Persian or Arabic. What is older

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by skaught, Apr 29, 2010.

  1. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

    A friend of mine, knowing that I dabble in linguistics, came to me and asked what was older, Persian or Arabic. I guess that Persian was probably older since it is of indo european origin. I would guess that arabic may have come from earlier aramaic, but I'm not sure of that... any help or clarification would be great.
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  3. Omega133 Aus der Dunkelheit Valued Senior Member

    Well. Persia changed it's name to Arabia. So i'm guessing that Persian is older. But I am not much for linguistics, just history.
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The earliest records of Ancient North Arabian and Old Persian are of similar age, dating to the middle of the first millennium BCE.

    Old Persian derives from an earlier Proto-Iranian language, which is the ancestor of all the Iranic languages such as Pashto. The Indic and Iranic languages form the Indo-Iranian subgroup of the Eastern branch of the Indo-European family, which also includes the Balto-Slavic subgroup as well as Armenian and a few other languages.
    Old North Arabian is the earliest member of the Arabic subgroup of the West Semitic languages. Aramaic and Canaanite (the ancestor of Phoenician and Hebrew) belong the Northwestern subgroup of the West Semitic languages, so Arabic is not descended from Aramaic.

    In addition to the West Semitic languages there are also the South Semitic languages, which include Ethiopian languages such as Amharic and Ge'ez, and the extinct East Semitic languages such as Akkadian and Eblaite.

    Semitic is one branch of the Afroasiatic language family. The other five branches (again, depending on which linguist you talk to) are Berber, Chadic, Cushitic, Egyptian and Omotic, all of which are North African branches.

    When the climate of the Sahara desert reached its most inhospitable level around 15KYA, it drove the African people out of North Africa. When the Agricultural Revolution occurred in Mesopotamia 12KYA, the southwestern Asian people now had food technology with which to challenge the desert, so some of them migrated back to mankind's original homeland and established successful Neolithic societies in North Africa. Thus the Egyptians, Berbers, Ethiopians, etc. are more closely related to the Jews and Arabs than to their sub-Saharan neighbors.
    We have no way of knowing the age of any of the world's language families, so just because one language is Indo-European and the other is Afroasiatic, that's no clue as to which is older. So far it's proven impossible to trace any language back 10,000 years, because vocabulary, grammar, phonetics, syntax and even the basic world view of the community of speakers can turn over completely during that time, leaving absolutely no resemblance. We can trace Proto-Indo-European back to around 4000 BCE, when the Eastern and Western branches began to differentiate. But we don't know where it came from before that. It's anybody's guess as to whether the technology of speech was invented once and spread around the world in a single language family (presumably before the diaspora out of Africa 60KYA), or was invented in multiple times and places.
    You've got that a little muddled. Persia changed its name to Iran.

    The Persians were the tribe of Cyrus. When he united the other tribes in the region (becoming Cyrus the Great), the Greeks and Romans continued to refer to all of them as Persians and they called his empire Persia. During most of history the Iranians called their own country Aryanam, which means "the home of the Aryan people," and evolved into modern "Iran," but apparently they didn't complain when others called it Persia. Today the Iranian government insists on the name Iran and we all generally comply, but scholars everywhere refer to it as Persia when speaking of historical topics.

    The homeland of Cyrus's tribe within modern Iran still exists, although it is not as large as it once was, and its name is still Fars or Pars, depending on the dialect. The proper name of Iran's national language is Farsi; it is often called "Persian" without evoking serious complaints, but never "Iranian." Dari, one of the primary languages of Afghanistan, is, by linguistic standards, a dialect of Farsi. Pashto, its other primary language, is very similar to Farsi; I don't know how difficult it is for the people to understand each other.
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement

    to hide all adverts.
  7. Omega133 Aus der Dunkelheit Valued Senior Member

    Well, I was close. I forgot about all that. Thanks for the clarity.
  8. skaught The field its covered in blood Valued Senior Member

    You know, I seem to have noticed that when I listen to Persian being spoken by a friend of mine, it sounds ever so slightly like Russian. But he denies that they are at all related. I also have not heard him speak since I started learnign Russian, so this observation may change.

    Do we have a record of any of these five? I mean, is there anyone around who speaks egyptian?
  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Phonetics is one of the least useful characteristics for judging language relationships. Dutch is the major language that is most closely related to English and you'd never guess that from listening to it. German and Danish are also fairly close to English but the similarity is even harder to hear. Or try comparing French and Italian!

