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What Languages Are Spoken in Iran?

Persian is the official language of Iran and is spoken by over 50% of the country's population.

Official Language of Iran

Iran is located in the western region of Asia, bordered by Turkmenistan, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf. It has a population of over 79.92 million, which is made up of diverse ethnicities and linguistic backgrounds. Despite the wide range of differences within the population, Iran has only one official language: Persian.

The Persian language, also known as Farsi, belongs to the Indo-European language family, and is part of the Indo-Iranian subgroup. Persian originated from the Old Persian language of the Achaemenid Empire and the later Middle Persian of the Sasanian Empire. Persian is also an official language of Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

The Constitution of Iran outlines the national language policy by declaring Persian as the country's lingua franca. As the lingua franca, the language is also used for formal government communications and by public school systems. It is further recognized as the language of the Islam religion. Although the use of minority languages is permitted in some forms of public information, the government has largely promoted nationalism by promoting Persian as the only language of public administration, bureaucratic paperwork, and parliamentary sessions. Persian is spoken as a native language by around 53% of the population.

Other Widely Spoken Languages of Iran

As mentioned, Iran is a multicultural and multilinguistic country. As such, a number of other languages can be heard in the county, including Turkic languages and dialects (spoken by 18% of the population), Kurdish (10%), Gilaki and Mazandarani (7% combined), Luri (6%), Arabic (2%), and Balochi (2%).

One of the most commonly spoken Turkic languages in Iran is Azerbaijani. The language belongs to the Western Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family and is related to Turkish and Crimean Tatar. The vast majority of speakers of this language are concentrated in the northwestern region of Iran, known as Iranian Azerbaijan. These people have been divided between Iranian Azerbaijan and the Republic of Azerbaijan since the Russian Empire defeated the area and divided its territory.

The Kurdish language is spoken by the Kurds. This language belongs to the Northwestern Iranian subgroup of the Indo-European language family. Although concentrated in the northwestern region of this country, it does have some similar characteristics with the Persian language, which is concentrated in the southwestern region of Iran. This language is further divided into 3 groups: Northern, which is spoken in the northwestern area; Central, which is spoken in the Kurdistan Province; and Southern, which is spoken in the Kermanshah and Ilam provinces.

Minority Languages of Iran

In addition to the widely spoken languages of the country, Iran also has a number of minority languages. These minority tongues include Circassian, Hebrew, Armenian, Assyrian, and Georgian. Together, these languages are spoken by less than 1% of the total population of Iran. Circassian is a Northwest Caucasian language. Hebrew, spoken by the small Jewish population, belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family and Canaanite subgroup. Armenian is an Indo-European language and is largely influenced by Iranian languages, so much so that some linguists have theorized that the two languages were once the same. Assyrian, like Hebrew, is an Afro-Asiatic language, although it belongs to the Northeastern Aramaic subgroup. It can be heard throughout the Urmia region of northwestern Iran. Georgian, a Kartvelian language, is spoken by individuals from Georgia who have immigrated to Iran.

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