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ARAM, 7 (1995) 283-318 283



This article has a dual purpose. First, I wish to remind Aramaists of a
relatively important corpus of Aramaic texts on Iranian ground which has so
far received but little and scattered attention. A comprehensive study of this
corpus is a desideratum for both Aramaic and for Iranian studies. Second, I
need to respond to a recent article by an Aramaist (Toll, Die aramischen
Ideogramme, 1990), in which a theory of the origin of the so-called Aramaic
heterograms or ideograms (see below) in Iranian is proposed which departs
from all previous theories. In my opinion the theory has a deficient material
basis and therefore leads to erroneous conclusions. It is, however, the only
such study by an Aramaist, and one of prominent academic lineage at that, and
miscellaneous doubtful (if not wrong) forms deduced from the heterograms
have now found their way into Hoftijzer-Jongeling.1 I was encouraged by the
author some time ago (letter of 9 September 1990) to (re)publish my arguments
in favor of a modified standard theory. This is the first and best opportunity
I have had to do so.


Languages belonging to the Iranian language family were spoken in Central

Asia from the 2nd millennium B.C.E. and on the Iranian plateau probably from
no later than the beginning of the 1st millennium B.C.E. The first direct evidence
for Iranians on the plateau comes from the Assyrian sources, in which the
Parsuwas are first mentioned. For instance, on one campaign in 835 B.C.E..
Shalmaneser is said to have received tributes from 27 kings of Parsuwa.
Tiglath-Pileser refers to the mighty Medes or the distant Medes".

For instance, the forms in -TWN (late Sasanian period) are cited beside those in -TN,
early Sasanian period, e.g., sgytwn ~ sgytn, quoted in Hoftijzer-Jongeling, vol. II, 776.

His campaigns against them took him as far as Mount Bikni, which is probably
to be identified with Mount Alvand, south of modern Hamadan (ancient Ec-
batana). Finally, at the battle of Halule on the Tigris in 691, the Assyrian
king Sennacherib (704-681 B.C.E.) faced an army of troops from Elam,
Parsumas, Anzan, and others, and in the Vassal Treaties of Esarhaddon
(680-669 B.C.E.) and elsewhere numerous kings of the Medes are men-
The earliest direct evidence for Iranian languages is the corpus of Old Persian
inscriptions from the Achaemenid period, the first of which was probably the
great inscription of Darius I at Bisotun dating from 520-519 B.C.E. and for the
writing of which a cuneiform alphabet was invented by the kings scribes at
his order.
Old Persian (the ancestor of Middle and modern Persian) was apparently
not used as an administrative language, however, which remained Elamite in
the royal administration of Persepolis and Susa, written on permanent mater-
ial, and Aramaic presumably for letters and other documents, written mostly
on perishable materials. It was therefore during the Achaemenid period
that Aramaic started spreading throughout the Iranian territories as scribal lan-
guage and the Aramaic script became the primary means of writing. The
Achaemenid satraps of Asia Minor inscribed their coins using Aramaic, and
so did the Seleucid (after the death of Alexander in 323 B.C.E., with an inter-
lude of Greek) and Parthian kings. It reached Bactria (Afghanistan) no later
than the 2nd century B.C.E., when we find it used for Iranian translations of
Asokas rock edicts. In these inscriptions it is also, exceptionally, used for
writing Middle-Indic languages (Prakrit).
The successors of the Seleucids, the Parthians (Arsacids) used Aramaic
script for all writing: coins, letters, inscriptions, etc., and a typical Parthian
ductus appears in royal inscriptions from the 2nd century C.E.
Further away in Central Asia the Aramaic script was used for writing Sogdian
(in the area of modern Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) no later than the 3rd century
C.E., as well as for Chorasmian (in the area of modern Turkmenistan). The
Sogdian variant of the Aramaic script, the earliest version of which is seen
in some letters dating from the 3rd century C.E., later developed into several
cursive variants, referred to as the Sogdian and (most cursive) Uigur scripts,
as it was also used to write Old Turkish.
The farthest extension of the Aramaic script was into the Tarim Basin,
modern Chinese Turkestan or Xinjiang, where, in the first centuries of our
era, it formed the basis for the development of the Kharohi script used to
write the local Middle-Indic (Prakrit) language. The innovation of the

Kharohi script was to express vowels by modification of the basic letter,

e.g., by subscripts, a method adopted from the Indian scripts.
The only Iranian languages that did not, apparently, use the Aramaic script,
were Bactrian and Khotanese and its relatives. Bactrian was the language
spoken in Bactria, which was settled by Alexanders soldiers in the 3rd century
B.C.E., who introduced the use of Greek script. Whether the Bactrians used
Aramaic before this time is not known.
Khotanese and related languages were spoken in the Tarim Basin,
in Khotan on the southern Silk Route and in Kucha and Agni on the
northern Silk Route. The populations of these areas early on became Bud-
dhist and adopted variants of the Indic Brahmi script for writing their
On the Iranian plateau the Aramaic script continued to be used in the
Sasanian period for writing Parthian and Middle Persian, the descendant of
Old Persian and ancestor of modern Persian. The earliest monuments,
from the 2nd-3rd century C.E., are in a lapidary ductus, but, parallel to it,
there must have existed ductuses more adapted to writing on parchment
and papyrus and, later, paper. We may note that the transition from the
classical Aramaic ductus to the Middle Persian ductus took place ca.
300 C.E., as can be seen from the coins. The earliest non-lapidary ductus is
seen in a manuscript containing a part of the Psalms of David (the Pahlavi
Psalter) discovered in Chinese Turkestan. This ductus soon developed into
a highly cursive one, the Book Pahlavi script, which is the standard script
used in the literature of the Zoroastrians, as well as on seals and coins
from the later Sasanian period. The latest and most cursive variant of this
script is seen on papyri and parchments from the end of the Sasanian
period. As an official script, Pahlavi was by then replaced by Arabic, how-
It was also in the Sasanian period (ca. 500 C.E.?) that an alphabet based on
the Psalter and Book Pahlavi scripts was invented for the writing down of the
Avesta, the ancient holy scriptures of the Zoroastrians, composed in Avestan,
an Old Iranian language spoken in two different chronological stages, Old and
Young Avestan, in Central Asia and (north)eastern Iran around the middle
of the 2nd millennium and in the first half of the 1st millennium B.C.E.,
respectively. The inventors of the Avestan alphabet combined the forms of
the letters (ultimately derived from Aramaic) with the principle of phonetic
spelling of the Greek script, adding vowels, to produce a phonetically exact
script, by which one could record the minutest phonetic details of the liturgical
pronunciation of the holy texts.

From the early Sasanian period on two varieties of Syriac script were used
to write Iranian languages, as well: the Manichean script, a variant of
Estrangelo the invention of which is ascribed to Mani, the founder of
Manicheism himself, and the Nestorian script. The Manichean script was
especially adapted to Iranian needs and was used to write Parthian, Middle
Persian, Bactrian, Sogdian, and even Tokharian (a non-Iranian Indo-European
language spoken in several dialects on the northern Silk Route in the areas of
Kucha and Agni/Qarashahr) and Old Turkish. The Nestorian script was used
in Chinese Turkestan by the Sogdian Christians.
In the early Islamic period, Hebrew was used extensively by the Jewish
population of Iran to write mostly modern Persian (Judeo-Persian), but also
local dialects, for instance, that of Hamadan (ancient Ecbatana).
Among modern Iranian languages Persian has a literature written in Arabic
script reaching back to the beginnning of the Islamic period. Other literary
languages, such as Pashto, Kurdish, and Baluchi, also use (or have used) the
Arabic alphabet, with numerous modifications.
For a survey of the Iranian variants of the Aramaic and Syriac scripts see
Skjrv, Iranian Alphabets".


The earliest extant Aramaic texts written by Iranians, or scribes in the service
of Iranians, are the Aramaic texts from the Achaemenid period. These comprise
the Aramaic texts from Persepolis from the early 5th(?) century B.C.E., mostly
short inscriptions on ritual utensils,2 and the Aramaic version of the Bisotun
inscription found among the papyri from Elephantine (5th century). The
Aramaic texts from Egypt are also heavily influenced by Old Persian official
and religious terminology.
An Aramaic inscription on the tomb of Darius at Naqs-e Rostam may be
from the Seleucid period (3rd-2nd centuries B.C.E.), if Hennings reading of the
name slwk in it is correct (Mitteliranisch, 24). Unfortunately, Henning did not
specify where in the inscription he saw this name, and nobody has seen it since.
No other Aramaic text from Seleucid Iran other than on coins survives.
From the 2nd-1st centuries B.C.E. we have the Aramaic versions of the rock
edicts of Asoka found in Afghanistan. The Aramaic versions are accompanied
by Greek versions or Indic versions in Aramaic script.

Ed. Bowman, Aramaic Ritual Texts; among reviews, see Levine.

