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The Persian Language: Focus on Farsi

The Language Lovers Series, Part 6                                   

By Christine S. Maxwell

What is Farsi?

The Persian language, commonly known as Farsi, is a Western Iranian language that belongs to the Indo-European language group.    Farsi takes its name from its place of origin in the Fars Province.  (See “Persian Language” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_language).  With more than 62 million speakers, it is one of the world’s top 20 languages spoken.  Another 50 million people speak it as a second language.  (See “Why Study Persian” https://www.bu.edu/wll/home/why-study-persian/ )

Where is Farsi spoken?

Map where Persian Language & Dialects are spoken.   

By Mani1 – Own work, Public Domain

Persian is the official language of Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.  Farsi is generally the term used to Iranian speakers of Persian.  Two other dialects of the Persian language closely related to Farsi are Dari in Afghanistan and Tajik in Tajikistan.  The influence of Farsi and its closely-related dialects, however, are far reaching geographically.   Sixty percent of Iran’s population speak Farsi, 50% of Afghanistan’s population speak the Dari dialect of Farsi.      Historically, Persian and its dialects have been understood in a significant portion of the world, from the Middle East to India. It is spoken in parts of Armenia, Azerbaijan, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey.  Today, there are large communities speakers, particularly of Iranian descent, in Europe and the United States.  (See “Farsi – Persian Language”  https://www.farsinet.com/farsi/ )

Where is Farsi spoken in the United States?

Farsi speakers in the United States can be found in large U.S. cities.   One of the largest communities of Farsi speakers is located in Los Angeles.   More than 300,000 Farsi speakers live in an area in Central Los Angeles, sometimes referred to as “Tehrangeles”.   (See “Tehrangeles:  How Iranians Made Part of LA their Own”   https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19751370 )

Farsi speakers who reside in the United States are among the best educated immigrants in the United States and have made significant contributions to American society according to the above BBC article.

What contributions have Farsi speakers made to American businesses?

Many American citizens of Iranian descent have made significant contributions to the American society.    Their accomplishments abound in education, science, medicine, music, and the arts. For a complete list of notable Iranian Americans, see Wikipedia article “List of Iranian Americans”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Iranian_Americans )

Another major contribution that these Farsi speakers have made to the American economy is through technology, particularly the Internet.   Farhad Mohit is the founder of the popular website BizRate.com.   Similarly eBay was founded by Pierre Omidyar, a French –born American entrepreneur of Iranian descent.  Salar Kamangar, an Iranian-born American businessman, is a senior executive at Google and a former CEO of YouTube.  

Is Farsi difficult to learn?

Yes and no.   Farsi has a simple grammatical structure.  Unlike many European languages, Farsi has no noun genders and no articles.  Some people consider Farsi to be a beautiful spoken language with song-like, poetic qualities.    English language speakers find that some sounds and letter combinations of Farsi are difficult to pronounce.     (See “A Guide to Persian:  Ten Interesting Facts”  https://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/other/persian/guide/facts.shtml ) .

The Persian writing script uses the Arabic writing form.    However, the Persian alphabet known as Perso-Arabic has four additional letters/characters.   (See “Persian Alphabet:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_alphabet ).

Is Farsi considered an important language to learn?

Farsi is considered to be one of the critical languages by the US State Department.     In an effort increase the number of Persian speakers who can work for the US Department of State and other branches of the U.S. government offer a number of training programs, fellowships, and opportunities.    For future scholarship opportunities sponsored by the State Department of this critical language, see   https://www.clscholarship.org/news/2016/cls-2017-application-launches )

Americans who study Farsi can find employment in the government, private industry, and the military.   (For a general overview, see “What’s a critical language and why study one?”   https://matadornetwork.com/abroad/whats-a-critical-language-and-why-study-one/  ).

Is Farsi an evolving language?

Farsi has remained a stable language over the centuries in terms of its grammar and structure.   However with world migration patterns and modern world-wide communication, Farsi has incorporated words from other languages particularly words referring to technology.  The Persian language is heavily influenced by French words of science and technology.  Similarly, many English and Russian words have been integrated into the language.   (For additional information, see “Persian Language”   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persian_language .)

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