the compiling of dictionaries, glossaries, and vocabularies of a language or a particular lexical corpus.


LEXICOGRAPHY (farhang-nevisi), the compiling of dictionaries, glossaries, and vocabularies of a language or a particular lexical corpus, the entry words being defined in the same language (monolingual) or another (bilingual).  The following is an outline of the characteristics, geocultural affinities, and historical development of Persian lexicography.

i. Introduction

ii. Alphabetical dictionaries

iii. Classical bilingual glossaries

iv. Topical vocabularies and glossaries

v. Evolution of Persian lexicography in India

vi. Shifting paradigms and recent developments

i. Introduction

Dictionaries of New Persian (Pārsi-e dari), as they emerged in Iran and Transoxiana from perhaps about 900 CE and evolved chiefly in India from ca. 1300, may be divided into several groups, in accordance with the purpose they served, and also with the form they took, these considerations being to an extent interdependent.  So-called “defining dictionaries” (sing. farhang) that ordered entries alphabetically (the modern idea of a dictionary, accounting for most Persian lexicographical works), and glossaries or vocabularies arranged primarily by topic comprise both monolingual and bi- or multilingual works. Those listing entries under separate lexical or grammatical categories (e.g., nouns, verbs, pronouns), and those restricted to a single category (e.g., nouns or verb infinitives) are mostly bi- or multilingual.

From the early 20th century, with increasing exposure to foreign interest and influences, and a growing colloquial element in the literature, modern methods began to transform traditional Persian lexicography. Publications representative of these changes have been particularly numerous during the past thirty years, and are surveyed in the final section, except for bilingual and technical dictionaries.

Reference to specific works is necessarily selective (for more information, see DICTIONARIES and entries on selected works).  V. M. Shepherd’s recension of the section on lexicography in Storey’s Persian Literature (III/1, Leiden, 1984, pp. 1-122), the principal reference for manuscripts and printed editions of classical works, is somewhat outdated and not devoid of errors (Tasbihi).  Catalogs of particular manuscript collections and the introductions to printed editions of classical dictionaries are further sources of specific information.

ii. Alphabetical dictionaries

The first Persian dictionaries were of the alphabetical type, and reputedly appeared soon after the earliest court poetry in New Persian.  They were compiled by poet-scholars, with the object of clarifying their own or others’ rare, figurative, or dialectal vocabulary – especially that of the court poets of Bukhara under the Samanid dynasty (819-1005), where literary New Persian was evolving. Early works, of which no trace remains, have been attributed, without strong evidence, to the 10th-century poet-musician Abu Ḥafṣ Soḡdi (see Dabirsiāqi, pp. 8-9; Baevskii, pp. 30-31) and to the poets Rudaki (d. ca. 940) and Farroḵi (d. ca.1037). The first reliably reported, though not extant, alphabetically-arranged defining dictionary was compiled by the 11th century poet Qaṭrān, whose mother tongue was probably (pre-Turkish) Azeri (Āḏari; for its development, see AZERBAIJAN vii-ix). Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow (pp. 7-8) described how he glossed verses of two popular poets of Khorasan for this “good poet” who “did not know Persian very well” (see Baevskii, pp. 32-42). The earliest extant dictionary, the Loḡat-e fors (ca. 1066) by Asadi Ṭusi, was compiled by an epic poet from Ferdowsi’s hometown but, like that of Qaṭrān, produced in Azerbaijan.  It spotlighted a broader range of both Dari and archaic Pahlavi lexis in the poetical koinē.  Differences in the title, text, and prefaces of various manuscripts suggest that this dictionary originated as a number of word-lists given by Asadi to his students to complete and to provide with verse examples of usage (see DICTIONARIES i. Persian Dictionaries).

Asadi and his immediate followers in Iran arranged their entries alphabetically by final, not initial, letter; their works could thus be used additionally as dictionaries of rhyme. Over time this ordering, as well as its alternatives, became progressively more systematic, with second-level ordering by initial letter.  Such was Moḥammad Hendušāh Naḵjavāni’s larger Ṣeḥāḥ al-fors (ed. ʿA.-ʿA. Ṭāʿati, Tehran, 1962), which was modeled on Jawhari’s Arabic dictionary, Ṣeḥāḥ al-loḡa and compiled in 1328.  The third level of alphabetization, when introduced, used either the medial or the penultimate letter.  Each new letter was flagged with a category word: at the first level ketāb or bāb “chapter” (e.g., bāb al-jim; bāb in this usage was an Arabic calque on Middle Persian dar “gate, door; chapter”), and at subordinate levels with terms such as faṣl “section.” Later, Persian terms such as guna “sort” and baḵš “part” were also used.  Definitions varied greatly in completeness, from one or two synonyms to extensive explanations; since the poetical corpus included place and personal names, a personage in the Šāh-nāma, for instance, might merit a brief biography.  Most compilers of dictionaries justified definitions and exemplified usage by quoting verses from earlier poets (šāhed, pl. šawāhed  “witness”).  Thus in general aims and structure, the classic Persian defining dictionary – not surprisingly – resembled its immediate predecessor and continuing partner in the marshaling of Islamicate literature, the Arabic dictionary.