From the Parthian period on the question arises whether the texts we have
are Aramaic or Iranian written with Aramaic ideograms/heterograms (see below).
The documents in question are a land sale document found at Awroman in
modern Kurdistan and potsherds inscribed with wine receipts from Nisa, the
northern capital of the Parthian empire, both dating from the 1st cent. B.C.E.,
and a couple of Parthian royal inscriptions and some inscriptions found in
northwestern Iran, all from the 1st to 3rd cents. C.E.3
The following examples of texts are divided into three groups: The first
groups contains texts that are indisputably in Aramaic language and the third
texts that are as clearly in Iranian languages (Middle Persian and Parthian). In
the texts of this third group we see numerous Aramaic words, in increasingly
less correct form as time goes on. From several circumstances it has long
been known that these Aramaic words were merely a scribal devise to write the
corresponding Iranian words (see, e.g., Westergaard, Zendavesta, 20 fn. 2; Sale-
mann, Mittelpersisch, 250; Schaeder, Iranische Beitrge, 206-209). On one
hand, in different copies of the same text, the Aramaic words vary with Iranian
words (e.g., Mid. Pers. bay god(s) is sometimes written phonetically as
bgy, sometimes heterographically as ORHYA, literally ry < Aram. lhy
the gods). On the other hand, the Aramaic words frequently receive end-
ings that properly belong to the Iranian words (e.g., BRE < breh, literally his
son", written for pus son", but BRE-r written for pusar of the son, sons
with Persian ending -ar). For this reason these Aramaic words are now com-
monly referred to as heterograms or (increasingly less commonly) ideo-
grams". This kind of scribal practice is, of course, well known from Me-
sopotamia, although a historical connection between the two is uncertain.4
The second group contains texts from the early-mid Parthian period. The
nature of the language of these texts is debated. Some regard it as heterographic
Iranian (Parthian) others as Aramaic, although written in faulty orthography.
The main argument in favor of the first hypothesis is the faulty orthography and
the occurrence of Parthian words. Against this hypothesis and in favor of the
second is the fact that the Aramaic elements in these inscriptions do not quite
conform to the heterographic system of the later Parthian inscriptions. My own
inclination is to regard these texts as written in the kind of unskilled Aramaic
that was soon to give way to heterographic Iranian (see also below).
Among Aramaic texts written by Aramaic-speaking communities in Sasanian Iran, we
may mention the Palmyran texts.
All the languages written in the classical Aramaic script use heterograms, though
only Parthian and Middle Persian to a greater extent. Texts in the Syriac Manichean script
have no heterograms.

It is customary to transliterate heterograms using capital letters (roman or

italic), but there are several current systems. I will be using that first employed
by D. N. MacKenzie, who dispenses with diacritical signs by assigning the
capital letters A, E, O to alep, he, and ayin, leaving H for e; C is used for
ae and Q for e. This system has the advantage of dissociating the hetero-
graphic spellings from the original Aramaic ones. Gignouxs Glossaire fol-
lows a more traditional system, using , , H, , and (but C, not ), for in-
stance: RY (see above), TY/Parthian Y arrow (< Aram. y the
arrows) and YCBH to wish (< Aram. ybh he wishes), as opposed to
ORHYA, HTYA/Parthian HQYA, and YCBE, used here.
Note also that, while the Parthian heterograms are faithful to the Aramaic
orthography, in Middle Persian the letters Q and Q () have been replaced by
K and T5; example: Parthian QQL kill", Middle Persian YKTLWN. Not
infrequently we find O for A, as in ORHYA, Parthian ALHA (< Aram. lh).
H (< ) is normally used in non-final position and E (< h) in final position for
either or h in both Parthian and Middle Persian; example: Middle Persian
YKOYMWN, cf. Parthian HQAYM-, literally qym- for hqym(?).


Aramaic texts from Persepolis

Most of the Persepolis inscriptions published by Bowman are of the fol-
lowing type:
bprkn byrt lyd NN1 sgn (rb) In the parkan (precinct?) of the fortress, for NN1,
the (grand) segan,
NN2 bd/bdw bswn6 znh NN2 made (is the maker of?) this abson (pestle).

The language of these texts is clearly Aramaic, not Old Persian in Ara-
maic disguise. In Old Persian the genitive normally precedes the noun it
qualifies, as does the demonstrative pronoun; cf. the similar Old Persian
inscriptions from A3Pa: imam ustasanam aqaganam mam upa mam krta,
literally: this staircase of stone by me under me (= during my reign) was

Exceptions: Middle Persian QB, later TB new good; QDM written MDM (with Q = M)
abar on, cf. Parthian QDMTE parwan before.
Iranian words in the text are in italics here.

The form bdw I assume contains the personal pronoun -(h)u, added either
to the perfect or to the present participle: *a-u7 or ae-u.8

An Aramaic version of the edict of Asoka: Kandahar 1

The following Aramaic inscription is accompanied by a Greek version;
see the latest edition by Pugliese Carratelli and Garbini. The awkward syntax
is as likely to have been caused by the Indic original as by the influence of an
Iranian scribe.
1 snn 10 ptytw byd zy mrn (For?) 10 years expiation (has been) made (or:
prydrs mlk qsy mhqs is making?) (he) who (is) Our Lord, Priyadarsa,
the king, the promoter of truth,
2 mn dyn zyr mr lklhm nsn Since then evil (is) less for all people, and all
wklhm dwsy hwbd hostilities he has eliminated.
3 wbkl rq rm sty wp zy znh And in all the earth (is) peace and happiness.
bmkl lmrn mlk zyr And *in addition, for eating (= food) for Our
Lord the king (there are) less (people)
4 qln znh lmzh klhm nsn who kill. This is for all people to see. They have
thsynn wzy nwny dn held themselves back also (those) who catch fish
5 lk nsn ptyzbt knm zy prbst those people declared (against it?); similarly,
hwyn lk thsynn mn those who were *trappers, those have held them-
selves back from
6 prbsty whwptysty lmwhy * trapping. And (they are) obedient to his mother
wlbwhy wlmzysty nsn and to his father and the elders, people (are),
7 yk srhy lqwt wl yty dyn as destiny has laid it down. And there is no
klhm nsy syn judgment for all men pious.
8 znh hwtyr lklhm nsn wwsp This has benefited all men and over and over
yhwtr will benefit (them).

The uncertainties about the exact meaning of the Iranian word ptytw and
the function of zy make it impossible to be certain about the forms of the
verbs in the first line; if byd and mhqs are parallel, then byd will be ae
(cf. thsynn = ehasen- and hwtyr = hawter). The 3rd plur. forms in -n agree
with nsn people and are presumably for -in (Segert, Altaramische
Grammatik, 184

Cf. the enclitic emphatic (h)u in Syriac, Nldeke, Syrische Grammatik, 167 221? It is
not clear from the handbooks to what extent this was a genuine Aramaic practice; it may
be (if my interpretation is correct) just an Iranian practice.
Differently Bowman, Aramaic Ritual Texts, 40.


The land sales document from Awroman in Kurdistan

1 snt 300 yr rwtt mzbnw ptspk Year 300, month (H)arwatat. The seller is Ptspk,
bry tyryn son of Tiren, who (is) from Brkn, (of) the vine-
2 zy mn brkn (?) krm smk mh yard (of) Asmak, which is half a share (yat) of
bykskn plg yt 9 Abikasakan.
3 wzbnw wyl bry bsnyn kzy y And the buyer is Awyl, son of Bsnyn, as long as
kl zwzn 20 20 20 11111 I live(?),11 for a total of 65 drahms,
4 mh mn bwmwtw (?) t. (r)w10 which from the *land-lord (bum-xwataw).
my klw qdmth These *swore before him
5-6 sdyn [names] (as) witnesses: [names]
7 [..] krm smkn krm zbnt wyl [] the vineyard (of) Asmakan (!). The vine-
mn yard, I Awyl have bought from
8 ptspk kl zwzn 20 20 20 11111 Ptspk for a total of 65 drahms.

On this text see Henning, Mitteliranisch, 28-30. Only the orthography

would seem to speak against this document being Aramaic, such as for h,
while the position of the verbs at the beginning of clauses, although found in
the Parthian and Middle Persian inscriptions, would be unusual(?) in a Parthian
document. The use of the verb eat for swear has been recognized as an
Iranian calque: sogand xwardan eat > swear an oath".

Nisa, Wine receipt, document no. 411

See Diakonoff and Livshits, Parthian Economic Documents, 43.
1 bwt znh mn krm In this jar from the vineyard
2 wzbry zyb brzmytn uzbariy which (is) in Brzmytn
3 nwk qry m 10 1111 1111 1 new (wine) *called, 19 mari.
4 hnlt lsnt 200 1111 111 I (?) [as producer] delivered (it) for (?) the year
5 hyty wgtnwk Ugtanuk brought (it)
6 mdwbr zymn the wine-deliverer who (is) from
7 brzmytn Brzmytn.

Cf. Cowley (Aramaic Papyri, 1-2) Papyrus no. 1 lines 2-3 yhbn lky plg mn[t] zy yhbw
ln we have given to you half the share which was granted to us
Letter following t small letter, second last letter d, r, k. Either Aramaic or Iranian.
Cf. kdy y as long as (there is) life, Hoftijzer-Jongeling, Dictionary, Vol. I, 317, 4-
5th lines from bottom.

The use of the masc. form znh with a fem. noun in bwt znh is un-
Aramaic.12 The combination of a preposition plus a noun, as in lsnt, is not
otherwise found among the known Parthian and Middle Persian heterograms.
The forms and meanings of hnl-t (beside hnl-w) as opposed to hyty are not
clear; hnl-t may be a heterogram, as suggested by other pairs such as
YNTN-t ~ YNTNW. On the other hand, the Nisa documents do not yet show
the confusion of h and typical of Iranian texts.

The inscription from Mceta (Armazi)

On this text see Altheim and Stiehl, Supplementum, 74-85
1 nh srpy brty zy I, Serapeitis, daughter of
2 zwy qlyl bs zy prsmn Zeouakhes the younger, bitaxs of Porasman
3 mlk ntt zy ywdmngn wny the King, wife of Yodmangan. And he was vic-
4 wkbyr rwst byd(w) rb and performed great deeds, master of
5 trb zy hsyprnwg mlk bry court (procedures) of King Ksefarnoug, son
6 zy gryp rb trb zy of Agrippa, master of court (procedures) of
7 prsmn mlk bl blyk m King Porasman. Woe upon thee! that
8 zy prnws l gmyr whkyn the full age (*prnaus) was not completed. And
9 b wspyr yhwh hyk zy br good and beautiful is she that a son
10 yns l dm yhwh mn of men is no equal with respect to
11 bwt wmytyn bsnt 10 10 1 goodness. And I(?) died in (my) year 21.
Notes: On ny byd(w) as nae ae-(h)wa see Altheim and
Stiehl (Aramische Sprache, 303). As for mytyn = *mae-en I am dying
(cf. myytn Dalman, 65, p. 289), which as suggested by Altheim and Stiehl
(ibid., 47) has masc. instead of fem. participle, compare the same practice in
Imperial Aramaic from Asia Minor and Egypt according to Segert (Alt-
aramische Grammatik, 330-332


Inscriptions of the standard 3rd-century type are known from the 2nd century
on. In these heterograms are common, but restricted to a relatively limited set
of words and forms. The exact pronunciation of the Iranian words can be
deduced from the Manichean texts and etymology.

