History of the Persian Language Persian is spoken today primarily in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, but was historically a more widely understood language in an area ranging from the Middle East to India, significant populations of speakers in other Persian Gulf countries (Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Republic of Yemen and the United Arab Emirates), as well as large communities around the World. Total numbers of speakers is high: about 55% of Iran's population are Persian speakers; about 65% of Tajikistan's population are Tajik-Persian speakers: over 25% of the Afghanistan's population are Dari-Persian speakers; and about 1% of the population of Pakistan are Dari-Persian speakers as well.
Persian is a subgroup of West Iranian languages that include the closely related Persian languages of Dari and Tajik; the less closely related languages of Luri, Bakhtiari and Kumzari; and the non-Persian dialects of Fars Province. Other more distantly related languages of this group include Kurdish, spoken in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran; and Baluchi, spoken in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. Even more distantly related are languages of the East Iranian group, which includes Pashtu, spoken in Afghanistan; Ossete, spoken in North Ossetian, South Ossetian, and Caucusus of former USSR; and Yaghnobi, spoken in Tajikistan.
Other Iranian languages of note are Old Persian and Avestan (the sacred language of the Zoroastrians for which texts exist from the 6th century B.C.). West and East Iranian comprise the Iranian group of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages.
Indo-Iranian languages are spoken in a wide area stretching from portions of eastern Turkey and eastern Iraq to western India. The other main division of Indo-Iranian, in addition to Iranian, is the Indo-Aryan languages; a group comprised of many languages of the Indian subcontinent, for example, Sanskrit, Hindi/Urdu, Bengali, Gujerati, Punjabi, and Sindhi. Scholars recognize three major dialect divisions of Persian: Farsi, or the Persian of Iran, Dari Persian of Afghanistan, and Tajik, a variant spoken in Tajikistan in Central Asia. We treat Tajik as a separate language, however.
Farsi and Dari have further dialectal variants, some with names that coincide with provincial names. All are more or less mutually intelligible. Persian in Iran and Afghanistan is written in a variety of the Arabic script called Perso-Arabic, which has some innovations to account for Persian phonological differences. This script came into use in Persia after the Islamic conquest in the seventh century. A variety of script forms: Nishki is a print type based closely on Arabic; Talik is a cultivated manuscript, with certain letters having reduced forms and others occasionally elongated in order to produce lines of equal length; and Shekesteh is also a manuscript, allowing for a greater variation of form and exhibiting extreme reduction of some letters Persian, until recent centuries, was culturally and historically one of the most prominent languages of the Middle East and regions beyond. For example, it was an important language during the reign of the Moguls in Indian where knowledge of Persian was cultivated and encouraged; its use in the courts of Mogul India ended in 1837, banned by officials of the East Indian Company (British Colonialism).
Persian scholars were prominent in both Turkish and Indian courts during the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries in composing dictionaries and grammatical works. A Persian Indian vernacular developed and many colonial British officers learned their Persian from Indian scribes. Persian is the first language of about 55 percent of the population in Iran, and is the country's official language. It is the language of government, the media, and school instruction. Of the rest of Iran's population, 20 percent speak related Western Iranian languages and 25 percent speak Arabic, New Aramaic, Armenian, Georgian, Romany, and Turkic languages.
Old Persian is attested from the cuneiform inscriptions left by the Achaemenid dynasty (559 to 331 BC.) that ruled the lands known as the Realm of the Aryans (from which comes the name of the modern country Iran) up until the conquest of Alexander the Great. Middle Persian, also known as Pahlavi, after the Parthians who ruled Persia after the collapse of Alexander's Empire, is known chiefly through its use in Persian's pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religious writings.
The name of the modern Persian language is sometimes mentioned as Farsi in English texts. However, it is recommended to use to Persian instead of Farsi because the term has a history of use in Western languages and highlights connection with Persian Civilization and Cultural Heritage.