Middle Persian, the successor of Old Persian from Achaemenid Empire, was used by the Sassanian Empire of Iran, and is the ancestor of Modern Persian, which is currently the official language of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. This language has been written using multiple scripts, including Pahlavi script, Manichaean script and Pazend. This blog post is the most brief introduction to Middle Persian using Pahlavi script, a script derived from imperial Aramaic.

This language is written and read right-to-left, however in this blog post because the main body of text is English, the text is aligned on the left-side.

This blog post requires a browser that supports custom fonts, since I am using the Khusro Pahlavi font. If you cannot see this blog post properly, a PDF version of this blog post is available here.

Alphabet

There are 14 primary letters in Pahlavi, some of which are used for multiple sounds. First, let’s look at each letter of the alphabet individually. The content of this section is derived mostly from (Kapadia, 1953).

n

Sound: n, v, r, u, û, o, ô, rarely l

Modern Persian equivalents: ن، و، ر، گاهی ل

Notes: Joins with preceding f, gE, s, a, l, Z and G, but not with any succeeding letter. Pahlavi words ending with t, c, p, k and n, can optionally add an extra final n.

Examples:

  1. n (û): a conjunction, meaning and, or; و.
  2. nnn (van): a tree, forest, jungle
  3. kyn (nêvak): good, beautiful, virtuous; نیک.
  4. nDXn (nihān): secret, concealed; نهان.
  5. rpn (vafra): ice, snow, hail, sleet; برف.

f / i

Sound: i, y, e, d, j, g

Modern Persian equivalents: ی، د، ج، گ

Notes:

  1. In the body of a word it retains its form f before n, i, b, k as y, I!, __B!, q and H!; in all other cases it lapses into i.
  2. f (ê or î): used as an izâfat اضافت to show relation between two words, as possessor and the person or a thing possessed, in which case f shows the genitive case.
  3. Combines with all preceding letters except n,_ b,_k,_t,_c and with all succeeding letters except n,_ b,_Ë where it takes the forms y, __B!,_M!.
  4. f used as the numeral “one” when it follows a substantive, e.g. f_aB! (gabrâ-ê) a man; f_TlË (mart-ê) a man; مردی.
  5. i used to represent numeral “one”, e.g. ZLi (ê-raz): one hundred; یک صد, KLi (ê-rag): one thousand; یک هزار.

Examples:

  1. N_gE (dîv): satan, Dev, a demon, an evil spirit; دیو.
  2. rFnp_f_rTXË (mâtar-î-pûsar): mother of the boy; مادرِ پسر.
  3. Using izâfat is optional, and when it is dropped, it is necessary that the qualifying adjective or the thing possessed must precede the thing possessed or qualified; e.g. rTXË_rFnp (pûsar mâtar), and it is the rule that a Q (zak) or fQ (zak-î) is added before the two words, so: rTXË_rFnp_fQ (zak-î pûsar mâtar)
  4. It is also used as a rendering of Avesta relative pronouns OvjE, WvjE, TavjE, who, which and what.

gE / F

Sound: s

Modern Persian equivalent: س

Notes:

  1. The gE form of this letter is used when it is the final word of a simple word, or when that simple word is part of a compound word, e.g. gEAr (râs), gEann (vînâs), Rak_gEann (vînâs-kâr)
  2. The gE form of this letter is also used when before B,_Ë,_n, e.g. t_gE (sût), vH_gEA (asmân)
  3. The gE form of this letter is also used to represent the numerical cipher 40, forty J___A_jEc (chêhal); چهل

Examples:

  1. s|rF (srôsh): one who obeys or hears; the name of the angel who protects mankind by night and day against the attacks of the Daevas, and guards the souls of the dead for the first three nights. He may be compared with Gabriel of Semitic mythology, as a principle messenger of God. He is always styled as n b|rsA_=_s|rF (srôsh-î-ahlôb): holy srosh; metaphorically means “obedience”, “humility”.; سروش.
  2. nvjXpF (spâhân): The city of Ispahan, former capital city of Iran; اصفهان.

s

Sound: š (sh)

Modern Persian equivalent: ش

Notes:

