1. There’s not just one Persian.
Now, the point that I think has the most relevance to the difficulty of learning Persian. Persian can be categorized into 3 categories. Official Written Persian, Everyday Spoken Persian (or Fractured Persian as I like to call it), and the written form of Everyday Spoken Persian (this one is not very important by itself, more on that below).
First, the Official Written Persian (OWP from now on). OWP is the language taught at schools. It is the language of the newspapers and the scientific books. It is also the language of most of the works of literature (or part of them, again, more on that later). OWP is a very well structured language, has no genders, and doesn’t have any weird verb tenses (i.e. no “you will have received it” tenses). There is no built-in formality structures in the language. It sounds very beautiful (or so I’ve heard, this is not something on which I can form an opinion) and all in all it should be a rather easy language to learn.
Second, the Everyday Spoken Persian (ESP from now on), or the Fractured Persian. A lot of things change, when Persian is spoken. A lot of /ɒː/ sounds are ‘fractured’ (or curved) into /uː/. For a lot of verbs, the consonant at the end is dropped and the previous vowel is replaced by /e̞/. A lot of vowel-consonant-vowel constructions are just replaced by just one of the vowels. And a lot more changes. I Also have to note that these changes are very irregular, even on a personal level (my sister curves the word for breakfast but not the one for family, my brother curves the word for family but not the one for breakfast, I curve them both, and this is really true not just a hypothetical situation). If you are wondering how all these stuff happened, you may find your answer below. This is one of the reasons that make me think people should only learn OWP at first, if they want to learn Persian.
Thank you so much for this post Catherine. You are the first Persian-speaking person I've encountered who understands this.
I have been trying to learn Persian for about 18 months - I believe I am a person of at least average intelligence - yet sometimes I feel like I'm getting nowhere! It literally drives me to tears!
When I tell Persian people that they don't have one language but TWO
(or three if you count the written form of the ESP) they laugh and say "You just have to learn a few simple rules" - which is completely and utterly untrue.
I agree with your recommendation to learn the OWP and that's what I've been doing. I've made some progress in this area and it's what keeps me going.
Of course when Persian people speak, it's mostly gibberish to me because they are not speaking their own language properly, but interestingly Afghan people who don't speak Tehran slang are not so hard to understand.
I try to explain the situation to Persian people like this ...
In Australia we often speak a slang version of English. For example, we say things like "YousegunnathefootySundy?" which in English means "Are you going to the football on Sunday?".
But it's slang - we know it's slang - it's frowned upon and we don't try to pass it off as the "Official spoken version of English". Somehow, Iranians have gotten away with butchering their own language (just as we Australians have) and somehow managing to have it recognised as an accepted way of speaking. A great feat indeed - but it means that anyone who wants to learn Persian has to be forewarned that they will actually be learning TWO languages - not one.
It's such a relief to find a native Persian speaker who recognises this.
Now I know it's not just me