- Raham Asha
This book, about the grammar of the Pahlavi language which flourished in Iran for about a millennium between the first 10 centuries of the Christian era, is very significant from the Zarathushtrian scriptural point of view. Pahlavi was the state language during the glorious Sasanian dynasty, the last of the five dynasties of Zoroastrian sovereignty in Iran.
It was during this time of the Sasanian era that the Avesta Literature, destroyed by Alexander in 330 B.C., and existing in scattered fragments, was regrouped, restructured and translated into Pahlavi, the spoken language of the day, along with copious commentaries and glosses. Not only that, but even after the downfall of the Iranian Empire in 641 A.C., Pahlavi continued to flourish, and the ninth century is in fact considered to be the golden era of Pahlavi language and literature. During this particular period of the ninth century, voluminous Pahlavi works of an independent nature were composed by the well-known high priests of the Zoroastrians in Iran at that time; and these works in fact constitute the link between the present times and the Sasanian era of the Past.
The grammar of the Pahlavi language is rather simple in nature as compared to that of Avesta. But it has two major areas of difficulty. One is the ambiguity of the script which has only 14 letters several among them having more than one form of reading. The practice of joining the letters further complicates the process of reading and deciphering, as one single word can be read in various combinations. The other difficulty is about the frequent use of ideograms through the language, thereby necessitating the study of two sets of vocabulary (Iranian equivalents for the non-iranian forms) in order to understand words in their proper context.
Pahlavi is also known by the term “Middle Persian”, though it is only one among a group of MiddIe Persian languages. The author of the book under review, the French-based Raham Asha, calls it Persic, and explains the same in the very beginning of the first chapter titled “Introductory Remarks”.
At present we have quite a few works on Pahlavi grammar, most of them published in the latter half of the last century or at the beginning of this century. But a fresh and comprehensive work on the subject in English has been overdue since C. Salemann’s s original German translated into English by L. Bogdanov in 1930 as Middle Persian Grammar. The present work, therefore, appears to have served this requirement to a considerable extent.
This book is intended for those who have a basic knowledge of Pahlavi, at least of its script, since notice of the actual script is made throughout the pages. To the credit of the author, the work has not been written in heavy or highly technical terms, but rather in a simple and lucid manner. He has practically covered all the parts of speech like nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, derivative et al in a précis form, with all of them divided into sub-groups. Asha treats each form by explaining it in a sentence or two, then gives quite a number of examples to substantiate his statements. This style helps one in under standing that particular classification immediately. As the author himself says in the preface: “This book is intended to be a preliminary guide and framework for the more detailed study of Persic … In this work, I have tried to describe how the language functions by citing whole sentences in order to illustrate the context in which this or that nominal or verbal form can he used.”
Finally, the bibliography given can he very useful for reference work, and for further study in the given field.