  1. In Indian manuscripts this letter is generally given as DE</span>, which can be read as š, dâ, gâ, jâ, yâ, ih.

Examples:

  1. ivjX (šûi): a husband; شوی، شوهر.
  2. nnTFvjX (šôstan): to wash, to cleanse, to purify; شستن.
  3. anks (šikôh): pomp, grandeur, majesty, dignity; شکوه.

a

Sound: a, â, kh, h

Modern Persian equivalents: آ، خ، ه

Notes:

  1. Can be used as a prefix, denoting “not” or negation, e.g. gEA_nv (a-vînâs): sinless.

Examples:

  1. v (hû): a prefix indicating “good”, “well”; opposite of sy (dûš) bad
  2. tËy (hû-mat): good thought
  3. nvL_Ia (aîrân): the home of the Aryans, the Iran proper; ایران.
  4. DEnTEa (aêtîh): existence, being; هستی.

B

Sound: b, ê

Modern Persian equivalents: ب، ی

Notes:

  1. Can be added to words to mean “one”, e.g. f_TlË (mart-ê) a man; مردی.
  2. Does not combine with any succeeding letter, and only combines with preceding i,_s,_a,_r,_Z.

Examples:

  1. nn B (bûn): basis, root, beginning, bottom, foundation, extremity, end, origin; بن.
  2. En B (bôî): to smell, fragrance , smell, perfume, scent; بو، بوی.
  3. nTFbM! (ham-bast): bound together, connected together; هم‌بست.
  4. rTXrb / TXrb (brâtar / brât): brother; برادر.

r

Sound: r, l

Modern Persian equivalents: ر، ل

Notes:

  1. Sometimes l is written as J to distinguish it from r, specially in Pazend.
  2. At the end of some Semitic words it is written as O, e.g. ODX (akhar).
  3. Used as the numerical cypher for number 20 (li = bist); بیست.
  4. Used as the first person singular pronoun (li=men): I, me, my, mine; من.

Examples:

  1. f|r (rûi): face, feature, countenance; رو، روی.
  2. ODX_ny|r (levîn-û-âkhar = pêš-pas): more or less, before and after, first to the last; کم و بیش، پیش و پس، اول تا آخر.
  3. Tl (rat): lord, master, spiritual chief, principal, a Dastur or high priest;
  4. KR (lagh / ragh): the numerical cypher for 1000; one thousand; هزار.

Z

Sound: z

Modern Persian equivalents: ز

Notes:

  1. Does not combine with any preceding letter but combines with all succeeding letters.

Examples:

  1. |Z (zan): a woman, a female, a wife; زن. The word is probably from the corresponding زادن or زائيدن (to give birth) from Avesta.
  2. i^|Z (zand): great, vehement, powerful; زند.
  3. ajEqnyjz (zîvandakîh): Abstract; life, existence; زندگی.
  4. RZ (zar): gold; زر.
  5. kz (zak): A semitic particle, extensively used in Pahlavi and signifying a Demon. Adjective and pronoun singular & plural: that, that one, also used in third personal pronouns: he, she or it, sometimes as a relative pronoun: that, which, who. The word is of frequent occurence and invariably replaces Iranian word nv (ân) آن. Also, as explained before, kz and f_kz are used in the beginning of a genitive construction where the izafat اضافت “f” is dropped and the thing possessed or qualified is placed after the possessor or the qualifying adjective, e.g. n|rh_r_f_kz (zak-î-li-môrv): my bird.

k

Sound: k, rarely g and y

Modern Persian equivalents: ک، گاهی گ، ی

Notes:

  1. Generally used as a sign of past participle at the end of a verb in preterite form, e.g. ktnk کرده or kTlB برده.
  2. It is also used as a diminutive suffix, e.g. kR_Fnp (pûsarak) پسرک.

