ‘for,’ even Persic dialects, such as Būshehri (although it is mostly used by women).

As traditional and conservative as Persian is, the influence of Classical Persian is still evident in its literary realm, especially poetry. The modern day poet still may use the classical language, syntax, vocabulary, and style in a verse, not only when it is composed in the traditional style, but even in the modern styles of poetry—the so called new verse, free verse, white verse, etc. The rich vocabulary and syntax of the Persian language allows the poet to use a variety of Persian words and a syntax which, though not necessarily used in modern spoken Persian, through tradition, they are still understood by the modern speaker of Persian very well.

The following passages are chosen from two sources of Classical and Modern Persian:

1: Classical Persian
This passage is from Daqāyiq uš-Ši‛r by Ali ibn Muhammad (c. 8th A.H.), which is a volume on the techniques of verse and rhetorics. As we can see, Classical Persian is more influenced by Arabic vocabulary than the Modern Persian:

این بندهٔ فقیر بنابر آن که لکلّی جدید لذّۃ، از لطایف اشعار استادان التقاطی کرد و از خرمن ایشان خوشه برچید، و آنچه درین صنعت از آن چاره نباشد و سخن شناسان ماهر اختیار کرده اند اعتبار کرد
“This poor servant (i.e., I) for the reason that there is pleasure in anything new, chose from within the fine specimens of the verses of the masters, and picked bunches from their harvest, and put his confidence in that which is inevitable (i.e., is necessary to learn and use) in this industry (i.e., this art), and (which) dexterous orators (probably here he means poets) have opted for.”

2: Modern Persian
The second passage is from Mohammad Este‛lami’s introduction to his selection of the Mathnawi, titled درس مثنوی (roughly ‘Lessons from the Mathnawi,’ Tehran: Zavvar Publications, 1374/1995), in which he relates the final moments of Mowlānā (that is, Rumi, the composer of the Mathnawi) before his passing:

آخرین شب زندگی را، مولانا در تب سوزان گذراند؛ امّا بیم مرگ در چهرهٔ او نبود؛ زیرا مرگ جسم، برای او پیوستن روح به آزادی و جاودانگی بود…در یک شامگاه سرد پاییز، دو آفتاب در افق شهر قونیه فرونشست. جسم دردمند و سوزان مولانا سرد شد، بی آنکه وجود حقیقی او را بمیراند، و امروز او سرشار از زندگی، من و شما را در این گفتارها و دفترها به هم پیوند میدهد، و با من و شما در گفتگوست
“Mowlana spent the last night of his life in a burning fever. But there was no fear of death reminiscent in his countenance; for, to him, the death of the body meant union of the soul with freedom and perpetuity…In a cold autumn dusk, two suns set in the horizon of the city of Konya. Mowlana’s aching, burning body became cold, without (really) exterminating his real existence. Today, overflowing with life, he joins us through these discussions and notes; and he is (still) engaged in a dialogue with you and me.”