Register  Login  Active Topics  Maps  

Persian (Farsi) overview

 Language Learning Forum : Specific Languages Post Reply
44 messages over 6 pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6  Next >>
Bradley
Groupie
United States
Joined 5739 days ago

55 posts - 56 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 1 of 44
15 February 2005 at 10:40am | IP Logged 
Farsi is a language in which I do not know much about, so I thought I would start a post here and see what we can come up with! If you have knowledge, or have attempted to learn this ancient language, please post here, I am eagar to learn a few things about this language. Like the level of difficulty to learn Farsi considering your native language, if it is a gateway to other languages, or whether you should start an "easier" language to bridge the gap to Farsi. In all, lets see what we can come up with here.

Edited by Bradley on 15 February 2005 at 10:41am

1 person has voted this message useful



ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5772 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 2 of 44
17 February 2005 at 10:19pm | IP Logged 
Although I have a passionate love for and attachment to many languages, still, if I were pressed to choose one all time favorite, it would probably be Persian. Indeed, “Ardaschir” is the name of the poet-philosopher-king who founded the Sassanian dynasty in 226 AD and it is the Middle Persian version of the Old Persian “Artaxerxes,” which is perhaps a bit more familiar to readers of Herodotus.

Although I have never yet had the privilege and the challenge of conversing in it, and although I still have a ways to go before I will be able to read it with the same speed and facility that I can read most European languages, still I have already attained my main goal of being able to access its literature in the original with both pleasure and understanding, so I am in a position to offer some information that may be useful in providing a language profile for users of this site.

Where to begin? Well, there is little consensus on the number of speakers that this language has, and two main internet sources of linguistic information, Ethnologue and Wikipedia, differ by more than 50 million in their estimates, the former giving it a paltry 22 million, the later 75 million. Elsewhere I have even seen figures exceeding 100 million, but the majority of claims are in the region of 50-60 million. In any case, Persian is the national language of Iran and all educated Iranians know it through their schooling, but it is actually only the native language of about 1/3 to 1/2 of the population, the rest speaking various smaller Iranian languages or indeed major Turkic languages such as Azerbaijani as their mother tongues. Persian is also an official language of Afghanistan, where it is known as Dari, and of Tajikistan, where it is known as Tajiki (and where it is written in Cyrillic instead of Arabic script).

In centuries past it was the official, court, or literary language of many more places ranging from Turkey through India. Persian is sometimes called “the French of the East” in reference to its semi-classical status and its role as an international vehicle of thought and communication and, after Arabic, there is no doubt that it is the 2nd most important language in all of Islamic civilization. As a cultural vehicle it is certainly one of the oldest and most important languages in all of history, and it is often claimed that there is more literature, or at least more poetry, in Persian than in any other language. Although there is no way to verify such a claim, anyone familiar with the literary history and tradition of the language can understand why it is made, and Western poets of the stature of Goethe have acknowledged the preeminence of its masters. The most wonderful and important thing is that all of its literary gems produced down the centuries are accessible to any modern learner of the language, for although it changed a great deal over the first 2,500 years of its 3,500 year documented history, it has changed extremely little in the past 1000+ years. Thus, anyone who can read a modern story is also in a position to read the classical literature of the golden age of roughly 800 – 1200 AD.

Well, how hard is it to learn Persian? Speakers of Arabic, which has had a formative influence on Persian, and speakers of Turkic, Indic and other languages upon which Persian has in turn had a formative influence will find much that is very familiar and thus for them learning Persian should be on the easy side of linguistic chores. For speakers of English or of any other European language, however, for all that Persian shares their common Indo-European roots, it is very much an exotic language belonging to another cultural circle, and learning such a language is always a different game altogether from learning another language that shares both a common culture and a common root. That said, as far as exotic languages are concerned, for speakers of English and other European languages, Persian is probably one of the least difficult.

Phonetically speaking I do not believe Persian to be challenging for speakers of any European language – depending on your precise background, there may be a trouble spot here or there, but I do not think there are any sounds in Persian that are not found in most of the major European languages.

Grammatically speaking, Persian is “objectively” a very easy language – that is to say, if we could put all the formal grammar (rules and exceptions to rules, charts, tables, paradigms, etc.) of various languages on cards of the same size, Persian would require far fewer than the overwhelming majority of natural languages. Persian has evolved very far from its highly inflecting Indo-European roots, as much so or perhaps even more than has English in the West. Grammatical gender is completely gone (no separate pronouns for he and she), and while there are different verb endings according to person and number, this dispenses with the general use of pronouns. The only outstanding irregularity in the language is that most common verbs use different roots altogether in the present and in the past. All told, getting a basic grasp of the structure of the language should be a comparatively easy task for anyone, no matter what their background.