Examples:

  1. nnk (kanû): now, at present, yet, still; کنون.
  2. Tlaktnk (kûtak-khrat): short-witted, foolish, silly; کوته خرد.
  3. nnTEyk (kînîtan): Denominative verb from nyk (kîn) malice; to bear malice to, to take revenge on; کین گرفتن.
  4. akk (kakâ): a tooth, teeth; Semitic equivalent of nvjEy (dandân) دندان.
  5. Gk (kam): less, little, small, a few, scarce, deficient; کم.
  6. knvb_ktk (katak-banûk): the mistress of the house, mater-familias. کد بانو.
  7. wtv_ktk (katak-khûtâi): the master of the house, pater-familias, a chief. کد خدا.

G

Sound: m

Modern Persian equivalents: م

Notes:

  1. Does not combine with preceding n,_ B,_k,_t_,_p,_c,_K
  2. Even in its combined form, it keeps its full form, and it combines with all succeeding letters except K

Examples:

  1. f|_G (mûy): hair; مو، موی.
  2. E*|_G (mang): a narcotic drug made from hemp-seed, hen-bane, a drug used for abortion, Cannabis Sativa; منگ، بنگ، بنج.
  3. EnyG (mînôy / mînúg): spiritual, heavenly, invisible, a spirit, a spiritual being; مینو، مینوی.
  4. nvMajX_G (mâhmân): a guest, a visitor, one who is entertained; as adjective satisfied, pleased, gratified, agreeable, welcome; مهمان.
  5. nntG (Mitra): the name of an Yazat: Meher Yazad; presiding over light, also over faith, friendship and contracts; مهر.

t

Sound: t, d

Modern Persian equivalents: ت، د

Notes:

  1. Does not join any succeeding letter, and does not join with preceding n,_f,_k,_t,_p,_c,_K.
  2. Always appears whole in any formation.

Examples:

  1. nnt (tan): body, person, the corporal body as distinguished from prk the spiritual body; تن.
  2. E^nnt (tanand): a spider, a cobweb; تتنده، تنندو.
  3. nnTEcnt (tôjîtan): to atone for a sin, to expiate, to undergo punishment, to plunder, to assault; توزیدن.
  4. rkvbnt (tûbânkar): rich, powerful, able, opulent, competent; توانگر.
  5. ajEvjfct_nv (khûn-tachišnîh): flowing out of blood.

p

Sound: pa, pha (if initial, also: cha, ja, za)

Modern Persian equivalents: پ، ف (اگر در ابتدا، همچنین: و، چ، ت، ز)

Notes:

  1. Appears either as a whole, or as P when joining the previous letter.

Examples:

  1. nnp (pavan = pa, pat): a semitic particle, used extensive as a preposition with meanings: to, by, from, through, according to, in, into, on, upon, with, among, about, at, for, as, as to, as if. It corresponds to Modern Persian پ، بر. It is the prefix for instrumental & genetive cases. e.g. ODX_nnp (pavan-âkhar = pa-pas): in the end, at last; پا پس.
  2. TFnp (pûst): the skin, a hide, a covering, a coating; پوست.
  3. PXnp (frâz): A preposition with the meaning of: forth, further, forthwith, on, upon, above, upwards, aloft, back, down, after, again, opposite, contrary, before, near, forward, together; فراز، فرا.
  4. E^|Znp (frazand): an offspring, child, son, progeny; فرزند.
  5. nvGtp (patmân): measure, standard, regulation, moderation, plan, design, rule, proportion, estimate, compact, agreement, (golden) mean, metrical measure; پیمان.

c

Sound: ch, if initial: j, if medial or final: ch, j, z, zh, p, f, v

Modern Persian equivalent: چ، اگر ابتدا: ج، اگر میان یا انتها: چ، ج، ز، ژ، پ، ف، و

Notes:

  1. Does not combine with any of the succeeding letters
  2. Combines with preceding E,_a,_r,_G as PE,_Pl,_PX,_PG

Examples:

  1. c (cha): an enclitic particle, meaning: and, also, likewise, even, too, yet, else, always, added to the word it connects; when it follows a word ending in a consonant, the vowel (i) is conveniently added to the consonant, e.g. (nari-cha), (kasi-cha); sometimes the vowel (a) is added to the consonant (hasta-cha).
  2. E^nc (chand): how much, how many, how long, of what length or duration, some, any indefinite quantity; چند.
  3. rA_yc (chînâr): the poplar tree, plane tree, the sycamore; چنار.
  4. DEn_gEc (chûnîh / chêgûnîh): abstract noun from n_gEc (chûn): quality, qualification, description, whereabouts, peculiarity; چگونگی = کیفیت.

