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.