New (or Modern) Persian is one member of a great family of Iranian languages that have been spoken across Asia in both ancient and modern times. Its linguistic ancestry is as diverse and complex as that of English, and this has made it just as richly expressive as a means of communication. The core of the language has been inherited from the language of pre-Islamic Sasanid Iran, itself a descendant of the Old Persian of the Achaemenids. Over the centuries, it has been enriched by many borrowings from other languages it has encountered, notably Arabic and, to a lesser extent, Turkish and Mongolian (and more recently European languages). In the period immediately before the Arab conquests, the most important languages in Iran were Middle Persian and Parthian (the latter used in the eastern parts of the Iranian world). Except among some diehard Zoroastrians, who compiled in the ninth century a.d. a number of sacred texts in what is called “Pahlavi” (a form of Middle Persian written in a script derived from Aramaic), little effort was made to keep these alive as written languages. For over two centuries, when people of Iranian origin produced literature they did so mostly in Arabic—in fact, Iranians played a prominent role in shaping both classical Arabic literature and the scholarly study of Arabic grammar and philology. For certain types of writing, such as works of science, philosophy, and especially religion, Arabic never really disappeared in Iran and was often the language of choice. As a spoken language among ordinary Iranians, however, Arabic did not take root as it did in other areas conquered by the Arabs; the Middle Persian/Parthian dialects survived in numerous forms and were in common use among the people. In fact, even many of the Arabs who settled in the conquered Iranian territories began to use the local vernacular language for ordinary discourse. By the ninth century a.d., poetry, probably Literature just in oral form, was being composed in this language as well. As rulers of Iranian ethnic heritage began to appear, some encouraged this trend: Perhaps the best-known example is the Saffarid commander Ya‘qub Lays (861–879), who supposedly rejected panegyrists who attempted to praise him in Arabic, a language he scornfully boasted he did not understand. In ways and for reasons that are still imperfectly understood by historians, a method for writing the New Persian language in the Arabic script was perfected and efforts to promote it as a literary language began. As a literary language, New Persian developed over the course of the ninth and tenth centuries in the eastern Iranian lands ruled by the Samanid dynasty, where it was known as dari (“court” Persian, as the language is still called in Afghanistan) or pârsi (Fârsi, as the main dialect spoken in Iran today is called). This was apparently first encouraged by bureaucrats in the Samanid chancery who wanted to make it the offi cial language for state documents and records. One Samanid ruler in particular, Mansur I (961–976), gave offi cial sanction and impetus to this movement by ordering the translation from Arabic into Persian of two renowned works on history and exegesis. From that time onwards, Persian was established as a viable literary language. The Persian language itself is deceptively simple yet capable of the most eloquent and subtle expression. It has no distinction of gender for verbs, nouns, or pronouns: the pronoun u, for example, can mean he, she, or it. There is also no defi nite article. (Not surprisingly, Persian-speakers trying to learn English thus typically have a great deal of trouble trying to master the use of gender and especially the use of the word the.) There are no complicated case endings, infl ections, or declensions to worry about, apart from the use of the affi x râ as a marker of a direct object. With a couple of exceptions, all verbs are regular and conjugate predictably from the infi nitive to every tense and in every person. Syntax is fl exible, but usually in the order subject-object-verb. If the language has a diffi culty, at least for a non-native speaker trying to learn it, this probably lies in its tendency for words to have multiple meanings and its vast array of highly idiomatic expressions. Take, for example, the remarkably pliable word dastgâh, literally “hand-place”: It can mean anything from factory to a modal scale in music; it is used to refer to the operating mechanism of numerous different devices from looms to telephone dials; and it has a number of fi gurative meanings such as wealth and wisdom too. Conversation in Persian is regularly peppered with a stock of colorful polite words and phrases— referring to oneself as bandeh (“slave”), or responding to a routine greeting with qorbân-e shomâ (“may I be your sacrifi ce,” roughly meaning “you’re welcome” or “sincerely yours”). Social status plays an important part in the choice of such phrases, and the context or a slight change in nuance could easily change what would normally be polite fl attery into mockery. This linguistic combination of studied ambiguity and rhetorical extravagance can be seen as hallmarks not just of Persian language but of Persian culture itself, which tends to put a high value on wit, cleverness, ingenuity in concealing motives and objectives, projection of social status, and cultivation of social ties. These qualities come fully into play in Persian literature as well. One other aspect of the language that should perhaps be discussed here pertains to the script. The writers who developed New Persian as a literary language did not attempt to use an older script for that purpose, nor to devise a new one. Instead, they adapted Arabic script for that purpose. The shortcomings of using Arabic script for Persian have been discussed earlier and need not be repeated here. It is worth noting, however, that Persian shares with Arabic a great fondness for the art of calligraphy, and certain styles of writing the Arabic script have become closely associated with this art in Iran. The most elegant and popular is undoubtedly the style known as nasta‘liq (derived from naskh) a particularly clear and legible style, and ta‘liq, a fl orid decorative style often used in formal chancery documents. Literary manuscripts, personal correspondence, and calligraphies used for decoration are often done in this style. Calligraphic designs, with both religious and nonreligious motifs, are found not only on papers but also on ceramics, pottery, fl oral drawings, decorative scrolls, and ceilings and walls of mosques, palaces, and even luxury houses. Iranian Muslims have always been fond of inscribing the precious words of their holy book, the Koran, in intricate calligraphic designs. Recently, after the Islamic Revolution, the use of calligraphic writings, as a form of native art work versus Western or modern art, has again become very popular and many artists, of all kinds, utilize it as an enhancing element in their work. Traditional calligraphy used images to transform poetry into visual art, words into design, and writing into mystery. Modern calligraphy has developed new forms, even incorporating calligraphy elements into threedimension art as in sculptures by the contemporary artist Parviz Tanâvoli. Such calligraphic forms metamorphose words into new meanings and meanings into new experiences. The meanings are no longer embedded in fi xed words but in they way they look and feel as the viewer experiences a calligraphic piece. Words lose their fi xed meanings and enter a fl uid world of senses and intellect beyond the reach of language and dictionary. The art is no longer a fi xed reality but a medium of dialogue between senses and intellect, producer and viewer, seller and buyer, and the work and objects surrounding it.