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The Iranian or Iranic languages are a branch of the Indo-Iranian languages in the Indo-European language family that are spoken natively by the Iranian peoples.
The Iranian languages are grouped in three stages: Old Iranian (until 400 BC), Middle Iranian (400 BC â 900 AD), and New Iranian (since 900 AD). The two directly attested Old Iranian languages are Old Persian (from the Achaemenid Empire) and Old Avestan (the language of the Avesta). Of the Middle Iranian languages, the better understood and recorded ones are Middle Persian (from the Sasanian Empire), Parthian (from the Parthian Empire), and Bactrian (from the Kushan and Hephthalite empires).
As of 2008, there were an estimated 150â200 million native speakers of the Iranian languages. Ethnologue estimates that there are 86 Iranian languages, the largest among them being Persian, Pashto, and the Kurdish dialect continuum.
The term Iranian is applied to any language which descends from the ancestral Proto-Iranian language.
This use of the term for the Iranian language family was introduced in 1836 by Christian Lassen. Robert Needham Cust used the term Irano-Aryan in 1878, and Orientalists such as George Abraham Grierson and Max MÃ¼ller contrasted Irano-Aryan (Iranian) and Indo-Aryan (Indic). Some recent scholarship, primarily in German, has revived this convention.
The Iranian languages are divided into the following branches:
The Western Iranian languages subdivided into:
Southwestern, of which Persian is the dominant member;
Northwestern, of which the Kurdish languages are the dominant members.
The Eastern Iranian languages subdivided into:
Southeastern, of which Pashto is the dominant member;
Northeastern, by far the smallest branch, of which Ossetian is the dominant member.
Historical distribution in 100 BC: shown are Sarmatia, Scythia, Bactria (Eastern Iranian, in orange); and the Parthian Empire (Western Iranian, in red)
The Iranian languages all descend from a common ancestor: the so-called Proto-Iranian which itself evolved from Proto-Indo-Iranian. This ancestor language is speculated to have origins in Central Asia, and the Andronovo Culture is suggested as a candidate for the common Indo-Iranian culture around 2000 BC.
It was situated precisely in the western part of Central Asia that borders present-day Russia (and present-day Kazakhstan). It was in relative proximity to the other satem ethno-linguistic groups of the Indo-European family, like Thracian, Balto-Slavic and others, and to common Indo-European’s original homeland (more precisely, the steppes of southern Russia to the north of the Caucasus), according to the reconstructed linguistic relationships of common Indo-European.
Proto-Iranian thus dates to some time after Proto-Indo-Iranian break-up, or the early second millennium BCE, as the Old Iranian languages began to break off and evolve separately as the various Iranian tribes migrated and settled in vast areas of southeastern Europe, the Iranian plateau, and Central Asia.
Proto-Iranian innovations compared to Proto-Indo-Iranian include: the turning of sibilant fricative *s into non-sibilant fricative glottal *h; the voiced aspirated plosives *bÊ°, *dÊ°, *gÊ° yielding to the voiced unaspirated plosives *b, *d, *g resp.; the voiceless unaspirated stops *p, *t, *k before another consonant changing into fricatives *f, *Î¸, *x resp.; voiceless aspirated stops *pÊ°, *tÊ°, *kÊ° turning into fricatives *f, *Î¸, *x, resp.