When it comes to vocabulary acquisition, Persian’s Indo-European roots can immediately be felt in its very core vocabulary, especially names of close family members, personal pronouns, and numbers. However, after that and apart from modern French loan words, things are really pretty foreign. I don’t want to give a false statistic for the percentage of Arabic loan words in Persian, but it is extremely high, in the range of 50% and perhaps even more. Even the native Indo-Iranian words have a long and separate developmental history that generally masks their relationship to European words. So, unless you know Arabic, you really do have a lot of words to learn before you can begin to find your way around in Persian, though there is nothing particularly difficult about the task – indeed, one of the reasons I love this language is that I find that its words often sound to my ears marvelously as if they “should” mean pretty much what they do mean, and I never had to have any recourse to outright memorization, but built up my lexicon by first internalizing recorded dialogues and then through extensive reading.

I cannot give a blanket answer for roughly how many hours it would take to gain a decent fluency in spoken Persian, for that really depends on your linguistic background, your general degree of language-learning experience, and how intensively and intelligently you work at it, but I can say that (again unless you already known Arabic), you can certainly be speaking Persian well long before you can hope to read it rapidly. All in all, if gaining oral communicative skills in Persian is probably an “easy” task considering that it is an exotic language, attaining literacy is unfortunately a much harder one. Why? Because Persian uses the Arabic alphabet, which shows consonants only and not vowels. This kind of alphabet is appropriate for a vowel-poor Semitic language with a root-consonantal basis and regularly recurring lexical structure, but it is not so well suited to Indo-European languages like Persian, which have more vowels and lack this kind of basic structure. Although it facilitates reading, writing Persian is further complicated by the fact that Arabic has far more sounds than Persian, namely different kinds or qualities of t’s, d’s, z’s, s’s, and the like. Persian has kept the original Arabic spelling in the words that it has borrowed, but it has leveled all these sounds into only one variant, with the result that there are many different ways of representing the same sound. Furthermore, I have since discovered that while Arabic texts for general consumption are not written with vowels, books for children and adolescents, as well as important classical texts and a good many serious modern scholarly texts, do have them. In contrast, I have never found a single Persian text, not even one for very young children, that has its vowels written in. Without the vowels, you get the outline of a word only, not its full sound, so you may learn to recognize what a given shape means in a given context, but you won’t know how to pronounce it correctly and so add it to your active vocabulary. Once you do know how a given word sounds, writing it in this way is not a problem, but it is hard indeed for non-natives who do not get these sounds from their living environment. I can barely fathom how autodidacts got over this hurdle in the past, but happily in our day and age, you can surmount it the same way that I did, namely by listening to ample quantities of recorded materials while simultaneously reading the written text. One of the easiest and best things about learning Persian is that, because of its rich cultural and literary heritage, there is not only much learning material available for it, there is also a considerable amount of textual material recorded for native speakers that you can purchase in the form of CD-ROM’s. I have learned to read Persian as well as I have by acquiring and listening to dozens and dozens of hours of Firdousi’s epic Shahname, the Boostan and the Gulistan of Sa’di, and the poems of Hafez and Rumi while simultaneously looking at the texts.

Apart from its own inherent value, I would most heartily recommend Persian to any would-be polyglot as perhaps the ultimate gateway language. A knowledge of Persian would certainly open the door to all other living Indo-Iranian languages such as Pashto, Kurdish, and Baluchi, as well as the various and sundry minority languages of Iran, many of which are probably just non-standardized Persian dialects. In fact, there is such a dearth of materials for studying any of these other languages that I imagine going through a solid knowledge of Persian would be your only way to get at them. You can also swim backwards diachronically to get at Pahlavi or Middle Persian, which is not all that different from Modern Persian, though it lacks its infusion of Arabic words and is written in a different script, and then further back to Old (Western) Persian proper, the language of many extant historical inscriptions and the direct ancestor of Modern Persian or to Avestan or “Old Eastern Persian,” the language of Zoroaster and the Zend Avesta, which is extremely close to Sanskrit. Persian does not just open the door to other Indo-Iranian languages, but also to languages from other families such as Urdu, Turkish, and Armenian, into all of which it has poured its influence over the centuries. Persian even paves the path to Arabic, for it is much easier to learn and although this is in a certain sense swimming against the tide as well, if you learn Persian first, you will build up a considerable storehouse of Arabic words—and not just because Persian has borrowed from Arabic, for although there is a massive lexical trade imbalance between the two languages, still Persian probably has the honor of being the single largest source of foreign loan words in Arabic, which is traditionally a very purist language.

