Language Profile: Farsi

I. History & Distribution: This Indo-European language, also known as Persian, is the most widely spoken Iranian language. It is also spoken in parts of Afghanistan, where it is called Dari, and elsewhere around the Persian Gulf. Farsi is often discussed in three stages: Old, Middle and Modern. Cuneiform inscriptions from as early as 550 BCE, the dawn of the Achaemenid dynasty (circa 550-330 BCE) show Old Persian, which bares a notable similarity to Sanskrit. Old Persian developed during the Sassanian Empire (226-641 AD) until the Arab conquest in the 7th century. Referred to as Pahlavi in certain Zoroastrian writings, Middle Persian was heavily influenced by central Asian languages and borrowed its orthography from Aramaic. Modern Farsi has gone largely unchanged since the 9th century, and has a more simplified grammar than its predecessors. As a result of the Arab conquest, Farsi adopted the Arabic alphabet to replace the Aramaic one, as well as much of the dominant language’s lexicon.

II. Orthography: Old Persian Cuneiform, Pahlavi, Aramaic, Avestan, Cyrillic, Arabic and Latin alphabets have all been employed at one time or another to express Farsi in writing. Today, Arabic’s distinctive script is most commonly used, though there are also two methods of writing Persian with the Latin alphabet.

III. Phonology: Farsi phonology has only six vowels compared to English’s 16 (yes, there are 16), but its inventory of consonantal sounds is exceedingly rich, particularly in the area of fricatives. To listen to an example of Farsi speech, click here.

IV. Morphology: Farsi is a fairly agglutinative language, meaning it frequently uses morphological means to derive or inflect words. There is no grammatical gender, and verbs may express tense or aspect and must agree with the subject in person and number. Farsi mostly uses suffixes, though there are some prefixes as well.

V. Syntax: Farsi is an SOV language, meaning that sentences as the basic or deep structure level follow the pattern of Subject-Object-Verb. Prepositional Phrases may only follow definite objects.

If you know an 11 to 14-year-old in the Seattle area who would like to learn Persian for FREE from 9 to 3 PM, July 13th to the 24th, please call A.C.E. at (206) 217-9644 or e-mail

To learn more about Farsi, refer to the sources below.

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