Pahlawi/Farsi/Dari

Roughly speaking, Pahlawi is the language of the Sassanids and the official Zoroastrian Priesthood language. It emerged as the language of the Persians after the defeat of the Parthians by Cyrus in mid sixth century B.C. Pahlawi is also refereed to as Middle Persian. The term "middle" Persian suggests the existence of an old Persian and a new Persian. The old Persian being the language of the Achamenians which was overshadowed by Greek after the conquests of Alexander the Great. The Pahlawi emerged as the spoken language of the Persian courts of the Sassanids. The conquest of Moslems again broke the continues chain of Persian language and Arabic (for two hundred years, i.e. 6-8 century A.D.) became the official language . The Persians however did not forget their own language and little by little the Middle Persian was being shaped into new Persian but with the addition of a considerable amount of Arabic and Parthian words in Arabic script. This new style was the mother of both Farsi and Dari. Officially, Farsi is The Persian of Iran and Dari is the Persian spoken in Afghanistan.

Before Perusing any further, it is important to explain the term Iran. Ariyana of the Avesta [the book of Zoroaster] or Arya of Sanskrit [ancient Aryan/Indian language] is the land of the Aryans, a people of Central Asian Steppes who came down from beyond the Oxus river in about 2000 B.C. Afghans, Persians and Kurd are among the Aryan tribes.

Most authors do not really distinguish between Iran, Aryan, and Persian. They use these terms to mean either race, language, culture or nationality. Iran is taken from Aryan which means the land of the Aryans, which is not an accurate term since most of Central and South Central Asia is Aryan. Persian is another confusing term which not only implies to the modern Iranian (nation) people but also to those who speak Persian (New Persian i.e. Farsi, Dari etc.). It is impossible to speak of the language and the land without using this western terminology which blindly throws everyone into incorrect or vague categories. I, however, will try to clarify the terms when using them.

The Old, Middle and New Persian are and represent the same language at three stages of its history. Persian was originated in Persa (Persis of Greeks and Fars of Arabs) and is differentiated by dialectical features, still easily recognizable from the dialects prevailing South, Centarl and South Western Asia. The new Persian remains close to the Middle Persian in many respects. However, New Persian has taken many words from Arabic and Parthian, as opposed to Middle Persian which was influenced, to a lesser degree, by Aramiac. The grammatical structure has also undergone minor changes, mainly in relations to verbal morphology and syntax. For example, in new Persian as in German, verbs usually end a sentence.

Ibn al-Muqaffa, in his Fihrist lists the five languages of Persia at the end of the Sassanid rule. Pahlawi-the language of Fahla country (ancient Media); Dari-The language of the capital, Ctesiphon; Parsi-language of the Mobads and scholars; Suryani-spoken in Sawan, and finally Khuzi of Khuzistan. The last two are not Aryan but Semitic. Parsi was the official language of the state and the Zoroastrian religion, which is said to be the vehicle of literature later known as Pahlawi. Of Pahlawi, Ibn al-Muqaffa knew nothing of, thus he named Middle Persian Parsi, and used the term Pahlawi to describe the dialect of Media. As for Dari, it was the usual spoken language not only in the capital but most likely of a large part of the empire also.

Dari is derived from dar or darbari, meaning court language. In everyday conversation Dari was used and Parsi was the written and scholarly language. At the beginning these were little difference between Parsi and Dari. However, over the Years, Dari has evolved into a dialect of Middle Persian (Parsi), this distinction was realized and noted by the Sassanids towards the end of their rule. Dari, as a spoken language branched to different dialects, the most important of which was Pahlawi, the language of Parthia which had preserved the oral literature of the poetic tradition of Parthia.

Under the Sassanids prestige, Dari spread into the east and Transoxiana regions of the empire suppressing local tongs. By the 9th century the Dari of Khurasan was the dominant speaking language of the Sassanian empire. In the Middle of the 8th century Abu Muslim's Arab armies spoke Dari. And it is this language which kept a sense of unity among the "Arabized" Persians and thus emerged as a national identity through literature.

On the other hand, since Parsi (Middle Persian) was the official language, most of the government officials used it to keep records. With the advent of Islam Arabic slowly replaced Parsi as official language. The spoken language of Dari however remained intact. It was particularly strong in rural places especially among the dihqans who held on to it ever harder. The Shu'ubiyya controversy is an example of Persian (Lang.) nationalism. It is known that pre-Islamic Persia had some brilliant poetry, but the reason so little of it has survived as M. Boyce argues, is because most of the poetry was oral. When Arabic became the scholarly language, Dari, to a certain extent, was forgotten for a while. Although there are traces that indicate Arabic and Dari poetry flourishing side by side.

As mentioned above, Paris as an official language was over shadowed by Arabic with the coming of the Moslems. Dari being an everyday language stored the folklore of the Persians (lang.) Thus, in order to revive the Persian literature one had to find a widely used Persian language. Dari presented the perfect tool for this task. However, Dari was a commoner language at the time, therefore, measures were taken to standardize and formalize Dari in order for it to be used in Royal courts. The earliest Dari writing goes back to 752 in letter form. However by the 10th century a tremendous amount of literature was written and translated into Dari.

The first attempts to revive Persian was in poetic form. Among the first poets according to Tarikh-i Sistan, were Mohammad b. Wasif [Vasif], and Hanzala of Badghis. The lubabu's-albab of Mohammad Awfi claims one Abbas of Merw as the first poet, who composed a poem in honor of Khalifa al-Ma'mun on the occasion of his entry into that city [Marw] in 809 A.D. Ibn Wasif a secretary of Ya'qub b. al-Laith of the Saffarid dynasty, who praised the sultan, on his recent victory in Herat and Pushang in Arabic verses. Not understanding his secretary of chancery, Yaqub asked: "Why must something be recited that I can't understand?" Thus Mhd b. Wasif, to please the sultan began writing in Dari.

It is said that Dari poetry borrowed its verse-from Arabic literature. Hanzala and Ibn Vasif were the leading men, in local Persian courts, who led the way for a patriotic literary revival. Much credit also goes to dynasties of Tahirids, Saffarids, Samanids, and Ghaznavids and patrons such as bin lays of Saffar, Nasr II of Saman and Sultan Mahmud and Mas'ud of Ghazna who in their courts, gathered many poets and were patron of a magnificent yet lost art.

The authors of all the works I've read, misuse the terms Iranian, Aryan, Persian, Pahlawi and Parsi. It is in this shuffle that the right credit does not go to those who deserve it. Since Persia changed its name to Iran it has taken with it all the credit ever due to an Aryan. The Western world knows Persians through Greek records and consider Modern Iranians as the Persians which leaves both Afghanistan and Tajikistan, especially Afghanistan out of the picture.

by Rameen Moshref

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