Parthian is not
By Dr. Kaveh Farrokh
Friday, January 10, 2003 1:34 PM
Greetings Professor Diker,
It has been bought to my attention that you describe Parthian as a Turkish
language in your website (or a related website):
This is linguistically incorrect. Parthian is not a Turkic language. It is
an old western Iranian language that is also called "Parthian Pahlavi". It
is a very close relative of "Middle Persian" or "Sassanian Pahlavi". The
syntax and vocabulary of Parthian are recorded (e.g. Dinkard) and are of
Iranian stock. The language of "Parthian" is actually called "Pahlavi" -
deriving from "Partha" into "Pahla". It is evident that the individual who
hosts this website does not speak Pahlavi. Allow me to demonstrate this
language and its Iranian character by way of example:
"haft celan istaft polawad im pad dast grift" which means "the seven
daggers of hard steel that I have grasped with my hand". Many of the words
are common in modern Farsi (e.g dast - hand; Polawad (polad in Farsi) -
steel; - grift (gerefet in Farsi) - grasped). "Haft" is the number seven;
clearly Indo-European - the Turkish counting system is entirely different.
For an introduction to Pahlavi, you may wish to refer to the following
works by Professor Mackenzie:
MacKenzie, D.N. (1967). Notes on the transcription of Pahlavi BSOAS, 30,
MacKenzie, D.N. (1971). A Concise Pahlavi Dictionary. London: Routledge.
Variations of the language of "Pahalvi" are still spoken among Iranians.
The Kurds of Iran as well as many Kurds of Turkey and Iraq speak
variations of Pahlavi. Turks cannot understand Kurdish and require
interpreters to communicate with Kurds who speak Sorani and/or Kurmanjii
(variations of Pahalvi amongst Kurds). The people of northern Iran speak
variations of Pahalvi as well - Mazandarani and Gilani for example.
Baluchi in southeast Iran also has Pahlavi elements (e.g. Ahsen "Iron" or
"Eisen" in English and Ahsan in Pahlavi - "Ahsen" is not "Iron" in
You may wish to visit Iran and visit numerous Parthian sites or the
victory inscriptions of Shapur I over the Romans and examine this
language. The main academic reference used by Pan-Turanian nationalists to
claim a Turkish identity for the Parthians is Rawlinson who wrote in the
late 19th Century. Linguistic studies and primary historical and
archeological sources have long since discredited Rawlinson's claim -
especially since he (a) did not speak Parthian/Pahlavi and (b) mistakenly
described Iranian names as Turkic. For example he argued that "dat" or
"dad" (given or provided by in Iranian languages) is Turkish - there is
not such root in Turkish linguistics with that meaning.
You also claim Soghdian as Turkish and reject Richard Nelson Frye's
studies. Professor Frye is a well respected scholar with over 4 decades of
international class research. He is well known for his studies of
linguistics and is a world authority in the ancient languages of Iran and
Central Asia. I suspect that you do not speak Soghdian or read Soghdian.
If not, you may first wish to have an introduction to the linguistics of
Soghdian and its east Iranian characteristics - kindly refer to A.J.
Arberry's "Legacy of Persia" starting on page 187.
Arberry. A.J. (1953). The Legacy of Persia. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Read
Chapter 7 (pages 174-198). The linguistics of Parthian/Pahlavi are also
described and how these are related to the modern Persian of today.
Soghdian, like other older East Iranian languages predate Turkic languages
by at least a 1000 years in Central Asia. Professor Frye has recently
published a book on the history of Central Asia and how Turkish expansion
eventually displaced and/or absorbed Iranian peoples such as the Scyhtians
(Saka), Alans, Sarmatians and Soghdians. Technically, I am not totally
correct regarding the Soghdians being displaced since some of their
descendants may still survive live in Tajikestan where the main spoken
language is Tajiki (very close to Farsi) as well as a language named
"Yaghnoubi" - which I have not studied, but which is (if I am not
mistaken) Iranian. The book by Professor Frye is:
Frye, R.N. (1996). The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to the
Turkish Expansion. Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers.
Older Iranian languages of Central Asia are commonly known to us as Saka
(Scythian in western sources - especially Ukraine area) and later
Sarmatian/Alan languages. Turks came in waves over the centuries into
Central Asia as invaders, pushed out of the east Mongolian region by
Chinese military activity. Turks may derive from a people known to us
"Shaing-Nou"; although some Chinese sources mention the word "Tueh-Chi"
(helmet) - which may have been one of the possible sources of the term
The Turco-Hun presence was fully felt by the Sassanian Empire in the 5th
Century AD - the Iranian peoples of Central Asia were simply driven out,
eliminated or absorbed. As noted by Newark (p.65) "The Huns destroyed the
realms of both the Alans and the Sarmatians". The Soghdians and some of
the Saka survived by retreating in Nagoro-Bedakhshan, Western Afghanistan
and Seistan (ancient Eastern Persia). The Ossetians of the Caucasus are
direct descendants of the Alans and their language has no connection to
Turkish. They retreated into the Caucasus mountains to safeguard their
language and culture from being absorbed into later waves of Hunnic,
Turkic and Mongolian invaders. In fact, despite over 1000 years of
separation from Iran proper, many Ossetian words (as well as syntax) have
cognates in both Farsi and Kurdish.
