SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East

Other Iranian languages

The languages of Iran

The Iranian languages belong to the Indo-European family, being closely related to Sanskrit and more distantly to Greek, Latin and most of the modern languages of Europe (including English).

The Iranian linguistic area, extending from Kurdistan to Chinese Turkestan, links the Middle East to Central Asia, India and the Far East, while empires based in Iran bridge the gap in time between between the civilisations of the ancient Near East and the coming of Islam. Both geographically and historically, therefore, Iranian has a central place within Asian Studies.

The oldest Iranian languages are Avestan, the language of the Zoroastrian scriptures, and Old Persian, in which the cuneiform inscriptions of Achaemenid emperors such as Darius and Xerxes were composed.

Middle and Modern Iranian languages include Parthian and Middle Persian (Pahlavi), the languages of the Arsacid and Sasanian empires respectively, both of which are also important for the study of the Manichaean religion; Bactrian, a mediaeval language of Afghanistan written in Greek script; Sogdian, the lingua franca of the Silk Road between China and the West; Khotanese, the vehicle of an extensive Buddhist literature; Pashto, one of the national languages of Afghanistan; Kurdish; Baluchi; and many other modern languages and dialects.

Classical and modern Islamic Persian or Farsi also belongs to the Iranian family, but in view of its long history and extensive literature it ranks as a subject in its own right.

Many of the languages mentioned above can be studied at SOAS in the combined-honours degrees in Iranian Languages and, to some extent also, in the combined honours degree in Persian. Some can also be taken as part of degrees in Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Study of Religions, and as optional units ("floaters") by students enrolled on other degrees and non-degree ("occasional") students.