Lycopersicon - Persian, Arabic, Latin, Italian

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Lycopersicon
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Lycopersicon - Persian, Arabic, Latin, Italian

Postby Lycopersicon » Tue Feb 02, 2021 4:15 pm

I have never been very successful at keeping a diary, let alone a language learning diary. Thus, I feel I have to confess up front that assiduity is not exactly my forte.

We learners are typically disposed to indulge in procrastination and I’m quite embarrassed to think that I have made an art out of it.

Nothing new under the sun here though, as instructors have lamented their students’ lack of diligence since times immemorial. As I recall, Assyriologist Samuel Noah Kramer even described* how 4000 years ago Sumerian pupils would readily slack and skip scribe school (exposing themselves to harsh corporal punishment in the process), very much to their parents’ despair.

Anyhow, I hope you will forgive me for starting this introduction with such platitudes.

However, I would like to quote the words of a very iconic Renaissance artist:

« Disegna Antonio, disegna Antonio, disegna e non perder tempo** ».

None other than Michelangelo himself wrote this sentence on a sheet of paper that had been handed to him by Antonio Mini, one of his students.

Now, while it’s true that the artist’s intention was to scold Antonio for his egregious attempt at copying a Madonna and Child practice drawing (and the Florentine maestro was said to be a very short-tempered man, so there’s that, too), I think that this comment of his does resonate on a deeper level as well.

Michelangelo could have lectured his apprentice on minute technical details, providing ample stylistic corrections and artistic guidance in the process. Yet he chose not do so, and I find this to be astonishing (and as the Ancients said, wisdom begins in wonder). Isn’t there something to be said about simplicity? After all, we can philosophize all we want about hypothetical courses of action but in the end, we know that what really matters the most is dedication.

This is why I will simply try to follow the master’s advice. I will not impose myself to follow any sort of schedule or method. Rather, my only ambition here is to observe a very basic regimen of daily study. I will not rely on any specific learning material. I will not force myself to do grammar exercises if I don’t feel the need to. Flexibility and regularity will be my credo.

Do not expect to discover any sort of new, disruptive learning strategy here: you will be sorely frustrated. Instead, you will more likely come across a jumble of fragments that may not come together very well.

What I really want to do is go on a journey, an intellectual jaunt of sorts across the Republic of Letters. I want to allow myself to wander and stop and admire the mindscape whenever the fancy strikes.

The aim of this log is therefore to share my observations and record my discoveries.

I cannot guarantee that the material I will post here will be of interest to a large audience. If there’s anything that life has taught me, it’s that people rarely go out of their way to unearth sapiential texts that were written a dozen centuries ago.

With that said, I will try my best to make my modest findings accessible and appealing.

I will also tell more about my language plans in subsequent posts. Stay healthy all! ;)

* History Begins at Sumer
** “Draw Antonio, draw, draw and don’t waste time!”
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Lycopersicon
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Re: Lycopersicon - Persian, Arabic, Latin, Italian

Postby Lycopersicon » Fri Feb 05, 2021 7:57 pm

Now, let’s get down to more concrete considerations. I suggest we have a look at the languages I plan to focus on this year.

Persian

Persian is the most rewarding language I have ever studied. Learning it was a real challenge, to say the least, but the recompense has been immense (and this is an understatement).

Whilst my study of English and Italian had been almost effortless, Persian turned out to be on a whole other level. I am aware that Persian has the reputation of being an “easy” language, but it absolutely was not a simple one. The paucity of study materials was a major hindrance, too. Anyone learning Persian in 2021 is spoilt! Although more than ten years have passed since I first opened my copy of Assimil’s Le Persan, I am still as enthusiastic about the language as I ever was on day one.

Although I don’t really need to ‘study’ Persian actively now that I’m reasonably comfortable with it, I still want to dig deeper into the culture. I am fascinated by the literature, so the program which I propose myself to follow is centered around classical Persian (I do believe that the spirit of Persianate civilization lies in its belles-lettres).

So, what I am going to do is go through the Haft Peykar / هفت پیکر.

