5 Reasons to Learn the Persian Language
Persian is a language of so many wonders. It is a language of literature and beauty. It is a language as long as history. And it bears the trace of human progress and civilization more than many languages you may know. Since the first Empire of the world, The Achaemenid Empire, up until less than 400 years ago and the beginning of Western colonialism, Persian language has been the main linguistic vehicle of science, technology, literature, arts and most of the things of which we are proud as the human race. We are talking about the language that provided the world with the first human rights declaration.
Persian today is the official language of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Some may know this language by the name of Farsi which is an endonym of the language mostly in today’s Southwestern Iran. In fact, Farsi can be considered as only one of the main three dialects of the Persian language: the Iranian Persian or Farsi (), the Afghanistani Persian or Dari (دری), and the Tajikistani Persian or Tajiki (тоҷикӣ).
The term Persian is an English derivation of Latin Persiānus, the adjectival form of Persia, itself deriving from Greek Persís (Περσίς), a Hellenized form of Old Persian Pārsa (𐎱𐎠𐎼𐎿), which means “Persia” (a region in southwestern Iran, corresponding to modern-day Fars). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term Persian as a language name is first attested in English in the mid-16th century.
The Academy of Persian Language and Literature has maintained that the endonym Farsi is to be avoided in foreign languages, and that Persian is the appropriate designation of the language in English, as it has the longer tradition in western languages and better expresses the role of the language as a mark of cultural and national continuity.(From Wikipedia)
But why on earth one might want to learn Persian as a language? Well, amongst countless reasons, I will give you five:
1. It Works As the Best Bridge Language
Persian is much easier than you think. It may sound as distant and exotic at first to you, specifically because of its different alphabet, but once you start learning, you’ll see it is much more familiar than you had thought. The most important thing about it is that it is an Indo-European language. So it shares its roots with English, German, Spanish, French, and many other languages that you may know as your native or second language. You will quickly notice the similarity of grammar and vocabulary. But at the same time that it is very easy to learn, it opens up the door for learning many other Eastern languages. From one side, it is closely related to Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu and many other Indo-Iranian languages (Hindi alone has more than 300 million native speakers); this kinship helps you learn those languages, later, while they are harder than Persian, since Persian is one of the most simplified offspring of Indo-Iranian language group (For example you do not have to deal with noun cases or gendered words in Persian, they do not exist). From the other side, Persian alphabet is a modified version of Arabic alphabet, and about 30% of the vocabulary of Modern Persian are Arabic loan-words; Thus, it also paves your way for learning Arabic (one of the six official languages of the UN) and related languages, while at the beginning you do not have to deal with difficult grammar of Arabic (which is from Afro-Semitic language Family).
2. It Has an Unbelievably Rich Literature
The quotes by Rumi are becoming viral in social media these days. Many who like poetry know Omar Khayyam. Everyone who has studied Goethe knows that he was immensely influenced by Hafez, and Shahnameh is the second longest poem in the history of the world after Mahabharata, and it is almost 4 times longer than Homers Illiad and Oddyssey combined. But it is not only the classical Persian literature that is interesting. Many Tajik, Afghan and Persian speaking Indian poets and writers have influenced the whole literature of Asia with their work. Figures like Forough Farrokhzad, the first woman who wrote about femininity and pleasure in Persian, and Houshang Golshiri, who revolutionalised the native fiction writing, have been translated into many different languages. Sadegh Hedayat’s “The Blind Owl”, a surrealistic novel, is one of the most famous originally Persian works known all around the world. Even Persian speakers who write in other languages have the trace of Persian literature in their work, like Azar Nafisi, Marjan Satrapi, Shahrnoosh Parsipour or Reza Baraheni (who was the president of Pen Canada Association). If by any chance you are a reader, and if you are anything like me and believe many things will be lost in translation, learning Persian gives a huge corpus of texts to explore.
3. It Has a Very Vibrant Contemporary Culture
Persian speaking community are amongst the most educated people in the world. Iranians are one of the most modernized and progressive communities in the Middle East, along with Turkish and Egyptian people; Tajikistan has some of the best universities, museums and cultural centres in central Asia; and the only reason Afghan community has not thrived as much as the other two countries was the long history of war and extremism inside the country, not lack of talent or cultural background, as it is obvious in very successful Afghan expatriates (like Annet Mahendru or Khalid Hosseini). Tajik people have kept the Iranic culture in its purest form, and their country is both culturally and economically a successful nation and a point of pride for its people. Iranians, were the people who started the first women-led revolution of the history of mankind in 2022, they are very open minded and proponents of ground breaking changes. The Afghan writer and director, Atiq Rahimi, showed one of the first nude scenes in a Persian speaking movie in his masterpiece, “The Patience Stone” (2012), just a year after Asghar Farhadi won the first Oscar for a Persian speaking movie for his film “The Seperation” (2011). In many countries of the world, there are Persian speaker diasporic people who are engaged in the global trends. Jila Mossaed the Iranian poet, is the first non-Swedish member of Nobel Academy, while Abbas Kiarostami the Iranian Director is the first Middle Eastern winner of Akira Kurosawa Award. You may as well have a Persian speaker as your co-worker or neighbour if you are living in North America, Europe, Oceania or East Asia. Persian culture, architecture and music has been recognized by the UN (including many cultural events, like Nowrouz). Learning Persian opens up a lot of cultural and artistic doors which are at the highest levels of the world to you, and you can communicate with these masterpieces without the need of a translator, or visit these beautiful countries like Tajikistan.