Similarly based on Asadi were the Majmuʿat al-fors of Abu’l-ʿAlā Jāruti, known as Ṣafi Kaḥḥāl, and Šams-e Faḵri Eṣfahāni’s Meʿyār-e Jamāli wa meftāḥ-e Abu Esḥāqi.  The former was compiled around 1300, and the cited poets range from Ferdowsi down to Saʿdi.  The latter was compiled around 1344, and comprised the fourth part of the earliest treatise on Persian poetics.  It is also the most important repository of Asadi’s legacy.

iii. Classical bilingual glossaries

In the 12th and 13th centuries, despite considerable activity in other branches of Persian literature, no new monolingual dictionaries seem to have been compiled. However, during this period at least a dozen Arabic–Persian dictionaries of all kinds appeared. Bearing in mind that Persian seems to have reached the apogee of its incorporation of Arabic vocabulary toward the end of this period (Lazard; Perry, 1991, pp. 132-35), one might surmise that these bilingual tools played an active part in transforming the Persian language.  An important early example, which lists ca. 20,000 Arabic entries, mostly nouns, alphabetically by initial, then final, is the Takmelat al-aṣnāf, compiled during the 11th century by ʿAli b. Moḥammad b. Saʿid Adib al-Karmini (Karmina was a town in Sogdiana).  The Persian glosses include hundreds of words not found in other dictionaries.  The unique manuscript in the Ganj Bakhsh Library in Islamabad was first published in facsimile (introduction by Akbar Ṯobut, Islamabad, 1985), and has now appeared in an edition by ʿAli Ravāqi with useful indices (2 vols., Tehran, 2006).

Early Arabic category-based dictionaries, which listed primarily nouns (Ar. esm, pl. asmāʾ, double plural asāmi), used sometimes to append lists of verb infinitives (maṣāder), a convention which was continued in Arabic-Persian lexicography and elaborated into separate glossaries (see DICTIONARIES ii. Early Arabic-Persian Lexicography).  The earlier Persian works of both types, which tended to arrange their material according to Arabic conventions (i.e., lexical roots and paradigms), may originally have been monolingual Arabic vocabularies for Iranian scholars, which were later retrofitted with Persian glosses (e.g., al-Sāmi fi’l-asāmi of Maydāni; cf. the contemporary Moqaddemat al-adab, mentioned below).  By the mid-12th century, however, such works were responding actively to the needs of Persian lexicography.  Thus the very successful Tāj al-maṣāder of Abu Jaʿfar Bayhaqi (d. 1150) introduced strict alphabetical order within the morphological sections.  In the 13th century Qāżi Maḥmud b. ʿOmar in his Mohaḏḏeb al-asmāʾ (ed. M.-Ḥ Moṣṭafavi, Tehran, 1985) expanded the nominal repertory to include adjectives, particles, and collocations, arranging the material alphabetically by initial and first vowel, while glossing it succinctly in Persian.  Some of his glosses comprise not native Persian, but assimilated Arabic, words: e.g. al-arab “need” (Ar. root ʾ-r-b) is glossed as Ar. ḥājat, and not, for example, as Pers. niyāz.  Persian maṣāder glossaries, which show the same development, illustrate the important process of incorporation of Arabic verbal nouns into Persian by means of auxiliary verbs (e.g., in the Tāj al-maṣāder: “al-mowāfaqa: be-kasi mowāfaqat kardan”).  Such compendia, which were widely copied and memorized, could serve innovative writers as organized stores for Arabic vocabulary waiting to be “borrowed” (see DICTIONARIES ii. Early Arabic-Persian Lexicography).

