Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Is Old Persian Easy?

For Evan:

I'd say Old Persian is pretty easy. The reason is that it's a consciously constructed language, at least the written form that survives as inscriptions on monoliths that are supposed to be read by any old peasant from 100 yards away. It's also very repetitive. In between new statements, there are about a half dozen costructions of the form, "Adam Kuruš xšayaθiya xšayaθiya vazraka xšayaθiya xšayaθiyanam xšayaθiya Parsaiy dahyunam." ("I am Cyrus the king, great king, king of kings, king in Persia and the other lands.")

It's true that the Zoroastrian canon is in Avestan, but Old Persian language and culture is thoroughly Zoroastrianized. E.g., the following formula appears about two dozen times in the second column of the inscription of Darius at Behistan: "Auramazdaiy upastam abara vašna Auramazdaha kara hya mana avam karam tyam hamiçiyam aja vasiy." ("Ahura Mazda bore me aid, by the grace of Ahura Mazda the army that was mine smote greatly the army that was rebellious.") In fact, Darius is a highly Zoroastrian name. The OP form of it is Darayavauš. The š is just a nominative ending, and the stem is Darayavahu-; in the inscriptions, the h falls off simply because there was no OP cuneiform glyph for "hu," although there was a "ha," which is why the h reappears in the genitive Darayavahauš. (Ditto for the reason that Ahura Mazda is Auramazda in the inscriptions, and presumably Ormuzd in Herodotus.) The point of this is that "vahu" is a northeast Iranian, i.e. Avestan word for "the good," (it's related, I believe, to a Sanskrit word for existence), that got transmitted into OP as a Zoroastrian idea.

Oh yeah, the relationship between OP and Avestan: OP was the language of southwest Iran, Avestan of the northeast. The differences are dialectal. E.g., a lot of s sounds in Avestan become θ in OP (they then became s again in modern Persian because of other dialectal influences, including Arabic). To take an example of OP descent that you'd relate to: sistit is 3rd person sg. in Latin (right?); in OP, any initial pIE s becomes h, and the s after i, u, r, or any velar consonant becomes š, per the Ruki rule (which also applies to Slavic and Albanian). Then the conjugation is slightly different, so instead of sistit, you get a(h)ištati, the a being an emphatic prefix and the h, again, being susceptible to deletion.


At 12:10 AM, Blogger Evan said...

Wow, that rocks.

At 12:13 AM, Blogger Evan said...

Incidentally, though I suppose I could find this out myself if I had to, in your transcription, is "x" /ks/ or /x/ as in Rauch?

At 2:24 AM, Blogger Finnegan said...

/x/ as in Rauch, although the xš is a kind of double consonant that starts as /x/, becomes the ch sound in mädchen, and then becomes š.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Evan said...

Thanks for the clarification. I did actually look it up and found that my confusion was not unwarranted, as there are no cognates of the word in any of the other I-E languages that might have occurred to me, although there is a verb root in Sanskrit ksi- (the s being retroflex) that means something like "to have in power".

(Ditto for the reason that Ahura Mazda is Auramazda in the inscriptions, and presumably Ormuzd in Herodotus.)

I'm trying in vain to find an instance of Herodotus calling Ahura Mazda by that name; I think that he must always call him either Zeus or just ho theos, "the god" (as in 9.16). The Greek forms of the name are Oromasdes and, starting in the 4th c. B.C., i.e., after Herodotus, Horomazes. (Greek writing can only indicate /h/ at the beginning of a word, or as an aspiration attached to /k/, /p/, or /t/, though it is an open question whether the sound was pronounced word-internally in places where it would have been known to be (i.e., in compounds or words like Sanedreia, "Sanhedrin"). For Herodotus it is a moot point, though, as his East Ionic dialect had no /h/ sound whatsoever, although it is usually written in texts for the sake of regularity and clarity.) Zeta in classical Greek was probably a sound like /zd/, which likely turned to simple /z/ only sometime in the Roman period.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger Richard G. Klein said...

I remember reading in a MLA journal around 1963-1965 that a scholar had tracked down Persian words in Finnegan's Wake and when he confronted Joyce with this information, Joyce replied, "yes I was forced to farce in Farsi!"

Does any one know the exact reference to this story?


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