As I mentioned above, there is a great amount of learning material, much of it high quality for the study of Persian. Far and away the best book for getting started is Farhad Sobhani’s “Persisches Lehr- und Lesebuch” (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1962), which was still available from Amazon.de last time I checked, and which comes with some invaluable if not lengthy recorded material as well. Another great way to get started would be with Assimil’s “Le Persan sans Peine” (Dominique Halbout et Mohammed-Hossein Kareini, 2003), which, once edited as I described in another post, has over two hours of very high quality dialogues, albeit spoken throughout in a rather all too clear and lugubrious didactic pace. Abi Rafiee’s “Colloquial Persian” (Routledge, 2001) teaches contemporary Tehrani, also with good but short tapes. Both Bozorg Alavi & Manfred Lorenz “Langenscheidts Praktisches Lehrbuch, Persisch” and Wheeler S. Thackston “An Introduction to Persian” (Ibex, 1993) provide extremely thorough and complete guides to the language suitable for those with some academic linguistic background. The latter even comes with tapes, but although they are 9 in number (and cost about $90), they are redundantly recorded with asinine instructions such as “listen, but don’t repeat… now listen and repeat” and long silent gaps, so that if you rerecord the useable materials in a more user friendly fashion, you get less than a single hour all told. Another classic reference is Lambston’s “Persian,” and even more comprehensive, and far more interesting as its texts are more literary in nature, is W. St. Caire Tisdall’s somewhat inappropriately named “Modern Persian Conversation Grammar,” originally published over a century ago but still generally available. These older works are really indispensable for serious students, but they must be used with a bit of caution. I wrote above that Persian has changed very little in the past 1200 or so years, but it has changed in one important respect at some point within the past 50-odd years. Persian etiquette used to forbid the use of 1st and 2nd person pronouns, mandating such substitutes as “your slave” in the first case and “your Excellency” in the second, and however rude and offensive the sound of “I” and “you” might have been in the past, surely these locutions would sound even more absurd in today’s Iran. Well, if you can persevere through some or all of these courses and make it to the intermediate level, you will find that bilingual books are not rare things in Persian, and also that a wide variety of Persian Readers have been published over the decades, and though most of them are now out of print, they are probably readily available in used book shops and in libraries. Of such books that are in print, Michael Hillmann has published a number with Dunwoody Press, all of which come with accompanying recordings; the one I am most familiar with being his “Persian Fiction Reader” of short stories written since the Revolution, which is indeed excellent, though the sound quality of its tapes is disappointing. Better yet, if you can acquire and access it, is К.И. Поляков и А.А. Носырев «Учебник персидск
86;го языка, основной курс» (Издатель 089;кий Дом «Муравей-Г&# 1072;йд» Москва, 2000), which comes with close to four hours of interesting readings recorded in a high-quality format. At the back of this book are advertisements for similar beginning courses by the same authors which are probably of the same quality.

To close, my thoughts about the name of this language: it has always been known as Persian, and in scholarly circles it still is, but for some reason in the past few decades it has become increasingly common to call it Farsi, which is indeed the Persian word for “Persian.” However, I think we would all agree that it would sound both stupid and pretentious, when speaking English, to say “I know Deutsch so well that I can read Nederlands too and even understand some Svenska and Dansk, and I’m also pretty good at Français and Español, and now I’m starting to learn Русский.” Why should a different standard apply for Persian? It shouldn’t and it doesn’t and it really sounds just as odd to call Persian Farsi, though you are certainly not to blame if you do it because that is what you have always heard others doing. I don’t know what force is driving this change, and the only justification for it that I can imagine would be sensitivity to the feelings of native speakers if they for some reason objected to the use of Persian, but I don’t believe that they do. Visit online bookshops and other sites both in Iran and abroad and you will see that they regard themselves as purveyors of Persian literature. To quote from the online Wikipedia: “Persian, the more widely used and official name of the language in English, is the Hellenized form of the native term Parsi. Farsi is the Arabicized form of Parsi and its use in the English language is very recent. Native Persian speakers typically call it "Parsi" in modern usage… The Academy of Persian Language and Literature as well as most linguists and lexicographers, believe that "Farsi" is not the appropriate term used for the Persian language in English. "Farsi" is actually the Arabicized form of "Parsi", due to a lack of the /p/ phoneme in Standard Arabic…” So, if anyone has any legitimate reason for using the new term, please provide it for discussion. If not, let’s drop the Farsi business once and for all, get rid of references to it on our site (administrator, please begin by changing the name of this topic), and try to encourage others to use the correct term: Persian.