iv. Topical vocabularies and glossaries

Both category-based vocabularies and universal mono- and bilingual alphabetized dictionaries often made limited or extensive use of topical lists.  The first of the asāmi genre, al-Sāmi fi’l-asāmi (1104) of Abu’l-Fażl Aḥmad Maydāni Nišāpuri (facsim. ed., Tehran, 1966; ed. M. M. Hendavi, Cairo, 1967), was topically classified into four parts (Ar. sing. qesm): religion, animals, the celestial, and the terrestrial (Monzavi, 1958, pp. 273-74; Storey III, pp. 81-82).  The combined dictionary and grammar Dastur al-loḡa, also called al-Ḵalāṣ (Monzavi, 1958, pp. 270-72; cf. Storey III/1, p. 81 no. 116), is attributed to the 11th-century Adib Naṭanzi.  Its lexical entries are arranged alphabetically by initial in 28 chapters called “ketāb” (representing the 28 days in a lunar month) each divided into 12 sections called “bāb” (representing the 12 months in a year).  The lexicographical part is followed by topical sections on the names of months and days and a verse grammar of Arabic.  The Arabic-Persian glossary al-Merqāt, also called al-Ṣaḥāʾef (ed. J. Sajjādi, Tehran, 1967) is also attributed to Adib Naṭanzi, though rather less plausibly than the Dastur al-loḡa.  The glossary covers the traditional range of topics in 12 lists, each with subdivisions, without any alphabetical ordering.

Topical vocabularies and glossaries have a quite different, and much longer, pedigree than alphabetical dictionaries; in fact they go back to the dawn of world lexicography. In languages using a writing system other than alphabetical, such as Chinese and Babylonian, the earliest lexicographical works were arranged by topical lists; so also in some alphabetized languages, such as Sanskrit and Middle Persian, before the notion of alphabetical order assumed an indexical function.  Archetypical for Persian lexicography is the Frahang ī Pahlawīg (see Baevskii, pp. 47-49), a Middle Persian glossary of about 500 Aramaic heterograms (huzwāreš) into Book Pahlavi script, arranged under 32 dar, compiled probably in the 9th century on the basis of memorized lists and on the model of much earlier Sumerian-Akkadian glossaries.  An annotated Persian edition (Vāža-nāma-ye pahlavi–pāzand: Farhang-e Pahlavi, ed. Saʿid ʿOryān, Tehran, 1998) has now been added to the older text-critical editions.

Paraphrased chapter topics of the Frahang ī Pahlawīg are: 1. The celestial; 2. The terrestrial; 3. Waters; 4. Grains and fruits; 5. Food and drink; 6. Herbs and vegetables; 7. Livestock and herbivores; 8. Birds; 9. Wild animals; 10. Parts of the body; 11. Family; 12. High-status persons; 13. Low-status persons; 14. Warfare and weapons; 15. Writing; 15a. Clothing; 16. Metals, money, wealth; 17. Trial and punishment; 18. Verbs of thought, communication, cultivation; 19. Verbs of measurement, food preparation, eating, relaxation, copulation; 20. Verbs of motion, transportation, competition; 21. Verbs of conflict and commerce; 22. Verbs of birth and death; 23. Verbs of writing and reading; 24. Pronouns; 25. Adverbs; 26. Adjectives; 27. Divisions of the year; 28. Days and months; 29. Numerals; 30. Weights, measures, coins; 31. Miscellaneous supplement.

Directly or indirectly, this work appears to have provided a model for several New Persian dictionaries.

Topical glossaries are encyclopedic by nature, marshaling knowledge into culturally related clusters of referents rather than graphically or phonetically adjacent lexemes, and aimed more at fostering general cultural literacy than poetical craft.  The lists in many of them (both prior to and later than the Frahang ī Pahlawīg) are surprisingly similar in sequence and content, reflecting what appears to be a psychological tendency toward a universal taxonomic matrix: i.e., an overall progression from the cosmic and supernatural to the mundane, from human to animal, vegetable, and mineral, and within particular lists usually from general to particular, top to bottom, outside to inside.  Persian exemplars appear to form a more uniform group within the general type.  Topical glossaries were not displaced by alphabetically ordered works, and (as noted above) each type exploited features of the other.  During the formative periods of Arabic and New Persian lexicography, the two modes sometimes fused and produced some versatile and user-friendly reference tools.  Thus an early monolingual Arabic work, al-Monajjad of Korāʿ al-Naml (d. 922; see Omer), is a typical alphabetically-ordered dictionary of homonyms, though divided into 6 topical chapters: 1. Parts of the body; 2. Animate beings comprising humans and animals; 3. Birds; 4. Weapons; 5. The sky; 6. The earth.  An interesting modern example, more than a millennium later, is the trilingual Hedāyat al-ṭāleb by Moḥammad ʿAli Ḥelmi (Baghdad, 1975).  The Arabic–Persian–Puriki glossary was compiled for the use of Shiʿite pilgrims from the Kargil region of Ladakh in northern India, where the majority of Muslims are Twelver Shiʿites, to the shrine cities of Iraq.  Their local language Puriki (Purigi) is a dialect of Tibetan, written in Arabic script.  Its 29 lists of triple equivalents, comprising ca. 1,500 entries, correspond to 28 of the 31 topics in the Frahang ī Pahlawīg, and the remainder is represented in the works of Zamaḵšari and Faḵr-e Qawwās (see below).