The Haft Peykar is a romance that was written in the last years of the 12th century CE by Nezami of Ganja / نظامی گنجوی. Nezami was a poet who lived under the patronage of an obscure local ruler in the South Caucasus. The title of the book means ‘The Seven Beauties'. It is a retelling of the legendary story of king Bahram, who actually held sovereignty over the realms of Iran between 420 and 438.

Nezami’s romance is more than a mere history, though. In fact, the saga of Bahram is nothing but a pretext to embark on a metaphorical ascension through the seven orbs of sky, mirroring the Miraj of prophet Muhammad. So, you could say that we are dealing with a spiritual treatise but the Haft Peykar is still much more than just that. For one, the verses are openly didactical and a very large number of subjects are touched upon, from alchemy to anthropology.

Now, whilst I have already been through a few excerpts in the original (including most of the tale of the Indian princess) before, I have never read the whole work from cover to cover. It is going to be a challenge, as native speakers themselves have difficulty in penetrating the intricate layers of meanings. I will rely on Michael Barry’s incredible translation into French for reference. Barry’s work is followed by an erudite commentary which is worth the price of the book in and of itself.

Although the Haft Peykar will be my main focus, I might also have a look at a few other books. Nizam al-Mulk’s Siyasat Nameh / سیاست‌نامه comes to mind (it is a 11th century treatise on government), but I also have a copy of the History of Ghazan (تاریخ مبارک غازانی), which is a history of the Mongols (and if I'm not mistaken it's one of the most important sources we have on mongol history). As far as contemporary fiction is concerned, I’m reading Ahmad Mahmoud’s Hamsaye-ha / همسایه ها (a very realistic story set in Ahvaz in the 1950s, about the struggles of the underprivileged class in the context of the nationalization of the oil industry).

Italian

Italian is somewhat of a heritage language for me, although I only really began to study it formally when I started high school. I have shamefully neglected it for years and would like to reclaim it now. I can understand spoken and written Italian very well, but my grammar is a tad rusty and my active vocabulary is a pale shadow of its former self.

What I plan to do is to simply read on a daily basis. Nothing very intensive, just enough to re-familiarize myself with the language. I might also work on the grammar occasionally. I think I will also follow Roberto Trizio’s Youtube channel about Roman history. It should make for interesting listening practice.

Latin

Latin was my main focus in 2020. I have worked on it really hard and can now read both prose and poetry with relative ease. I had already studied Latin for 6 years at school but had somehow forgotten most of it, which is a shame considering that I was able to translate Virgil by the time I was finishing high school.

I have worked through the LLPSI curriculum very thoroughly, having completed both Familia Romana and Roma Aeterna. I am currently trying to go through all of the ancillary readers. To give you a better idea, I am now halfway through the Ars Amatoria. Once I am done with Ovid, I will go after the Catilina and the De Rerum Natura readers.

Arabic

Arabic is going to be this year’s number one challenge! I am very, very excited about it.

I am currently working through the Manuel d’Arabe Moderne (written by Luc-Willy Deheuvels). I have actually already finished the first volume. It’s a very nice introduction to the language. You get to read adapted literary texts relatively early, which is very motivating. The grammar notes have been straightforward and useful so far. The recordings are also quite nice, I think the speakers have a slight Maghrebi accent (but I’m not 100% sure).

The author focuses solely on the written language though, which means that conversational topics are not covered (so you are not really taught how to introduce yourself or how to order a coffee, for example). This is not really a drawback as far as I am concerned, I would much rather engage in mundane conversation using a dialect.

Talking about dialects, I have yet to decide which one I would eventually like to pursue. On one hand, part of my family comes from Tunisia and learning Tunisian Arabic would be majorly cool (my late grandfather, who was born in Tunis, was actually fluent in it). Maghrebi dialects are also very, very commonly spoken here in France so the idea of being able to actually use the language on a daily basis and talk to people sounds very exciting.

But then, it’s undeniable that Egyptian has the best learning materials. And Egyptians are a merry bunch, my best Arab friend is from Egypt.

