Happy New Year!

Sorry for the break in posting! Visiting family and a nasty cold will do that to you.

Iranians celebrate up to three “New Years”: the Islamic New Year, the Gregorian New Year, and Nawruz or Nowruz, the traditional Iranian New Year going back to pre-Islamic times, and is probably the most celebrated Iranian holiday although it lacks the religious significance of Islamic and specifically Shi’ite holy days. It is celebrated at the March equinox, i.e., the first day of spring, so usually on or about March 21st on the Gregorian calendar.

Nowruz is immensely important and we’ll talk about it at the appropriate time, but there’s really no reason to spend time on it today. Today we want to say something about the Gregorian New Year, which in Persian would be سالِ نَو (sāl-i naw).

“Happy New Year” will be سالِ نَو مُبارَک (sāl-i naw mubārak, “sal-e-nou-mo-ba-rek”), literally “Blessed New Year.”

“New Year’s Eve” = شَبِ سالِ نَو (shab-i sāl-i naw), “night of the new year”

“New Year’s Day” = روزِ سالِ نَو (rūz-i sāl-i naw), “day of the new year”


کریسمس مبارک

Iranians will most often refer to Christmas as, well, Christmas, or کریسمَس (krīsmas), and “Merry Christmas” will be کریسمَسِ مُبارَک (krīsmas-i mubārak, “krees-mas-e-mo-baa-rak”), which literally translates more like “Blessed Christmas.” However, there is also a longer form holiday wish, کریسمَسِ شُما مُبارَک باشَد (krīsmas-i shumā mubārak bāshad, “krees-mas-e-sho-maa-mo-baa-rak-baa-shad”)which means “May your Christmas be blessed.” In place of krīsmas one might encounter a borrowing of the Arabic عيد ميلادِ مَسيح (ʿīd mīlād-i masīḥ), literally “celebration of the birth of the Messiah,” or عیدِ نوئل (ʿīd-i nūʾil, “eid-i-noo-el”).

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Hello and Goodbye

Persian-speakers will generally greet someone in “peace,” perhaps using the formal Arabic greeting السَلامُ عَلَيكُم (al-salāmu ʿalaykum, pronounced “as-salamu alaykum,” meaning “Peace be upon you”), with the response being وَ عَلَيكم السَلام (wa ʿalaykum al-salām, “and upon you be peace) but more likely they will offer and respond simply سَلام (salam, sounding more like “se-lam”), or “peace.” You may hear a هالو (hālū) or آلو (ālū), more commonly used on the phone than in person. They may also “welcome” someone by saying خوُش آمَد or خوُشامَد (khwush-āmad, pronounced “khosh-amad”); خوش آمدید (khwush āmadīd) is the plural and/or more formal form. This is important because it’s an example of the “silent vav,” wherein something that is spelled وُ (“wu” or “vu”) is glossed into an “o” sound. We will see this again later. Persian also borrows مَرْحَباً (marḥaban, marḥabā) from Arabic but, while it can be used to mean “welcome,” it more often means something like “bravo!” or bless you!”

The Persian “goodbye” is usually خُدا حافِظ (khudā ḥāfiẓ, “kho-da-ha-fez”), meaning “God guard/preserve (you),” khudā being the pre-Islamic Persian word for “lord” or “God” as used in the Zoroastrian religion to refer to Ahura Mazda, combined with the Arabic ḥāfiẓ or “guardian, preserver.” A more strictly Persian, but less common, form of the same phrase is (khudā nigahdar, “kho-da-ne-gah-dar”) replacing the Arabic loanword with the Persian for “guardian.” Other options are the Arabic loanword وَداع (wadāʿ) and بِدُرود (bi-durūd, “be-do-rud”), both meaning “farewell.”

We’ll talk about time-sensitive phrases like “good morning” and “good night” later.

Yes and No

Running late and feeling under the weather, so all you get today is yes and no.

“No” is incredibly easy; reflecting Persian’s Indo-European roots, it’s نه (nah), so close to “no” it’s basically the same word.

