If Ferdowsi Lived Today

How can anyone doubt the competency of Persian?


If Ferdowsi Lived Today
by Ghahremani

There are too many books out there with a desperate attempt at giving the dying Persian language a useless CPR. So far all I’ve learned is that regardless of what I do, my beautiful mother tongue will continue to erode with time and soon it may not be the poetic heritage that I have known and loved. No two books agree on what the problem is and most are so focused on previous damages that they seem impervious to what is happening right now.

More and more research is done to revive the pure Persian vocabulary so that once again they can take their rightful place which for centuries has been occupied by Arabic. This is admirable, but I am sadly reminded of a building tented to fight old termites while there’s a flood on the way! The grave damage done by the Arab influence has left its scars and we are so wrapped up in passionate resentment that it has blinded us to the new blows. I can’t help but ask myself, is there a difference?

Devout children of Ferdowsi seem to have finally awakened to the fact that their language has paid a dear price for their ignorance over the centuries, beginning with the Arab invasion in the seventh century. It may have taken us too long to finally become aware of the need to repair the damage, but do we realize that the true salvage of Persian language will require the prevention of a repeat? As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Now that we know how hard it is to “cure” is anyone trying to prevent a similar dilemma for our future generations?

Ferdowsi, the 11th century poet of Khorassan did more than his share of awakening and his words had offered more than enough to cure the ailing tongue. Alas, his message did not reach enough ears as it is only now that we hear some of what he tried to tell us. Whether it was the fear of powers at the time or fascination with a new faith that caused the damage is now immaterial. Times have changed and some of our pure Persian words are so foreign to us that they may sound strange, if not comical. I recently learned how to use the new-old words and I know it’s going to take some time to get used to it. I have a feeling that for years to come, words such as Khodrow for a car will continue to sound comical.

We may try hard to sift Arabic words out of our language, but are we at all concerned about other influences and the damage they’re doing? If “Tashakkor” is not acceptable, do we still continue our “merci’ or are we now switching to “Thanks”? Is “Sepaas” a funny word? And what about the very Persian “Ta’arof?” Do we have a new word for it? I laugh out loud when someone says, “Ajab cooleh” because not only is this a mixture of three languages, it also happens to use the wrong grammar in all three!

My American friend and I recently spent a day at an Iranian festival. When friends stopped by to chat, I apologized to her for speaking Persian.

“No need to apologize,” she said and smiled, “ I can somehow gather a general sense of your conversations.”

That came as a huge surprise. “You know Persian?” I asked.

“No, but you guys use enough English words in between!”

We do that, don’t we? All you need to convince you is an Insurance commercial on the Iranian radio. I believe we’re “okay” on this or do I need to say more?

Having failed miserably at teaching my own children, the dreamer in me enjoys the vision that someday, our great-grandchildren may aspire to once again revive their true language. I pray for them and hope they will have enough resources and better luck than we have. I can just see them dropping an “Oops” here and there and laughing at how funny the Persian “voy” sounds. They will feel as ridiculous about calling the beloved “joonam- my life – as I did the first time my husband called me “honey”- which up to that point had been breakfast.

The truth is, languages change, but ours seems to change at a faster pace than most. Is it because Iranians are too impressionable? Or could it be that we aim too hard to please?

Some go as far as claiming that because Persian is such an incomplete language, it will forever need help. Ferdowsi would beg to differ, as he didn’t need help from another tongue to write his magnificent 60,000 verses. With our wealth of poetic literature, how can anyone doubt the competency of Persian? What would Ferdowsi have to say about the way we have shredded his beloved language?

The truth is, we may just be too lazy. After all, despite centuries of cultural invasions, the word “Tanbal” –lazy – seems to remain strong, as no foreign word has even come close to replacing it! Ferdowsi took thirty years to fight the battle for Parsi, will we take a minute to think?

Zohreh Ghahremani is the author of Sky of Red Poppies, winner of One Book, One San Diego 2012.


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Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

It is sometimes

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


hard to know what the roots of a word are. What is Arabic may have Persian roots and vice versa. My favorite line from George W. Bush "French don't have a word for entrepreneur".

For those who are unfamiliar "entrepreneur". The word entrepreneur comes from the 13th century French verb entreprendre, meaning to do something or to undertake. Well so much for language purity and so on. 

