IRAN vi, continued

(6) Old Iranian Languages

Proto-Iranian split into at least four distinct dialect groups, characterized, among other things, by the typical developments of the palatal affricates *ć, * and the groups *ćw, *j́w.

In Old Northwest Iranian, represented by the Alanic dialects and modern Ossetic, at some stage (and in some dialects?), initial *p > f and internal *ry > l). The development of *ć, etc. was as in Central Iranian.

Old Northeast Iranian is represented by Khotanese and Wāḵi, in which ćw and *j́w were assimilated to *ś and *ź, e.g., OIr. *aćwa- “horse” > Khot. aśśa-, Wāḵi yīš (Av. aspa-, etc.); OIr. *-j́wā- “tongue” > Khot. biśāa- (i.e., βi-źāa- < *-j́wāka-, OPers. hạ-zān-, Pers. zabān, etc.).

Old Central Iranian is represented by most of the remaining dialects, including Avestan and Median, in which *ć and * merged with OIr. *s and *z, respectively, but *ćw and *j́w became sp and zb.

Old Southwest (Perside) Iranian is represented in historical times by the dialects of Pārs/Fārs, including Old Persian, in which *ć and * merged with OIr. *θ and *d, but *ćw and *j́w with *s and *z.

The last two groups are represented by Old Persian and the “Median” forms in Old Persian, e.g., OIr. *aćan- “stone” > Med./OPers. asan- (+ dāruv “tree” = “ivory”) versus OPers. aθan-ga “stone”; OIr. *waj́- “*invigorating” > Med./OPers. vaz-ạrka- “great” (cf. gohort in southeastern dialects); Med./OPers. aspa- “horse” and OPers. asa-; OIr. *j́waya- “call upon” > Med./OPers. -zbaya- (cf. OInd. hvaya-).

In a local area of Southern Persia, *ćw, apparently, became *θ, which survived variously as s or t, notably in *ćwiša- “louse” > Lārestāni heš, tiš in some Fārs dialects (where *θ- also remained or became t-, see below), and *siš > šiš, šoš, etc., in other Perside dialects, but > *spiš > špiš in non-Perside dialects (see Morgenstierne, 1958, pp. 174-75; Skjærvø, 1994).

Among morphological isoglosses is the use of the suffix *tā- as plural marker found in Scythian-Alanic (modern Ossetic) and in Sogdian. Originally a suffix expressing a collection of things or the thing in general, as we can infer from the use of its corresponding form -tāt- in Avestan (e.g., kəuuitāt-kauui-dom, the fact of being called kauui, the fact of belonging to the group of kauuis), it was used to make ethnic names. Among them are the tribal names Massagetai (the form is a Greek plural), which may be for *masaka-tā- “the great ones,” Sarmatai, perhaps the local form of the people called Sairimas in the Avesta, and Paralatai, tribe descended from Kolaxaïs, the youngest of three legendary brothers, ancestors of the Scythians, perhaps from *para-aryas, the “first or supreme Aryans” (rather than being the same as Av. paraδāta [epithet of Haošiiaŋha, Pers. Hušang] and having l < δ).

See also entries under the individual language names.

Bibliography (see also above, (2) Documentation):

Almuth Degener, “The Nuristani Languages,” in Nicholas Sims-Williams, ed., Indo-Iranian Languages and Peoples, Proceedings of the British Academy 116, Oxford and New York, 2002, pp. 103-17.

Ronald E. Emmerick, “Chapter 8. Iranian,” in Jadranka Gvozdanović, ed. Indo-European Numerals, Trends in linguistics. Studies and monographs 57, Berlin, 1992, pp. 289-345.

Moḥammad Ḥasandust, Farhang-e riša-šenāḵti-e zabān-e fārsi I, Tehran, 1383 Š./2004 (ā-t; etymological dictionary with text references).

Almut Hintze, “The Migrations of the Indo-Iranians and the Iranian Sound-Change s> h,” in Wolfgang Meid, ed., Sprache und Kultur der Indogermanen. Akten der X. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, Innsbruck, 22-28. September 1996, Innsbruck, 1998, pp. 139-53.

Karl Hoffmann, “Die Ortsnamen-Parenthese im Altpersischen und Vedischen,” ZDMG 110, 1960, pp. 64-73 (repr. In Aufsätze zur Indoiranistik I, Wiesbaden, 1975, pp. 120-29).

Idem, “The Avesta Fragment FrD. 3,” IIJ 10, 1968, pp. 282-88 (repr. In Aufsätze zur Indoiranistik I, 1975, pp. 221-27).

David Neil MacKenzie, review of CIL in BSOAS 54, 1991, pp. 172-76.

James P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans. Language, Archaeology, and Myth, New York, 1989 (paperback, 1991).

Georg Morgenstierne, “Orthography and Sound System of the Avesta,” NTS 12, 1942, pp. 30-82 (repr. In Irano-Dardica, Wiesbaden, 1975, pp. 31-83).

Idem, “Neu-iranische Sprachen,” in Handbuch der Orientalistik I, IV, 1, Leiden and Cologne, 1958, pp. 155-78.

Prods Oktor Skjærvø, “Of Lice and Men,” in Renate Söhnen-Thieme and Oskar von Hinüber, eds., Festschrift George Buddruss…, SII 19, Reinbek, 1994, pp. 269-86.

Idem, “Avestica I. A Perfect Participle, vaoxvåŋhō,ʼ’ JAOS 117/1, 1997, pp. 145-47.

Michiel de Vaan, The Avestan Vowels, Amsterdam and New York, 2003.

Calvert Watkins, “‘sá figé’ in Indo-Iranian and Anatolian,” in Almut Hintze and Eva Tichy, eds., Anusantatyai. Festschrift für Johanna Nartern zum 70. Geburtstag,  Dettelbach, 2000, pp. 263-81.

Gernot Windfuhr, ed., The Iranian Languages, London and New York, 2009.

(Prods Oktor Skjærvø)

Originally Published: December 15, 2006

Last Updated: April 30, 2018

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIII, Fasc. 4, pp. 376-377

Cite this entry:

Prods Oktor Skjærvø, “IRAN vi. IRANIAN LANGUAGES AND SCRIPTS (6) Old Iranian Languages,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, XIII/4, pp. 376-377, available online at (accessed on 30 April 2018).