Persian language is one of the most important and key elements of Iranian identity. The language is considered as Iran’s official and national language. Since long time ago, Persian Language has been very influential in other countries such as India and former Ottoman Empire. It is said that when Shah Esmail Safavi send a piece of poem in Azerbaijani language to Ottoman Sultan during one of his wars, the king sent a Persian poem in response.

All you need to know about Persian language 

The identity of Persian language is beyond Iran’s borders, for instance, it was spoken by Indian people under Gourkanid reign before the British colonization of India. Nowadays, people in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan speak Farsi or Persian.

Persian is a branch of Indo-European languages, and a sub-branch of Indio-Iranian language. Its history traces back to ancient times when it was spoken by ancient Iranians. In fact, the current Persian language is comprised of two dialects: Dari and Farsi. Dari is mainly spoken in Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and Farsi is spoken in many regions of Iran.

Pashto (which is another Iranian language) and Dari are two official languages of Afghanistan. Dari is called also Farsi in Afghanistan, while it is mostly referred to as Farsi in Iran. In general, there are few differences between formal Dari and Farsi. In comparison to Iranian Farsi which often uses French loan words, Dari uses more English borrowed words. Linguists in Iran have always tried to reduce the influence of English terminology in Farsi.

Pashto, on the other hand, is a different language than Dari or Farsi. Pashto and Dari both use the Arabic alphabet which consists of 28 letters. Dari has added 4 letters of its own to the Arabic alphabet making it 32 letters, and Pashto has added 12 letters to the Arabic alphabet making it 40 letters.

Languages and dialects in Iran

The Persian language, also known as Farsi is the national language of the country. However, there are other languages and dialects spoken in the country. For instance, Turkish language and dialects (spoken by 18% of the population), Kurdish (10%), Gilaki and Mazandarani (7% combined), Luri (6%), Arabic (2%), and Balochi (2%) are also spoken.

In addition to the widely spoken languages, Circassian, Hebrew, Armenian, Assyrian, and Georgian are spoken by less than 1% of the total population of Iran.

The Azerbaijani language that is spoken in Iran belongs to the Western Oghuz family. It is a branch of the Turkic language family and is related to Turkish and Crimean Tatar.

The Kurdish language is spoken by the Kurds. This language belongs to the Northwestern Iranian subgroup of the Indo-European language family.

Is Farsi the same as Arabic?

Due to the similar script they both use, it might be easy to assume that Persian language and Arabic are related. However, a quick study of language families reveals that Persian is an Indo-European language whereas Arabic is a Semitic one.

Prior to the Islamic conquest, Old and Middle Persian were written in such scripts as Old Persian Cuneiform, Pahlavi, Aramaic, and Avestan. It was the Tahirid Dynasty who replaced Pahlavi with the Arabic script in the 9th century.

The 32-letter alphabet used today includes four letters which do not exist in Arabic: P (like powder), CH (like in chair), G (like in golf), and ZHE (like the j in déjà vu). Even though Modern Persian has many loan words from Arabic—much in the same way that English does from French—to call them the same or even mutually intelligible is a gross mistake.

Despite the triumph of Islam, Iran has retained its language, identity, and traditions distinguishing it from neighboring Arab countries.

Persian Literature

Persian literature spans two and a half millennia, and surviving works in Old Persian or Middle Persian date back to as far as 522 BCE. The bulk of the surviving Persian literature, however, comes from the times following the Islamic conquest of Persia circa 650 CE. After the Abbasids came to power (750 CE), Iranians became the scribes and bureaucrats of the Islamic empire and, increasingly, also its writers and poets.

The influence of Persian literature on World literature

William Shakespeare has referred to Iran as the “land of sophism”. Some Iranian well-known medieval poets were Sufis, and their poetry was, and is, widely read by Sufis from Morocco to Indonesia. Rumi (Maulānā) in particular is renowned both as a poet and as the founder of a widespread Sufi ideology. The themes and style of this Sufi poet have been widely imitated by many subsequent Sufi poets.

Many notable texts in Persian mystic literature are in the form of prose and highly readable and regarded. Among those are ‘Kimiya-ye sa’ādat’ and ‘Asrar al-Tawhid’.

Persian literature was little known in the West before the nineteenth century. It became much better known following the publication of several translations of the works of late medieval Persian poets. They have inspired various Western poets and writers.

  • In 1819, Goethe published his West-östlicher Divan, a collection of lyric poems inspired by the German translation of Hafiz (1326–1390).
  • A selection from Ferdowsi’s ‘Shahnameh’ (935–1020) was published in 1832 by James Atkinson, a physician employed by the British East India Company. A portion of this abridgment was later verified by the British poet Matthew Arnold in his 1853 ‘Rustam and Sohrab’.
  • The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was another admirer of Persian poetry. He published several essays in 1876 that discuss Persian poetry: Letters and Social Aims, From the Persian of Hafiz, and ‘Ghaselle’.

Contemporary Persian literature

In the nineteenth century, Persian literature experienced dramatic changes and entered a new era. The beginning of this change was an incident in the mid-nineteenth century at the court of Nasereddin Shah, when the reformist Prime Minister, Amir Kabir, chastised the poet ‘Habibollah Qa’ani’ for “lying” in a panegyric poem written in Amir Kabir’s honor. Amir Kabir saw poetry in general and the type of poetry that had developed during the Qajar period as detrimental to “progress” and “modernization” in Iranian society, which he believed was in dire need of change. Such concerns were also expressed by others such as Fath-‘Ali Akhundzadeh, Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, and Mirza Malkom Khan. Mirza Malkom Khan also addressed the need for a change in Persian poetry in literary terms as well, always linking it to social concerns.