Edited by administrator on 18 February 2005 at 12:04am

30 persons have voted this message useful



kidnickels
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5766 days ago

124 posts - 119 votes 
Speaks: English*, SpanishB1, French
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 3 of 44
19 February 2005 at 3:44pm | IP Logged 
Ardaschir wrote:
So, if anyone has any legitimate reason for using the new term, please provide it for discussion. If not, let’s drop the Farsi business once and for all, get rid of references to it on our site (administrator, please begin by changing the name of this topic), and try to encourage others to use the correct term: Persian.


Some feel that Persian is more appropriate as a term covering the group of families including Farsi, Dari, and Tajik. Others would argue that those are all dialects of the same language, or that Farsi and Dari are merely the spoken and written forms of the language.

Personally, I feel the use of "Persian" to be too confusing, since a Persian language (Dari) is the most widely spoken language in Afghanistan.

If the actual word in Persian/Farsi for the language itself is Farsi, wouldn't "Farsi" be the most appropriate and least confusing name of all?

Edited by kidnickels on 19 February 2005 at 3:44pm

1 person has voted this message useful



ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5772 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 4 of 44
19 February 2005 at 7:50pm | IP Logged 
Kidnickels, thank you for your comments, you do indeed make some valid points. Yes, Persian is and always has been a blanket term covering all dialects of the same language, regardless of the name that they are known by locally. However again, the "f" in Farsi does not represent native pronunciation at all, but rather only Arabic spelling, so if you want to say what the natives say, you should probably say Parsi. Still, if we do this with this language, then shouldn't we do it with all languages? But we don't. English, like most languages, has its own terms for other languages, and it is simply wrong to use the native terms while speaking it. Try this - which is right, a) or b):
1. a) I speak German. b) I speak Deutsch.
2. a) I know Spanish. b) I know Castellano.
3. a) I read Irish.    b) I read Gaelge.
4. a) I study Persian. b) I study Farsi.

If a) is right for 1, 2, and 3, how can b) be right for 4? There is no absolute uniformity in the way we call other languages, but if we make the switch from a) to b) in one case, shouldn't we have to do it in all cases?

Bradley, administrator, where are your comments or further querries? Since I spent a lot of time writing this at your requests, it would be nice to get some feedback.
3 persons have voted this message useful



Malcolm
Triglot
Retired Moderator
Senior Member
Korea, South
Joined 5831 days ago

500 posts - 514 votes 
5 sounds
Speaks: English*, Spanish, Korean
Studies: Mandarin, Japanese, Latin

 
 Message 5 of 44
19 February 2005 at 8:32pm | IP Logged 
Ardashir, your review is very comprehensive and persuasive. I'm almost tempted to learn Farsi (although I would never do such a thing)! I think it deserves to go in the language reviews section, assuming you and FX would be okay with that.

My library has most of the 10-lesson Pimsleur courses available for in-library use. I've listened to the first lesson of Pimsleur Farsi to see what the language sounds like, and I remember the native speaker saying "Farsi" with the emphasis on the final syllable. The recordings were very clear and it was definitely an "F", not a "P". I'm not in a position to say that this is the correct or most common pronunciation, but usually the Pimsleur team goes out of their way to get the most standard dialect on their recordings.

Edited by Malcolm on 19 February 2005 at 8:51pm

1 person has voted this message useful



Bradley
Groupie
United States
Joined 5739 days ago

55 posts - 56 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Spanish

 
 Message 6 of 44
19 February 2005 at 9:30pm | IP Logged 
Ardaschir,

I apologize for not responding earlier. Being the one who started this topic, rest assure that I am grateful and impressed by the time you spent addressing my post. As Malcolm stated you definitely gave an informative and comprehensive overview of Persian. With this said, I have come away with few a questions and comments I hope you will expand upon:

1) Albeit I am relatively new to language learning, I was unaware that only 1/3 to 1/2 of Iranians speak Persian as their native tongue, while most the others speak a smaller Iranian language or a Turkish language. Do most Iranians understand the main language, or is it lost on them?

2)As I understand from your post, Dari of Afghanistan and Tajiki of Tajikistan are the same langauge as Persian? Just with a different name? If this is the case, what proportion of these two states populations understand and speak Persian?