See Henning, Mitteliranisch, 27-28.

Parthian royal inscriptions

Reign of Arsak Walgas, son of Mihrdad (Miqrdat), 151 C.E., see Morano,
Contributi",, and Skjrv, review of Gnoli and Panaino, (eds.), and review
of Skalmowski and Tongerloo, (eds.).
1 rsk wlgsy MLKYN MLKA13 [In the year] Arsaces Vologases, King of Kings,
Arsak Walgasi sahan sah
2 BRY mtrdt ML[KA] son of King Mitradates,
puhr Mihrdad sah
3 [KT]SW OL mysn BRA mtrdt fought in Mesene against King Mitradates, son of
*kosed o Mesan *abar Mihrdad
sah puhr
4 pkwr MLKYN MLKA Pacorus, King of Kings.
Pakor sahan sah
5 mtrdt MLKA MN TME MRDPW He chased King Mitradates from there,
Mihrdad sah az od
6 hmk mysn AHDW he took all of Mesene.
hamag Mesan girwed
7 ZNE ptkr wrtrgn ALHA14 ME This image of the god Warhagn (Herakles), which
MN mysn HYT-t15 was brought from Mesene,
im padkar Warh(r)agn bag ce
az Mesan awurd
8 nygndn B tyry bgny HQAYMW he placed as *trophy in the temple of Tir.
*nigandan andar Tiribaginiawested

Reign of Artaban, 215 C.E. (see Henning, Mitteliranisch, 40 41; Altheim

and Stiehl, Supplementum, 98).
1 SNT 400 20 20 20 11 YRHA Year 462, month Spandarmat, day Mihr,
spndrmty YWMA mtry16
sard 462 mah Spandarmad roz

Thus also in the later Parthian inscriptions, from Aramaic mlkyn mlk. Middle Persian,
however, uses MLKA-n MLKA, with -n as phonetic complement for the ending -an.
Parthian ALHA < lh = bag, Middle Persian ORHYA = bay, literally means god,
but is mostly found in the plural in the sense of majesty.
Parthian HYT-t is an alternate spelling for HYTY-t. On the final -t in this type of
heterogram (also BNY-t in the next inscription, see the discussion below).
The dating formulas differ in all the languages using heterograms: Parthian SNT
YRHA YWM = Middle Persian SNT BYRH YWM = Sogdian SNT YRHA

2 rtbnw MLKYN MLKA (reign of?) Artabanos, king of kings,

Ardban sahan sah
3 BRY wlgsy MLKYN MLKA son of Vologeses, king of kings.
puhr Walgas sahan sah
4 BNY-t cy[t]k ZNE LY hwsk *Husak, satrap of Susa, built this stele.17
sws hstrp
*dist cidag im man Husag
Sus sahrab

Sasanian royal inscriptions

Reign of Ardaxsahr I (224-239/40; see Herzfeld, Paikuli, 85).
Parthian ptkr ZNE mzdyzn [ALH]A rthstr MLKYN MLKA ryn MNW
[syh]r MN yztn
padkar im mazdezn bag Ardaxsahr sahan sah aryan ke sihr az
Middle Persian ptkly ZNE mzdysn bgy rthstr MLKAn MLKA yrn MNW
ctry MN yztn
pahikar en mazdesn bay Ardaxsahr sahan sah Eran ud an-Eran
ke cihr az yazdan
This picture is of the Mazdayasnian Lord Ardaxsahr, King of
Kings, whose seed is from the gods
Parthian BRY ALHA pp[k] [M]LKA
puhr bag Pabag sah
Middle Persian BRE bgy ppky MLKA
pus bay Pabag sah
son of the Lord King Pabag".

From the inscription of Sapur (Sabuhr) I at Naqs-e Rostam:

Parthian W LH-w18 ME ZNH-n19 trwn YNTN-t20 W ME bdyn HQAYMW-t
ud ho ce imin aduran dad ud ce abden awestad

For this type of colophon, cf. also Middle Persian nibist Boxtag dibir Boxtag the
scribe wrote (this inscription) (inscription of Kerdir at Naqs-e Rajab).
Parthian LH-w = ho can also be read as LHW < lehu (less likely as L-hw).
Parthian ZNH-n: note that ZNE (< znh) before the phonetic complement of the plural
ending becomes ZNH- (literally zn-) according to the rule that E is used only in final position
(thus also LH-, literally l-< lh). Note that in this inscription ZNH-n imin these corresponds
to Middle Persian LZNE-sn = imesan, whereas in the next inscription Parthian ZNE = im cor-
responds to Middle Persian ZNE = en this. See toward the end of this article on the
pronominal heterograms.
On the final -t of Parthian YNTN-t and HQAYMW-t see below.

Middle Persian W ZK ZY LZNE-sn twrn YHBWN W ZY-sn PWN dwyn

ud an i imesan aduran dad ud i-san pad ewen nihad
and that which to these fires (was) given and which for them
(was) as custom established

From the inscription of Sapur (Sabuhr) I at Hajjiabad:

See Nyberg, Manual I, 122-123.
ztn SDY-t
ud kad amah im tigr wist parwan sahrdaran wispuhran wazurgan ud azadan wist
wclkn W ztn SDYTN
u-n ka en tir wist eg-in pes sahriyaran ud wispuhran ud wazurgan ud azadan
And when this arrow (We) shot, then before the landholders, princes, grandees,
and nobles (We) shot
Pa NGRYN22 pty ZK wym HQAYMW-t W HQYA LCD LH-w syty LBRA RMY-t
pad pad ed wem awestad ud tigr tar ho cid o beh abgand
u-n pay pad en darrag nihad u-n tir tar an cidag be abgand
and foot on this stone/crack (We) placed, and (We) the arrow beyond that
cairn away (We) shot".


The best description of the origin of the use of heterograms to write Iran-
ian languages is, in my opinion, that of Henning (Mitteliranisch, 31-32),
which deserves to be quoted in full (my translation):
Already in Achaemenid times it had become the habit to sprinkle the
Aramaic text with Iranian words, at first, titles, technical terms, and the
like. In this way they learnt how to write indigenous words with Aramaic
letters. In the course of time, the number of Iranian words grew, at the same

In AP-n ADYN-n AP-n AP-n, -n is the enclitic agential pronoun 1st plur. (of
majesty) attached to the conjunction/particle AP- u(d) and, not a phonetic complement.
Note that only in the Middle Persian is the agent expressed repeatedly, while in the cor-
responding Parthian sentences the tonic pronoun LN We, Us is used once and is not
repeated. On the agential construction of the transitive simple past see below.
Note Parthian NGRYN < *ngryn < riglayin (dual) = Middle Persian LGLE < rigleh.

time that Aramaic was increasingly neglected: It must have been difficult al-
ready in the 3rd century B.C.E. to find enough trained people to write it. Grad-
ually, we must assume, the word order yielded to that of the scribes own lan-
guage, while the individual words maintained their Aramaic inflectional
forms. When this stage was reached, it is hard to tell whether we should call
the language bad Aramaic or heterographic Iranian. Subsequently, the Ara-
maic inflections are gradually given up and are only used in a few fixed forms.
The idea of fixed Aramaic inflectional forms or frozen forms, as I shall
refer to them here, was also adopted by Nyberg (e.g., Manual, II, 1) and
Rosenthal (Aramaic, 256).
According to Henning (Mitteliranisch, 25) heterograms are first attested
on a coin dating from the end of the 2nd century B.C.E., where we have the
form BRE, literally his son for regular BR son of". Whether this isolated
example proves that an official heterographic system of writing had been
established by this time, I doubt, as the 1st-century B.C.E. texts still appear to
have more Aramaic in them than the later ones. I think perhaps the final system,
the one we see in the earliest Sasanian inscriptions, was established in the
1st-2nd centuries C.E., when the typical ductuses of Parthian and Middle Persian
were introduced.
My own research in this matter stems from my work on the Old Persian
verbal system (Underskelser, 1974). Here I for the first time remarked that
the Middle Persian heterogram OBYDWN- only represents Middle Persian
present tense forms. Later I noticed that a similar conclusion had already
been reached by Herzfeld (Paikuli, 57). I continued investigating the use
of the verbal heterograms in the Sasanian inscriptions (Parthian and Middle
Persian) and outlined my preliminary results in Humbach and Skjrv, Paikuli,
Part 3.2 (1983) together with a syntactic analysis of the Parthian and Middle
Persian case system published in Case in Inscriptional Middle Persian
(1983). I elaborated and refined the frozen forms theory in Verbs in
Parthian (1986) and presented a detailed study of the use of the verbal
heterograms in Verbal Ideograms (1989). Following is a summary of the
main results of these studies.
The verbal systems of Parthian and Middle Persian were based on a
fundamental opposition between (1) present-imperfect: forms from the present
stem with a narrative-descriptive function used for the present and imperfect
tenses and the moods of the present tense (indicative, subjunctive, optative,
imperative)23 and (2) simple past: forms from the past stem (historically =

The future was expressed by the present indicative or subjunctive.

past participle), originally used to denote the result of a past action, process,
or state, but in the course of time, as the imperfect was lost, became the general
past tense. Examples:
Present Imperfect Simple past
sawem I go *sawen I went sud hem (lit. I am gone > I have gone,
I went)
nibesem I write *nibesen I wrote u-m nibist (lit. by me written > I have
written, I wrote)24