When you live right next to each other over 3000 years words mix. They go back and forth to a point it is sometimes impossible to tell the roots. Do we have nothing better than to argue whether Shahnameh has 3 % Arabic or 6 %?




by Ghahremani on

Dear Khengali:

(Nice pen name!) From what I understand, our current alphabet derived from Arabic - with the exception of the symbols that signify their vowels. My concern about further deterioration of our language isn't the alphabet because that's already done. I now worry that in our anti-Arabic rush - which I do support - we should also be mindful of other damages being done through the daily use of other popular languages.

I have wholeheartedly invited others to this discussion. As for Shahnameh, I decided to put the question to a few scholars and would like to share the comment below coming from a Ferdowsi expert. Based on this, I stand corrected in my belief that Ferdowsi never used Arabic. However, this also leaves the door open for the hypothesis that the Arabic derivatives he used were indeed too familiar to be distinguished from true Persian. This has been most enlightening and just goes to show, we never stop learning!

". . . it  depends upon which edition one uses, but
the critical editions contain about 7% Arabic-derived 
vocabulary (whether Ferdowsi perceived the words as Arabic, is of course a separate question that we have to answer on a case-by-case basis.  For example, most every
American would identify perfectly well established English phrases like
or coup d'etat or hors d'oeuvres or cafe au lait
as being French, but they would probably not identify information,nation, address, etc. as French, because they are now so much a central
part of English.
 In any case, the 7% is a very low
percentage compared to later Persian texts - say, for example, a ghazal from
the Safavid era might have about 25% Arabic vocabulary, whereas a text
about Sufism or philosophy from the 18th century might have about 
45 to 60% Arabic-derived vocabulary." 


18 pt
18 pt


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Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Re: Shahnameh Alphabet

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


It iis pseudo Arabic meaning it was enhanced to have sounds missing in Arabic. Rudaki gets some credit for its development and use. For more information please see:


Other Persian speaking nations under Russian rule used Cyrillic alphabet. The Middle Persian alphabet was Din Dabire aka Avestan and variants of Aramaic.



Dear Ghahremani What is

by khengali on

Dear Ghahremani

What is the alphabet used by which to write Ferdowsi's Shahnameh and to read Ferdowsi's Shahnameh?.

Why do I ask? because some call it Arabic alphabet and some call it Persian alphabet. What say you?



Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Dear COP

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I am not so sure about the damage. I was talking to some friends who were visiting from Iran. I told them I was going to "salmani" to get a hair cut. My friend right out of Iran corrected me  to say "arayeshgah".

When I said "Khoda hafez" they replied "Khoda negahdar". This is obviously a small sample. But may be a reaction to what you say the government is promoting. Best way to get people to not do something it to push it on them!

If the government pushed Persian words everyone will use Arabic. If the government pushes Arabic everyone will use Persian. It is in human nature (risking generalization) we Iranians are particularly yek dandeh.


More now than ever before

by Cost-of-Progress on

The past 3 decades have done great harm to our culture, identity and language and what remained of it. Just open a newspaper in Iran and see if you can get through a few lines without saying to yourself "what does that word mean, what does this word mean?". The use of gholombe solombeh (VPK's words) arabic words have skyrocketed in the past 30 years. So, if we were in trouble before, we are in deep do do now!




Anahid Hojjati

Good point VPK

by Anahid Hojjati on

you wrote:" What bugs me is not that people say "fekr" or "vaght". It is when they speak such golombeh solombeh Arabic words. When as a Farsi speaker I am not able to get it without an Arabic dictionary.  There are people who think "educated" means using obscure (in Farsi) Arabic words. "

This is an excellent point. I also have little problem with Arabic words who have been used for decades and are part of our literature. However, what you note about using obscure Arabic words in Farsi, that is a bad practice, particularly when same people try to find equivalent words in Farsi for technical words.

