The Iranian Epistolary Tradition: Origins and Developments (6th Century BCE to 7th Century CE)


Marshall Building, Room 490
845 N Park Ave.
85721 Tucson , AZ


Fri, 02/07/2020 - 3:00pm to Sat, 02/08/2020 - 2:59pm


Part of the Spring 2020 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series

Narges Nematollahi, Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Assistant Professor of Persian Language, School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of Arizona
In this study, Narges will examine the official epistolary traditions in pre-Islamic Iran under the Achaemenids (550 – 320 BCE), the Seleucids (312 – 129 BCE), the Arsacids (129 BCE – 224 CE) and the Sasanians (224 – 650 CE). Each dynasty had a different official language: The Achaemenid Empire used Aramaic, the administrative language of the Neo-Babylonian Empire; The Seleucid rulers of Iran used Greek, their own native language, while the Arsacids and the Sasanians used Middle Iranian languages, Parthian and Middle Persian, respectively, in their official correspondence. After describing the epistolary traditions in each language, she will trace the historical development of official epistolary genre and seek to explain the linguistic changes in terms of social shifts. Narges will argue that the changes occurred in language and layout of letters from Aramaic to Middle Persian reflect a shift from the semantics of power to the semantics of politeness, similar to what Brown & Gilman (1960) observe in the use of pronouns in European languages. She will show that in the epistolary data, this shift is manifested in the use of pronouns as well as in the format of praescriptio and greeting sections of the letters. She will further argue that while the Aramaic official letters were modeled after the legal documents, the letters in Middle Iranian languages moved towards the literary texts by using various epithets as well as literary devices such as rhymed prose and parallelism, a trend which was to reach its summit in the epistolary tradition of New Persian in post-Islamic era.
Narges Nematollahi is the Elahé Omidyar Mir-Djalali Assistant Professor of Persian Language in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies and in the Roshan Graduate Interdisciplinary Program in Persian and Iranian Studies. She holds a dual Ph.D. in Iranian Studies and Linguistics from Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research is focused on the epistolary tradition in pre-Islamic Iran composed in Aramaic, Greek, Parthian and Middle Persian languages, and how it is transformed in early medieval Iran under the influence of Arabic. Her broader areas of research are stylistics of Old-, Middle- and Modern Persian, historical linguistics, pragmatics and formal linguistics of Iranian languages.