3)Iranian being an "exotic" language, may be easy comparitively with other "exotic" languages, but how would you stack the difficulty of learning Persian compared to a difficult language such as Russian, that is, for the monolingual English speaker.

4)Persian being the "ultimate" gateway language, do you know what the transparency would be in Turkish, Armenian, Arabic, and Urdu once you have reached an advanced level in Persian? In Particular Arabic, which you said contributed up to 50% of current Persian words--so is this reciprocal? Being that once you learn Persian you know almost half of Arabic??

In all, I and I am sure many other members of this forum had little to zero previous knowledge of this interesting language. Though I don't think I can make this claim now! And once again, please no hard feelings on my belated post! Thank you for spending the time to respond to my interest in Persian.

Edited by Bradley on 19 February 2005 at 9:36pm

2 persons have voted this message useful



ProfArguelles
Moderator
United States
foreignlanguageexper
Joined 5772 days ago

609 posts - 2100 votes 

 
 Message 7 of 44
21 February 2005 at 9:25am | IP Logged 
Bradley, your first two questions are more sociological than purely linguistic and as I haven't yet been to the area (would that geopolitical reality were kinder and gentler...), my impressions and 2nd hand knowledge could be wrong, but:

1) I believe most Iranians understand Persian regardless of their native tongue because this is the offical state language and the official language of education throughout the country.

2) I believe that Tajiki may be somewhat closer to Persian as it is spoken in Iran, for in genetic terms both are classified as Indo-European - Indo-Iranian - Iranian - Western, while Dari is Indo-European - Indo-Iranian - Iranian - Eastern. In any case, I believe that mutually intelligible communication is possible between speakers of all three variants, though perhaps with some dialectical confusion. I think pretty much everybody in Tajikistan speaks Tajiki, while about a third of the people in Afganistan use Dari.

3) In terms of difficulty for an English speaker, I would classify Russian as an alpha-omega language (that is, easy but hard) while I would classify Persian as an omega-alpha (i.e., hard but easy). In relative and comparative terms, Russian is "easy" because it is a European language whose etymology is to an important degree shared with English and whose cultural concepts do not differ all that greatly. It is hard because of its grammar and perhaps because of its pronunciation. Persian, on the other hand, is hard because its vocabulary is not only alien in origin and in letter, but because it makes reference to a whole different cultural world. It is easy, however, in terms of grammar and pronunication. I suspect that the "learning curve" for Russian might be steeper at first, but that it would level off and become smooth after you achieve overall practical competency, while the learning curve for Persian might be comparatively smoother at the beginning, but grow steeper when and if you really wished to master it.

4) I can't give exact percentages for the transparancy of languages to which Persian is culturally related, but it is certainly very high - see the separate Urdu post for an interesting comment on this by a new member of this forum. This is also particularly true for Arabic, and certainly if you learn Persian really well, you will already have begun the study of Arabic, particularly of Arabic vocabulary, and so when and if you ever actually get to Arabic, you will find so many familiar words that the overall process of learning yet more will be greatly facilitated. Vocabularly acquisition works that way: the more words you know, the easier it is to learn yet more. When you know very few words, you have no place to stick the ones you are trying to learn, but when you already do know some, the others stick themselves in that context.

BTW, did you see my response to your 2nd Slavic language posting? Any further questions there?
6 persons have voted this message useful



kidnickels
Triglot
Senior Member
United States
Joined 5766 days ago

124 posts - 119 votes 
Speaks: English*, SpanishB1, French
Studies: Mandarin

 
 Message 8 of 44
22 February 2005 at 9:23am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir wrote:
If a) is right for 1, 2, and 3, how can b) be right for 4? There is no absolute uniformity in the way we call other languages, but if we make the switch from a) to b) in one case, shouldn't we have to do it in all cases?


In short: No. There's no rule governing language nomenclature that says we have to identify all languages by the same method. Clarity is the only point that matters. When you say "Irish," no one wonders to which Irish language you're referring. But when you say "Persian," someone familiar with the Persian language family would probably need more information to know which language you mean.



1 person has voted this message useful



This discussion contains 44 messages over 6 pages: 2 3 4 5 6  Next >>


Post ReplyPost New Topic Printable version Printable version

You cannot post new topics in this forum - You cannot reply to topics in this forum - You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum - You cannot create polls in this forum - You cannot vote in polls in this forum


This page was generated in 0.3438 seconds.


DHTML Menu By Milonic JavaScript
Copyright 2020 FX Micheloud - All rights reserved
No part of this website may be copied by any means without my written authorization.