Perhaps the earliest Arabic-Persian topical dictionary attested is the Ketābal-bolḡa al-motarjem fe’l-loḡa, compiled in 1046 by Yaʿqub Kordi Nišāpuri (ed. M. Minovi and F. Ḥarirči, Tehran, 1977).  It comprises 40 chapters, called “bāb” and listing Arabic words and phrases with Persian glosses under headings such as: Parts of the body; Kinship; Food; Drink; Clothing; Livestock; Months and days; etc.  Maḥmud Zamaḵšari (d. 1144), the Muʿtazilite polymath of Khwarazm (see CHORASMIA ii. In Islamic times) and author of the important Arabic dictionary Asās al-balāḡa (Foundation of eloquence), also compiled the Arabic-Persian Moqaddemat al-adab (Prolegomenon to culture), with the Persian title Pišrow-e adab  (partial ed. by J. G. Wetzstein, Leipzig, 1850, repr. with introduction by M. Moḥaqqeq, Tehran, 2007; ed. N. N. Poppe, Moscow, 1938; ed. M.-K. Emām, 2 vols., Tehran, 1963).

This compendium is an impressive hybrid, in 5 parts called “qesm”, of which the first two are lengthy lexical lists supplied with Persian (or other) glosses: 1. Nouns, under 99 topical headings, plus comprehensive lists of pronouns; 2. Verbs, arranged under paradigms by root final-medial-initial.  One manuscript includes Khwarazmian (see CHORASMIA iii. Chorasmian language) in addition to Persian glosses, and others from later eras have been supplied (additionally or alternately) with Eastern Turkish, Ottoman, and Mongolian glosses (Monzavi, 1958, pp. 276-77; Storey III/1, pp. 82-84).  The work thus amply justifies its title, as an Arabicized Iranian’s comprehensive lexical and grammatical manual of the scientific lingua franca, plus a survey of the educated Muslim’s material and cultural universe, arranged in accordance with the traditional universal taxonomy as a matrix for glossaries in contemporary Iranian and Turkic vernaculars.  In the arrangement of its topical lists, and often in the very order of the component items, the Moqaddemat al-adab is so strikingly similar to the Frahang ī Pahlawīg as to suggest a conscious expansion of this rather than just another coincidence of conventional taxonomy.  Thus, while some 17 of the 40 chapters in Ketābal-Bolḡa have approximate counterparts among the 32 chapters of the Frahang, though not in a similar sequence, in the Moqaddema topics or suites of topics (“Livestock and herbivores,” for instance, covers 8 adjacent chapters) correspond to all but 3 of those in the Frahang ī Pahlawīg, often in the same sequence or close proximity.

The Farhang-e Qawwās is probably the second oldest monolingual Persian defining dictionary to have come down to us.  It was compiled at the Ḵalji court of Delhi about the year 1300 by Faḵr-al-Din Mobārakšāh Qawwās Ḡaznavi, a contemporary of Amir Ḵosrow Dehlavi (d. 1325).  Its 1,340 entries are confined to simplex nouns and infinitives, and arranged under 5 thematic headings called baḵš  “part” (whence the work is also known as the Panj-baḵši): 1. The heavens (including religion and the four elements); 2. Minerals; 3. Plants; 4. Animate beings comprising humans and animals; 5. Humankind’s products and activities.  There are subdivisions termed guna and bahr for a total of 26 headings.  Its 20th century editor Naḏir Aḥmad (Tehran, 1974) suggested, on the basis of each work having 5 parts, that Faḵr-e Qawwās might have modeled his work on Zamakšari’s (Introduction, p. 7), even though the respective parts are quite different in kind.  But a cryptic acknowledgment in the preface of the Farhang-e Qawwās of a certain “dastur-e rowšanhuš” (perhaps a Zoroastrian high priest? see DASTUR) raises the intriguing possibility that Faḵr-e Qawwās may have been shown a copy of the Frahang ī Pahlawīg in the dastur’s possession.  Information about Parsi scholarship and activities under the Delhi sultanate is lacking, but during the reign of Akbar I (r. 1542-1605) Zoroastrians were active at the Mughal court, and by the 18th century Parsi scholars in Gujarat had acquired a number of manuscripts of the Frahang ī Pahlawīg, some of which included a New Persian translation of the Pahlavi glosses (Junker, pp. 2-12).  In this field, at least, Islamic Persian scholars may well have maintained an intermittent link with their Zoroastrian forebears.