The heterograms as we see them in the Parthian and earliest Middle

Persian text corpus reflect this fundamental division as follows:
In Parthian, heterograms denoting forms of the present stem end in -W
or -E, while those denoting forms from the past stem end in -T/-t25 (on which
see below), e.g.,
take come write give bring place
girw- as- dah- awar- ist-
Simple past AHD-T/t ATY-T/t KTYB-t YNTN-t HYT(Y)-T/t HQAYM(-W)-t
grift agad nibist dad awurd istad

In Middle Persian, the verbal heterograms are used for forms from both
stems, except that some verbs reserve the heterograms for forms from the
present stem only, while the past tense is written phonetically",26 e.g.:
take kill do, make
gir- ozan- kun-
Simple past OHDWN YKTLWN klty
grift ozad kerd

Seeing that many of the heterograms, at least superficially, were formally

imperfects in Y-, participles in M-, and, apparently, perfects, I made the
assumption that the heterograms originally corresponded to the function of
the Iranian form they represented, that is, an Iranian present stem form would
be represented by an imperfect or an active participle, and a past stem form

Like Syriac ki-li.
Thus already Herzfeld, Paikuli, 54.
Thus already Herzfeld, Paikuli, 57.

would be represented by a perfect or a passive participle. Thus, I proceeded

to assign each of the actually attested types of heterograms to one of these
This procedure led to the realization that forms such as Parthian OBD-W
and Middle Persian OBYD-WN, which were restricted to representing present
tense forms, most likely are from active present participles with the addition
of the enclitic subject 3 sing. personal pronoun -(h)u: ae-(h)u, as first
suggested by Altheim and Stiehl (Aramische Sprache, 303). This implies
two assumptions: (1) plene spelling of short i/e and (2) spelling of the en-
clitic 3rd sing. masc. pronoun without h as -w.
(1) The plene spelling of the short i/e in the present participle is well known
in Aramaic (Dalman, Grammatik, 284-285), although it is not registered for
Imperial Aramaic in Segert (Altaramische Grammatik, 266). Nevertheless,
there are several instances in the Aramaic texts from Iran in which short i/e
is written plene.
The earliest example may be the form byd, found twice in the Aramaic
Bisotun inscription; in both instances the editors assume it is the past participle
i done (Greenfield and Porten, The Bisutun Inscription, 31, 47). Such
an interpretation is not without problems, however. In line 66 we read []
hwd yk zy byd nt wyk hlktk, which corresponds to Old Persian azda kusuva
ciyakaram ahi make known of what sort you are! Thus, the Aramaic ex-
pression yk zy byd nt corresponds to OPers. ciyakaram ahi, which literally
means what-doing you are". Sims-Williams (The Final Paragraph, 4) fol-
lowed by Greenfield and Porten (The Bisutun Inscription, 47) suggested that
byd nt is the Aramaic rendering of the Old Persian ergative construction
seen in mana krtam I have done", literally, my/by me done".27 This
phrase, however, is expressed in various Aramaic dialects as i li, not
i *ana, which could only mean I (was) made". It is therefore much
more probable that byd nt is for ae ant you are doing". In line 17 we
read r ddrs mn[dm l] byd mkt[r ly] Afterward, Dadarsi did nothing
(but) waited for me Here, as well, the interpretation as present participle
is preferable in view of the following participle mktr, which can hardly be
other than a present participle itself.
(2) As for the assumed spelling of the enclitic 3rd sing. masc. pronoun
without h, this is, as far as I can see, not found in standard Aramaic anywhere

Note that this is not a case of the passive participle being used in an active sense, as
Sims-Williams and Greenfield and Porten have it; it is not the participle that has active sense,
it is the whole construction that has active function.

(except in mnw who); in most Aramaic dialects the h of the enclitic 3rd
sing. pronouns -hu and -hi had become silent from the beginning of the literary
era, however, so a phonetic spelling can easily be imagined. Here again the
earliest example is, perhaps, found in the Achaemenid Persepolis texts (see
above), in which bd alternates with bdw without, apparently, any change to
plural subject. From the Parthian period, the forms zbnw and mzbnw of the
Awroman document (see above) are most easily explained as present participles
+ the enclitic pronoun: zaen-u and mzabben-u.
In addition I assumed that Parthian OBD-T and HZY-T were actually the
old 1st sing. perfect = Aram. bdt, zyt (with Altheim and Stiehl, e.g., Die
aramische Sprache, 298), but that the -T was in the course of time reinter-
preted as a phonetic complement (-t) and so could be added to arbitrary
forms. In the same way, I assumed that Middle Persian HZY-T-N was zyt
with the addition of the enclitic subject 1st sing. personal pronoun in re-
duced form -en: < zyt-n.28 As the reduced form -en of the 1st sing. personal
pronoun in Syriac is only attested with participles, we can assume that its use
with finite verbs was an Iranian practice.
The main types of verbal heterograms were thus:29
Aramaic Parthian Middle Persian
Type I active participle: AHD-W take OHD-WNtake (OBYD-
WN do, make)
HZYE see BOYH-WN seek
MQBL-W receive MKBL-WN receive
Type II imperfect: YNTN-W give YKTL-WN kill
(YKTYB-WN write)
Type III perfect: AHD-T/t taken OHD-WN
HZY-T/t seen HZY-T-N30
HQAYM-t placed HNHT-WN place
Type IV passive participle: KTYB-t written (YLYD-WN be born",

This is not, as far as I can see, explicitly stated by Altheim and Stiehl, but follows logically
from their other suggestions, that BNY-T is 1st sing. bne and that mytyn contains the re-
duced form of the 1st sing. pronoun.
These various types were described in some detail by Herzfeld (Paikuli, 52-59) and
Henning (Mitteliranisch, 35-36). As far as I can tell, Henning ignored the work of
Herzfeld, whose book on Zarathustra he had just demolished in his Zoroaster. Politician or
Witchdoctor? (London, 1951).
In Book Pahlavi (from ca. 6th century C.E.), in which the shape of the letters w and n
(Psalter and ) had merged into , this type was eventually read as HZYTWN-.

Several forms still need individual explanations of details, of course.

Thus, the Parthian verbs with weak third radical had the form HZYE for the
present, which may be a conflation of zy/zh = aze, from aze-h(u)(?), or
simply HZY with the -E of zh, etc.
The Middle Persian verbal heterograms, being reduced to one form for
both present and past stems, are a priori more likely to incorporate analogical
forms and conflations of original differentiated forms. The fact that almost all
Middle Persian verbal heterograms end in -N indicates that the -N in some of
them is analogical.31 Thus, the final -N in the type OBYD-W-N, MKBL-W-
N is probably analogical from the 3rd plural forms of the type YKTLWN
< yqlwn. One possible scenario is the following. (1) Forms of the type
*OHD-W take < dw present participle + pronoun or 3 plur. perfect
acquired the -N of the imperfect ydwn. (2) With two types ending in -WN
(OHDWN and YKTLWN) this ending would have started spreading to other
forms, such as *BOYE seek < bae (or. sim.), which became BOYHWN
seek". So many prototypes are possible that I refrain from reconstructing an
imaginary proto-system.
Parthian forms of the type HZY-T, if analyzed as HZY-t, can be either
Type I or IV. For simplicitys sake I prefer to interpret them the same way as
OBD-T (or OBD-t), which cannot be Type IV (*OBYD). Middle Persian
forms of the type YLYD-WN be born can be either Type I or IV. The form
YKTYB-WN can be a conflation of *YKTB-WN and *KTYB, but also be
from yiteun written plene like thsynn = ehasen- in the Asoka inscription
(see above).
It is, finally, also possible that the -N in HZYTN is the result of the same
analogy, rather than an original Aramaic 1st sing. pronoun.32
On this basis we can set up the following basic system of correspondences
between the verbal heterograms and the Iranian forms they represent (I give
only one example of forms other than the 3rd sing.):

Indeed, the attested Middle Persian verbal heterograms without -N stand out like sore
thumbs in the system, and some of these acquire -N before our eyes, e.g., OSTE eat (SPs
I) > OSTE-N (Paikuli), YCBE wish (Paikuli) > Book Pahlavi YCBE-N.
My recent discovery that the 1st singular imperfect is attested in Middle Persian
inscriptions with the ending -en (Linscription dAbnun), opens the possibility of a reinter-
pretation of the phonetic complement as part of the heterogram: HZYT-n > HZYT-N, as in
Parthian OBD-T > OBD-t, etc.

Present (and imperfect) Simple past

Intransitive: AZLW = sawed he goes/is going AZL-t (AZLT) = sud
(he is) gone
AZLW-m = sawam I go/am going AZL-t (AZLT) HWY-m = sud
hem I am gone
ATYE = ased he comes ATY-t (ATYT) = agad
(he is) come
Transitive: OBDW = kared he does/is doing W-s OBD-t (OBDT) =
u-s kerd (lit.)
by him done = he did33
OBDW-m = karam I do/am doing W-m OBD-t (OBDT) = u-m
kerd (lit.) by me done =
I did
HZYE = wened he sees W-s HZY-t = u-s did he saw
HQAYMW = awested he places W-s HQAYM-t (HQAYMW-t)
= u-s awestad he placed
YNTNW = dahed he gives W-s YNTN-t = u-s dad
he gave
KTYB-t = nibist written

Intransitive: OZLWN = sawed he goes/is going OZLWN = sud
(he is) gone
OZLWNm = sawem I go/am going OZLWN HWEm = sud hem
I am gone
YATWN = ayed he comes YATWN = amad
(he is) come
Transitive: OBYDWN = kuned he does/is doing AP-s obydwn = u-s kerd
he did
OBYDWN-m = kunem I do/am doing AP-m klty = u-m kerd
I did
HZYTN = wened he sees AP-s HZYTN = u-s did
he saw
YKTLWN = ozaned he kills AP-s YKTLWN= u-s ozad
he killed

Note that in the Parthian inscriptions the agent is less often expressed than in the Mid-
dle Persian ones, cf. Sapur Hajjiabad above.

