Persian is one of the
world's oldest languages, a standard and well-recognized tongue as
early as the 6th century B.C. It is one of the Iranian languages
which form a branch of the Indo-European family. To native
speakers Persian is known as Farsi.
Old Persian was the
language of the great Persian Empire which at one time extended
from the Mediterranean to the Indus River in India.
The language was
written in Cuneiform, the wedge-shaped characters used throughout
much of the ancient world. In the 2nd century B.C. the Persians
created their own alphabet, known as Pahlavi, which remained in
use until the Islamic conquest of the 7th century. Since that time
Persian has been written in the Arabic script with a number of
additional characters to accommodate special sounds.
Modern Persian is
spoken by over 40 million people in Iran and another 5 million in
Afghanistan. In Iran it is generally referred to as Farsi, in
Afghanistan as Dari. A variety of Persian called Tajik is spoken
in the 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.
Mohammed, or Hafiz, who lived in the 14th century, is considered
Persia's greatest lyric poet.