18 Facts About Persian Farsi: Iran, Gender and Script

Persian Farsi (known alternately as just Persian, Iranian Farsi, or just Farsi) is the modern-day official language of Iran. It’s also the official language, under different names, of several other countries. Though these versions vary slightly, they are all entirely mutually intelligible with one another.

Once a language of empires, Persian Farsi has a rich and storied history that goes beyond any one article. However, the following facts are some of the more interesting about the history, distribution, structure, and use of Persian Farsi in the modern world. You, too, can know the language of emperors and kings!

A Few Facts about Persian Farsi

1. There are approximately 110 million speakers of Persian Farsi

Of these, 70 million are native speakers.

2. As well as Iran, Farsi is the official language of several countries under other names

These countries and linguistic variants are:

  • Iran (Persian)
  • Afghanistan (Dari)
  • Tajikistan (Tajik)
  • Dagestan (Tat)

3. Persian Farsi is also widely spoken in various other countries

Some of the most common are:

  • Uzbekistan
  • Iraq
  • Turkmenistan (as Tajik)
  • Russia
  • Azerbaijan

It’s also spoken widely in the United Kingdom and other western countries with a significant number of Iranian diaspora communities, though only usually within the communities themselves.

4. Depending on the country, Persian is written in several different scripts

In Iran and Afghanistan, they use the Persian alphabet. Tajikistan uses the Tajik alphabet, and some other areas use the Hebrew alphabet.

5. In its old forms of Middle Persian and Old Persian, it was the language of several different Asian Empires

It was the official language of the Sasanian Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, and several others in Western, Central, and South Asia.

6. Persian was the first language to overtake Arabic in several eastern courts in the Muslim world

Even the Ottomans in Asia Minor used Persian Farsi for their bureaucratic language.

7. There are twenty-nine letter-sounds in Persian Farsi

Six of these are vowels and 29 are consonants.

8. Persian Farsi is entirely gender neutral

Like English, there is no grammatical gender in Persian Farsi, unlike in many languages across the world. However, Persian Farsi takes it a step further – there are no natural gender markers, either. The same pronoun is used to refer to both male and female subjects.

9. A lot of word formation in Persian Farsi comes from building from base stems

Nouns, affixes, adjectives, and stems can combine in different ways to make entirely different words of lots of different forms. This can mean nouns, adjectives, infinitives, participles, or more. One researcher estimated that around 230 million words can be derived just from existing roots.

10. A large number of English words initially had a Persian influence or even direct loan

Here are 8 interesting examples!

WordEnglish meaningPersian originPersian meaning
AssassinMurderer-for-hireAsaasiaanCommon name for a group of political assassins
BazaarMarketBazarDirect lift from “market”
CandySweet confectionaryFrom qand via Arabic and FrenchSugar
JasminePlant, fragranceYasminName of the plant
OrangeFruit, colorNārange and NārangeFor the fruit and color
PistachioCashew nutPistah via Greek and LatinThe small pistah tree
TulipFlowerDulband via FrenchTulip family of flowers

11. Both “Persian” and “Farsi” ultimately come from the same root word

1 ->2 ->3 ->4
Old Persian: Pārsa, (Persia, refers to modern-day Fars)Greek: Περσίς (Persis, Hellenized form of Pārsa)Latin: Persiānus (adjective of Persia)English: Persian
Middle Persian: Pārsik / PārsiArabic influence turned /p/ to /f/: PārsiModern day Persian: Farsi

12. The regulatory body of Persian Farsi prefers that English speakers stick to “Persian” as the language name while “Farsi” is used in the east

The Academy of Persian Language and Literature (APLL) states that ‘Persian’ better expresses the importance of the language in the continued culture and nationality of the area in English and western languages. Nevertheless, “Farsi” has also become more common in English in recent decades to refer specifically to Persian Farsi.

13. Persian is a member of the Southwestern Iranian language family

Apart from all other dialects of Persian, its sister languages include: Northwestern Fars, Khuzestani, Sivandi, Judeo-Shirazi, Bashkardi, and others. 

Its “cousin” languages exist within two Northwestern language groups (Kurdic and Northwestern II), Semnani and offshoots, and Caspian languages.

These languages are all Neo-Iranian, which in themselves are descended from the Middle Iranian language groups of Southwest Iranian (Middle Persian, now extinct) and Northwest Iranian (Parthian, now extinct). 

In turn, Middle Iranian evolved from two Old Iranian language groups: Southwest (Old Persian, extinct), and Northwest (Median, extinct).

14. Persian verbs are very regular and almost all can be conjugated in the same way, though there are a few irregularities.

This is unlike English, which is very irregular in its grammatical rules.

15. There are around ten verb tenses in Persian

This is a smaller number than English, which has 12.

16. Accented syllables in Persian dictate pronunciation

An accented later indicates both a lift in pitch and an emphasis on stress in almost all cases, though some tend toward one or the other.

17. Persian speakers are sometimes called Persophones in English

The root of this is considered a possible etymological link to the Greek goddess Persephone and/or the Greek nymph Perseis, whose names may have been linked to perseis, meaning “female Persian”. However, this is a tenuous and disputed link.

18. There are many extremely famous examples of Persian literature from the Middle Ages known worldwide

Some of them include:

  • The epic poem Shahnameh
  • The poetry of Rumi
  • The poetry from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the astronomer-poet
  • Manṭiq-uṭ-Ṭayr (The Speech of the Birds)
  • The Khamsa or Panj Ganj, five treasured poems of Ganjavi

Final Thoughts

As a language spread around Asia and dotted around history in huge ways, Persian Farsi is one of the most interesting linguistic studies for those getting started in knowledge about language. There are hundreds of facts, words, and figures out there – all of them just waiting for you!

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