In the inscriptions the phonetic complement -t is optional in the 3rd sing.

present (indicative, subjunctive), while the 3rd sing. simple past hardly ever
has a phonetic complement. In the Psalter and in Book Pahlavi the 3rd sing.
present takes -yt and the 3rd sing. simple past -t:
Mid. Pers. inscriptions Psalter, Book Pahlavi
3rd sing. present sawed OZLWN or OZLWN-t OZLWN-yt
3rd sing. past sud OZLWN OZLWN-t

Note that all the simple past forms can also be used in passive (agent-less)
constructions, in which case they must be rendered as passives, e.g., Parthian
ME OBD-t = ce kerd which (was) done", MNW QQL-t HWYN = ke ozad
hend who were killed".
In view of the requirement that one Aramaic form must do duty for all
three persons in both numbers, we see that the Parthian heterograms as inter-
preted above are a nearly perfect fit for the Iranian forms and that many of
the Middle Persian heterograms can be interpreted as containing appropriate
Aramaic forms. What is perhaps most surprising is that the Aramaic hetero-
grams for the simple past normally render the meaning of the Iranian con-
struction, which is active, not the form of the construction, which is passive
(see Skjrv, Remarks, 221-223).
With the above theory, by considering the correspondences between both
form and function in both the Aramaic and the Iranian systems, I was able to
explain in a relatively simple manner both the forms the verbal heterograms
took in Iranian and their function there:
(1) Function: The system is based only upon the correspondence between
the functions of the verbal categories of the Aramaic verbal system: the im-
perfect, perfect, and participle, and the functions of the Iranian verbal cate-
gories: present-imperfect and simple past. Aramaic imperfects and active
(present) participles represent the Iranian present-imperfect, while perfects
and (rarely?) passive (perfect) participles represent the Iranian simple past.
(2) Form: The heterograms can to a great extent be explained as actual
frozen Aramaic forms corresponding to their functions.
(3) The development of such a system can be fitted into a plausible theory
of who made it, why did they make it, and how did they make it? (see the


A different explanation of the origin of the Aramaic heterograms in Iranian

was outlined recently by C. Toll, a student of Nybergs, in a presentation at

the XXIV. Deutscher Orientalistentag, September 1988 in Cologne, published

1990 (Toll, Die aramischen Ideogramme).
In a letter to me he says that he wanted to replace the old method, which con-
sisted in taking various forms imperfect or perfect, 1st or 3rd sing. or 3rd plur.,
active or passive participles in inexplicable mixture and helping out with anal-
ogy", with an explanation that is less arbitrary and a more systematic theory".
This is alluded to in his article (p. 28), where he criticizes the frozen form
explanations of the verbal heterograms by questioning the rationale34 behind the
choice of a 3rd plur. imperfect, such as YKTLWN- kill",35 a 2nd plur. perfect
or participle + pronoun, such as HZYTWN-36 see", or hybrids of imperfects
and participles with imperfect pre- and suffixes, such as YKTYBWN write
and Y-KOYM-WN37 stand", to express all the forms of the Middle Persian
verbs. Similarly, he argues (p. 33) that, because a verbal heterogram (in the
Middle Persian inscriptions) can express both the past participle and the imper-
ative [also, but unknown to Toll, the 3rd sing. present], we must conclude that
the heterogram is not to be understood as perfect, imperfect, or participle.
We see here how the question of the origin and function of the heterograms
in the Iranian text is confused with that of their function in the Aramaic text.38

Es ist schon schwer zu verstehen noch schwieriger zu verstehen Und noch schwie-
riger Ein solches System scheint recht unbegreiflichja, man fragt sich, ob man hier
berhaupt von einem System sprechen kann (p. 28).
On p. 34, he dismisses the possibility of reading the form as Aramaic meaning one
kills, they kill on the grounds that there is no reason to do so, because [according to
his theory] -KTL- is the perfect or root and Y- and -WN determinators (dazu gibt es keinen
Anla, sondern -KTL- ist die Perfektform oder die Wurzel als Ideogramm, und Y- und
-WN sind die Verbaldeterminative). On p. 32 he asks what the function of a YKTLWN
man ttet would have in the Persian text, to him, no doubt, a rhetorical question implying,
I suppose, that it would have none. In fact, the 3rd plural is regularly used in Persian and
other Iranian languages to express agent-less statements like one kills.
Actually, this form is a late analogical deformation of HZYTN, which is unlikely to be
a 2nd plur. form. We should also note that in Book Pahlavi, w and n merged into one sign and
that in many old manuscripts one has the impression that this type of verbs is to be read actually
as HZYTN-, rather than as HZYTWN-, which may therefore be entirely non-existent. A
statistical investigation of the forms in the best manuscripts is necessary to settle this question.
The pattern KKY-T-WN (p. 42) is therefore just a late variant of KKY-T-N.
The reason for transliterating this word with ayn, rather than, e.g., with W
(*YKWYMWN), is that the Parthian form is HQAYM-, which has A instead, and a corre-
spondence Parthian A ~ Middle Persian O is seen also elsewhere, notably in Parthian ALHA
god, lord ~ Middle Persian ORHYA (< lhy).
Note also on p. 33: Der Umstand, da Ideogramme ohne persisches Komplement
sowohl fr persisches Partizip Prt. und persischen Imperativ (vom Prsensstamm) stehen

Obviously, the Middle Persian heterograms are no longer, in the Middle Persian
text, to be understood as Aramaic 3rd plur. imperfect forms or participles
with attached 2nd plur. pronouns, but this does not mean that they cannot be
derived from such forms.39
Toll wants to explain the form taken by the Aramaic heterograms in Middle
Persian40 by a proposed theoretical derivation, assuming that they originated
as ur-ideograms but were provided with various suffixes and prefixes in-
dicating more explicitly their grammatical function. He goes on to state his
theory, which is functional". This term as used by Toll does not refer to the
syntactic function of the heterograms (if I understand correctly), but the lexical
categories of noun and verb and the morphological categories of strong
and weak verbs. According to him the forms were assigned to the hetero-
grams by the scribes specifically to distinguish clearly between these
functions",41 and he is investigating how the heterograms express these
functions and trying to explain them on this basis.42 Thus, also in his
conclusion, he states that his theory is based upon the functions of the
heterograms in the Persian text43 and that the heterograms represent a logical,
although not quite consistent, system designed to distinguish between categories

knnen, zeigt da das Ideogramm, die aramische Verbalform [my italics], tempusneutral
ist, weshalb es kein Grund gibt, die Ideogramme als Perfect, Imperfect oder Partizip zu ver-
Note also, on the same page, man kann zur Not die meisten Ideogramme aus Formen
des Mandischen oder Neusyrischen erklren, aber das Ergebnis sind Formen, die fr den
Gebrauch der Ideogramme vllig belanglos sind [my italics], und zuletzt bleiben immer noch
Formen die auf keinen Fall mit irgendeiner bekannten aramischen Verbalform identifiziert
werden knnen [oder] die ebenfalls nicht aramisch gelesen werden knnen [my italics].
Der Zweck des Aufsatzes ist, die Formen zu erklren, welche die aramischen
Ideogramme im Mittelpersischen haben (p. 28).
Demgegenber mchte ich behaupten, da die Ideogramme berhaupt nich auf
Aramisch gelesen werden sollen oder knnen, weil sie keine aramischen Formen darstellen,
weder reichsaramische noch ostaramische, sondern smtlich von den Schreibern fabriziert
worden sind, und zwar nicht aus mangelnder Kenntnis des Aramischen, sondern zu eben
dem Zweck, zu dem man berhaupt Ideogramme benutzte, nmlich der greren Deutlichkeit
und Verstndlichkeit halber. Meine Theorie geht von der Funktion der verschiedenen Formen
der Ideogramme aus. Diese Funktion is nicht, Tempora und Personen anzugeben [sondern]
vielmehr, Nomina und Verben, Stammformen und schwache Verben zu identifizieren (p. 28,
bottom; my italics).
Ich will nun untersuchen, wie die Ideogramme die von mir vorausgesetzte Funktion
wahrnehmen, und die Formen von dieser Funktion her erklren (pp. 28-29).
eine Theorie die von der Funktion der Ideogramme im persischen Text ausgeht
(p. 40).

of words and between verbs from different stems and with different meanings
in order to ease the reading and understanding of the text.44
My criticism of Tolls theory addresses the following three issues: (1) the
choice of material, (2) the omission of references to several publications on
the subject, and (3) his theory itself.
Tolls decision to study the Middle Persian heterograms on the basis of
Nybergs Manual II and the Frahang i pahlawig,45 which encode late Book
Pahlavi usage (ca. 7th-9th centuries C.E.), instead of choosing as his basis
the oldest texts, that is, the inscriptions and the Pahlavi Psalter (3rd- ca. 6th
centuries C.E.), is surprising. One of the disadvantages of using the late material
is that the Book Pahlavi script is extremely ambiguous, as opposed to the
early Parthian and Middle Persian lapidary and Psalter scripts, which contain
very few ambiguities. The systems of phonetic complements in these various
corpora also differ to a great extent (see Skjrv, Verbal Ideograms). The
Book Pahlavi evidence therefore gives a rather different picture from that of
the inscriptions and the Psalter.46
Toll ignores some crucial secondary literature, including Herzfeld, Paikuli
(1924), Gignoux, tude des variantes textuelles (1973), Brunner A Syntax
(1977), Humbach-Skjrv, Paikuli (1983), and Skjrv, Case (1983) and
Verbs in Parthian (1986), which leaves him unaware of important points
about the syntactical functions of the heterograms, especially their correlation
with the Iranian tenses (see above). His question, how often and by what
principles ideographic or phonetic spellings were chosen (p. 27)47 had in fact
already been answered in part by Herzfeld and myself.

ein logisches, wenn auch nicht konsequent durchgefhrtes System dar, um die ver-
schiedenen Wortarten zu kennzeichnen, um Verben verschiedener Stammformen und damit
verschiedener Bedeutung zu unterscheiden und um die Lesung und das Verstndnis eines
Textes auch sonst zu erleichtern (p. 40).
Ich gehe dabei von dem System aus, wie es im Buchpahlavi vorliegt, mit NYBERGS
Manual. 2. Glossary und Frahang als Quellen (p. 28).
Thus several statements on p. 37 are based on insufficient material: It is not true that in the
Middle Persian inscriptions the heterogram without phonetic complement is mostly used for the
participle in the preterite, nor is it true that there is only one heterogram without phonetic com-
plement used for the imperative. The statement that only in Book Pahlavi does the heterogram
without phonetic complement used for the imperative become more frequent is meaningless, as
the Book Pahlavi texts cover a much wider range of prose than the inscriptions.
Es gibt in diesem Zusammenhang noch ein Problem, das ich nicht nher beachtet ge-
sehen habe: Wrter, die mit Ideogrammen geschrieben werden, knnen daneben auch phonetisch
geschrieben werden. Es drfte interessant sein zu wissen, wie oft und nach welchen Grnden
ideographische oder phonetische Schreibung gewhlt wurde.