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

A few responses

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


  • Writing this article in English makes perfect sense. Because many of IC readers are not even Iranian. Children of Iranian diaspora may not speak Persian. Most of them have trouble with Farsi script. It is the ideas that matter.
  • It is perfectly reasonable to want to have fewer Arabic words in Farsi. You don't have to speak Pahlavi (Middle Persian) to desire this. Many Jews who revived Hebrew in Israel did not speak it well originally. They learned it.
  • Arabic in Shahnameh is another "red herring". First of all the vast majority of Shahnameh is in Persian that is beyond dispute. The Arabic verses may well have been added later on. Just as praises of Shia Imams most likely were added. Now assume Shahnameh does have 1 or even 5 % Arabic: who cares? I still prefer to have Farsi transform into more Persian and less Arabic.

Yes I may have trouble finding a word to replace "vaght" with "hangam". But in time it is possible. You don't get there if you don't try and it is worth it. What bugs me is not that people say "fekr" or "vaght". It is when they speak such golombeh solombeh Arabic words. When as a Farsi speaker I am not able to get it without an Arabic dictionary.  There are people who think "educated" means using obscure (in Farsi) Arabic words. If you want decent modern Persian read Kasravi; it is a pleasure to do.


Mrs Ghahremani

by Roger_Rabbit on

I am writing in the language with which you seem to be more comfortable, which is a sad irony really: urging the revival of "original Persian" while writing in English! Would you be kind and please name a few of those "experts" (together with their corresponding sources if possible) who, as you say, have disputed the originality of the verses in the link I provided in my last comment? Thanks 

Tiger Lily

I feel obliged to ask:

by Tiger Lily on

are you the writer who asked everyone to vote for your book?

If so, did you ever thank all those who voted for your book? (I'm not one of them, I'm just asking)

Soosan Khanoom

Afsaneh Jan good to see you

by Soosan Khanoom on

I want you to know you have been greatly missed and your contribution is very valuable. 

I hope you reconsider and continue with your hafez blog as well.  

welcome back 

: ) 

Hafez for Beginners


by Hafez for Beginners on

Zohreh jan - not to mention as a PS to my below post, that this "losing" is only happening in the diaspora community that represents around 5% of Iran.

Last time I was in Iran, a mere 2 years ago, the language was alive and kicking!

It's like saying just because Al Pacino's Italian is rusty, then the Italian language is falling apart. It isn't. I visit Italy regularly and they speak it as beautifully as always.

Personally, I'm glad you keep your literary heritage alive. Within the diaspora's under 45 year-olds - knowledge of the Persian Masters - stands at around 3-5%. That worries me more, than how much English they are peppering into their tongue. The English know their Shakespeare, the Italians know their Verdi, and our community abroad is severed from the knowledge of being the birthplace of one of the world's #1 rated literary traditions. We proudly wear the "Hakhamaneshi" necklace, while clueless as to what it actually represents. I'm more worried about severance from what "Persian" actually means (aside from vacuous "pride") -- than a few English words being thrown in.

In our Hafez classes, if the students feel better equipped to express themselves in English, having been born here - I don't stop them. There's more to being "Persian" than speaking "Persian", and if they can "get" the poem and express their feelings for the profound concepts present in them, in English, that's fine. They learn the poem itself in Persian of course. Being Persian is a sentiment to me, beyond speaking, alone. I focus on the students understanding the profound "mysticism" of Persian culture, and whether in Japanes, English or Spanish, I could facilitate that. Those who then can study the poem in its authentic language, too - have an added edge.

(Which is why I encourage friends to teach their kids how to read and write. Some of the Hafez students speak fluent farsi, but can't read and write. It's such a shame.) 


95% v. 5% 

Bottom line,  the Persian language itself is alive and well in its homeland where 95% still live. Just as the Italian example. So, maybe this is the sadness of the 5% diaspora community, and less a crisis in the language itself. 

As for the 5% diaspora community - America has seen the Greeks, the Italians, the Germans all lose their mother tongue after 1-2 generations. I'm not going to pretend suddenly that that won't happen to us. But to me, the thing to not lose is your adherance to the Persian contribution to world cultural history. These kids' Farsi will get rustier and rustier, but so long as they know Hafez - (who is a world not just a Persian phenomenon), their Rumi, the profundity of the mysticism of their culture, that's an achievable goal. My students come to 8 classes - and go home with 8 hand-selected Ghazals. I'm not going to stop the "change" that all these other immigrant communities went through - but making sure they don't throw away the basics of their culture, that's something I can do something about.

