Answering my own questions since 2001

Where is Persia, and What Language Do They Speak There?

Back in high school, I had classmates who described themselves as ‘Persian’. Of course, there’s no country called ‘Persia’ anymore, so it always baffled me. In addition to English, these Persians spoke a language called ‘Farsi’.

I need to confess my ignorance on this: I don’t know where Persia was (or is, in the imagination of its former occupants). I also, generally speaking, don’t know what languages are spoken in sundry Middle Eastern nations. This blog post will act as a little research exercise for me, to get a better grip on the answers to these questions.

From the Wikipedia entry on the Persian people:

Persians are the main ethnic group of Iran and are the majority and dominant ethnic group of Iran. In addition, Persians are found as minorities in other countries, particularly Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, though in these countries they are usually thought of as sub-groups. Significant numbers of Persians also reside outside of Iran, with the largest communities found in the United States, Germany, England, Canada, Kuwait, Turkey and UAE. Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, and the UAE also have large populations of Persian descendents, referred to as Ajamis.

Well that’s pretty clear. A non-Persian recently pointed out to me that those of Iranian descent who aren’t keen on being identified first as Iranian. I don’t know how accurate that is. Here, by the way, is what the Persian empire looked like at its height.

Now, let’s talk languages. What do they speak where? From the CIA World Factbook, here are the major languages spoken per country:

Iran: Persian and Persian dialects 58%, Turkic and Turkic dialects 26%, Kurdish 9%
Iraq: Arabic, Kurdish (official in Kurdish regions), Assyrian, Armenian
Syria: Arabic (official); Kurdish, Armenian, Aramaic, Circassian widely understood; French, English somewhat understood
Lebanon: Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian
Israel: Hebrew (official), Arabic used officially for Arab minority, English most commonly used foreign language
Jordan: Arabic (official), English widely understood among upper and middle classes
Afghanistan: Afghan Persian or Dari (official) 50%, Pashtu (official) 35%, Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%, much bilingualism
Saudi Arabia: Arabic

And what, by the way, is Farsi? It’s the local name for the Persian language.

Well that clears things up a bit. The mad language mix of Afghanistan reflects the difficulty everybody has conquering and controlling that region.

49 Responses to “Where is Persia, and What Language Do They Speak There?”

  1. Joe Clark

    Wait till you find out that Persians ain’t Arabs and that Farsi is only tangentially related to Arabic.

    For extra credit, look up Iranians in L.A.

    For additional credit, cite the one and only correct pronunciation of “Iranian.”

  2. jo

    I had the same questions about “Persia” as well. It always bugged me that people identified themselves as being from a non-country; in the back of my mind I always felt people might a well be saying they were from Narnia.

    When I first met my boyfriend one clue of the good things to come was that he identified himself as Iranian straight out… Now I’m learning a few words in Farsi.

  3. Frenek

    I don’t see anything wrong with identifying with being Persian and not Iranian. Particularly people who immigrated to North America before Persia “became” Iran. When I lived in Los Angeles there were many people who were Persian as that is where there parents had come from or they still had a strong tie to that designation when they left Iran…which they still thought of as Persia. Just because you live in a region that experiences what you’d like to think is stability doesn’t mean that everyone has to like what some bureaucrat has decided to call the country. People told me they were Persian, fine with me. Americans, always wanting things to be so neat and tidy. Dildos

    usa Reply:

    Wow, so pompous and judgemental. You know sooo much about Americans. Your a joke. Wow, you can actually generalize what we americans are thinking. Sounds like bullshit European bias to me. Your logic is faulty at best. There are many Americans who take SERIOUS offense to such ignorant and rude comments. Just because the rest of the world is attempting to villify us, which by the way is the LARGEST GROSS EXHIBITION OF HYPOCRACY TO DATE, doesnt mean the there are not intelligent and articulate individauls who have pride in this country, and who subsequently hate all the parasides who feed off this country and yets disrespect it and its people at every turn.

    Robyn Boyer Reply:

    In my opinion the previous comment was well put and I wasn’t offended by it at all. There is nothing wrong with holding on to your heritage, in fact some Americans are blessed to actually know where they truly come from.

    Leah Reply:

    I agree with Frenek! Why the hell do you care how they identify themselves. It’s their choice. Build a bridge and get over it.