Toll elaborates his theory by discussing consecutively nominal, verbal, and

pronominal heterograms. The discussion of the verbal heterograms is sub-
divided into that of strong and weak verbs. His conclusions about the verbal
heterograms are set out in table form at the end of the article. My critique
follows this outline, except that I give my remarks on the table in my discussion
of the verbal heterograms.

Nominal heterograms
Toll first discusses the nominal heterograms, many of which have the
ending -A. This he interprets as invented by the scribes to distinguish
nouns from the verbs: because mlk could mean both king and rule",
MLKA was chosen as the heterogram to designate king". The nominal
heterograms in -E he interprets as an alternate spelling for the determinate
state, that is YDE hand for Aramaic ydh = yd.48 The ideograms for
family terms: ABY father", etc., he interprets, traditionally, as original
vocatives containing the Aramaic possessive pronoun -i which became
normal forms.49
This theory does not explain why nouns for body parts tend to take the
ending -E rather than -A in Middle Persian (as opposed to Parthian!), why
the nouns for family terms end in -Y, and why some nominal heterograms
have no ending at all. It also does not explain why the Iranian languages that
used the heterographic system of writing differed in their use of forms with
no ending, -A, or -E.
We see that to explain the forms in -Y and those without ending, Toll has
recourse to the frozen forms theory, which he is criticizing, and explains
them by their function in Aramaic. But why should the inventors have used
vocative forms to express forms that in the administrative documents most
often functioned as anything but vocative or have been concerned about a
statistical preponderance of construct forms50 in a small set of nouns?51

Support for the interpretation of the final -H as a spelling variant of -A can be found in
Parthian scribal practice. In fact, Mid. Pers. YDE = Parth. YDA, Mid. Pers. LOYSE head
= Parth. RYSA, a fact of which Toll seems to have been unaware.
alle diese Wrter knnen als ursprngliche Vokative betrachtet werden, die zur
Normalform des Wortes geworden sind (p. 29, bottom).
einige Nomina, die im Aramischen meist im St. cstr. stehen (p. 31). This ex-
planation also breaks down: Warum die folgenden Wrter kein Determinative haben, ist
aber schwer zu erklren (p. 31).
On pp. 30-31, Toll discusses the heterogram OBDk/OBDK = bandag, which Toll, pos-
sibly correctly, derives from Aram ada your servant. The only attestations in the inscrip-

Finally, the theory does not explain forms such as Parthian MLKYN
MLKA king of kings", with an Aramaic plural form mlkyn.
Why there was a need to distinguish nominal from verbal heterograms is
not made clear. As a matter of fact, very rarely (if at all) do we find Aramaic
roots used for both noun and verb, as vaguely implied by Toll. Thus, there is
no verbal heterogram from mlk, either in Parthian or Middle Persian, and no
couple MLKA ~ *MLKWN, *YMLKWN, both differentiated from an
undifferentiated ur-ideogram *MLK meaning both king and rule". The
number of Iranian nouns (written with heterograms) derived from verbs is
probably close to nil (or non-existent). Normal verbal nouns if written with
heterograms rather than phonetically are indicated by phonetic complements,
for instance, HZYTN-sn = wenisn seeing, sight", HZYTN-tl = didar52
visible; there is no couple *HZYA, *HZYE ~ HZYTN.
Finally, even if there were a substantial number of such couples",
the normal syntax of the Iranian sentence (SUBJECT/AGENT VERB) would
distinguish more than clearly enough between nouns and verbs. This fact,
too, would seem to obviate the scribes need for inventing a way of
distinguishing between nouns and verbs. On the other hand, adjectives, which
frequently do occupy the same position in the sentence as verbs, are not
distinguished in any way, and the adjectives of the form KKYK (SPYL, KBYR,
etc.) thus coincide completely with Tolls verbal pattern KKYK (p. 41).

Verbal heterograms
To explain the verbal heterograms, Toll basically assumes that it would have
been natural for the scribes to chose the 3rd sing. perfect, the fundamental
form of the Semitic verb, the one which in the script coincided with the root,
as verbal heterogram;53 these verbal ur-ideograms then received determinators
that characterized them as verbs, and, since two of the characteristic features
of Aramaic verbs were the 3rd plur. endings -u and -un and the 3rd pers.
imperfect prefix y-, these were consequently the determinators chosen to

tions actually do support this meaning for Middle Persian, as well. For the passage (SPs II 7-11)
see, e.g., Skjrv, Verbal Ideograms, 343). As for his query p. 30 whether bandag is attested
in such a function, actually, OBDK/k is attested in this meaning in SPs II line 16. The hetero-
gram AZk quoted in this context is probably not a heterogram, however, but an obsolete Iranian
word: Avestan aza-, see Skjrv, review of Nyberg, Frahang i pahlavik, 97.
The word seems to have been analyzed, logically, as did + ending -ar (HZYTN-t-l).
Die Grundform des semitischen Verbs, diejenige, welche in der Schrift mit der
Wurzel zusammenfllt, is bekanntlich die 3. P. M. Sg. Pf. Es wre natrlich gewesen, wenn
die Schreiber diese Form fr das Verbalideogramm gewhlt htten (p. 32).

characterize the forms as verbal ideograms. This does not mean, according to
Toll, that the ideograms actually represent the corresponding Aramaic forms:
the similarity is a coincidence, and the ideogram expresses only the idea of
the action.54 This is true at the time of our inscriptions and later, but was it
also true when the forms first were chosen or became fixed?
The notion of an ur-ideogram developing into the attested forms by ac-
cretions is not new; it is nothing but Hennings onion simile in a more
elaborate form: one must peel a form like HZYTWN like an onion in order
to recognize the Aramaic ur-ideogram HZY".55
On the basis of these assumptions, Toll suggests the following stages of
1. Ur-ideogram: KKK, only in Parthian.56
2. Addition of the element -W to distinguish them from nouns [my italics],
in Parthian.57
3. Expansion of KKK-W to KKK-WN58 for greater clarity [my italics].
4. Addition of Y- to the form in -WN, for maximum clarity [my italics].
In the case of Pael forms, the 3rd sing. masc. of which is not distinguished
from the Qal, the prefix M- from the participle was chosen rather than Y- to
distinguish the two forms (p. 38).

Wenn es auch die Form yiqelun auf Aramisch gibt, so ist das nur ein Zufall, und als
Ideogramm drckt das Wort nur die Idee der Handlung aus (p. 32). From this point of view the
aspect of the action expressed by the heterogram is of course irrelevant, as stressed reapeatedly
throughout the article. Nevertheless, occasionally Toll invokes punctual versus durative
aspect to explain the forms, e.g., p. 35 (bottom), 36 (middle). It may be pointed out that
Parthian and early Middle Persian do not distinguish between these aspects of the action,
see Skjrv, Remarks, 222-225.
eine Schreibung wie ZYTWN muss man zwiebelgleich auswickeln, um das wirk-
lich aramische Urideogramm ZY erkennen zu knnen (Henning, Mitteliranisch, 36).
That is, if we accept that the forms of the pattern KKK-T are originally KKK-t with
Iranian phonetic complement, rather than Aramaic 1st sing. perf., later reinterpreted as con-
taining a phonetic complement (see above). An ur-ideogram KKK alone is thus not attested
in Parthian (or Middle Persian).
Toll adds, perhaps also in the Middle Persian inscription, referring to his suggestion that
the final -N in Middle Persian verbal ideograms is a misreading for -W (see below). As a matter
of fact, there were Middle Persian verbal ideograms ending in -W: the one attested is YHY-
TYW, which Toll does not mention. The corresponding Parthian Hapel pattern H-WKK is
represented by hwsr-t in some Arameo-Parthian documents, while, H-WKK-W is Gignouxs
[]WDN[t], for which we must read [H]WDOY[W].
There are no Parthian forms of this pattern, as AZLWN in Gignoux, Glossaire, is a
mistake for AZLt.

