Article by Michele Bernardini, University of Naples, "L’Orientale"

Language Family and Linguistic Characteristics

The New Persian language (zabān-e fārsī) represents the last evolution of Persian, an Iranian language with a long-attested historical evolution beginning in the Achaemenid period (sixth to fourth centuries BCE, “Old Persian”) and continuing through the Sassanian period (third to seventh century CE, “Middle Persian” or “Pahlavī”). The New Persian language (attested from the ninth century CE) is characterised by the adoption of the Arabic alphabet, supplemented by four new characters. The first attestations of this language appear in ancient Khorassan, although its presence is attested in several regions of modern Iran, in particular Fārs (in the south-west). Today, Persian displays great linguistic variety, including the Tajik and Dārī varieties, attested in Tajikistan and Afghanistan respectively.

Writing System

New Persian is written in an alphabetic script, which has a vocalisation system which follows that of the Arabic alphabet, though with a substantial variation in the usage of vowels, of which there are six in New Persian. Several of the consonants of New Persian, particularly in Arab loanwords, have lost their original phonetic value and are now homophones.

The earliest attestations of New Persian appear in the ninth century, although Middle and Old Persian persisted alongside it in Zoroastrian and Manichaean religious texts from the Islamic period. Here we may also highlight the presence of Judeo-Persian, written in Hebrew alphabet.

Chronological and Geographical Extent.

Several elements of Arabic literature are found in New Persian literature, in particular in poetry and the use of the qasīde. This is a result of the direct influence of Arabic models, with the adoption of the Khalilian meter in the tenth century.

Nonetheless, autochthonic literary forms appear from the earliest periods, as in the case of the quatrain (do-beyt or robā‘ī), and in particular the mathnavī, which was used for epic poetry, characterised by the use of rhyming couplets inside the verse. The Shāhnāme of Ferdowsī (late tenth or early eleventh century) represents the first attestation of this genre.

Historians of New Persian literature have distinguished three phases of the “classical” language:

  • The Khorasani style corresponds to the earliest texts in this language in the north-east of modern Iran, in Afghanistan and Transoxiana.
  • The Araqi style, developed particularly in the South West of Iran, in particular in Shiraz, up until the Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century.
  • Finally, the Indian style was used both throughout Iran, and beyond, in particular in India, until the nineteenth century.

Despite the usefulness of this periodisation, there are many notable exceptions.

Symbolic Value

New Persian immediately became the vehicle of transmission of a long cultural tradition which had been partially sidelined by the Islamic conquest. If, on the one hand, the Persians made extensive use of Arabic, in particular during the first centuries which followed the Islamic occupation – as is attested by numerous religious, historiographical, geographical, scientific, and even literary works – on the other hand, Persian became, particularly due to the influence of the Shāhnāme, the vehicle for an autochthonic tradition which harked back to the Sassanian past. Nevertheless, recent studies have re-evaluated the national character of the language: we may not that Persian had a “dialectic” relationship, in particular with Arabic, but also with Turkish, adopting numerous lexical elements from each of these languages.

Above all, this raises the question of the diffusion of New Persian beyond the limits of modern Iran. We may observe its usage in Central Asia, India, and even in Anatolia and the Middle East for several centuries. In this case, Persian became an important court language used for writing historical treatises and poetry, as well as other works. It was widely used in the Ottoman Empire, among the Mughals, and in the courts of still more distant regions.

Objectives of Research

The final object of this lexicographical research is to gain a global concept of the idea of peace as it existed in the Iranian world. If the terminology concerning war is furnished with a rich and very explicit vocabulary, the same has not been verified in respect to peace, a more evanescent concept. This concept must be clarified within different semantic spheres, those of official discourse (political peace, social peace), of everyday life (harmony between individuals), and also of religion (interior peace, spiritual peace).

For the political and social sphere, texts containing terms relevant to the lexicography of peace include peace treaties and diplomatic correspondence. Documents of official historiography offer descriptions of periods of peace.

For peace as an individual phenomenon, research will rely upon poetry, and on the (rare) examples of character studies found in prose texts.

Text Corpus for the study of Peace

For the lexicography of peace, the research will focus on certain principle works, distinguishing Arabic terminology, principally transmitted by the Qur’an and religious literature, from New Persian terminology proper. An excellent point of departure will be the lexicon employed by the Shāhnāme and the classical literature. For this purpose, we will principally use two works:

  • Wolff, Fritz, Glossar zu Firdosis Schahname, Verskonkordanz der Schahname-Ausgaben von Macan, Vullers und Mohl, Berlin 1935.
  • Shāhnāmah/The Shahnameh (The Book of kings) by Abū al-Qāsim Firdawsī ; eds. Jalāl Khāliqī Muṭlaq - Abū al-Faḍl H̱aṭībī, Maḥmūd Omīdsālār, 8 vols. Costa Mesa-New York, 1997-2008.
  • We will also make reference to the classical dictionaries of the Persian language, principally to the ‘Alī Akbar Dehkhodā, Loghatnāme, in its different edition and volumes. Presently it is online at

We will make use of several historical dictionaries, such as:

  • ‘Alī Ibn Aḥmad Asadī Ṭūsī, Loghat-e fors, ed. Moḥammad Dabīr Siyāqī, Téhéran, 1957.
  • Muḥammad Qāsem ibn Muḥammad Kāshānī Sorūrī, Farhang-e Majma‘ al-Furs, ed. Moḥammad Dabīr Siyāqī, Téhéran, 1959.
  • Mīr Jamāl ad-Dīn Ḥosayn Ibn Fakhr ad-Dīn Ḥasan Injū Shīrāzī, ‘Afīfī, Farhang-e Jahāngīrī, Mashhad, 1972-1975.

As well as modern dictionaries:

  • Steingass, Francis Joseph, A comprehensive Persian-English dictionary including the Arabic words and phrases to be met with in Persian literature, London 1930.
  • Lazard, Gilbert, Dictionnaire persan-français / par Gilbert Lazard. Avec l’assistance de Mehdi Ghavam-Nejad, Leiden, 1990.
  • Vullers, Johann August, Lexicon Persico-Latinum etymologicum accedit appendix vocum dialecti antiquioris, Zend et Pazend dictae; Bonn, 1855. Mo’īn Moḥammad, Farhang-e Fārsī, 6 vols., Tehran 1992-1996.

We will also make reference to other volumes on lexicography, in particular the four volumes of:

    • Doerfer, Gerhard, Türkische und mongolische Elemente im Neupersischen, unter besonderer Berücksichtigung älterer neupersischer Geschichtsquellen, vor allem der Mongolen- und Timuridenzeit, 4 vols., Wiesbaden, 1963-1975. 

To cite this article

Michele Bernardini, "Persian", Les mots de la paix/Terminology of peace [on-line], uploaded 8/04/2016, accessed