I hope this perspective helps! Aside from teaching Hafez in my free time, I also have "Persian reading and writng" classes for kids. I don't expect them to speak perfect Farsi, like their Greek or Italian-American friends don't with their native tongues, either. But learning the script would mean when they are 27 and want to figure out what Persian culture represents, via its masters - they could then actually read the poetry via a facilitating class.

Just find something in your heart that makes you feel you're helping with whatever preservation you deem necessary, Zohreh jan. That is always a priceless thing to do, and makes one feel less helpless.

I rarely come to this site anymore - but it was fun to come across this article! Thank you! 


Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Understanding languages

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


I was with two Germans one day. I know English but not German. They were having a private conversation together. It surprised them when I understood about 50%. That does not mean German is the same as English or Farsi. I picked up queues from their body language and similarities between the words. 

Having said that I find it impossible to hold a technical conversation in Farsi. I don't know what C++ object derivations is in Farsi. I have to switch to English. 

Veiled Prophet of Khorasan

Scripts vs language

by Veiled Prophet of Khorasan on


These are two different things. We may write Persian in any of a number of scripts. Just like Turkey switched its alphabet. The true Persian script is Din Dabireh which was invented by the Sassanids and is rarely used today.

As for the pseudo Arabic vs. Latin alphabet who cares? Neither are Persian so we might as well use whatever is the most convenient. I see plenty of Persian writing using the Latin alphabet.

Esfand Aashena

Anahid jaan indeed!

by Esfand Aashena on

There are currently 2 new articles on the front page.  One a poetry and one about the MEK.  Both authors have provided Farsi translations in the belog section!  I don't think they cared about the font or software one bit! 

Everything is sacred

Anahid Hojjati

To add to "Esfand" 's comment

by Anahid Hojjati on

I used to use Zamaneh editor for my Farsi poems but my Farsi typing is even slower than my English typing. So now I use "Behnevis" once in a while. As Esfand also mentioned, the key is to understand that sometimes you have to make corrections when you use Behnevis. It takes an effort and granted that poems are easier than articles, and short stories but it does take an effort, no denying it. I have to say that we are lucky that IC has a good interface for Farsi typing, so you cannot really blame not typing in Farsi on lack of fonts, software or IC. It takes an effort and if people are not familiar enough with language, not aware of all present software and tools, not patient or just don't have time, they should be honest rather than blaming it on software, lack of fonts, etc.

Esfand Aashena

i.com uses only one font.

by Esfand Aashena on

Why do you care about a Persian font when i.com uses only one font?  Whatever font you use when you copy and paste it into the i.com it comes out as the font we currently read in the Farsi articles.

You can use behnevis.com and make changes to the words for the correct spelling, the problem is lazyness!  It takes an effort but it doesn't have to be a long article.  You can start with a small blog or article and if you liked it try something more substantial.

Since using behnevis I've come to like writing in Farsi every now and then, specially in the comments section.  It is very nice and some things are better said in Farsi, more fun!

As for mixing English or Arabic into the "pure" Farsi, it doesn't really matter.  Those who are super sensitive about using pure Farsi will use it and carry the torch until their last dying gasp.  Average people use a language to communicate and have more important things to worry about. 

Everything is sacred


Good point!

by Ghahremani on

Now that's what I call a constructive discussion! What an interesting article.

With my passion for literature, throughout the past forty years of life away from Iran, I have never been without a Persian book at my side - both poetry and prose. And trust me, that wasn't so easy during the late 1970's and early 1980's!

Given a chance, I attend classes, look forward to poetry nights and travel across the country to join literary conferences. Neither distance, nor time has barred me from Iran's contemporary literature - though sometimes that means only reading the winners of Golshiri award and/or memorizing Shafii-Kadkani. There's much to learn and so little time to do so. But sadly, I'm also among what's left of the "old school."

So it should be no surprise to hear me worry about the future of my beautiful language. Reading Hafez and Rumi is great, but there's more, so much more.

Mohammad Ala


by Mohammad Ala on

I am for reviving our language which we call it Persian in English.  Thanks for trying to bring up our short comings. 

