The Persian language, or Farsi, is not the most common choice for a language to study in the West. Learning and being able to speak and read Persian, however, has clear advantages. Farsi is a language with very ancient roots. We have learned or at least heard about the wars between Greek cities and Persia during the classical period (names such as Marathon, Thermopylae, or 300 Spartans are familiar to most). That was the golden age of the ancient Persian Empire with Zoroastrianism as the state religion and Avesta as the sacred book. Of course, modern Farsi has evolved and changed from the language of Avesta, but it conserves and maintains the cultural heritage that goes back to the era of King Darius and the prophet Zoroaster.
Persian is the state language of Iran and Tajikistan and one of the state languages of Afghanistan. For political reasons, the language is officially known as Tajik in the Republic of Tajikistan and as Dari in Afghanistan, but essentially both are identical to the Farsi spoken in Iran. Many people outside those three countries also speak Persian either as a mother tongue or as a second language. This is especially true in countries such as Iraq, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and others in Middle Asia. The total number of speakers of Persian is hard to estimate, but it likely surpasses 100 million. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 many Iranians left the country, and the number of emigrants from Iran in the United States alone amounts to hundreds of thousands even by conservative estimations.
Persian is the language of an immensely rich and sophisticated literature - especially poetry. Omar Khayyam and his rubayyat (four line poems) are part of the treasury of both world literature and world philosophy. Here is just one sample to whet your appetite for more:
“To wisely live your life, you don't need to know much
Just remember two main rules for the beginning:
You better starve, than eat whatever
And better be alone, than with whoever.”
Tim Doner, a 17-year prodigy polyglot from the US who speaks over 20 languages says Persian is his favorite. The article about him and his love for the Persian language concludes: “There's something wonderfully musical about the language. It's not hard to see how Persian culture would have developed such a reputation for poetry.”
Persian is written with the Arabic script (except in Tajikistan where the Cyrillic or Russian alphabet is used). In spite of this fact, Persian is classified as an Indo-European language with no ties to Arabic, but remotely related to other European languages, including English. Some of the useful resources you could use to begin studying Persian (and to learn a great deal of useful information about Iran) is this website of Benny the Irish Polyglot. The BBC Guide to Persian would be another entertaining and practical tool for beginners.
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