A Glimpse into the Persian Language

June 27, 2011 |

Persian is an Iranian language categorized on the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. There are an estimated 56 million Persian speakers in the world today. It is widely spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzebekistan and, to some extent, in Armenia, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Oman and Bahrain and throughout the Iranian diasporas in North America and Europe.

The Persian language is written in a Perso-Arabic script, which is an expanded version of Arabic script. There are three modern varieties of standard Persian: Iranian Persian, Afghan Persian, and Tajik Persian. Iranian Persian is the variety of Persian spoken in Iran, commonly referred to as “Farsi” (in Persian) or just “Persian” (in English). Afghan Persian (or Dari), is the Persian spoken in Afghanistan. It is also referred to as “Eastern Persian”, and officially as “Dari”. Tajik Persian (Tajiki) is the variety of Persian used in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Russia– but unlike the Persian used in Iran and Afghanistan, it is written in the Cyrillic script rather than the Perso-Arabic script. By and large, all spoken variants of Persian are mutually intelligible; however, the Persian that is spoken in Tehran is the standard by which all other Persian dialects are measured.

Persian is the first language of about 50 percent of the population in Iran, and is the country’s official language. It is the language of government, the media, and educational systems. In Iran, of the population that does not speak Farsi/Persian, 25 percent speak related Western Iranian languages (such as Balochi) and 25 percent speak Arabic, New Aramaic, Armenian, Georgian, Romany, and Turkic languages. (www.asiasociety.com)

Until recent centuries, Persian was culturally and historically one of the most prominent languages of the Middle East and Asia. For example, it was an important language during the reign of the Moghuls in India (1526-1858) where knowledge of Persian was cultivated and encouraged. A Persian Indian vernacular once flourished in India. In 1837, officials of the East Indian Company banned the use of Persian in Moghul courts; however, colonial British officers continued to learn their Persian from Indian scribes.

As illustrated by its influence on Moghul India, Persian language has left its mark on Southeast Asian languages, namely Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi and Bengali. Some Farsi loan words incorporated into the Urdu and Hindi language include: donya (“world” in English), garam (“warm” in English), ketab (“book” in English). Persian language has also impacted neighboring languages, particularly the Turkic languages in Central Asia, as well as Armenian, Arabic and other languages.

Having influenced the vocabulary of a multitude of other languages, the Persian language itself has also adopted many foreign words into its lexicon. Historically, Iran’s extensive contact with the Islamic world had led to a vast absorption of Arabic words. In fact, many Persian and Arabic words had once been interchangeable. Today, however, there are far less Arabic words found in colloquial Persian as most of them have been nativized. Since the nineteenth century and because of Iran’s colonial past, Russian, French, English and many other languages have also contributed to the technical vocabulary of modern Persian. Some Persian words borrowed from French, for example, include cinema, maillot (“swimsuit” in English), gendarme (“police” in English), and merci (“thank you” in English).

Overall, Persian is a colorful language that has broadly influenced and been influenced by Asian, Middle Eastern and European languages. Its place on the world language tree- as an Indo-European language– also confirms its linguistic affiliations to many regions of the world.

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Category: Foreign Language

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