    The Balto-Slavic languages (Bulgarian, Czech, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, etc.) are rather close relatives of the Indo-Iranian languages (Bengali, Farsi/Persian, Hindi, Pashto, Punjabi , etc.). Russian and Farsi are much more closely related to each other than they are to Latin, Greek, Irish or English.
    Four of these branches are alive.
    • The Berber branch includes Kabyle, Tarifit, Tuareg, Zenaga and many others.
    • The Chadic branch includes Hausa, Kamwe, Tumak and many others.
    • The Cushitic branch includes Oromo (35 million speakers), Somali (15 million), Sidamo (2 million) and many others.
    • The Omotic branch includes Bambassi, Dime, Kafa, Sheko and many others.
    The Egyptian branch may or may not be extinct, depending on how you define the word. There are unverified reports of people speaking Coptic as a vernacular language, but it remains alive as a liturgical language, like Latin and Old Church Slavonic, and like Hebrew before it was revived as the language of modern Israel.

    No one speaks Ancient Egyptian, and because it was written in an abjad (an alphabet with no vowels, like Aramaic, Hebrew and Classical Arabic, because vowels are not phonemic in the Afroasiatic languages and therefore don't need to be written down to distinguish one word from another) we can't be positive of the pronunciation. But the Egyptians left plenty of writing so their language has been studied exhaustively. Coptic is its only (more-or-less) surviving descendant.
  10. Shadow1 Valued Senior Member


    wait, does this means north africans are orignally from asia, or left africa in a previous ages to asia, then went back to north africa? is that what you mean?
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Anthropologists are not unanimous on this issue, but it does seem like that's what happened.

    The ancestors of all non-African peoples are a tribe named the San or "Bushmen." One group of them walked across Sinai around 60KYA, during an ice age which was causing a drought and a major famine, and kept going until they reached Australia, which due to the vagaries of weather patterns had plenty of food. They were the ancestors of the Australian Aborigines. A second group came out around 50KYA when times were not so harsh, and settled in Asia. Eventually of course their descendants spread out to populate every continent except Antarctica, and most of the world's islands.

    It appears likely that around 12KYA, when the Agricultural Revolution happened in Mesopotamia, a group of the Asian descendants of the San crossed back over Sinai and used their spiffy new agricultural technology to make food grow in the hostile climate of North Africa; and these people were the ancestors of the Berbers, Egyptians, Ethiopians, etc.

    However, their DNA was effectively thrown into a blender with the DNA of all the sub-Saharan tribes they came in contact with, and today it is not easy to sort out all the genes and figure out which one came from whom. Some scientists think the people who re-populated the Sahara were true Africans who came back north and found a way to survive without the help of Mesopotamian technology. Or it could be that they found a few small tribes of Mesopotamian adventurers who taught them how to cultivate crops and domesticate animals, and they assimilated both their technology and their DNA. Either way, the DNA of North Africans is an olio of many different populations and there is not unanimous agreement on which one comprised the bulk of the gene pool.

    In any case this leaves some mystery about the Semitic peoples, who live on both sides of the Red Sea and are related to the North Africans by culture and language. We're going to have to wait for DNA analysis to solve all of these mysteries as it becomes easier, faster and cheaper to do.

    BTW, the San or "Bushmen" still exist. When the Sahara turned into a desert they migrated south with all the other Paleolithic North Africans, and they now live in southeastern Africa. We have plenty of DNA samples from their tribe so it's beyond question that of all the Africans, they are our closest relatives.
  12. alex sam Registered Member

    i'm guessing that arabic is older
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The first records in Ancient North Arabian date to the 8th century BCE; the first records in Old Persian date to the 6th century BCE. Obviously both languages had surely been used in speech for some time before they were first written down, so they are of approximately the same age.

    Modern Arabic and Modern Persian are also of roughly the same age, dating to around 800CE.

    It's never possible to pinpoint the exact date when a language arises, because all languages change gradually from one form to another. For example, we use 1066 as the date when Anglo-Saxon changed to Middle English, because of the Norman Invasion and the massive new influence of French on English. Yet that change could not have occurred swiftly; it takes time for people to assimilate changes in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation into their language; at least a couple of generations. Similarly, for convenience we say that Modern Persian was born after the Islamic Conquest of the Persian Empire added many Arabic words to the language; but that, too, could not have happened in a single year or even a single generation.

Share This Page