The various forms representing the ur-ideograms of the strong and weak
verbs and their subsequent modifications are set out at the end of the article
in a table of patterns of heterograms in the Parthian and Middle Persian
inscriptions and the Frahang i pahlawig, together with the number of hetero-
grams attested for each pattern.59 The inscriptional forms are cited from
Gignouxs Glossaire, which leads to numerous mistakes, especially since
Humbach-Skjrv, Paikuli, was not consulted. Evaluating this table is difficult,
since the forms themselves are not quoted and so have to be hunted down in
Gignouxs Glossaire. Many of the patterns are limited to single and/or doubtful
occurrences or to late Book Pahlavi forms more developed than the corre-
sponding forms in the inscriptions or the Psalter (see the notes above and
below). The table therefore presents many pitfalls for the unwary Aramaist.
Following are comments on some details of general interest.
Tolls suggestion that the final -N without preceding -W- (-WN) in Middle
Persian ideograms is actually -W (pp. 34-35), implies that this -W has been
misread as -N by a century of Iranian scholars. It is obviously free fantasy, as
even a cursory glance at any inscription (Middle Persian = -WN) or a
page of the Psalter will show (Ps. = -WN).60
The suggestion that the ending -WN is an expansion of -W must be based
upon the assumption (not expressed by Toll) that the Middle Persian system
represents a development of the Parthian system. The Middle Persian system
as a whole, however, cannot be derived from the Parthian one, and there is
therefore no reason to assumeon the basis of the attested formsthat -WN is
from -W with the addition of a clarifying -N.61

The Psalter forms are not included.
Similarly, the suggestion that Book Pahlavi heterograms with only -N following -E-
or another -N- show a reduction of -WN to -N while leaving the heterogram ending in two
vertical strokes (BP - = -EN = -MNN and - = -NN) ignores the fact that the heterograms
in question in the Middle Persian inscriptions originally ended in -E only and -NN, respec-
tively: OSTE eat (later OSTEN) and YHSNN hold, have (not *YHSNWN). The latter
form is the only example of the pattern Y-KKK-N (p. 41); neither the old theory nor Tolls
new one can explain this form well, which does not agree with any known Aramaic form
(speculatively: perhaps conflation of *YHSN < *y(h)asen he holds and *MHSNN <
*m(h)asen-en I am holding). KKK-n refers to THNN- grind, only(?) attested in Fra-
hang i pahlawig, chap. 19, which tells us nothing about what its original (intended) form may
have been.
Tolls suggestion that the ending -WN ( -) in Book Pahlavi was no longer understood
as such, only as two final strokes, is rendered unlikely by the fact that the traditional pro-
nunciation of these forms as recorded in the 18th century by Anquetil-duperron was still with
-un, see below.

The addition of Y- to the form in -WN for maximum clarity is justified

by reference to nouns and adjectives ending in -WN or beginning with Y-
(pp. 34-35).62 Such nouns are so rare, however, that they can hardly have
exerted enough pressure on the, according to Toll, already differentiated verbal
ideograms for them to be further differentiated. (It would have been much
easier to change the few nouns and adjectives in question.)
Tolls explanation of the heterograms in M- as intentional differentiation
of the Pael forms from those of the Qal, is subject to the same criticism as
his explanation of the distinction between nominal and verbal heterograms.
There are very few (if any) couplets that are distinguished only by the pre-
fixes Y- ~ M-. Indeed, the attested couplets are distinguished differently, e.g.,
ZBNWN (not *YZBNWN) buy ~ MZBNWN sell".63
To explain the forms that do not conform to these patterns, for instance,
Parthian KKYK and YKKYKW,64 Middle Persian KKYKWN and
YKKYKWN, Toll constantly has recourse to the frozen forms theory he
disparages and intends to replace.65
Toll does not mention the forms of the copula, which are clearly derived
from individual Aramaic forms: Parthian HWY- < hawe for the present stem
(HWY-m I/we are), HWE < hwa for the imperfect (Skjrv, On the Middle
Persian Imperfect, forthcoming), AYTY for the existential verb there is",

Nominal heterograms in -WN include PKDWN paymar appointment, assignment
and HWBDWN wani/wany destruction, both used in verbal constructions with kardan do,
make and budan be, become, meaning appoint/be appointed and destroy/be destroyed;
they may be original verbal heterograms, cf. Parthian HWBDW-t destroyed. The form
magun cited p. 35 1st line with a query is the oblique plural of magu Magian; I do
not understand why it is mentioned here. Heterograms in Y- quoted by Toll (p. 35 top) are
YDE hand, YMA sea, YRHA month, and YWM day!
My own explanation of this couple is as derived from present participles zaen-(h)u
and mzabben-(h)u, see above.
KKYK is found in Parthian KTYB- written (only with phonetic complements:
KTYB-t, KTYB-tn). Parthian Y-KKYK-W refers to Gignouxs YRYBW- and YDRYKW-,
which are the same verb, but whose reading and meaning are quite uncertain, see Humbach-
Skjrv, Paikuli, Part 3.2, 65-66. The bracketed pattern KKYK-A (p. 41) is Armazi byd,
which Altheim (Die aramische Sprache, 42) proposed to read as byd(w), with -w- inserted
above the line.
He invokes interference (that is, analogy) also in other instances, as in the case of
the one verb of the pattern KKK-L-WN, which is tentatively explained as vielleicht Inter-
ferenz of the many [Aramaic!] verbs that have L as third radical. The verb in question is
Pahl. HCDLWN- = drun- to reap (corn), where the interference is clearly from the Pahlavi
verb itself (see Skjrv, review of Nyberg, Frahang i pahlavik, 98).

HWYN for the 3rd plur. present; Middle Persian HWE < hawe for the present
stem (HWE-m, etc.), HWYTN for the imperfect stem, AYTY for the exis-
tential verb, negated LOYTY.

Strong and weak verbs

According to Toll, the inventors of the heterograms decided to make a
distinction between strong and weak verbs, using a different selection principle
of which basic forms to adopt in the two cases. Thus, for the strong verbs
they chose", as we have seen, the 3rd sing. perfect = the root. Coming to the
weak verbs, however, they(?) noticed a problem,66 namely that the 3rd sing.
perfect the root: they no longer had three radical consonants, only two, the
weak radical having been replaced by a long vowel. Why this should have
been a problem to the inventors, we are not told. The problem is rather that
of Toll, since he has postulated that the ur-ideogram is the 3rd sing. perfect,
not the root. The inventors of the heterograms could have just taken the 3rd
sing. perfect and modified it the way they did the strong verb, making forms
of the type *KKW, *KKWN or *YKKW, *YKKWN, which would have been
easy to recognize and read, for instance, Parthian *QMW/Middle Persian
It is true that the ur-ideogram of verbs like zy would end in -A or -E (*HZA,
*HZE), which (by Tolls theory) would make them indistinguishable from
nouns in -A or -E,67 but surely, if there was such an ur-ideogram, it would
have been easier and more consistent just to add Y- and -W/-WN, giving
*(Y)HZEW, *(Y)HZEWN (or *(Y)HZHW, *(Y)HZHWN), forms that were
perfectly recognizable and unambiguous, rather than replacing them with
forms in -YT: HZYT, HZYT-N.
Since the actual forms are not those required by Tolls basic assumptions,
his theory again breaks down, and, once more, he has to have recourse to
other, sometimes quite complicated, explanations, the same as the frozen
form theory he wants to replace.
The complicated explanations he has to provide are in themselves proof
that his theory is not up to the task. Note, for instance, that the form YATWN
come according to Toll has nothing to do with Aramaic ytwn, but is from an

Wenn das Ideogram ein schwaches Verb wiedergeben soll, ergibt sich das Problem,
da das Pf. der med. und tert. w/y nur zwei der drei Radikale wiedergibt (p. 36, top).
They did not mind Middle Persian HWE, copula, however.

ur-ideogram -AT-, with curious loss of the third radical (present in Book
Pahlavi Y-HYTY-WN bring) and the standard additions Y- and -WN.68
As an example of a form needing serious work to explain we may take Y-
KOYM-WN stand",69 which Toll first derives from the present participle
qaim or qayim, with the addition of the ideogram-markers". The reason
why this could happen is according to Toll that the meaning of Aramaic qam
is punctual: stand up", while Persian estadan is durative: stand", and
could be denoted by the Aramaic present participle.70 As his basic assumption,
however, is that the scribes made a conscious choice to use the 3rd sing. perfect,
such considerations should not enter their discussion.71 As an alternate ex-
planation he suggests that -KAYM- is for *-KYM- and that, as *YKYMWN
would be ambiguous in Aramaic (Qal or Pael), an -A- was added before the
-Y- in order to show that the heterogram stood for the Qal qam rather than
the Pael qayyim, although, as the form was to be used in Iranian, not Aramaic,
such concerns would be irrelevant.72 As a matter of fact, in Middle Persian

The Parthian form ATYE, pattern KKY-E, is characterized as mixed form (Misch-
form, p. 43, see also p. 37), which does not explain what was in the minds of the inventors.
Other examples of weak verbs with prefix Y- include Parthian forms of the pattern Y-KK and
Y-KK-E (p. 42) represented by YBO-t, YBO-E seek (rhyming with YDO-t, YDO-E
know) and YHW-t, YHW-E be(come). The Parthian pattern Y-KKA-, Y-KKA-E is re-
presented only by YMQA-t, YMQA-E arrive. The Middle Persian pattern Y-KK-E(-N/-
WN) (p. 42) is represented by YCB-E wish, for which Book Pahlavi has forms that can be
read as YCB-E-N or YCB-E-WN. Forms from the Hapel of weak verbs are the patterns H-
KK, H-KKY, H-KKY-W, represented by Parthian HYT-t = HYTY-t bring and Parthian
and Middle Persian HYTY-W. The Middle Persian pattern H-KK-WN is represented in the
Frahang i pahlawig, chap. 21, by HCGWN, which (if correct), is probably a graphic variant of
YHYTYWN-. The pattern Middle Persian Y-H-KK-WN is represented only by YHMTWN
arrive (intransitive!) = Parthian YMQA-. The Middle Persian patterns H-KKY-WN and
Y-H-KKY-WN are represented by Book Pahlavi HYTYWN bring for inscr. HYTYW and
Book Pahlavi YHYTYWN.
Not *YKAYMWN, as it is consistently cited by Toll. YKOYMWN is the traditional tran-
scription of this form, based on the relationship with Parthian HQAYM- and assuming Parthian
A ~ Middle Persian O (as in Parth. ALHA ~ Mid. Pers. ORHYA, Mid. Pers. AYTY ~ LOYTY,
etc.), but the form can of course also be read as YQWYMWN, for instance, which could be a
conflation of the Imperial Aramaic imperfect yqwmwn and the present participle qym.
As a matter of fact, estadan means both be standing (Germ. stehen), durative, and
go and stand somewhere (Germ. sich (hin)stellen), punctual.
Toll also invokes aspect in his explanation of heterograms of the pattern -KKYK- to
explain them as being from the perfect passive participle, another break with his theory.
Other forms of the Parthian patterns KAYK and KAYK-W (p. 41) include QAYL-t and
QAYL-W, QAYM-W (mistake for HQAYM-W?), and SAYL-W, all in the Nisa documents; the
bracketed pattern KAYK-YN is Armazi mytyn, on which see the text of the inscription,

there was no problem, as the normal verb for place is HNHTWN- = nih-ad,
while the (rare) causative esten- make stand > place of est-ad is expressed
by adding the causative suffix to the heterogram: YKOYMWN-yn-.73