Not to be outdone, your website claims that the word "Saka" is Turkish.
The term "Issyk" has no linguistic or historical link (that I know of) to
the word "Saka" - which has existed since recorded history. Your reference
has not scholastically demonstrated any Turkish link. One of the old
meanings of "Saka" that I have found is "our friend" in old Achaemenid
Persian, although other Iranian meanings have been found as well. The term
"Issyk" has never been consistently used to refer to the Saka (or
Scythians) by either Persians or non-Persians Greeks (see Herodotus).
Allow me to demonstrate the Iranian linguistic character of the names of
the Saka confederations during Achaemenid times:
Saka Haumavarga - The Saka bearinng the Hauma - Hauma is the sacred drink
of the Zoroastrians and ancient Areyan Hindus of India.
Saka TigraKhauda - The Saka with the pointed hats. "Khauda" for example is
middle Persian (Pahlavi) "Khaud" and present day "Khood" or "Kolah-Khood"
in modern Farsi (Helmet).
Saka Paradraya - The Saka from beyond the sea. Para is Indo-European (and
it's subset Iranian) for "beyond" (there in no such root in Turkish or
indeed any Altaic languages that I know of). Certain dialects in Khorassan
still seem to use the word "para" in that context. "Draya" is sea (Persian
"Darya" - which is also a word loaned into modern Turkish as "Derya").
For further information I humbly suggest that you refer to:
Gamkrelidze & Ivanov (1984). Iindo-European and the Indo-Europeans: A
Reconstruction and Historical Typological Analysis of a Proto-Language and
Proto-Culture (Parts I and II). Tbilisi State University.
Mallory, J.P. (1989). In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language Archeology
and Myth. Thames and Hudson. Read Chapter 2 and see 51-53 for a quick
Newark, T. (1985). The Barbarians: Warriors and wars of the Dark Ages.
Blandford: New York. See pages 65, 85, 87, 119-139.
Renfrew, C. (1988). Aecheology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European
origins. Cambridge University Press.
I also seriously doubt the claim that Sumerian is a Turkish language since
no Turkic speakers were remotely close to the later-Persian realm or let
alone the Middle East at the time of the Sumerians. In addition, the time
element is in error - Sumerians pre-date ancient Babylon - Turks appear in
historical records thousands of years later. I am of course no expert in
that area and will leave this in the hands of other scholars. In addition,
I (along with many specialists and scholars) would seriously question your
claims of Hittite and Cimmerian being Turkish.
You are citing your book TRK Dili'nin Bes Bin Yili ("Five Thousand Years
of theTurkish Language") as your reference source. I fully respect your
expertise in Geophysical Engineering (in which you have a Doctorate and
are very well informed and experienced), however I am also humbly aware
that you do not have any formal and/or academic training or expertise in
ancient languages and/or archeology - nor (and correct me if I am wrong)
have you visited and/or engaged in excavation/study of sites in Iran,
Afghanistan, Tajikestan or Nagorno-Bedakhshan.
Finally, Professor Diker, I may have read that portion of your website
incorrectly, however it does seem that your book claims that it has
"proven" that all languages have their roots in Turkish. I am certain that
no serrious scholar will entertain the suggestion that the world's mother
language is Turkish. Excellent research is already underway in this area
and you may be interested in refering to the texts below as an
Ruhlen, M. (1994). The Origin of Language. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Provides the linguistic and genetic bases of languages and how attempts
are being made at "reconstruction". This book clearly distinguishes
between Turkic and other Indo-European languages such as those of the
Iranian family (e.g. Parthian/Pahalvi) - also read p.25 (Kurdish).
Cavalli-Sforza, L. L. (2000). Genes, Peoples and Languages. New York:
North Point Press. This text provides a good summary to the series of
Italian studies (spanning, I believe, close to 2 decades) in which the
relationships between genetics and languages have researched. Note that
Cavalli-Sforza's works indicate an African (not Turkish) origin for modern
humans as quite possibly languages as well.
If you have any questions regarding modern or classical Iranian languages,
feel free to contact me. Note that many individuals on the forwarded list
are themselves scholars who are well informed on Iranian studies and are
aware of the Iranian basis of the Parthian language.
Dr. Kaveh Farrokh (PhD)