name given to the New Persian literary language at a very early date and widely attested in Arabic and Persian texts since the 10th century.


DARĪ, name given to the New Persian literary language at a very early date and widely attested in Arabic (e.g., Eṣṭaḵrī, p. 314; Moqaddasī [Maqdesī], p. 335; Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 490) and Persian texts since the 10th century. The Persian translator of Ṭabarī’s Tafsīr (between 350/961-62 and 365/975-76; I, p. 5), Abū ʿAlī Moḥammad Balʿamī in his continuation of Ṭabarī’s Tārīḵ (352/963-64; Gryaznevich and Boldyrev, p. 53), Keykāvūs Rāzī in his Zarātošt-nāma (before 368/978, according to Rempis), and Ḥakīm Meysarī in his Dāneš-nāma (367-70/978-81; apud Lazard, Premiers poètes I, p. 182) all claimed to be writing in darī. Ferdowsī (Šāh-nāma, ed. Moscow, VIII, p. 254), in his account of the origins of Kalīla wa Demna, reported that the Arabic version had been translated by Balʿamī into darī on the order of the Samanid Naṣr II (301-31/914-43). The term darī also referred to a spoken language as early as the time of Jāḥeẓ (mid-9th century; p. 13); Arabic historians and geographers of the following century also used it in that sense (e.g., Masʿūdī, p. 78; Moqaddasī, p. 335).

Darī was contrasted to Pahlavi, sometimes when the latter term designated literary Middle Persian, as in the Zarātošt-nāma (p. 2) and the Šāh-nāma (Moscow, VIII, p. 254), and sometimes when it referred to Medo-Parthian dialects, as in Masʿūdī (p. 78) and probably also in the Šāh-nāma (I, p. 44, in connection with the word bīvar “ten thousand”). It was sometimes also distinguished from pārsī. Moqaddesī (p. 259) mentioned darī as one of the Iranian dialects “that together are known as parsī.” A century later Keykāvūs b. Eskandar (in ca. 475/1082-83; p. 208) advised letter writers to avoid the use of “pure pārsī” (pārsī-e moṭlaq), that is, free of Arabic words, “for it is displeasing, especially pārsī-edarī, which is not usual,” implying the existence of other kinds of pārsī. Darī thus seems to have been a variety of pārsī, as is confirmed by the expression pārsī-e darī (Ar. al-fārsīya al-dārīya) frequently found in early text. The variant pārsī o darī, which also occurs in Persian manuscripts (e.g., Šāh-nāma VIII, p. 254), is a distortion, as Parvīz Ḵānlarī correctly noted (p. 273).

The original meaning of the word darī is given in a notice attributed to Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 15; Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, pp. 116-17; Ḥamza Eṣfahānī, pp. 67-68; Yāqūt, Boldān IV, p. 846). This notice, which probably reflected the linguistic situation in Persia at the end of the Sasanian period, includes mention of pahlavī, literally, “the Parthian language” (or the dialects that grew out of it), pārsī, and darī. According to Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ, pārsī was “the language spoken by the mowbeds (priests), scholars, and the like; it is the language of the people of Fārs.” It is obvious that this language was none other than Middle Persian, traditionally known as Pahlavi. As for darī, “It is the language of the cities of Madāʾen; it is spoken by those who are at the king’s court. [Its name] is connected with presence at court. Among the languages of the people of Khorasan and the east, the language of the people of Balḵ is predominant.” This notice has given rise to considerable discussion. The etymology given for the name is clear: It is derived from the word for dar (court, lit., “gate”). Darī was thus the language of the court and of the capital, Ctesiphon. On the other hand, it is equally clear from this passage that darī was also in use in the eastern part of the empire, in Khorasan, where it is known that in the course of the Sasanian period Persian gradually supplanted Parthian and where no dialect that was not Persian survived. The passage thus suggests that darī was actually a form of Persian, the common language of Persia. If that conclusion is correct, what was the relationship between pārsī and darī, and how did the latter term come to be applied specifically to literary New Persian at the time of its emergence?