v. Evolution of Persian lexicography in India

As the court centers of Persian literary patronage expanded eastward and westward under mainly Turkish-speaking dynasts, so the practice of lexicography followed.  The Delhi sultanate and the Mughals were particularly productive.  Between the years 1300 and 1900 a score of significant alphabetically-ordered works were compiled (Perry, forthcoming).

In the Subcontinent, from the outset most alphabetical dictionaries were arranged by initial, and quotations from eminent 13th-century Indian poets such as Amir Ḵosrow Dehlavi and Masʿud-e Saʿd-e Salmān joined those of the Persian classics.  This fusion introduced a few Indic entries of words used by such poets, and in turn occasional Indic glosses of Persian words in a dialect termed Hendavi or Hendi.  A number of early Indian lexicographers reveled in their polyglossia, citing words not only in Indic and dialects of Persian but Eastern Turkish, Pashto, and Rumi (Eastern Christian terms of Greek, Latin, Aramaic or Syriac provenance).  The seven-part multilingual Farhang-e zafānguyā va jahānpuyā (Dictionary for the polyglot and globetrotter) of Badr-al-Din Ebrāhim glossed vocabulary of Early New Persian, Arabic, other Semitic tongues, Rumi, and Turkic into Persian in separate lists. The Adāt al-fożalā’ of 822/1419 by Qāżi Khan Dhārvāl (and Baevskii, pp. 87-94) often uses Arabic and/or Indic glosses as part of the definition.

For the first three centuries, however, the goal of Indo-Persian lexicographers was essentially to preserve and augment the inventories of their prestigious predecessors, both Iranian and Indian.  Some proved to be useful philologists, incidentally adding to the slender corpus of extant verse by early poets such as Rudaki.  From the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar I and the Safavid shah ʿAbbās I (r. 1588-1629), more direct contact between Muslim India and Iran, especially in the form of refugee Safavid poets and scholars, inaugurated an era of more critical lexicography, since Persian was increasingly seen as a living and elastic medium with more than one plausible stylistic standard.  Three émigrés from Iran spearheaded this development with works widely acclaimed as comprehensive and reliable.  Jamāl-al-Din Ḥosayn Enju Širāzi (d. 1626 in Agra) compiled his 10,000-entry Farhang-e Jahāngiri in two editions (1608 and 1622).  The popular work, in which the entries were alphabetically arranged by second letter, was known simply as Farhang and became the first Persian dictionary cited in Europe when Thomas Hyde (1636-1703), the Laudian professor of Arabic, referenced it in his Historia religionis veterum Persarum (Oxford, 1700).  The Majmaʿ al-fors by Moḥammad-Qāsem Soruri Kāšāni (d. 1626), also called Farhang-e Soruri, was noted for its critical assessment of 53 earlier dictionaries.  Soruri prepared two editions of the work (1599 and 1618) before his emigration from Isfahan to the Mughal court.  The Borhān-e qāṭeʿ was compiled in 1651 by Moḥammad-Ḥosayn b. Ḵalaf Tabrizi, who used the pen-name Borhān, at the Qoṭbšāhi court in Hyderabad of the Deccan.  The work essentially combined the Farhang-e Jahāngiri with the earlier version of Farhang-e Soruri, but Borhān Tabrizi eliminated the examples, arranged the entries more conveniently in a strict alphabetical order by initial, and added words and compounds. Among the ca. 20,000 entries there are poorly understood Iranian dialect words and, as in the Farhang-e Jahāngiri, Aramaic heterograms in nonsensical transcriptions.  For these and other errors the Borhān-e qāṭeʿ was roundly criticized, and the criticism culminated two centuries later in a series of defenses and counter-attacks triggered by the broadside Qāṭeʿ-e Borhān by the poet Ḡāleb (1797-1869). In the Mughal cultural centers of Lucknow and Delhi, questions of the poetical propriety of Indo-Persian dialect words and metaphors increasingly prompted Indian poet-lexicographers (Hindu as well as Muslim) to write original prose treatises on aspects of Persian philology, lexicology, and grammar: one of the most brilliant of these scholars was Lāle Rāy Tēkchand Bahār, author of the popular dictionary Bahār-e ʿAjam (1152/1739; Blochmann, pp. 29-31; Perry, forthcoming).

