Welcome to the English Wikibook for learning the Persian Language.
This course requires no prior knowledge of Persian. It aims to teach grammar, vocabulary, common phrases, conversational language, and formal/literary Persian. By the end, you should be able to read and write Persian but will probably need a human teacher to help with listening and speaking. The book is meant to be read starting with lesson 1 and moving forward. It will move slowly.
The Persian Language
Persian (local names: Parsi, Farsi or Dari) is an Indo-European language, the dominant language of the Indo-Iranian language family and is a major language of antiquity. After the 7th century Persian absorbed a great deal of Arabic vocabulary. Persian is the official language of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Persian is also a popular language in academia and business. Related languages include Pashto, Kurdish, Ossetian, and Balochi. Urdu and Turkish also have a sizable vocabulary from Persian.
Persian or Farsi?
Farsi is an Arabized form of the word Parsi, one of the original names in Persian for the Persian language. Since there is no [p] sound in Arabic, Parsi became Farsi after the Arab conquest of Persia. Farsi then became the local name of Persian, but English speakers still call the language “Persian”, just as they say “German”, “Spanish”, and “Chinese” for languages locally called Deutsch, español, and Hanyu. There is considerable opposition to calling Persian Farsi in English and other languages, as is summarized by the following pronouncement on the English name of Persian language by the Academy of Persian language and literature:
- “Persian” has been used in a variety of publications including cultural, scientific and diplomatic documents for centuries and, therefore, it carries a very significant historical and cultural meaning. Hence, changing “Persian” to “Farsi” would negate this established important precedent.
- Changing the usage from “Persian” to “Farsi” may give the impression that “Farsi” is a new language, although this may well be the intention of some users of “Farsi”.
- Changing the usage may also give the impression that “Farsi” is a dialect used in some parts of Iran rather than the predominant (and official) language of the country.
- The word “Farsi” has never been used in any research paper or university document in any Western language, and the proposal to begin using it would create doubt and ambiguity about the name of the official language of Iran.
Persian and English
Since Persian and English are both Indo-European languages, many basic Persian words are familiar to English speakers. For example مادر ‹mâdar› (“mother”), پدر ‹pedar› (“father”), and برادر ‹barâdar› (“brother”).
Although Persian was influenced by Arabic, English speakers should not find it too difficult to pronounce Persian letters fairly well. Fortunately for English speakers, the glottal stop ء [ʔ] from Arabic is barely pronounced in Persian, and the “emphatic” consonants in Arabic (ط ض ص ظ ح ع) are pronounced without the pharyngealization, making them much easier for most native English speakers.
It is important to listen to Persian often and to try to use the language. Pronunciation guides can only closely convey the sounds of Persian but are never totally exact, so pronunciation benefits greatly from listening to native speakers.
There are several systems of transcription to represent the sounds of Persian in the Latin alphabet. This book uses the UniPers (also called Pârsiye Jahâni, "Universal Persian") transcription system, which uses the basic Latin alphabet plus a few modified letters (‹â›, ‹š›, ‹ž›, and an apostrophe ‹’›) as a standard phonemic script that is clear, simple, and consistent. Each transcription is enclosed in angle brackets, e.g., ‹fârsi›:
|ا، ه||ای، ی||ا، و||او||و||ی||ای||وی|
|Persian||ب||چ||د||ف||گ||ه، ح||ج||ک||ل||م||ن||پ||غ، ق||ر||ث، س، ص||ش||ت، ط||و||خ||ذ، ز، ض، ظ||ژ||ع، ء|
Vocabulary and grammar
In learning to read or speak any language, the two aspects to be mastered are vocabulary and grammar. Acquiring vocabulary is a matter of memorization. Children learn thousands of words of their native language by the time they are conscious of the learning process, so it is easy to underestimate importance of having a large vocabulary. This process can be reactivated by immersion: moving to where the language is spoken and one’s native tongue cannot be used for daily communication.
Without the opportunity to move to a Persian-speaking area, a student must make a substantial effort to learn the meaning, pronunciation, and proper use of words. Be sure to learn all of the vocabulary words in each lesson. Early lessons have simple sentences because the student’s vocabulary is presumably limited, but more complex sentences in later lessons demonstrate more typical Persian. It may be helpful to translate these using a Persian-English dictionary. Access to a print dictionary is very helpful. Other sources of Persian, such as newspapers, magazines, and web sites can help to build vocabulary and to develop a sense of how Persian sentences are put together.
The Internet has a wide variety of study resources. You can refer to the appendix of this book for a selection of some of the best sources:
Also, each new vocabulary term introduced in this course can be looked up easily in the English Wiktionary wherever the dictionary image appears. Click on the image to look up a Persian word wherever you see a link like the following:
- خوب ‹xub› /ˈxuːb/ (“fine/well/good”)