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Persian studies

Persian studies is the study of the Persian language and its literature specifically. It is differentiated from Iranian studies which is a broader, more interdisciplinary subject that focuses more on the histories and cultures of all Iranian peoples.

The study of language in Iran reaches back many centuries before Islam. The Avestan alphabet, developed during the Sassanid Empire, was derived from the Pahlavi alphabet and remained one of the most phonologically sophisticated alphabets until the modern period. The Zoroastrian liturgies until that point had been orally transmitted, and the ability to set these ancient texts in writing helped to preserve them. Even earlier than that, however, the invention of the Old Persian syllabary, whose shapes were adapted from preexisting cuneiform systems demonstrates that Iranian peoples could think critically, logically, and imaginatively about their language.

The coming of Islam announced the end of the world of Antiquity and the replacement of Zoroastrianism with Islam as the most important faith of the Iranian plateau. Iran became part of the great Islamic community, the Ummah, and saw the rise of Arabic as the new language of literature and learning. Iranian-born grammarians, rhetoricians, scientists, philosophers, theologians, contributed to the intellectual vitality of this new and vibrant civilization alongside other Muslims from other nationalities. Among the most prominent are:

Many regions of this Arab Empire saw the almost total replacement the indigenous language by Arabic: the pre-Islamic languages of Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and North Africa exist only in isolated communities and have been largely replaced by Arabic. Not so in Iran, where the Persian language continued, albeit with an infusion of Arabic vocabulary, and thrived as the courtly language of the Islamic Orient. In fact it was in the Eastern reaches of the Caliphate, far from the seat of Arab power in Baghdad, where New Persian reemerged as a literary and courtly language.

  • Sibawayh (Arabic: سیبویه Sībawayh) (c. 760 CE) who wrote one of the first grammars of Arabic
  • Avicenna (Arabic: أبو علي حسین إبن عبد الله إبن سینا Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn Sīnā) (c. 980 CE) one of the most celebrated and influential thinkers of the Islamic Golden Age contributed to astronomy, philosophy, logic, and mechanics, and helped to revive the Persian language by coining new words.
  • Asadi Tusi (Arabic: أبو منسور علي أحمد اسدي طوسي Abū Mansūr ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad Asadī Ṭūsī) (d. 1072 CE) whose dictionary represented an attempt to standardize the Persian language.
  • Raimondo of Cremona seems to have been the first to compose a grammatical sketch of Persian, but his manuscript remained unavailable.
  • the Belgian priest de Dieu published Rudimentae Linguae Persicae (1639 CE) in which he established the basic phonology and morphology of Persian
  • Pater Angelus (Joseph Labrosse) studied Persian for fourteen years in the capital of Esfahan as part of the Vatican's Oriental Mission. He published a monumental work composed of "fourteen folios of mini-grammar and over 450 pages of words and phrases of the living language."
  • Anquetil published the first edition of the texts of the Zoroastrian Parsis in his three-volume Zend-Avesta (1771 CE).
  • William Jones's publication of his grammar (also in 1771 CE) marked when knowledge of Persian grammar became really accessible, since the prior works were not available to most people. He hoped the work would open up study of the Persian Classics, but it was intended to assist East India Company employees. William Jones founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1784 CE), the first Oriental society.


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