As Persian gave way to Urdu in the 19th century, Persian was dropped by the British as the official language of administration in 1834.  Indo-Persian lexicography enjoyed an Indian summer as a cottage industry, in which local scholars, sometimes “ghost-compiling” for local rulers, produced conventional or idiosyncratic works with unexpected innovations marking the end of an era.  Šāhjahān Begam (1838-1901), the strong-willed nowwāb of Bhopal, used her talented court clientele and three printing presses to produce the Ḵazānat al-logāt (introduced by Navrosji Hormasji, 2 vols., Bhopal, 1886), a hexaglot arranged in columns with the source word (Urdu) and its equivalents (Persian-Arabic-Sanskrit-English-Ottoman Turkish) running across in individual cells and a Persian marginal commentary.  Women’s vocabulary, popular customs, and shrewd distinctions between (Indo-)Persian and Urdu usage are prominent features (Perry, 1998, pp. 331-38).  In 1899, Shaykh Moḥammad Yusof Ḥakim Ḥaydarābādi produced his Qesṭās al-loḡa, a massive monolingual Persian dictionary.  In his preface the compiler states that he spent some years “among the Christians,” and marvels over the Dictionary: Persian, Arabic, and English Published under the Patronage of the Honourable East-India Company (London, 1852) by Francis Johnson (d. 1876).  Johnson had revised the Arabic-Persian-English dictionary (2 vols., Oxford, 1777-1780) of John Richardson (d. 1795), and his revision in turn became the model for the Comprehensive Persian-English Dictionary (London, 1892) by Francis Joseph Steingass (1825-1903) – each in content an English distillation of the Indo-Persian tradition.  The revolutionary feature that caught Ḥakim’s eye was not so much the strict alphabetical-initial order, already dominant in India, but the absence of the overdetermined bāb-and-faṣl rubrics of traditional Persian dictionaries.  The shaykh proudly wrote his own dictionary free of any faṣl, in lined ledgers, in two columns, with end-stopped entries and diacritical ḥarakāt.  Though it marks the transition to a modern lexicographic layout, the Qesṭās is in most other respects a very poor dictionary and was never published (an incomplete three-volume copy is preserved in Hyderabad, Government Oriental Manuscript Library, MS pers. 117-119; see Perry, 1998, pp. 330-31).

vi. Shifting paradigms and recent developments

Several large and learned dictionaries grace the late Qajar and early Pahlavi period in Iran.  The Farhang-e nafisi (5 vols., Tehran, 1938-55) of Nāẓem al-Aṭebbā (d. 1902) for the first time employs Latin transcription as a pronunciation guide.  Nevertheless these works are the products of individuals and of the traditional methodology of building upon the work of earlier lexicographers. They are notable as monuments to a renewed interest, both popular and official, in the national language as part of a conscious cultural and political enterprise, a rite of passage for an emerging nation. Some of them, indeed (e.g., Farhang-e nafisi), supported the cause of national myth-making by perpetuating the spurious Avestan vocabulary of the Dasātīr, introduced into Indo-Persian lexicography by the Borhān-e qāṭeʿ (cf. Tavakoli-Targhi, pp. 87-88, 106-7).

The era of modern collaborative lexicography in Iran begins with the monumental Loḡat-nāma-ye Dehḵodā.  Structurally an alphabetical-initial Persian citation dictionary, based on the corpus of Classical Persian poetry and citing classic Persian and Indo-Persian dictionaries, it was begun by the gifted journalist and statesman ʿAli-Akbar Dehḵodā (1879-1956) while he was in hiding among the Baḵtiāri tribe during World War I with little more than a Larousse French dictionary for leisure reading.  In 1945 the Iranian parliament voted funds for its publication.  It was completed only in 1975, printed in folio fascicles, and has since appeared in a revised edition (15 vols., Tehran, 1993-94) and successively in microfiche, CD-Rom, and online formats.

