Iran country overview

The people of Iran

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Iran information index

Languages of Iran

Although Persian (Farsi) is the primary and official language of Iran, there are several other languages and dialects spoken in the country, belonging to three language families: Indo-European, Altaic, and Afro-Asiatic.

Approximately three-fourths of Iranians speak one of the Indo-European languages. More than half of the population speaks a dialect of Persian, which is an Iranian language from the Indo-Iranian group. Literary Persian, a more refined version of the language, is understood to some extent by most Iranians. Persian is also the dominant language in literature, journalism, and the sciences. Less than one-tenth of the population speaks Kurdish. The Lurs and Bakhtyārī both speak Lurī, a language that is distinct from Persian but closely related to it. Armenian, an Indo-European language, is spoken only by the Armenian minority.

The Altaic family of languages, primarily consisting of Turkic languages, is an important linguistic group spoken by a significant portion of the population in various regions. Azerbaijani, a language closely related to modern Turkish, is one of the most widely spoken Turkic languages within this family, with approximately one-fourth of the population using it as their primary means of communication. In addition to Azerbaijani, the Turkic language of Turkmen is also a part of the Altaic family, albeit spoken by a smaller number of people, particularly among the Turkmen population in Iran. Despite its relatively smaller number of speakers, Turkmen is an important language within the Altaic family, preserving unique cultural and historical aspects of the Turkmen people. Through the preservation and continued use of these languages, the Altaic family remains a vital part of the linguistic diversity found in the regions where they are spoken.

Among the Semitic languages from the Afro-Asiatic family, Arabic is the most widely spoken, although only a small percentage of the population speaks it as their native tongue. Arabic holds historical and religious significance in Iran. After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Arabic became the dominant literary language, and Persian adopted a significant number of Arabic words and grammatical structures. Attempts were made to remove Arabic elements from Persian during the monarchy, but these efforts were largely unsuccessful and ceased after the revolution. Since then, the study of Classical Arabic, the language of the Qurʾān, has been emphasized in schools, and Arabic remains the primary language for religious discourse.

Before 1979, English and French were the dominant languages spoken by the educated class in the region. German and Russian were also used to a lesser extent, reflecting the diverse linguistic landscape of the area. However, with the political changes that occurred in 1979, there was a shift in the language dynamics of the region. While European languages are not as commonly used now as they were before, they still hold a significant presence in schools and universities. English and French are still taught as foreign languages, with many students opting to study them to enhance their communication skills and increase their job prospects. German and Russian, although less popular, are also offered as language courses in educational institutions. The continued teaching of European languages in schools and universities highlights the importance of linguistic diversity and global communication skills in today’s interconnected world. Even though the dominance of these languages may have waned over the years, their presence in educational settings ensures that future generations are equipped with the tools to engage with a wider range of cultures and opportunities.

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