On the basis of Moqaddasī’s report (p. 335) that darī was the chancery language in Bukhara, it has been thought that it was from the beginning a kind of formal Persian. Ḵānlarī (pp. 280-81) put forth the hypothesis that darī had been an official and administrative language of the Sasanian court, had become established in the east by officials of the Sasanian kingdom, and had thus became the chancery language of Khorasan. There is no doubt, however, that the official and administrative language of the Sasanians was not darī but Middle Persian (so-called Pahlavi). Ebn al-Moqaffaʿ’s account clearly indicates that darī was a spoken language, and it is obviously as a spoken language that it spread to the east. The founders of Persian literature, who were poets, rather than prose writers, naturally resorted to the language that they spoke. Moqaddasī’s statement was made at a time when darī had already been in literary use for nearly a century.

New information on the dialectology of Persia at the beginning of the Islamic period now permits a clearer understanding. It is known that ancient Judeo-Persian texts, probably originating in southern Persia (cf. Lazard, 1968), represent local dialects clearly different from those of Khorasan and Transoxania, from which literary Persian originally developed. The recent discovery in Mašhad of a manuscript of the Qorʾān-e Qods, a translation of the Koran into a Persian dialect related to early Judeo-Persian, confirms the dialectological significance of details already known from the latter. The work apparently originated in Sīstān in the 11th century. One of the most interesting features common to this Qorʾān and early Judeo-Persian is the abundance of words that were well known in literary Middle Persian and unknown in literary New Persian, evidence that there were important differences between the common language spoken in the south and that in use in the north. The former, as represented by literary Middle Persian, retained most its ancient form; the latter evolved from the same Persian language, which had spread throughout the north, but evinced the influence of the dialects that it had supplanted there, particularly Parthian. It thus diverged noticeably from the original form. Both were called pārsī (Persian), but it is very likely that the language of the north, that is, the Persian used on former Parthian territory and also in the Sasanian capital, was distinguished from its congener by a new name, darī ([language] of the court). It was only natural that several centuries later literary Persian, based on the speech of the northeast, bore the same name.



Dehḵodā, s.v. Darī. P. A. Gryaznevich and A. N. Boldyrev, “O dvukh redaktskiyakh ‘Taʾrikh-i Tabarī’ Balʿamī” (On two translations of Balʿamī’s Tārīḵ-e Ṭabarī), Sovetskoe Vostokovedenie, 1957/3, pp. 46-59.

Jāḥeẓ, Ketāb al-bayān wa’l-tabyīn, ed. M. Hārūn, III, Cairo, 1368-69/1949.

P. N. Ḵānlarī, Tārīḵ-e zabān-e fārsī, new ed., I, Tehran, 1365 Š./1986.

Keykāvūs b. Eskandar, Qābūs-nāma, ed. Ḡ.-Ḥ. Yūsofī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967.

Keykāvūs Rāzī, Zarātošt-nāma, ed. F. Rosenberg, St. Petersburg, 1904; repr. Tehran, 1338 Š./1959.

Abū ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, ed. G. van Vloten, Leiden, 1895.

G. Lazard, “La dialectologie du judéo-persan,” in Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 8, 1968, pp. 77-98.

Idem, “Pahlavi, parsi, dari. Les langues de l’Iran d’après Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ,” in C. E. Bosworth, ed., Iran and Islam. In Memory of the Late V. Minorsky, Edinburgh, 1971, pp. 361-91.

Idem, “Lumières nouvelles sur la formation de la langue persane. Une traduction du Coran en persan dialectal et ses affinités avec le judéo-persan,” in S. Shaked and A. Netzer, eds., Irano-Judaica II, Jerusalem, 1990a, pp. 184-98.

Idem, “Parsi et dari. Nouvelles remarques,” in Aspects of Iranian Culture. In Honor of R. N. Frye, Bulletin of the Asia Institute, N.S. 4, 1990b, pp. 239-42.

Idem,"Rīšahā-ye zabānī-e fārsī-e adabī,” Īrān-nāma 11/4, 1371 Š./1993, pp. 569-84.

Qorʾān-e Qods, ed. A. Rawaqī, Tehran, 1364-65 Š./1985-86.

C. Rempis, “Qui est l’auteur du Zartušt-Nâmeh?” in Mélanges d’orientalisme offerts à Henri Massé . . ., Tehran, 1963, pp. 337-442.

Abū Jaʿfar Moḥammad Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, tr. as Tarjama-ye tafsīr-e Ṭabarī, ed. Ḥ Yāḡmāʾī, 7 vols., Tehran, 1339-44 Š./1960-65.



Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 17, 2011

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Vol. VII, Fasc. 1, pp. 34-35