Toll ends his exposition of the Aramaic heterograms in Iranian with a
brief discussion of the pronominal heterograms, LY I, me", and LK you".
Instead of interpreting these forms as the actual Aramaic forms, Toll again
prefers to see the initial L- as a determiner that characterizes these words as
pronouns. The case of the pronouns is different from that of the nouns, how-
ever, since BYTA without -A is still a word, while LY and LK without L- are
not words. His arguments are also unclear. He first says that the reason for this
choice could be that the corresponding Persian pronouns man me is
oblique case, and to oblique (as well as direct) case. He then goes on to state
that this does not explain why the Aramaic oblique case forms were chosen
and that the L- does not denote the oblique case, which would have been
pointless in the Persian text.74
Since the direct and oblique cases of the pronouns were distinguished in
Persian (as implicitly admitted by Toll, too), however, why should not the
scribes chose Aramaic forms accordingly? Tolls theory does not account for
the direct form of the 1st sing. personal pronoun ANE, which he does not
mention. Clearly, with a system ANE = an I (direct case) versus LY = man
(oblique case), it is hard not to conclude that the forms were chosen because
of their functions in Aramaic.75 Toll does mention that there are instances of

above. The Parthian patterns H-KAYK and H-KAYK-W are represented by HQAYM- and
HQAYM-W. Note that in the Nisa documents Hapel forms are spelled with initial he, but in
the inscriptions with e; Toll appears to have counted individually hqym- (with he) and
HQAYM- (with e). The Parthian pattern H-KYK (p. 43) is represented only by Gignouxs
HRYMt, Nisa, of uncertain meaning, and Y-T-KYK (p. 43) by Nisa YTKYN-t and
YTKYN-W. We have to wait for the publication of more of the Nisa corpus to evaluate the
Aramaic elements in these documents, however.
On these verbs see also Humbach-Skjrv, Paikuli, Part 3.2, 22-23.
Das erklrt aber nicht, warum fr die Pronomina die Form im cas. obl. gewhlt
wurde, d.h. warum die aramischen Pronominalideogramme mit L- eingeleitet werden. Die
Erklrung ist wahrscheinlich hnlich wie bei den Nominal- und Verbalideogrammen: L- be-
zeichnet nich den cas. obl., was im persischen Text zwecklos wre (p. 39; my italics).
The 2nd sing. LK stands for both the direct and oblique cases, but that is because the
two forms merged in Persian. In Parthian LK (oblique case) is still distinguished from ANT
(direct case). For the use of case forms of pronouns in Parthian and Middle Persian see
Skjrv, Case.

pronouns without L-, for instance ZNE and LZNE; what he does not say is
that these two forms represent different Persian pronouns: ZNE = en, LZNE
= im, both this".
A much simpler interpretation of the attested forms would therefore be
that, as the heterographic system was materializing, the scribes took forms
that were available and assigned them to the Persian words closest in meaning.
Note that Persian ed, also this", was originally expressed apparently by
either HNA or LHNA, leading to the disappearance of LHNA as redundant.
We may finally note that in the case of the demonstrative pronouns, the
different Iranian languages went different ways, e.g., in Parthian ZNE = im
and ZK = ed, both this (Mid. Pers. ZK = an that), LH-w (or LHW) = ho
he, that (Sogdian ZK = xo he, that), etc., see Henning, Mitteliranisch,

As the reason for any alternative to an existing theory must be that the
alternative theory provides a better description and explanation of the facts,
we may ask whether Tolls theory does so. The answer is clearly that it does
not. It does not, for instance, explain the distribution of the Parthian forms in
-T (or -t) and -W/-E between the past and present stems and the restriction of
Middle Persian forms like OBYDWN to the present stem, facts the author is
not aware of, but which were described by Herzfeld in 1924.
The theory that the forms of the heterograms were chosen to distinguish
between nouns and verbs and strong and weak verbs breaks down over the
fact that there was no need for such a formal distinction.
The theory of the onion-like accretion process itself, in Tolls opinion
consciously invented by the scribes, breaks down in that aberrant heterograms
cannot be explained by it without recourse to a variety of ad hoc explanations
(like the old theory).
It is not obvious (no sarcasm intended) how the old method of taking
perfects, imperfects, and participles and helping out with analogy is less
adequate than the method of taking perfects (which are not perfects), adding
the grammatical elements of the imperfects (without thereby making the
forms imperfects), and helping out with analogy from participles.
Finally, the basis of the theory, that the heterograms were consciously
invented by the scribes, brings up the question of how exactly the hetero-
grams were invented". We know that the scribes were an important part of
the central and local administrations, as they are frequently mentioned in the
oldest Sasanian inscriptions, and the homogeneous and consistent writing

system we can observe in both the Parthian and Middle Persian texts must
clearly be the result of conscious policy-making. The step to assuming that
they based their scribal policy on an abstract grammatical analysis of Aramaic,
as assumed by Toll when he posits that the scribes chose the 3rd sing. perfect
because it is the basic form of the Semitic verb, coinciding with the stem, is
very doubtful, however, as we do not seem to have any evidence from this
time (2nd-1st cents. B.C.E.) for the kind of grammatical science needed for
making such an analysis. Thinking in terms of grammatical abstracts comes
naturally to us, but to somebody without the kind of training we get, grammar
consists of actual forms, not roots and stems. It is an experience any dialect
researcher will have had that when you ask for basic forms of the verbal
paradigm, to us perhaps the infinitives, you will only get personal forms.
Even the concepts of noun and verb may not have been familiar to them. On
the contrary, if asked, they would just as likely say that mlk he ruled and
king were the same kind of words, deducing from the basic meaning of the
words, a response language teachers are well familiar with from students
without grammatical schooling.
Imagining the scribal college of the Parthian administration, well versed in
Aramaic grammar, sitting together and deciding on the forms by taking the
root of the verb and then debating which prefixes or suffixes to add to it to
make it a heterogram implies a situation that clearly did not obtain at the
time. On the contrary, imagining the same college consisting of Parthians by
now fairly illiterate in Aramaic choosing from the forms most commonly used
in the actual documents at their disposal and the sample texts they must have
learned from their teachers, makes perfect sense, at least to me. The fact that
the scribes no longer felt strongly that zyt was a 1st sing. form and so used
it for all persons, brings to mind a famous Iranian archeologist (a European),
whom I heard speak Persian with only one verbal form in his grammatical
repertoire, namely the 1st plural (using it with all the personal pronouns),
which was, because of its common use in a group of people, presumably the
one he noticed most often.
Even if we admit, for the sake of argument, that an Aramaic scribal college
did possess this kind of knowledge of its own language, how can we assume
that a Parthian or Persian college of scribes no longer sufficiently familiar
with Aramaic orthography to distinguish between h and did so?


How, then, did the scribes learn how to write with heterograms, we may
finally ask? Clearly, once they ceased intentionally writing Aramaic and their

knowledge of Aramaic faded, they could no longer call upon the actual Aramaic
forms to help them. At a guess, I suggest they did what we did in school when
we began learning foreign languages: they memorized the forms, probably in
lists such as: to write X, write Y". This method was extended to cover in-
digenous words with strange spellings, as well. The earliest such list pre-
served is the Frahang i pahlawig, which is in precisely this form: BYTA:
xanag (house), etc. Later versions of the lists are found in early publications
of Zoroastrian material. The following list of Pahlavi words in traditional
Gujerati Parsi pronunciation is from Anquetil-Duperrons Zend-Avesta (III,
476-522). Anquetil-Duperron gives the Persian equivalents, which correspond
to my transcription, and a French translation. In the far left column I have
given the standard modern transliteration and in the second column the alter-
nate reading of the Pahlavi graph which gave rise to the traditional school
pronunciation. Note that pronouncing the Aramaic words as such in the
learning process does not, of course, make these words loanwords and part of
the lexicon. It is just a learning devise.
modern looks like traditional Gujerati modern meaning
transliteration school pronunciation transcription
whrmzd nhwm anhuma Ohrmazd Ohrmazd
AYMT dmt admat kay when?
NE76 ynh an en this
AB ab pid father
ABYtl abider pidar father (obl. case)
HLKWNtn lkwntn alkunatan baxtan to distribute,
HLKWNyt alkuned baxsed he distributes/
BRE bwmn boman pusar son
BRTE bntmn bonteman duxtar daughter
BOYHWNstn bwyhwnstn bavihunastan xwastan to seek
BKYWNstn bhwnstn bahunastan gristan to weep
YNSWNtn ywsgntn josgonatan stadan to take
YCBENstn dcbmnstn dajbamunestan kamistan to wish
MNYTWNtn mwytwntn mavitunatan osmurdan to remember
OBLWNtn nblwntn nabrunatan widardan to pass away
OYDWNtn wgwntn vagunatan kardan to do

The underscoring of single letters means that they are here written like another letter,
e.g., B, K, or Z like Y and ZD, BY, and KY like A.


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