Language in Iran

What language is spoken in Iran? It is Persian, Farsi or Iranian? This article looks at language in Iran.

Iranian languages form a major subgroup of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European Language family.

It is interesting to note however, that Iranian languages are not limited to Iran – they are diverse in nature and are spoken by over 70 million people across southern and south western Asia. The reason why they are called Iranian languages is that they have been spoken across the Iranian plateau for thousands of years.

The majority of modern Iranian languages have been adapted from the Arabic script.

Many people are confused about whether to term the Iranian language ‘Persian’ or ‘Farsi’ which is due to linguistic changes which have taken place over the years. However, the Iranian language has been referred to as Persian for centuries and is the official name of Iran to describe the language spoken there.

The name ‘Persian’ evolves from the name of the language spoken by a nomadic group of people in southern Iran known as the ‘Parsa’. The Parsa lived in the southern Iranian region of Persis. The term ‘Persian’ also describes the languages spoken by Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

The term ‘Farsi’ has evolved from the Arabized form of ‘Parsi’. There is no ‘p’ sound in Arabic, hence the change of this initial sound to an ‘f’.

Although most individuals in Iran now refer to their language as Farsi and not as Persian, some individuals argue that this is an inaccurate use of the word, inappropriate and ignores the cultural heritage of the Iranian language and excludes Afghanistan and Tajikistan.

The second most widely spoken Iranian language after Persian is Kurdish. Kurdish script is based on the Perso-Arabic script and the Latin alphabet.

There are also many ‘new’ Iranian languages which have emerged over time. They are spoken by people living across the Iranian plateau but unfortunately many are now diminishing due to more dominant surrounding languages. The following two cases give an example of the new Iranian languages:

Pashtu is a fairly new Iranian language which is spoken by individuals living in southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. As with the Kurdish language it is primarily written in the Perso-Arabic script, although it has additions from Urdu as opposed to the Latin alphabet.

Baluchi is spoken primarily within south eastern Iran and Western Pakistan. Again, it is written in the Perso-Arabic script but there is no established written tradition of this language.