Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Language Profile: Persian

This week we're taking a look at Persian, a member of the Iranian language family. Historically, it was an important lingua franca in certain parts of the Islamic world and was used by several Islamic dynasties. Famous Italian merchant traveler Marco Polo is even said to have spoken the language when he met with Kublai Khan. In the present day it is used as the liturgical language of Islam in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan.

The Fann Mountains of Tajikistan.
There are several dialects of Persian, including one specific to each of the countries in which it has official language status. Iran is home to Farsi, the most widely spoken dialect of the language. In Afghanistan, the language is known as Dari, and shares the position of official language alongside Pashto. Dari, however, is considered to be the country's lingua franca. Finally, a modern dialect of Persian known as Tajik or Tajiki is the official language of Tajikistan.

Despite each country using different dialects with distinct names, most speakers of the Persian language have a high level of mutual intelligibility no matter where they're from. There are naturally some small differences in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, but in the end their dialects are about as similar as British English and American English.

There is one large difference among the three countries as to how they use Persian though, and that is found in how they each write the language. In Iran and Afghanistan, the language is written using the Persian alphabet, which is an adapted form of the Arabic alphabet with four additional letters to represent the sounds [p], [t͡ʃ], [ʒ], and [g]. In Tajikistan, on the other hand, the language is written using the Tajik alphabet, which is a Cyrillic-based script!