Anyway! Now that I’m done with volume 1, I’m focusing on the grammar. I’m using All The Arabic You Never Learned The First Time Around. It’s an excellent book! My priority is to get familiar with all the verbal forms so that I can start reading more independently as soon as possible. I have been quizzing myself on defective verbs every day :lol:

Arabic verbs have been the only major roadblock so far, but then I have to admit that my knowledge of Persian is helping tremendously. I can actually already sort of get the gist of most news articles. This is something people who are interested in middle-eastern languages should reflect upon. Once you know one of the major languages of the region, the others come much more easily because the shared vocabulary is just huge. When you look at Persian and Arabic, you can spot thousands of common words that are written exactly the same and sound quite similar. And it's not just about the vocabulary either. Think about it, broken plurals are even used in Persian! Even idioms and syntax look quite familiar and of course the shared cultural contex is also a bonus.
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Re: Lycopersicon - Persian, Arabic, Latin, Italian

Postby Lycopersicon » Tue Feb 09, 2021 5:06 pm

Persian

So, I came across a very interesting discussion on proficiency testing in the general language discussion section. My interest was picked when forum member Gordafarin2 mentioned the DLI's Onlie Diagnostic Assessment. It seems to be the only reliable online proficiency test that is available for less commonly taught languages like Persian.

I took the reading comprehension test and apparently, my proficiency level estimate is 3 or higher. I'm not sure what this means exactly, but it's on the higher end of the scale so I have decided to celebrate :twisted:

The test was very, very, very long. The excerpts are mostly taken from newspapers, nothing too advanced or specialised. Some of the questions clearly demanded a very precise understanding of the nuances of the texts, though.

I got 66,67% on content questions but scored much higher on linguistic questions at 87,88%. I would have thought that my understanding of the content was going to be higher, but I guess I also have to take into account that English isn't my native language so it's quite likely my answers might have lacked precision.

Not sure I'm going to take the listening test as well, I just don't have the patience to sit in front the computer for another three hours.

Anyway, I have started reading Haft Peykar / هفت پیکر. I'm roughly halfway through the introduction so nothing too riveting yet. Classical Persian works usually start with lengthy introductions that contain seemingly unending digressions about the creation of the universe, the prophets, the patron of the writer et cetera. Poets loved using the introduction to show off their abilities, which can be mildly infuriating at times dare I say ;)

Arabic

Arabic is getting very exciting! I've finished Part II of All the Arabic You Never Learned the First Time Around, which means I have now seen most of the trickiest grammar concepts, especially as far as verbs are concerned. Needless to say I still need loads of reading and writing practice if I want to feel at home with the language. Some verb forms still look quite intimidating given all the possible readings one set of root consonants can have.

Part III is about connectors as well as a bunch of other secondary grammatical topics like numbers, dates and indeclinable nouns. I'm going to focus on finishing it before I move on to another book. Also been doing lots of reviews with Anki, there are 1500 cards in my deck now but I literally add almost everything I come across (including words I already know / recognize via Persian). I'd say most of the words I've been learning come from articles I read on aljazeera.net. I've also started looking at the handy word lists on that desert-sky website.
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Re: Lycopersicon - Persian, Arabic, Latin, Italian

Postby cjareck » Sun Feb 14, 2021 11:55 am

Lycopersicon wrote:Arabic is getting very exciting! I've finished Part II of All the Arabic You Never Learned the First Time Around, which means I have now seen most of the trickiest grammar concepts, especially as far as verbs are concerned.

Thanks for reminding me about this book! I have to return to it!
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HEBREW (27 Dec. 2020)
Listening: 1 (83% content, 100% linguistic)
Reading: 1 (83% content, 90% linguistic)


MSA DLI : 18 / 141ESKK : 8 / 40


Mandarin Assimil : 32 / 105

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Re: Lycopersicon - Persian, Arabic, Latin, Italian

Postby Lycopersicon » Tue Feb 16, 2021 8:02 pm

It’s been a month. Time for a quick recap!

Arabic

My main focus so far, I spend several hours on Arabic every day. I would say I really feel I need to go as far as possible with the language because my availability to absorb new, foreign concepts and vocabulary is going to drastically decrease as the season progresses.

