Monday, November 24, 2014

Country Profile: The Languages of Iran

In today's post we're focusing on the linguistic diversity of Iran, historically known as Persia. Iran is one of the largest countries in the Middle East and is known for being one of the oldest centers of civilization in the world. It is also quite linguistically diverse, so let's get started!

The Official Language

The sole official language of Iran is Persian, a member of the Iranian language family. Persian is spoken by the majority of Iran's population. It is also an official language in the countries of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, whose varieties of Persian are known as Dari and Tajik respectively.

Minority Languages

Despite the official status of Persian, many other languages are used throughout Iran by large numbers of speakers. In order to simplify things, we're going to discuss them according to their language families.

The Lut Desert in Iran
Iranian Languages

Gilaki and Mazanderani are two closely-related members of the Iranian language family that are spoken by approximately 3 million people in Iran. The Kurdish language, on the other hand, is spoken by approximately 10% of the Iranian population, mostly in Kurdistan Province. 

Luri is also spoken by a relatively large percentage of Iran's population, and is thought by some linguists to be part of a dialect continuum that connects the Persian and Kurdish languages. Finally, the Balochi language is spoken by around 2% of Iranians, primarily those residing in southeastern Iran.

Turkic Languages

Azerbaijani, also known as Azeri, is spoken by nearly one-fifth of Iran's population. It is a member of the Turkic language family and is the official language of the neighboring country of Azerbaijan. Turkmen, the official language of Turkmenistan, is also spoken by over 1 million people in Iran, primarily in the country's northeastern regions that border Turkmenistan.

Semitic Languages

Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, a member of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family spoken in Iran, is one of the many Aramaic languages. Aramaic languages are particularly fascinating due to their written existence that dates back over 3,000 years as well as their use by several empires and religious throughout the ages, which we'll look at sometime in the future. The Hebrew and Arabic languages are also both spoken by approximately 2% of Iranians.

Other Languages

Two final languages that are spoken by large numbers of Iranians yet don't fit into any of the other language groups are Georgian and Armenian. Georgian is a member of the Kartvelian language family, while Armenian comprises its own indpendent branch of the Indo-European language family. Both are spoken by approximately 2% of Iran's population.