    Melissa Reply:

    Dig a hole and die in it. Pompous.

  4. Marcus

    Frenek…if you don’t like it, get the hell out. No need for name calling.

  5. Aaron

    A LOT of American’s are Dildos…but not all Dildos are American!

    The nice thing about the America is that if you don’t like it, you can bitch about it and try to make changes. The not so nice thing about it is the overwhelming majority of born and bred Americans that can’t seem to think their way out of a bucket – and they LIKE IT THAT WAY! Hmmm…

    Nice post. I’d always wondered about the whole Persia thing after I’d met someone and could NOT find it on a map.

    Thanks!

    Gabe Reply:

    Aaron, you are a complete moron. Ignorant fools like yourself should avoid posting any type of comments on the internet. This would allow for more space for educated people to discuss issues and make relivant statements.

    jenierose Reply:

    Hi! I m only a 10-year-old girl. So i think wut u said bout that “Aaron” guy, u were to mean. So maybe the person had a mentall thing n didn’t no wut to do. so please be kind.

    thx 4 reading my message!

    Lenny Reply:

    ur so cute hahaha u didnt know where to find it the sounds like a hangover kinda thing.

  6. sam

    Persia was a name created by the Greeks to refer to the country of Iran. The Iranians themselves called their country Iran from the beginning. This is similar to how Germans call their country Deutschland. In 1935 The shah of Iran asked the rest of the world to use the local name to refer to the country.

  7. Laurie

    I have a friend who has told me he was from Persia. He has been in the US since he was a child but I (not really knowing where Persia was) wonder if he doesn’t say Iran because of how a lot of people react to someone from Iran.

    He acts just as much as an American as I do. He just t

  8. kiarash

    hi
    I am persian if any one have questions can ask me.
    we say to our country pars(iran) and we are parsian and in english you say persian.
    persia is in the north of persian gulf and thesouth of caspian sea. we have a old country
    we have duildings from 3000y ago.

  9. Katherine

    Maybe I’m crazy, but it seems like it would be a good idea for people who are accusing others of ignorance to at least spell simple words in their posts correctly.

  10. Koszegi

    I don’t really see why anyone would care if someone said they were Iranian or not a place is a place no matter what the politics or religion are like. And the people are still people. And you know who are pretending to be someone else recently?? The Americans ha! Some Americans while traveling are wearing Canadian flags everywhere so people don’t dislike them. Being Canadian I am pretty not happy, if you are wearing our flag just don’t make people hate it like yours!

    Melissa Reply:

    hey you can’t just go aorund hating on the American population! Because guess what if you hate us there’s the other milion people hating you back!

  11. Sara

    Hi,
    I am also an Iranian living in UAE. the main reason i am referring to myself as Persian is the minute i introduce myself to Europeans or Americans (Not All) they start to tell me words in Arabic like hi and how are you, that is why i just say i am Persian. First because we are not Arab and we do not speak Arabic. (no offense. i do speak Arabic) and we want peaople to know that and the reason we take pride in our country is because of Cyrus and his Cylinder the world’s first declaration of human rights. you can check it out here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_cylinder

  12. Kian

    Love open minded people as yourself Darren who are wiling to learn about other people and cultures.
    Well Persia is what other people called iran ever since the first contact between the hellenes and persians in 500 b.c , because of the predominance of the persian language and ruling emperors who left their legacy on the land. Until 1935 where a certain King, who was very impressed by the ideas of nationalism demanded the world to call the country by its local name “Iran”, so in a sense its like Deutschland (local name) Germany(english name), Unfortunately that king didnt recognize that and his attempt kind of backfired.
    Majority of Iranians speak Iranic-derived languages such as persian, kurdish,luri, balochi
    All these languages are derived from earlier indo-iranian, which are in turn derived from indo-european.
    Never confuse persian with arabic, thats the biggest insult to native persian speakers,
    Arabic is a semitic language like hebrew. However there are a lot of arabic loan words in persian, due to the islamic conquest of persian in 7th century.
    Hope i helped!

  13. Mani

    Persia was the English name used for Iran till 1935. We Iranians in our own language have always called our country Iran and still do. We are not familiar with the word Persia in Iran. (Like the people in China most of whom might have never heard the word China, they call their country Zhōnghuá Mínguó.)