K

Sound: gh

Modern Persian equivalent: ق

Examples:

  1. KR (lagh / ragh): the numerical cypher for 1000; one thousand; هزار.
  2. KG (magh): a pit, a hole, a row or line of stones on which a “riman” or “contaminated” person sits successively during the ceremony of purification; مغاک، مغ.
  3. KG (mogh / magh): a magi, a mobed, one who pratises magism; مغ.
  4. bDlKa (aghriya / aghrâya): this word is derived from B!rKa meaning: top, head, summit, pertaining to top, pertaining to summit, topmost, of the first quality, the principal one.
  5. nvtKn (vaghtân): a head (of a good being), as opposed to rA__Gk (kamâr) head of an evil being.

Letters mixed

The table below shows how different letters mix together (Kapadia, 1953):

Letter mix table

Phrases & Words

  1. a_Gvv (Aûhr-mazd): The Supreme Creator, Lord Ormazd, of Zoroastrian philosophy. Formerly read as Anhômâ.
  2. @ (Aharman) اهرمن، اهریمن, is the destructive / evil spirit in Zoroastrianism. The name is traditionally written upside down.
  3. rDX|rp (frôhâr): the guardian angel or spirit, a spiritual prototype, traditionally nvb|r (rûbân) soul, and rDX|rp (frôhâr) are quite distinct. Ravan passes the Chinvat Bridge according to his or her deeds in this world, whilst fravashi is the sublime spirit which protects its counterpart in this world as a guardian angle. It is the highest of the five spiritual entities of which the human being is made up (ahu, daena, baodhang, urvan and fravashi). Also written sa|rp, Ra|rp; فروهر.
  4. N_gE (dîv): satan, Dev, a demon, an evil spirit; دیو.
  5. nvjfPE (yazišn): to worship, part of Zoroastrian sacred texts known as Yasna: a sacrifical prayer with offerings of Hom; یسنا.
  6. ajEIaRDX (ahlâyîh = aša): abstract noun for (ahlôb) righteous, i.e. truth, righteousness, holiness, sanctity, Asha; آشا.

The Threefold Path of Asha

The three ethical pillars of Zoroastrianism, mentioned in Yasna Haptaŋhāiti یسنا هفت هات (Y. 35.4) are rendered in Pahlavi as such:

nvjfyGv (humînišn): good thought (منش نیک)

nvjfnnkv (hukûnišn): good deeds (کنش نیک)

nvjfiyv (hugôîšn): good speech (گویش نیک)

Also see HUMATA HŪXTA HUVARŠTA for more information.

Common Persian Names

M_AR_DXn: name of the angel of victory, popularly known as Behram Yazat; also the name of the 20th day of the Zoroastrian month, over which Behram Yazat presides; the planet Mars is also known by the same name; بهرام.

s|rF (srôsh): one who obeys or hears; the name of the angel who protects mankind by night and day against the attacks of the Daevas, and guards the souls of the dead for the first three nights. He may be compared with Gabriel of Semitic mythology, as a principle messenger of God. He is always styled as n b|rsA_=_s|rF (srôsh-î-ahlôb): holy srosh; metaphorically means “obedience”, “humility”; سروش.

n|r_G (Marva): name of the third of the goodly created places by Ahura Mazd according to Vendidad I: the modern “Marv”, “Margvan” of the clasics; مرو، مهرو.

PFIa_G (mahest): the greatest, the grandest, the highest, the longest; میهن.

EnyG (mînôy / mînúg): spiritual, heavenly, invisible, a spirit, a spiritual being; مینو، مینوی.

nvLp (frakh / frakho): prosperous, auspicious; فرخ.

G_YEajE (yâsmen): a jasmine or jassemine, a kind of flower; یاسمن.

Additional resources

References

  1. Kapadia, D. D. (1953). Glossary of Pahlavi Vendidad. Shahnamah Press Bombay.