As a farm worker, my job is seasonal and highly physical so I do have to manage my time wisely otherwise I am going to burn out (I don't usually burn out, but I do end up dropping languages mid season, which is quite disappointing).

What I am trying to accomplish might very well turn out to be a pipe dream as it is undeniable that historically, manual labourers have not really had the luxury to dedicate much time to intellectual pursuits. However, I would very much like to accomodate my love of farming and languages / literature. My strategy so far has been to take advantage of the long winter breaks and it's not a bad compromise, as it were.

Anyway! My Arabic studies are actually going smoothly. I'm quite thrilled to see how yielding the language is proving to be. I have checked out a few intermediate readers and honestly, I could just dive into them right away. This is not really surprising though, as the Manuel d'Arabe Moderne which I've been studying from is nothing short of a glorified reader (and a very good one). The adapted literary excerpts are quite interesting. Regular newspaper articles are starting to feel simpler too. It's mostly a matter of learning more words now, I'd say. As I mentioned, I usually read one or two articles before going to bed.

I have also started practicing speaking and writing in MSA with my Egyptian friend. Kind of happy with the little sentences I've managed to string together ;) When I told her about my plan to study the Arabic translation of the Alchemist, she kindly offered to go through the whole book along with me (I’m offering French conversation in return). This is going to be great, I can't wait.

Add 205 minutes of listening on top of all of that. Which is not enough, I guess. I want to do more!

I have 2159 cards in my Anki deck. While this might sound like a lot of cards after only one month of study, the vocabulary hasn't been too challenging so far. I should also mention that I'm a not a perfectionist whatsoever when it comes to doing Anki reviews. I go through my stacks as fast as I can. I'm only really aiming to achieve rapid fire passive recognition so I can move on to more stimulating native learning material as soon as possible. This plan of action served me well with Persian before, I had close to 20k cards in my deck at one point :lol:

All in all, this doesn't sound so bad after just 31 days of semi intensive work! It's true that I cannot say I was an absolute beginner before starting, but still! ;) This has also made me realize that I could very easily pick up other Persianate languages like Urdu or Turkish too. Maybe next year!

Alright, I will work my way through volume two of Manuel d’Arabe Moderne and then start the Kalila and Dimna reader I have.

Italian

Italian has been a very pleasant surprise in the sense that I'm enjoying it thoroughly, which I didn't exactly expect. I don't know? It just feels so natural and comforting. I have even started reading Lo Hobbit, jsut for fun! :)

I have also been reading articles daily on ilpost.it. It looks like I'm on my way to reactivate my Italian very effectively. I really need to expose myself to more challenging content though. I have no problem with everyday stuff at all and I can understand almost anything on TV. Going through Lo Hobbit should allow me to familiarize myself with the higher registers of the language, one step at a time. Once I’m done with it I will slowly transition to more complex works.

Anyway, I don't want to make it sound I'm proficient in the language. I do make a lot of mistakes, my verb knowledge is sort of shaky and I still encounter a lot of words I don't know or forgot.

Latin

Latin has been thoroughly neglected until now. I've barely had a somewhat random glance at Metamorphoses, III. Don't even ask me about Ars Amatoria. I have read a grand total of 6 pages. I’m just past the Icarus story, for the connoisseurs.

I will try and make more time for Latin this month. I really miss Latin!

Persian

I'm not going to say too much about Persian this time, because I'm not actively studying it strictly speaking. Let's just say in passing that I have almost finished reading the introduction of Haft Peykar.

I have also watched a movie called The Maritime Silk Road / راه آبی ابریشم. It's about sailors navigating all the way from the Persian gulf to China to buy goods. The movie is set in the 10th century, at the time of the Buyid dynasty. It was quite good, I have to say.

My listening comprehension is quite decent, I can understand virtually all real life conversations, TV shows and youtube videos but movies in particular can be more difficult. I'm not sure why that is. Why, of course you know, there's always that character with a weird intonation that speaks fast (those are usually middle-aged men using language that I suspect is laden with cultural references).