Hafez for Beginners

Persian Poetry

by Hafez for Beginners on

This is an interesting article. I wanted to share some facts  Over 60% of English words have Latin (and some Greek) roots


While Ferdowsi was adamant about not using any Arabic, some 350 years later, Hafez is blending Arabic into Persian effortlessly

Ferdowsi surfaces out of the tail end of the first caliphate (Umayyad) 's highly anti-Persian rule. Although the Abbassid's are in power, these guys like Rudaki and Ferdowsi, came up gasping for air

Hafez belongs to an era with the second caliphate (Abbasids) in full swing. The Abbassids had allowed for huge Persian influence, cultural, administrative, etc.  The Persians even convinced their capital to be moved to Baghdad (itself an old Persian word meaning God's justice.) Baghdad became a synthesis of Persian, India, Greek etc. cultures - hence the Golden Age of Islam

In other words... perhaps when changes happen peacefully, people don't show much resistance. Hafez is happy to draw from his Arabic lexicon

And the English language example I threw in, so we don't feel overly sad about change



One way to keep the Persian language alive is to actually study the vast array of Persian literature. No matter how "tanbal" or "lazy" my Hafez student gets, we can only speak Hafez (or Ferdowsi) in the language they were written. So, I did want to calm your fears on that front. Our literary heritage won't have the "car" vs. "khodro" issue - those enormous artisitc ahievements are set in the language that created their beauty

A nice line from Hafez helping us to keep our faith

بی دلی در همه احوال خدا با او بود

او نمیدیدش و از دور خدایا می  کرد

Bi del-i  dar hameh ahval khoda ba ou boud

Ou nemididash, o az door khodaya mikard 

I love the above Beyt. No matter how much our language "evolves" - we'll be speaking Hafez in its authentic and original tongue

(YouTube: "Learning from Hafez in DC") - just for those who're interested

I wanted to contribute to your piece - Zohreh jan. So that some depth could be added to the dicsourse... but I'll go and duck now, as the shrapnel and all that stuff that is fired on this site (the kind of behavior that made us lose Iran in the first place) will soon surely, come. I'd personally rather we weeded out our toxic behavior, than the odd Arabic or English word - if you know what I mean ....  smiles. ..... well, nervous smiles

If we honor our vast literary heritage - which blows my mind with each class that I teach - we will not only experience some of the most beautiful poetry in the world, one of the world's deepest mystical traditions too, but be sure to preserve our culture

In otherwords - by remaining culturally literate, our "Language" won't die. In between the visits to the chelo-kababi, enrol in a Hafez, Sa'adi or Rumi class, too - and our language will stay alive. That's in many ways the beauty of the Shahnameh, too. If Ferdowsi had written a grammar book, it would not have impacted the culture the way it did. Be cultured, don't succumb to a lazy lifestyle,  and you'll speak plenty good Persian. It's our own iliteracy that is killing our language, as much as any foreign invasion



Please don't shoot!

by Ghahremani on

Can't we have a normal discussion without someone flying off the handle? This article is not in "Farsi-e-sareh" because so far none of the experts have succeeded to download a usable Persian font on my computer. Even when we finally do that, I will have a lot to learn on typing.

Thank you for forwarding the link to Ferdowsi's poem, however, many experts believe these versions are not the original. Further elaboration on this will take much more than a couple of paragraphs. I enjoy reading the comments, but for some reason there seems to be a lot of undue anger out there. Trust me, my article is not personal. I simply put a general comment out there - an ovbservation, if you will - and perhaps an invitation for some constructive discussion. it would be nice to hear from those who know more. How wonderful it would be if for once we could keep the discussion civil :-)


خانم جان شما چرا به فارسی‌ سره نمی‌‌نویسی؟


اگر شما توانستی همین متنی را که اینجا نوشتی‌ به فارسی‌ سره بنویسی‌ آنوقت تازه میشود بحث معنی داری کرد. در ضمن برای آگاهی‌ شما توصیه می‌کنم قبل از اینکه در عالم رویا تصور کنید که فردوسی فقط فارسی‌ سره نوشته قدری بیشتر تحقیق فرموده و واژگان شاهنامه را از نو مطالعه کنید:




I dare say konam khedmatetoon...

by پندارنیک on

A definite sign that a marriage  is on the rocks is when one spouse is on the  "ouch" side, while the other is still in "aakh" mode..........

Immortal Guard

We always let nature take its course!

by Immortal Guard on

We always let nature take its course!