Persian is an Indo-European language and it is used as an official language in Iran, Tajikistan and, as one of the two official languages (besides Pashto), in Afghanistan. This language is officially called Farsi in Iran, Dari in Afghanistan, and Tajik in Tajikistan. The speakers of this language can also be found in other countries, like Uzbekistan, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Turkey, the Persian Gulf countries and Central Asia. Apart from these countries, the emigration of Persian speakers to the United States, Europe and Australia has caused the formation of considerable language minorities in these regions.
Persian language family
The Indo-European language family is the largest language family in the world. The most important branches of this family are: Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic, German and Romance. Persian is an Indo-European language which belongs in the Iranian language group.
The historical evolution of the Persian language
Linguists have recorded three historic periods in the evolution of the Persian language with the aid of written monuments. These monuments belong to the following periods:
Ancient Persian, the language of the Achaemenid dynasty (650-350 B.C.E.)
Middle Persian, the language of the Parthian and Sassanid Empires (350 B.C.E.-230 C.E.)
New (Modern) Persian, from the entering of Islam into Iran in the 7th century
Persian is the only language of the Iranian group which has been attested in written documents in all three historic periods. The modern Persian language is a direct descendant of the Middle Persian Pahlavi language. Besides Persian (i.e. Farsi), other languages and dialects can be counted is important representatives of this language group, such as Kurdish, Baluchi, Gilani, Mazandarani, and Luri; all of these languages have speakers on the territory of Iran.
The relationship between Persian and Arabic
One of the most widespread misconceptions about Persian has to do with its relationship towards Arabic. Most people mistakenly believe that they are a single language, or that they are two very similar or closely related languages. Arabic belongs to the Semitic language family and is, therefore, not related to Persian, which belongs to the Indo-European family. Therefore, from the point of view of phonological, morphological and syntactic structure, there are no similarities between the two languages (even though a couple of syntactic structures have entered Persian from Arabic). On the other hand, after the advent of Islam in Iran and the subsequent spread of the Arabic language, many Arab words entered Persian, even though nothing changed in the nature of the morphological and syntactic structure. Maybe the most important similarity between the two languages is their writing system, because the Persian alphabet is very similar to the Arabic, although the writing systems of these languages do have mutual differences.
The Persian script
The Persian script is written and read from right to left. This writing system is used to represent the 33 letters of the Persian alphabet. The existence of punctuation and the cursive nature of the script are its most important characteristics. The way each letter is connected to the previous or next letter in a word depends upon whether that letter is at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word, although not all letters connect to the following one. The origin of this script is tied to the scripts of the Pahlavi, Avestan, Manichaean and other languages which existed in the Ancient Persian period, but it is mistakenly attributed to Arabic. Nevertheless, the foundation of the modern Persian alphabet is based on the letters of the Arabic alphabet and because of that, there are many letters in the Persian alphabet which are used for the same phoneme. For instance, the phoneme /z/ can be represented by four letters (ز ذ ظ ض) of the Persian alphabet. Apart from this, the Persian alphabet is also characterized by the omission of short vowels. There is only one official script in Iran, the Persian alphabet, while the Persian language is written with the Cyrillic alphabet in Tajikistan.
Persian and Serbian
Both Persian and Serbian belong to the Indo-European language family. Persian belongs to the Iranian branch, while Serbian is in the Southern Slavic branch. Apart from genetic connections, there are other connections between the two languages, such as Persian loanwords in Serbian. These words entered the Serbian language through Turkish during Ottoman rule over parts of the Balkans and they have undergone phonetic changes.