But then there are some characters that I can understand perfectly well and then all of a sudden they start uttering a couple of sentences faster than usual and it's like I'm barely catching a couple words here and there. This is quite frustrating, but maybe I shouldn't be too hard on myself as understanding that kind of content would tantamount to native level listening comprehension. What's really annoying me is that I know I would understand everything perfectly well if only I could see the subtitles :|

I know the answer to that is to listen more but I'm not sure I'm going to have the patience, we will see... Iranian TV and movies are readily available online and some series even have English subtitles. Perhaps it's just a matter of being patient. I’ve done 273 minutes of listening this month.

I'll watch گیس بریده and خدا نزدیک است next. 


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Re: Lycopersicon - Persian, Arabic, Latin, Italian

Postby Lycopersicon » Sun Feb 21, 2021 10:15 pm

Latin

Having picked up my copy of Roma Aeterna again, I am starting to think re-reading it would not hurt. The sheer density of the material is really impressive.

In reality, what makes me want to step back is that I am still not feeling very confident reading authentic, unadapted Latin. I have tried, albeit not very hard I have to confess. I could probably read straightforward texts like Caesar quite easily but I am under the impression that I have not exploited LLPSI to the fullest.

Looking back, I think I was in a hurry to go through volume 2. I mean, the content looked very advanced and challenging so I think I was really scared I would just end up getting discouraged, drop the book and never finish it. I had to read the whole book to prove myself I could actually do it.

It is really sobering to realize that after eight years of learning (granted, this was not full-time study) the language still intimidates me. It's a bit like I have barely scratched the surface in the sense that I don't really feel at home reading Latin, not yet. There are times when I'm not sure I actually understand what I think I understand, which is quite confusing.

Last year was very intense and I made great progress working through Ad Alpes, Bucolica Carmina, Cena Trimalchionis etc. If you had told me I would read thousands of pages in Latin one day, I would have not believed it.
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Re: Lycopersicon - Persian, Arabic, Latin, Italian

Postby Lycopersicon » Tue Feb 23, 2021 10:45 am

Persian

I have been reading more of Haft Peykar lately. The verses are superb and I thought it could be useful to practice scansion. Persian meter has the reputation of being obscure and overly complicated, but this is not entirely true in my opinion. I have decided I would go through an example بیت / beyt (a line of poetry, a beyt, is always made up of two verses called a مصرع / mesra').

The following verses are taken from the first chapter, آغازِ داستان بهرام / âghâz-e dâstân-e bahrâm, 'The beginning of the tale of king Bahram'.

روز اول که صبح بهرامی
از شب تیره برد بدنامی


Now, there is a high level of ambiguity because we cannot be sure where the vowels are. This is because some grammatical features are affected by the position of short vowels, which is not indicated.

Of course, we know how each individual words is pronounced (and if we don't, we can always check in a dictionary).

However, what is not clear here is how those words are put together.

Here is a very basic transcription of the words in these two verses:

rûz avval ke sobh bahrâmi
az shab tîre brd badnâmi

We can notice two things. First, we don't have any precise indication as to where the ezafe vowels are (if there are any). The ezafe construction is of critical importance because it is an essential connector. Attributive adjectives are linked to the nouns they describe by the ezafe vowel (a short /e/). The ezafe construction is also how the genitive case is rendered in Persian.

Second, the distribution of short vowels can also be affected by verbal inflection. In our case here, the verb برد / brd can have two readings. It could be read as /bord/ or /barad/, the former being conjugated the preterite tense while the latter is in the present tense.

So how can we make sure we read the verses correctly?

This is when scansion enters into action. We know that Nezami composed Haft Peykar using a meter that is called khafif / خفیف. The khafif meter is made up of 11 syllables and its pattern is as follow:

x u _ _ u _ u _ u u _

There is also an alternative form:

x u _ _ u _ u _ _ _

u stands for a short syllable, _ is a long syllable while x can be either short or long. Persian words can contain overlong syllables, those correspond to the following sequence: u _.

