About Learning Farsi with Berlitz
Persian is also one of the world’s oldest languages, dating back to the great Persian Empire of the 6th century BC. Today it is spoken by about 40 million people in Iran and another 8 million in Afghanistan. It is the most important of the Iranian languages, a branch of the Indo-European family.
Persian originated in southern Iran, an area known as Parsa, now still called Fars. The Greeks called it Persis, thus giving rise to the name Persia. In Iran today the language is known as Farsi. (In Afghanistan it is known as Dari.)
The Persian Empire was founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC. Its language, known as Old Persian, was written in cuneiform, the wedge-shaped characters used throughout much of the ancient world. It can be seen today on monuments such as the great Behistun Rock, in western Iran, containing a trilingual cuneiform inscription in Persian, Elamite, and Babylonian. The religion of the empire was Zoroastrianism, whose sacred texts were written in a dialect of Old Persian called Avestan. The empire came to an end in 330 BC when it was conquered by Alexander the Great.
Middle Persian developed during the Sassanid dynasty, which came to power in 226 AD. Also known as Pahlavi, it was written in an alphabet of Aramaic origin. In 651 Persia was overrun and conquered by the Arabs, who brought with them the religion of Islam and ruled the region for the next four centuries. While the Pahlavi script was replaced by a modified version of the Arabic which remains in use today, Persia generally retained its separate identity and Persian continued to be spoken.
Next to rule Persia were the Seljuks, a Turkic people who came to power in the 11th century. The Seljuks converted to Islam, and adopted the language of their Persian instructors and advisers. Persian was also the official language of the Mogul Empire, the Moslem dynasty that ruled India for three centuries until 1857. A variety of Persian called Tajik is spoken in Tajikistan, but there it is written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
English words of Persian origin include shawl, pajama, taffeta, khaki, kiosk, divan, lilac, jasmine, julep, jackal, caravan, bazaar, checkmate, dervish, and satrap.