Still clinging to a quasi-encyclopedic content and to Classical Persian poetry for its sources, the more manageable 6-volume Farhang-e Moʿin was published in Tehran between 1963 and 1973.  This was principally the work of the eminent scholar Moḥammad Moʿin (1918-71), who had collaborated with Dehḵodā from 1946 on the Loḡat-nāma.  He visited a number of established European printing houses, such as Brockhaus and Larousse, which had each developed their own range of dictionaries and encyclopedias targeted at a mushrooming market of educated middle-class citizens. Moʿin ushered in an era of popular Persian lexicography in the distinctive style of the Petit Larousse illustré (Paris, 1961), with its multiple thumbnail illustrations and separate section of selected short biographies and toponyms (ʿalam, pl. aʿlām).  He added another section on foreign words and phrases in common usage.  Smaller popular dictionaries imitating the Larousse format, which had already been adopted in Beirut and was spreading throughout the Arab world, were soon being issued in the 1960s and 1970s by commercial bookstores-cum-printing houses in Tehran (e.g., the Farhang-e Amir Kabir, 1965).

With the growth of a modern Persian literature incorporating colloquial and dialect vocabulary since the first quarter of the 20th century, and again during the puristic language movement between the 1930s and the 1950s, which rejected Arabic as a lexical source and accepted both European loanwords and native neologisms, Iranians sensed the need for up-to-date dictionaries of a more rapidly evolving native lexicon.  This required a more radical paradigm shift: a fundamental change in methodology. Classical lexicographers had relied excessively on the inbred dictionary tradition at the expense of personal research and field observation, uncritically copying the same lemmata and citations with diminishing accuracy and dwindling relevance to the contemporary language, whether of poetry, prose, or speech.  This scholastic approach had to be abandoned in favor of data-based dictionaries in which, as some 18th-century Indian scholars had recommended, the content and context of current writing and speech were mined for collocations and phrasal metaphors, rather than isolated words, as the basis for entries (Bateni, p. 6).  Tehran printing houses now specializing in usually collaborative contemporary dictionary projects are Farhang-e Moʿāṣer, Soḵan, and Āgāh.

Appropriately, compilations of popular sayings, proverbs, and catchphrases led the way.  The earliest of these was Dehḵodā’s Amṯāl va ḥekam  (4 vols., Tehran, 1931; compiled from at least 1915), which included many etiological myths and jokes that had reputedly launched these collocations.  Early dictionaries of colloquial Persian were based mainly on such proverbs and adages: Farhang-e ʿāmiyāna by Yusof Raḥmati (preface by Saʿid Nafisi, Tehran, 1951) and Farhang-e ʿavām by Amir-qoli Amini (Isfahan, n. d., [1960s]).   Or they documented dialogue usage as exemplified in the fiction of Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh (1892-1997), Sadeq Hedayat (1903-51), and other modernist writers: Farhang-e loḡāt-e ʿāmiyāna by M.-A. Jamalzadeh (ed. M.-J. Maḥjub, Tehran, 1962).  Both types were still serving the traditional purpose of the Persian dictionary as a literary tool.  The transition to a field data-based corpus, including regional material and featuring representations of colloquial pronunciation in both Persian and Latin transcription, was made by the poet Aḥmad Šāmlu (1925-2000), assisted by his wife Aida Sarkisian, in Ketāb-e Kuča (Tehran, 1st ed., vol I- ,1978-; 2nd ed., vol. I-, 2001-).  This monumental undertaking, still unfinished and continuing since Šāmlu’s death under the direction of Sarkisiān, reached volume XV (3rd impression) in 2008.  A more recent exemplar, the Farhang-e fārsi-e ʿāmiyāna of Abu’l-Ḥasan Najafi (2 vols., Tehran, 1999), covering both spoken and general literary Persian, is based on fictional writing and conversational Tehran Persian, with citations going back eighty years (Bateni, p. 4).  A single-volume work explicitly acknowledging the infusion of  informal styles into contemporary Persian prose is the Farhang-e loḡāt-e ʿāmiyāna va moʿāṣer by Manṣur Τarvat and Reżā Anzābinežād (Tehran, 1998).

The first systematically “contemporary” dictionary was the Farhang-e fārsi-e emruz, produced between 1981 and 1990 by Ḡ.-Ḥ. Ṣadri-Afšār, Nasrin Ḥakami, and Nastaran Ḥakami, which won a national award.  It has been almost annually revised, under varying titles, up to a 5th edition, called Farhang-e moʿāṣer-e yek jeldi, in 2008.  The same team also compiled, as a supplement, a Farhang-e fārsi-e aʿlām (2005) of 14,000 entries.  A larger collaborative production, the result of eight years’ work and one hundred contributors, is Farhang-e bozorg-e Soḵan (editor-in chief Ḥasan Anvari, 8 vols., 2002).  The sources for its 80,000 main entries and 40,000 sub-entries include current periodicals and 450 literary works.  As well as being up-to-date, this work aspires to fill the role of a historical dictionary in a more systematic way than the Dehkodā, with copious citations ranging from the 9th to the 21st centuries and examples of semantic change, making it “the best Persian dictionary available at the present time” (Bateni, p. 5).

