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Farsi - Parsi - Booms!

Week 19, Episode 37

It might be that for you, as it was for me, the knowledge about things Persian limits with cats, rugs and the computer game with some fighty prince. You may even know that Persian adopted Arabic script and visually, of course, looks similar to it. But Persian is not Arabic, and some people consider rude this unawareness about how different Arabic and Persian really are.

What came first, Arabic or Persian? And what Farsi has to do with all of it? In order to avoid embarrassment and hurting somebody's feelings, let's learn several important facts about the Persian language:

  • Persian language is the language of people in Iran, Afganistan (officially known as Dari) and Tajikistan (written in cyrillics and called the Tajiki language).
  • It is called Farsi by its native speakers which is the Arabic pronunciation of the word "Parsi", meaning the language of Pars people (Persians), pronounced with "f" for the lack of "p" sound in Arabic. So yeah, Farsi = Persian.
  • Persian is written in Arabic script. Why? Because in the 7th century Arabs invaded Persian Empire, starting what is known in Iran as "Two Centuries of Silence." The Arabic script was adopted replacing the specific Aramaic-derived script, the Pahlavi script.
  • It is difficult to differ by look Arabic from Persian because they look so similar. But there are some tricks you may want to consider:

Texts written in Arabic (on the left) and in Persian (on the right)

  1. There are no letters in Arabic with three dots below them, only in Persian.
  2. "The chicken" letter in Arabic—the last one, ي (Ya)—in the final or isolated position has "legs"(two dots below it), in Persian the similar letter—the last one, ی (Ye)—doesn't have any dots.
  3. The vocabulary is different in Arabic and Persian.
  4. There are 32 letters in the Persian alphabet and 28 letters in the Arabic. These 4 additional letters—pe (پ), che (چ), že (ژ), and gâf (گ)—do not exist in Arabic, so if you see them, you're reading Farsi.
  5. The sign that looks like an inverted two, hamze (ء), is not written above or below an alef (ا), unlike in Arabic.
  • Persian is written, just as the Arabic language, from right to left.
  • About 30-40% of the words in Persian are either Arabic words or derived from Arabic roots.
  • In Farsi words are formed by adding different affixes and suffixes to a stem.

As you see, though it looks Arabic, it sounds Persian. And not only pronunciation is different. These two languages originate in different families: Arabic is a Semitic language, like Hebrew, for example, while Persian is Indo-European, like English. They say it is easier to an English speaking person to learn Farsi than Arabic—now you can see why ;)

Using as an example languages we've encountered insofar on our Langventure, it is like Swedish and Finnish that have identical alphabets but, boy, how different they are!

Doesn't it amaze you how the language that appeared about 12 centuries before Arabic was influenced by the latter? I mean, they are so distinct, not even related in any way, and yet to the eye they seem almost brothers. What a trick! Farsi–Parsi–Booms!

Now that you know that they're not, I invite you to go deeper into Farsi as the magic continues...

!دست بردار (Des-behr-dehr) Come on!

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Read more about Persian and other languages at

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