Farsi or Persian for Iran’s Market?

June 2, 2016 |

By Sarah-Claire Jordan

Holy Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad

Iran is not generally a country people think of when discussing international trade and business. Due to its tumultuous political history as recent as the 1970s, trade and business sanctions were placed on Iran that, until recently, prevented many companies and businesses from doing business with the second-largest economy in the Middle East. Now, those sanctions have been lifted partially, and businesses (if they know what’s good for them) are jumping at the chance to be a part of an economy with so much potential.

Part of this limited sanction lifting is getting Iran connected to the global financial system once again. This means that certain international payment systems, specifically Swift, are now usable for Iranian businesses and their partners. First, however, it is important to point out that businesses who have never worked with Iranian companies or with any part of the Iranian economy have one hurdle to overcome before they even think about marketing in Iran: language.

Before we can even get into the details of the official language of Iran, it should be noted that there is still debate over what it should actually be called. It was probably originally called “Persian”, based on the Persian word for a Persian person, “pars”. Later, however, we see documents written in Arabic from the time when Persia was conquered by Muslims, around 651 AD, that referred to the language as “Farsi”. This may have been due to the fact that Arabic does not have a “p” sound, and so “f” was used instead. “Pars” became “fars”, and so the easiest way to describe the language of the “fars” was to call it “Farsi.”

Iran itself was known as Persia up until March 21, 1935, about the time English diplomats decided it was best to switch to Farsi when referring to the language spoken there. Nowadays, many Persian linguists feel that the better term for the language is still Persian when talking about it in English. This is tricky, as the language code is already fa-IR, meaning Farsi-Iran. Of course, these codes can be updated, but it might be a harder thing to do that many would expect and many linguists and translators would probably be opposed to changing it.

So, no matter whether you hear it called Farsi or Persian, the important thing to know before marketing in Iran is it is the official language of Iran. A version of it, called Dari, is spoken in Afghanistan, but it is considered a distinct language despite mutual intelligibility. The most important thing to remember when dealing with Persian/Farsi is not written the same way as Arabic, though the script may look similar in many ways.

In fact, Persian used to be written using an entirely different script, but the Arabic writing system was adopted and altered to suit the needs of Persian, which has sounds that Arabic does not have. Translation tools didn’t start supporting the true Persian script until just a couple of years ago, so we still have a long way to go in terms of getting Persian/Farsi translations down and localizing in those languages.

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Category: Foreign Language

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