Now, we can go through each verse syllable by syllable to check if our reading is compatible with the pattern.

rûz is an overlong syllable, so we have _ u
av is a long syllable, _
val is also long, _
ke is short, u

So far, so good. We have _ u _ _ u

Now things are getting more complicated.

sobh is overlong, so _ u
but we could also assume the word صبح is followed by an ezafe vowel, in which case we would obtain
- sob, long
- he, short

Both work as far as the meter is concerned. However, we also have to pay attention to the meaning of the verse. صبح is followed by an adjective so chances are those two words are linked. If we assume there is an ezafe construction, then we can translate the words as 'when the morning of Bahram...'. Otherwise, we would get something like 'when, in the morning, a Bahram...' which doesn't make sense.

Now we can finish our first verse:

bah is long, _
râ is long, _ (we have a long syllable, but we could also have two consecutive short syllables)
mî is long, _

And now we have our first verse!

Let's see how verse number two turns out. As a reminder, our khafif pattern is x u _ _ u _ u _ u u _ .

az is overlong, _ u
shab is long, _
tî is long, _
re is short, u

You could remark that شب / shab is read without any ezafe vowel. After all, you could be tempted to read شب تیره as /shab-e tîre/ ('the dark night'). But we insert an ezafe vowel here, our meter will be u u, which is not possible because we need to have _ _ .

Now we have to solve برد. Remember that it can have two readings. /barad/ is u _ while /bord/ is overlong and thus _ u. Yes, we need to have a _ u sequence. This means the correct reading is /bord/.

The rest of the verse is quite straighforward:

bad is long, _
nâ is long, _
and finally, mî is also long, _

We have now deciphered our two verses. We can render them in scriptio plena:

رُوزْ اَوَّل که صُبحِ بَهرامی
از شَبْ تیرهْ بُرْد بَدنامی

And here is a simple, litteral translation:

When that day came (روز), at first (اول), when (که) the morning of king Bahram (صبح بهرامی) swept away (برد) dark infamy (تیرهبدنامی) from the night (از شب).

This is a poetical way of saying that the advent of king Bahram put an end to the corruption of the previous ruler, king Yazdgard.

Now, most verses are more straightforward than this. But it is not rare to stumble on obscure verses. Some verses are so ambiguous that even scholars are unsure what the intended meaning was. Ambiguity was obviously embraced and cultivated by poets ;)

So if you want to know why the birth of king Bahram was such an auspicious event, I suggest you give learning Persian a go. In all honesty, the language in itself is not very complicated and you will be able to read your first verses after a few months of dedicated study :) Then, if you wish to take it further, you will encounter material that might leave you speachless. Chances are that if you enjoy reading Latin or ancient Greek, classical Persian will blow your mind.

Music

Another point that is worth discussing is the musicality of the meter. It is indeed interesting to note that Persian verses were commonly sung and recitated in public. There is a very intimate link between meter and the Persian music system. As a dilettante santour player myself, this is a topic I am quite naturally interested in.

The Persian musical tradition is mostly made up of آواز / âvâz. An âvâz is a semi-improvised melodic pattern, a sort of template if you will. This tradition made no use of sheet music so these patterns used to be transmitted orally exclusively.

Each âvâz is part of a larger collection called دستگاه / dastgâh. You could say that a dastgâh is a novel that contains several chapters, several âvâz. So each one of the dastgâh has a very specific character.

Now, what is important is that an âvâz doesn't have a set rythm. The rythm is free. This is why the meter is so important. It essentially helps shape the rythm of the performance.

To illustrate these concepts, you can listen to the following âvâz. It is sung in a dastgâh called ابو عطا / abû atâ.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlwqvRVJNmk

Here are the lyrics, written by هاتف اصفهانی / Hâtef Esfahâni in the 18th century:

che shavad be chehre-ye zard-e man nazarî barâ-ye khodâ konî
u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _

ke agar konî hame dard-e man be yekî nezâre davâ konî
u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _

to shahî o keshvar-e jân to râ, to mahî o molk-e jahân torâ
u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _

ze rah-e karam che ziân torâ ke nazar-e be hâl-e gedâ koni
u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _

ze to gar tafaghod o gar setam, bovad in enâyat o ân karam
u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _

hame az to khosh bovad ey sanam che jafâ konî che vafâ koni
u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _ u u _ u _

You can now practice singing your very first Persian âvâz ;)
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