There are a couple of variants for “yes” that may be encountered. These are بَله (balah, pronounced “ba-leh,” which may also be spelled بَلیbut is still pronounced “ba-leh” even though it looks like it should be “ba-lee”) and آری (ārī, but also pronounced “a-reh” despite looking like “a-ree”). آری is probably more common in speech, and seems like a derivative of بلی given that “r” and “l” sounds are often interchangeable, but I unfortunately can’t explain why the ی vowel is shortened in this case.

Because I don’t know, not because it’s some kind of secret or something.

کردن = “to do”

Today’s word is کَردَن (kardan), meaning “to do” or “to make,” and I made it our second word because it’s so invaluable in forming many other verbs (in fact, it was necessary for forming yesterday’s verb, if you recall). Like our Turkish word of the day, etmek, kardan is much more frequently found in compound verbs than on its own, acting as an auxiliary to turn a noun into a verb meaning “to do [that noun].” For example, کار کَردَن (kār kardan) means “to work” and فَکر کَردَن (fakr kardan, from the Arabic فَكَرَ, fakara “to contemplate, think”) means “to think.”


“He (she, it) did something.” = چیزی کَرد (chīzī kard)

چیز or chīz means “thing,” and the indefinite marker “-ī” imparts the sense of “something.” We also see here how to form the past tense of the verb, by dropping the “-an” ending from the infinitive to leave the past stem. Adding nothing to the past stem marks this as a third person singular past verb; other persons and/or plurals add endings to the past stem.

“Yesterday I worked at the library.” = دیروز دَر کِتابخانه کار کَردَم. (Dīrūz dar kitābkhānah kār kardam, “Dee-rooz dar ke-tab-kha-ne kar kar-dam”)

Singular first person past tense adds an “-am” ending to the past stem. Kitābkhānah is literally “book house,” since khānah means “house,” and dar means “in” or “at.” Dīrūz, you’ve likely figured out, means “yesterday.”

شروع کردن = “to begin”

We begin with شُروع کَردَن(shurūʿ kardan, pronounced “sho-ru kar-dan”), meaning, “to begin, start, commence.” کَردَن (kardan) serves as an auxiliary noun; on its own it means “to do, to make,” and so when paired with noun X it means “to do X.” In this case, it makes the noun شُروع, meaning “beginning, start, commencement” into a compound verb.

Note for future reference that the -dan (or -tan) ending on a verb stem denotes the infinitive.

Sentence example:

I am starting a new job today. = اِمروزکاری نُو شُروع می کُنَم (Imrūz kārī nuw shurūʿ mī kunam, pronounced “em-ruz kar-ee no sho-ru mee kon-am”).

Persian verbs generally fall at the end of the sentence.

We learn a new wrinkle here, which is that the alef may, at the beginning of the word, serve as a seat for any of the three short vowels. When it is intended to serve at the beginning of the word as the long “a” sound it serves as in the middle or at the end of a word, it will be marked with what is called a “madde” above it, like so: آ.

Also, we learn the present/present progressive form of the verb, which takes the infinitive, reduces it to its present stem (which in this case is کن-, or kun-, but in general you just need to learn present stems as you learn the verbs as there’s not really a pattern to them), then adds an ending denoting voice (-am being the first-person singular). Then it adds the particle می or right before the verb to mark it as present/progressive.

In the phrase “a new job” or کارِ نُو (kār-i nuw, the short “i” vowel acts as a connector between the noun and its adjective), a long “ī” is added to kār (making it kārī or کاری) to mark that it is indefinite, i.e., a job and not the job.

Related is the verb شُروع شُدَن (shurūʿ shudan, pronounced “sho-ru sho-dan”), meaning “to be started.” شُدَن or shudan is another auxiliary verb; on its own it means “to become,” but in compound forms like this it replaces kardan in any verb formed with “noun+kardan” and changes the verb from the active to the passive voice.

شُروع derives from (is the verbal noun of) the Arabic verb شَرَعَ (sharaʿa), which I mentioned in today’s Arabic word of the day entry. It can mean “to begin” in Arabic, but more often means “to go in, enter into.” It has a very famous derivation, but you’ll have to click over to see what it is.

Notes on Persian pronunciation and transliteration

I would recommend everyone read this post on my Arabic Word a Day blog, which describes Arabic pronunciation and transliteration, then read this as I explain how you can ignore everything you just read when dealing with Persian.

I’ll wait.