4. It’s Not as Impractical and Rare as You May Think
Persian Language can be practical in many respects, of which I mention three. The first one is what I already mentioned, it is the language of some of the best artistic and cultural works of the Middle East, and one of the most beautiful travel destinations of central Asia. The second practical aspect of it is its usefulness in the historical context. As mentioned again, this languages bears the majority of human race’s advancements until the 17th century. Not only it has been the language of Persian Empire (which used to rule from Mesopotamia to Indus River for most of the History), but also it has been the official language of many dynasties in India, and also in Ottoman Empire. Given the fact that before the enlightenment in early 18th century, most human developments and advancements were being done in these three regions (in addition to the Islamic Empire in Arabian peninsula and Northern Africa, of which many thinkers were also fluent in Persian), Persian has been the Lingua Franca of the most important region of the world from the fall of Roman Empire until the beginning of Enlightenment and its bastard offspring colonialism. Persian played the same role in central and western Asia, as did Latin in Europe. So, in any study of the culture and history of the region whether as a hobby or as a profession, knowing Persian is an asset. The third practical aspect is the current Geopolitics of the Middle East, and the important role of Iran (and the threat of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan). Knowing Persian actually can secure a lot of jobs, related to foreign affairs, and cultural studies, as well as governmental administrative work, or even charity work (I personally volunteer for interpreting for Afghan refugees in Canada). Persian is not rare either. Not only it has more than 130 million speakers (as either first or second language speaker) in the region, there is an estimated 20-25 million Persian speakers scattered around the world. The U.S. itself has about 1 million native Persian speakers citizens (meaning that this number does not include non-citizens like refugees, international students, or foreign workers). Therefore, at least 150 million people speak Persian fluently as their first or second language around the world, which is about 2% of the world population (to understand the greatness of this number, I should say that the speakers of a famous language like Italian as a first or second language, are less than 1% of the world population). Thus, knowing Persian is both practical and useful for communicating with a large audience.
5. It’s an Adventure
Let’s face it: In the modern world with Google translate and many other AI-based language tools, learning languages are becoming more of a hobby than a necessity. And learning any language is an adventure. None is by no means better than the other. Persian language, however, has its own specificities which give it its own adventurous qualities. It is a very poetic language in nature. There is a reason that it has one of the richest literatures in the world. Even its everyday conversations are full of metonymy and metaphor and are poetic and flowery; not that people put any effort into making it like that, that’s just an attribute of the language. It has been chosen as one of the top 10 best-sounding languages of the world in two different public surveys. It is very dreamy and imaginative, as well as beautifully sounded and smooth. Personally, as a native Persian speaker, find only one language more musical than Persian, and that is Italian (although I do not understand a word, I still enjoy listening to their music or poetry recitations). It has also a long and interesting history, going back at least three thousand years, which gives you a lot to explore. Another interesting quality is that it hasn’t had any major change in the last millennia, and you can understand the poetry of Ferdowsi, written in the 11th century, just as well as you can understand young adult fiction of the 21st century. While Old English refers to English before the Norman conquest of 1066, the Persian of 1066 is considered Modern Persian. While Old Persian is referred to as the language of the Achaemenid Empire of about 2500 ago, Modern English is believed to be the English used after the 16th century, including works of William Shakespeare, which many native English speakers cannot read today. This aspect of Persian has made many texts (Essentially anything written in the 10th century) available to the modern reader. Learning Persian is also an adventure because the culture has always been a point of curiosity for people around the world. The mention of this curiosity can be found in many travel writings and even historical and philosophical works written in many different languages. It may go back to the curiosity of Greeks during the Greco-Persian Wars and the writings of people like Herodotus. By learning this language, you can get closer to this unique culture, study one of the oldest religions of the world (Zoroastrianism), and in addition to Tajikistan that you can visit safely right now, with crossed fingers, soon enough Iran and Afghanistan will become free and safe countries again, and you can travel and communicate with the people first-handedly.
I hope you have found this post useful. Let me know what you think in the comment section. Do you have any experience with or interest in the Persian language? Do you like to learn this language someday?