Let’s talk money

You can’t get by without money, right? Nothing like a little practical language learning…

For starters, the words “money” and “currency” can both be translated as پول (pūl).

Now for specific currencies. This is easier for Persian than, say, Arabic, because when we talking about the Persian-speaking world we’re dealing basically with the currency of Iran (ایران), or maybe Iran and Tajikistan (تاجیکِستان or Тоҷикистон), or Iran, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan (افغانِستان). Yes, Afghanistan, which has historically been part of “Greater Iran” and where a dialect of Persian called Dari, دَری, is one of the two official languages (and is actually more widely spoken than the other, Pashto). So at most you’re dealing with maybe three countries, as opposed to all the countries, with all their various currencies, in the Arabic-speaking world. Iran uses the ریال (riyāl, or “rial” according to the official Latin transliteration). This is derived from the Spanish real, a now-obsolete currency from the 14th-19th centuries that gave its name to several currencies in the Middle East, particularly in the Persian/Arabian Gulf region and then into Iran, briefly from 1798-1825 and then from 1932 through today. The rial is divided (like cents to our dollar) into 100 دینار (dīnār), a term that is also (somewhat confusingly) used in many Arab countries either as the main currency or, as here, as the subdivision of the main currency. This word hails all the way back to the original Islamic currency, the gold dinar, which derived from the Roman/Byzantine denarius.

Here’s the thing about the rial, though; thanks to runaway inflation caused in part by Western economic sanctions (hooray us!), it’s actually the least-valued currency in the world. Even Iranians don’t like to talk in terms of rial, so they will often refer to the تومان (tūmān, or “toman”). This was at one time the main currency of Iran (in fact, when the rial was first introduced in that 1798-1825 period, it was as a subdivision of the toman. It’s not an official currency anymore, having been replaced by the rial in 1932 at the rate of 10 rials per toman, but it is still used informally to mean “10 rials.” I guess quoting a price of “1000 toman” sounds less depressing than “10,000 rials.” Which, by the way, is worth anywhere from about a quarter to just under a dollar depending on the exchange rate you’re using (hooray us!). The word “toman” comes from a Mongolian word, tümen, which means “unit of 10,000,” because when it was introduced it was worth 10,000 dinar.

This means that, even though the rial is the official currency, if you want to ask somebody how much something costs you’d probably be better off using toman. Actually, you’re best off just gesturing to what you want and saying چَنده؟ (chandah, “chandeh”), which just means “how much (is it)?” But if you must mention currency, چَند تومان است؟ (chand tūmān ast, “how much is it”) or چَند تومان این است؟ (chand tūmān īn ast, “how much is this”) is the way to go. Or, if your vocabulary is good enough, replace این with the specific thing you’re asking about.

In Tajikistan you’ll be using the cомонӣ (somoni, and oh by the way Tajik is still written in a modified Cyrillic alphabet, and not coincidentally this may be the first and last time I mention Tajik on this blog). The somoni is named for the “father of Tajikistan, Ismail Samani, the founder of the 9th-10th century Samanid Dynasty that ruled much of modern Iran and Central Asia during its heyday. The somoni is divided into 100 дирам (diram), which is the name of various currencies in the Arab world as well and is derived from the Greek δραχμή (drachma).

The currency in Afghanistan is the افغانی (afghānī), which makes sense, and is subdivided into…wait for it…100 پول (pūl), and now we’ve come full circle and I’m done.

Make a name for yourself

Many of the names you might encounter in Persian are Arabic in origin and/or by convention, and it pays to be familiar with the structure of Arabic names in order to understand Persian names. Strictly speaking, however, Persian names are quite similar to English names in that they have two basic parts, the given name (نام, nām, or the Arabic اسم, ism) and (since the early 20th century) the surname (لَقَب, laqab, from Arabic, or نامِ خانِوادگی, nām-i khānivādigī, “family name”). One cultural difference that you encounter in Persian names as compared to Arabic names is that, while lots of Persian-speakers have very Arabic-sounding first names, many other (more culturally “Persian,” I guess you could say) first names are taken from the Shahnameh.

The typical Iranian surname is something like the Arabic nisbah or laqab in that it describes something about the person (or one of the person’s ancestors, whoever “founded” the family line): maybe a profession, a personal quality, or the city/region/district from which the person or family hails. These may take one of several suffixes; the most common are ی (), which designates an ancestral or geographic marker, پور (-pūr), meaning “son of [the name to which it’s appended],” زاده (-zādah), meaning “descendant of…,” and نژاد (-nizhād), meaning “from the tribe or clan of….” Our friend Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s last name (احمدی‌نژاد), for example, means “from the clan of Ahmad,” “Ahmad” being another name for “Muhammad” (both derive from the same Arabic root).

Also, in terms of asking for a name and giving yours, “What is your name?” is simply نامِ شُما چیست؟ (nām-i shumā chīst), and in response you’d either say “I’m _____,” _____ مَن (man _____), or “my name is _____,” نامِ مَن _____ است (nām-i man _____ ast).