A reverse dictionary of Persian of over 74,000 words is Ḵosrow Kešāni’s Farhang-e Fārsi-e zānsu (Tehran, 1993), based on the first 4 volumes of Moʿin and an additional 4,000 words from spoken Persian, with Latin transcription, and a French introduction.  A boon to linguists, this will furnish data on historical and contemporary morphology and etymology, and for quantitative and literary studies.  The emergence of an independent Tajikistan has inspired a collaborative dictionary of this Central Asian variety of Persian in Perso-Arabic script, as distinct from Cyrillic: Farhang-e Fārsi-e Tājiki by Moḥammadjān Šakuri and Moḥsen Šojāʿi (Tehran, 2006).



All lexicographic works are mentioned in the text.  On the internet, Persian Wikipedia (http://fa.m.wikipedia.org) offers entries on current Persian lexicography projects.


Solomon I. Baevskii, Early Persian Lexicography: Farhangs of the Eleventh to Fifteenth Centuries, tr. N. Killian, rev. J. R. Perry, Folkestone, UK, 2007; Russian orig., Moscow, 1989.

Mohammad-Reza Bateni, “Recent Advances in Persian Lexicography,” in Aspects of Iranian Linguistics, eds. Simin Karimi et al., Newcastle upon Tyne, 2008, pp. 3-18; the critical survey of publications ca. 1997-2007 includes modern bilingual dictionaries.

Henry Blochmann, “Contributions to Persian Lexicography,” JRASB 37/1, 1868, pp. 1-72; an evaluation of the principal Indo-Persian dictionaries.

Moḥammad Dabirsiāqi, Farhanghā-ye fārsi va farhang-gunahā, Tehran, 1989.

Heinrich F. J. Junker, ed., The Frahang ī Pahlavīk, Heidelberg, 1912.

Gilbert Lazard, “Les emprunts arabes dans la prose persane du Xe au XIIe siècle: Aperçu statistique,” Revue de l’Ecole nationale des études orientales 2, 1965, pp. 53-67; repr., idem, La formation de la langue persane, Paris, 1995, pp. 163-78.

ʿAli-Naqi Monzavi, “Farhang-nāmahā-ye ʿArabi be-Fārsi,” in Loḡatnāma-yeDehkodā: Moqaddema, Tehran, 1958, fasc. 40, pp. 265-372; repr., 1993, I, pp. 202-271; adjacent articles in this introduction are also very useful.

Šahriār Naqavi (Shahriyar Naqvi), Farhang-nevisi-e fārsi dar Hend va Pākestān, Tehran, 1962.

Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, Safar-nāma, ed. N. Vazinpur, Tehran, 1987.

Ahmed Mukhtar Omer, “Early Arabic Lexicons of Homographic Words,” in Proceedings of the Colloquium on Arabic Lexicology and Lexicography, ed. K. Dévényi et al., Budapest, 1993, I, pp. 3-11.

John R. Perry, Form and Meaning in Persian Vocabulary: The Arabic Feminine Ending, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1991.

Idem, “Early Arabic-Persian Lexicography: The asāmi and maṣādir Genres,” in Proceedings of the Colloquium on Arabic Lexicology and Lexicography, ed. K. Dévényi et al., Budapest, 1993, I, pp. 247-60.

Idem, “The Waning of Indo-Persian Lexicography: Examples from Some Rare Books and Manuscripts of the Subcontinent,” in Iran and Iranian Studies: Essays in Honor of Iraj Afshar, ed. Kambiz Eslami, Princeton, N. J., 1998, pp. 329-40.

Idem, “The Persian Language Sciences in India,” in Persian Prose and Specialized Literature in the Indian Sub-Continent, eds. Sunil Sharma and J. R. Perry, HPL 9, London, forthcoming.

G. H. Tasbihi, “The Problems of Bringing ‘Storey’s Persian Literature up to Date: Persian Lexicography,” Ph.D. diss., University College, London, 1979.

Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi,  Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism, and Historiography, New York, 2001.

(John R. Perry)

Last Updated: August 29, 2011