OK. The Persian alphabet consists of 32 letters, the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet and four Persian additions, plus a handful of sounds represented by non-alphabetic characters. It is written right-to-left in Arabic script (though numbers appear to us to be written left-to-right because in Arabic script you read the smallest unit first and the largest unit last, like “six-and-thirty” instead of “thirty-six”). All letters connect at least to the preceding letter (on the right), and most connect on both sides. Each letter has multiple written forms depending on where it falls in the word (e.g., the way the “be” character is written at the beginning of the word differs from how it is written in the middle of the word and both differ from how it is written at the end of the word). Rather than show all the forms of each letter, which out of context strikes me as useless and confusing, I only show the solitary form below. It will become clear what the other forms are as we proceed through the vocabulary. After the break is a table, wherein I have listed the Persian letter, its name in plain Latin characters, an undoubtedly feeble attempt to describe its pronunciation, and the character(s) typically used to transliterate that sound into Latin script. Continue reading

Some introductory notes about Persian and about Persian Word a Day

Hello! خوش آمد (khwush [pronounced “khosh”] āmad, “welcome”). This blog is for anybody interested in understanding a little bit, or little bit more, about the Persian language. I am no linguist, I’m not a native speaker, I’m just someone who’s studied the language and would like to build up his vocabulary, and if anybody else finds that useful then that makes me happy.

I am going to try to maintain this blog alongside two related ones, Arabic Word a Day and Turkish Word a Day. They are “related” in the sense that all three are languages of the Islamic World, and I happen to have studied all three, which is why I’m not doing an “Urdu Word a Day” blog or “Indonesian Word a Day” blog or “Tamazight Word a Day” blog, etc (this is also why I’m not doing a “Hebrew Word a Day” blog despite the obvious Middle East connections). They are also related in that all three share a stockpile of common words that have been loaned from one to the other, and sometimes from one to the other and back to the first in a different form (the Persian gawhar or “gem” goes into Arabic as jawhar for “gem,” comes also to mean “essence” and is then loaned back into Persian as jawhar for “essence”). I am going to try to relate the three blog entries as much as possible, so our word of the day here may be something derived from the Arabic or Turkish words of the day or the Persian vocabulary for the same concept.

Persian in a way will make more sense to native English speakers than Turkish or Arabic, since Persian is an Indo-European language like English. That means no worrying about roots and verb forms as in Arabic, and no long conglomerations of prefixes and suffixes as in Turkish. In fact, I have found Persian grammar deceptively easy to grasp but very difficult to master at high levels. I will talk grammar sometimes but hopefully not much, because it’s hard for me to talk with clarity about grammar in this kind of setting. Because my training is in history and not language, I may from time to time digress into historical digression or talk about where particular words came from or went to as they meandered from one language to another. I apologize in advance.

I will be writing Persian in both Arabic script, which reads right to left, and in Latin script transliteration. There are as many methods for transliterating Persian as there are people trying to transliterate it, but I hope the system I use (mostly adhering to the system used by the International Journal of Middle East Studies) is simple enough to follow. My rule of thumb is that someone who knows the language should be able to unambiguously reconstruct the Arabic script from my transliteration, which occasionally means sacrificing nuances of pronunciation in order to keep to the strict written structure. I’ll try to note when that takes place.

Some people may be wondering about the name of the language, since it seems as though it is referred to as “Farsi” as often as it is referred to as “Persian” in the west. “Farsi” is in fact the name the language uses for itself, and actually comes into the language as the Arabic word for the Iranian language. Both derive from the same root, the word “Parsi” referring to the southern Iranian province of Fars or Pars, out of which the Ancient Persians came, but as there is no “p” sound in Arabic the name was rendered “Fars” and “Farsi” and these renderings took hold in Iran after the Arab invasions in the 7th century. Iranian scholars in the west increasingly insist on “Persian,” as the term has a longer history in the west than “Farsi” and as it better evokes ties to Ancient and Middle Persian (i.e., the languages used in Iran prior to the Arab conquest) than does “Farsi.” So I will use “Persian.”

Finally a warning about the “a day” part of this, in that it’s more a hope than a rule. I can’t promise a daily word, particularly given trying to do three of these as a non-paying lark, but I will do my best.