  14. Melissa

    okay ya because i was pretty confused too about a land that didn’t even to exist in my head. Well, that was before i asked my boyfriend why his skin was white and he had black hair. Now I’m learning more about it.

  15. mohammad

    hi.
    i’m iranian. the word ‘persia’ refers to our land Iran. especially in old texts ,maps or historic books you can find this word instead of Iran. ‘persia’ is a vast land located north of Persian Golf in middle east.
    also i’m looking for a partner to help me in english. instead i can help you in Farsi(Persian).
    my email: peace.1987@yahoo.com

    Lenny Reply:

    Hello im glenda i think i can help i will love to learn farsi

  16. Chloe

    I gotta admit, Persia is such a beautiful sounding name for a country!! When I saw that the movie Prince of Persia was coming out, I was like omg, which country is that!? This sounds weird but Persian women remind me of the ancient Egyptian princesses, with the kohl smokey eyes, olive skin and dark hair.

  17. Nooshin

    hello dear friend, I Live in Iran, I read your article and of course your question. I know the real answer because I’m an Iranian, I live here and I had done researches about my country and people history. sorry if my english is not fluent.
    persian empire was a wide area includin Iran(the main part beacause it was the origine of the empire being) afghanistan, pakistan, iraq, parts of arabia to Egipt borders, the land between Kaspian sea and mediterian sea and from east to India and from north to top of kaspian sea. as the time pased and the king came and gone It became shorter and shorter because of wars and some bad kings (my people had sofferd from bad kings and wars during the time) at last from that glory empire it just remain a part which name is Iran (Iran mean where Aria people lives) so the old name was persia (the first people lived in Iran were Part people) and now it’s name is Iran. and the result why Iranian name themselves as persian and not say Iran at first: It’s because of the bad sights in your countries over Iranians, as you see you even don’t know that Irainians are not Arab. the have soffered from Arabs so many time by time. so if you were, didn’t like to call you Arab! (I know the Arabs are very goog People and every where has good and bad but some times the pains are so much that you can’t forget) I do apologise if some one felt bad but it’s the reality behind most of all. I,personally, Love every good people in every where, Humanity is Important not Where you Born.

  18. Joe Brown

    iran is persia but they changed it to iran but its still persia.

  19. loney kelly

    im gonna see it today oh my god! I think its good.

  20. donoe bell

    the prince wins in prince of persia.

  21. MC

    Thank U for doing the blog, that was a good lesson. :)

    It’s sounds kind of like how Constatinople was taken from Greece, and then Turkey renamed it Istambul.

  22. frank

    hey,i have done a lot researches about the land PERSIA.and i found out that,Persia,was chosen for the land by great Cyrus.the greatest King so far.who had control of half of the world in the time.and after him,Rome was holding the smaller part .if you want you can refer to the great french archaeologist’s book,IRAN.which i don’t remember his name.the book describes the real Iran and Iranian,taken from his own 20 years of researches and experiences in Iran.i have a little more information and I’ll be glad to share.and i know a little bit Persian or Farsi(which i can teach of course)
    my email is:fcastle002@yahoo.com

  23. Berad

    I am Iranian and newly immigrate to the USA ,
    Iranian people usually say they come from Persia because ,i see it ,when i am say from iran all off people thing iam bad man with bad relationship and compere me with the Muslims.
    but when iam say form persia they going to knowing me with out any bad background so i perefer say persia because its ture first and the pepole had communicate with me goiing to knowing me with out bad background.
    if someone like or interest to knowing persian or Farsi language iam so happy to help them
    and i need very help in English if some body could please help me

  24. BJ_BOBBI_JO

    Thank you for your interresting article on Persia. I too have been wondering about Persia.
    I am a decendant of the old Persian Sassanid Empire Kings. I am sure many many people are also their decendants and don’t know it. Because of my Persian ancesters I have been diving into learning about old Persia.

    I was very uneducated, and still am,and thought Persians were arabs. Not that race matters but I want to know the truth of my ancesters as much as possible.

    I found interresting information about a woman who married into the Sassanid Empire was a Jewish lady named Shusandukht who was a decendant of the Jewish exiles.

