|Native to||Parthian Empire (incl. Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, Arsacid dynasty of Iberia and Arsacid Dynasty of Caucasian Albania)|
|Region||Parthia, ancient Iran|
|Era||State language 248 BC - 224 AD. Marginalized by Middle Persian from the 3rd century, though longer existent in the Caucasus due to several eponymous branches|
|Inscriptional Parthian, Manichaean alphabet|
The Parthian language, also known as Arsacid Pahlavi and Pahlaw?n?g, is a now-extinct ancient Northwestern Iranian language spoken in Parthia, a region situated in present-day northeastern Iran and Turkmenistan. Parthian was the language of state of the Arsacid Parthian Empire (248 BC - 224 AD), as well as of its eponymous branches of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, Arsacid dynasty of Iberia, and the Arsacid dynasty of Caucasian Albania.
This language had a significant impact on Armenian, a large part of whose vocabulary was formed primarily from borrowings from Parthian. Many ancient Parthian words were preserved, and now can be seen only in Armenian.
Parthian was a Western Middle Iranian language. Language contact made it share some features of the Eastern Iranian language group, the influence of which is attested primarily in loanwords. Some traces of Eastern influence survive in Parthian loanwords in Armenian. Parthian loanwords appear in everyday Armenian vocabulary; nouns, adjectives, adverbs, denominative verbs, and administrative and religious lexicons.
The Parthian language was rendered using the Pahlavi writing system, which had two essential characteristics: First, its script derived from Aramaic, the script (and language) of the Achaemenid chancellery (i.e. Imperial Aramaic). Second, it had a high incidence of Aramaic words, rendered as ideograms or logograms, that is, they were written Aramaic words but understood as Parthian ones (See Arsacid Pahlavi for details).
The Parthian language was the language of the old Satrapy of Parthia and was used in the Arsacids courts. The main sources for Parthian are the few remaining inscriptions from Nisa and Hecatompylos, Manichaean texts, Sasanian multi-lingual inscriptions, and remains of Parthian literature in the succeeding Middle Persian. Among these, the Manichaean texts, composed shortly after the demise of the Parthian power, play an important role for reconstructing the Parthian language. These Manichaean manuscripts contain no ideograms.
Attestations of the Parthian language include:
This sample of Parthian literature is taken from a Manichaean text fragment:
|ad h?m Parw?n-h, u-m w?xt ku: Dr?d abar t? a? yazd?n.
h w?xt ku: A? ku ay? - Man w?xt ku: Bizi?k h?m a? B?bel
zam?g. [...] ud pad ham?g tanb?r h? kanag dru?t b?d. Pad
wuzurg d?ft ? man w?xt ku: A? ku ay t?, man ba? ud anwag?
|I came to the Parwan-Shah and said: "Benedictions ?be? upon you from the gods (in honorific
Plural)!" The Shah said: "From where are you?" I said: "I am a physician from the land
of Babylon." [Fragment missing in which Mani seems to describe his miraculous
healing of the Shah's handmaiden] and in ?her? whole body the handmaiden
became healthy ?again?. In great joy ?she? said to me: "From where are you,
my lord and saviour?"
Although Parthian was quite similar to Middle Persian in many aspects, we can still observe clear differences in lexical, morphological and phonological forms. In the text above, the following forms can be noticed:
Other prominent differences, not found in the text above, include the personal pronoun ?az?, I, instead of ?an? and the present tense root of the verb ?kardan?, to do, ?kar-? instead of Middle Persian ?kun-?. Also, the Middle Persian linking particle and relative pronoun (g)? was not present in Parthian, but the relative pronoun ?, what, was used in a similar manner.