Shahnameh: the graphic novel

Via Andrew Sullivan, it appears that the Shahnameh, Abu al-Qasim Ferdowsi’s stunning 11th century epic of the pre-Islamic Persian kings, has been issued in graphic novel form, just published this past May. I’ve written briefly about the Shahnameh in the past, but it really cannot be overstated how important this text was to the survival not only of the Persian language, but of Persian myth and political thought as well. When Ferdowsi was commissioned to write a historical epic of the Persian dynasties that ruled Iran before the Arab conquest, Arabic was easily the dominant written language in the region; the only writings in what we now call “Modern Persian” (Persian in Arabic script and with Arabic influences) were the poems of Rudaki (d. 941). While Rudaki’s poems certainly helped bring Persian back as a literary language, it was the Shahnameh that not only made the language important again, but that brought Iranian history and legend (and political ideology, though that had already seeped into Islamic governance by this time) to the forefront of Islamic civilization.


Sample of the artwork

Sample of the artwork

The work itself is titanic, endlessly enjoyable as sheer myth and fiction but deeply enmeshed in philosophical/political thought with respect to how a king rules justly and what he must do to maintain divine sanction for his rule, and not without value as a historical text if you can strip away the layers of myth. What’s really interesting in this particular version is the nature of the illustrations. Rather than employ original artwork, illustrator Hamid Rahmanian has touched up and digitized a number of original Persian lithographs from manuscripts dated between the 14th and 18th centuries, and these make up the illustrations. Particularly from the Mongol period on, Persian miniature painting (manuscript illustration) was maybe the best in the world, represented at its apex by the wonderful Behzad (d. 1535). I have Dick Davis’ prose translation of the Shahnameh and enjoy it quite a bit, but I am going to pick this up just for the dazzling artwork.

Eating meals

One of the most popular Ramadan customs is the evening meal that breaks the day’s fast (literally “breakfast” even though it happens in the evening), called افطار (ifṭār), taken from Arabic. With that in mind, this post will be about eating food–not about food or kinds of foods, but about eating food and particularly the different meals of the day.

“to eat” = خوردَن (khūrdan)

“food” = غَذا (ghaẕā)

“meal” = also غَذا (ghaẕā), or طَعام (ṭaʿām), or (and this is more “Persian” in that it’s not an Arabic loanword) خوراکی (khūrākī)

“breakfast = صُبحانه (ṣubḥānah), from صُبح (ṣubḥ) or “morning”

“brunch” = صبحانه دُوُم (ṣubḥānah-i duvum), “second breakfast”

“lunch” = ناهار (nāhār), or ظُهرانه (ẓuhrānah), from ظُهر (ẓuhr) or “noon”

“dinner” or “supper” = شام (shām), or possibly ناهار (nāhār) if it’s early enough

“snack” = خوراکِ مُختَصَر (khūrāk-i mukhtaṣar), or “brief meal,” or مَزه (mazah), “taste” or “bite,” from the verb مَزیدَن (mazīdan) or مَزه کَردَن (mazah kardan), “to taste,” from which we get the word “meze”

Family vocab VII: husbands and wives

When it comes to spouse vocab, Persian forgoes gender just as it does in most other cases, although you have the option of using Arabic vocabulary instead if you want to differentiate.

The Persian word for “spouse” is هَمسَر (ham-sar), which literally means “same head.” I suppose it conveys the same meaning as when we say “my other/better half,” although “partner” is also a fair translation. If you prefer, Arabic offers زَوج (zawj), “husband,” and زَوجه (zawjah), “wife.”

Ramazan Mubarak!

There’s much more about the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins this evening for most Muslims around the world, over on the Arabic blog, if you’re so inclined.

My purpose here is only to give you some Persian greetings you can offer for the month. If you’ve read that Arabic entry then this will be pretty simple, because we’re just using the same Arabic greetings, رَمَضان مُبارَك (ramażān mubārak), “Blessed Ramadan!” and رَمَضان كَريم (ramażān karīm), “Generous Ramadan!” The only difference is in pronunciation, where you’ll notice that the Arabic ramaḍān, with a deep “d” sound, is in Persian pronounced ramażān, with a regular “z” sound. The letter ض, which has a deep “d” sound in Arabic, takes a “z” sound in Persian, which you already knew because you read our guide to Persian pronunciation, obviously.

To move (relocate)

I realize that things have been quiet around here for a while, but this entry might help explain why.

“My family and I have moved to Virginia” = مَن وَ خوانِواده‌ام به ایالتِ ویرجینیا نَقل مَکان کَرده‌ایم (man va kwānivādah-am bih ayālat-i vīrgīniyā naql makān kardah-īm, “man-o-khaa-ne-vaa-de-am-beh-ay-aal-at-eh-veer-geen-iyaa-naql-ma-kaan-kar-deh-eem”)

Couple of things to note here: Persian takes the Arabic verb نَقَلَ (naqala, “move”) and combines it with the Persian word مَکان (makān, “place”) to get the idea of moving place to place. The present perfect (“we have moved”) tense is created by taking the present copula (I don’t know, I’m not a linguist, but you form it by adding ه to the present stem) and adding the past tense person/number ending. The word ایالت (ayālat) means “state” (from the same root as the Arabic وِلاية), so the literal translation is “the state of Virginia,” and it can be omitted but I wanted to keep it in to be comprehensive.

Anyway, that’s why things haven’t been happening around here of late, but I’ll try to do better moving forward.