    Shusandukht married Yezdigerd I SASSANID Emperor of Persia. At least one known decendant of theirs also married into the Jewish exiles. 100s of years later on down the line their decendant was Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire King Charlemagne whom is now referred to as The Father of Europe.

    So the blood of many Persians got mixed with Jewish blood and European blood and now there are Persian decendats, probably by the millions, all over the world especially in Iran, Europe and America. Probably any country that was founded by Europe has people with Persian roots and they don’t know it.

    I am a born and raised American and am proud to be so. I love knowing that my roots contain the blood of many differant races. The old Persian SASSANID kings had roots that went all the way back to ancient families like the royal Egyptian family line that Cleopatra came from called Ptolomey.

    The Ptolomy’s have interresting stories and ancesters who were Greek and from other countries. Many of their ancesters became known as Greek gods and there has been books and movies written about them. Their blood line goes way back.

    So the blood of many, not all, Persians contain a lot of very interresting history. Persia, at one time, must have been an interresting place to have seen.

    Once the muslims took over Persia that ended the long line of royal Persian SASSANID people and the culture changed a lot. Lots of Persian culture is now lost because of it.

    I still have lots more to learn about Perisa. It amazes me how a great deal of the world’s countries all have connections to eachother due to their royals intermarrying eachother.

  25. m

    hi dear friend, im persian(iranian) and my country is persia which is called iran nowadays. we had a great empire many many times ago that he called” koroshe kabir” they say he was the first one who wrote the first writting 4 human rights and he wishes these 3 item 4 all the people: KERDARE NIK, GOFTARE NIK, PENDARE NIK.

  26. A

    Thank you so much :)
    My really cute friend just told me he was Persian, and I just had to know what exactly that meant! Once I found out, I began to recognize others who I thought were potentially from the same origin, and I was right. I don’t know if “Iranians” look the same as well, but I feel like if they want to call themselves Persian, they should be able to! roots!

  27. ali

    many yers ago when all of Aryans were together in a land (any body do not know that this land where is it yet) they were calling thier land aryanam .but hard cold came to thier land so aryans must left thier land . some aryans went to eroupe and others went to india and the land that after called iran. every aryan groups choiced for themselves part. theses parts were Media .Perthia. Arakhozia. Arya(Herat).Kermania. Heyrkania.Marv. and Persia(Pars).all of theses parts were Aryanam (land of aryans)

  28. Ali

    The aryans that came to Iran for keep memory of first thier land that left it called the new land Aryanam that name of Iran came it. to be aryans was important for IRANIANS no the aryans that went to eroupe (Germany) and no the aryans went to india did not the new land land of aryans. but to be aryans was important of iranians . example Darius king of Persia and father of xerxes say in writes ( I AM DARIUS . AN ARYAN SON OF AN ARYAN . A PERSIA SON OF A PERSIAN)) iranian keep to be iranian in front of Creek’s attact ; Arab’s; Tork’s attact and Mongol’s attact . if you do not belive theses you can search. thank excuce me that my english is bad

  29. Masoud

    Well , We do call ourselves Iranian as well . The reason we say we are Persian is coz we want to keep our great history with great people and we dont want let other people steal our culture ( as many do ) so that’s why ..
    and the description was clear and accurate .. thanks for that :)

  30. Navneet Kaur

    FARSI IS THE “ACTUAL WORD”.
    Persian is an “English” version word for Farsi.

  31. Navneet Kaur

    If a person being in US tells straight out he/she’s Iranian, they would become victim of hatred and/or can be hurt/killer by ignorant/racist/violant people.
    Isn’t that obvious?

  32. arman

    go to wikipedia and type iran . persia has greatest empire in history . iranians is arya not arab and they speaks in farsi one of 4 classic languages in the world

  33. Babak

    Hi (excuse me for my english)
    i from iran , and persian unite
    i was born in persia unite
    now i living in capital of iran (tehran)
    most iranian have Arian race ,and in iran arian are in 3 major group {persian-median-partian}
    why befor europian called us persia?
    answer: because persian group were more powerfull

  34. Babak

    about Iranian language:
    or language is Persian but european say Persian
    and arabian people say Farsi
    unfortunately most time iranians pronounce ,Farsi

  35. Daisy King

    I liked your research . Persia does not exist anymore . But Iranians love to be called Persians because they are proud of that period of time regarding to the Historical background .

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