Why I Learn Languages: Persian
Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here.
Uh, and today I wanna talk about why I learn languages and I want to
use as an example, Persian, which is what I'm learning right now.
If you enjoy these videos, please subscribe, click on
the bell for notifications.
If you follow me on a podcast service, please leave a review.
So, uh, if any of you read my book, The Linguist, A Personal Guide to
Language Learning uh, you will remember that I always get interested in the
history, the culture, countries that influence other countries, how countries
are an amalgamation of different influences and, and, and peoples.
And that's been the history of the world.
And that's what kind of motivates me to learn languages and learn about all
these different cultures and so forth.
Persian is no exception.
I'm very lucky that I have a, a Persian tutor, collaborator in Iran who has
created tremendous content for me on the history of Iran, foods of Iran, has
interviews with ordinary people in Iran.
So I have a bit of a smattering of that background, but as with, when
we learn languages and we learn and forget words, things that I learn
about, the history of a country, I tend to forget them as well, but every
time I forget them, something remains.
And so my appreciation of the history does improve a little bit
each time, but it gives me a basis from which to learn more things.
And so right now, uh, at LingQ, I am doing a series of four episodes of
a podcast about Iranian identity put out by this podcast service called
epitome.ir or epitome books.ir.
I'll leave a link to the, to, to the, uh, podcast in the description box.
It's all in, uh, in Farsi, in Persian, of course.
And so I am just enjoying so much participating in this series of
discussions, uh, and the narrator quotes different books where the question
of Iranian identity is discussed.
So I have the sort of sensation that I am participating in a discussion
amongst Iranians about their identity and through that, I am
exposed to aspects of their history.
Some of which is new to me, some of which I have already been exposed to.
And so the whole experience to me is, is my reward.
That's why I learn languages, to be able to do that kind of thing.
And I've done it in Ukrainian.
When my, uh, Ukrainian tutor sent me material on Ukrainian history,
I've done it in Polish when I went to this website and found audiobooks
and eBooks about Polish history.
These are the things that I'm interested in.
Czeck the, uh, ... about Czeck history.
that's what drives me to learn languages, but let's get back to Persian.
And I also wanted to comment on Persian because someone asked me here, uh,
on my YouTube channel, what has been my reaction to learning pPersian.
Well, first of all, there are a lot of Iranian immigrants in Vancouver
and just the yesterday or the night before we were at a restaurant and
low and behold the family sitting beside us are recent immigrants.
I don't know how recent, but from Iran.
The Iranians respond so positively when you speak to them in their
language, it's it's astounding.
And they also immediately ask you, are you familiar with Persian poetry?
And of course, because Persian poetry is very important to the Iranians.
Uh, but it's too difficult for me.
So I, I disappoint them when I say no.
Uh, but very often too, they'll ask me if I speak Turkish because one in
five or 18 or whatever percent, 15% of Iranians are of Azeri Turk origin.
So therein, we begin to see that there's this historical connection between
Turks and Persians or Iranians now.
But the, the interesting thing, what I found so fascinating is, is, is in this
series of, of episodes about Iranian identity if we go back 2,500 years, To
the emperor, the, the empire of, of, uh, Cyrus and, and I think the greatest extent
of the Persian empire was under Darius.
The great, I don't remember becasue I forget it all, but the, the
old, uh, Achaemenid or however it's pronounced Achaemenid empire
was two thirds non Iranians.
Uh, if we look at a map, it included, you know, at, at various times, Greece
and, and maybe the Northern part of India, and you had Turkic people there.
And of course, uh, originally you had the Elamites and the Acadians because ancient
Persia included uh, what is today Iraq.
It included, you know, the fertile Crescent from which the Abrahamic
religions came eventually Islam, but initially, uh, Judaism and Christianity.
So right off the bat, it was a multiethnic, multilingual empire.
And so what was the identity at that point?
Of course there, people guess at it, but apparently Herodotus the Greek,
uh, historian said that people who were identified as Persian, Parse or whatever
term was used, they had certain advantages over non Persians within that empire.
So obviously there was a sense of Persian identity at that time.
Uh, when Alexander the Great of Macedonia invaded he tried to bring
in Greeks and make Iran more Greek, which didn't really please the locals
who've preferred their Persian identity.
So there was some kind of Persian identity.
The Persians also had their own religion, the Zoroastrian religion,
which was essentially the, the state religion as near as, as we can tell.
So there's this identity as part of the, uh, Achaemenid empire, uh, which
included many ethnic groups, uh, Cyrus in his great constitution was,
uh, very say magnanimous, but very tolerant of different religions and
different, different ethnic groups.
And maybe he had no choice because they were, they outnumbered
the Persians in his empire.
Um, so there was that.
And then after, um, Alexander, the uh, the Greeks under, I, I think I might have said
it or it wasn't Alexander who tried to bring in Greeks and make Iran more Greek.
It was Seleucus who was...
seleucus or however it's pronounced who basically, as the, uh, the
Alexander's empire was split he ended up with iran basically.
And he tried to make it more Greek, which didn't work.
But after a few hundred years, there was once again, an Iranian dynasty,
an Iranian control of their country.
And, uh, so there is now this, obviously there was a sense of identity as Iranians
through the language, through their Zoroastrian , uh, religion, uh, through a
sense of where they lived through identity with identifying with their ruler.
I don't know, they even had a flag.
They had certain things that represented identity for them.
Uh, and then passing through my forgetfulness, uh, you know, you
had the, uh, what we call the, the Partheon empire, I think, which,
uh, It goes under a different name in Persian, which I've forgotten.
And then the Sasanian period where Iran was fighting with Rome all
the time and eventually the Arab invasion and Islam was introduced.
So now we have Islam.
So there's identity through language, identity through territory, identity
through this Persian ethnicity, which for a long time was a minority, uh, you know,
group within the greater Persian empire, and now we have identity through religion
and the religion was mostly Sunni.
And, uh, and then around the 10th, 11th century, we have a series
of Turkish dynasties in Iran.
And so the, again, I'm going from memory, but as I read it, I enjoy it.
And then I forget it, but so Arab was...
the Arabic language was perhaps more prestigious through religion, but
eventually the, basically the education standards in, in Iran were higher
than amongst the Arab conquerors.
And so, um, Persian had a, um, pride of place in the administration and so forth,
but then the Turks came in and they tended to speak Turkish in the court.
And then at a certain point, perhaps coinciding with the Mongol
invasion, there was a revival of, uh, the Farsi or Persian language.
So there was, again, you, you can sense through all of that as this person quotes
the different sources, debating about, you know, what represented the Iranian
identity and so forth, uh, that, uh, there was a revival of the Persian language.
And then with the Safavid dynasty, Um, the shiite religion is
established as the national religion.
And so now we have an identity.
So we have a Islamic identity.
We have a Shia identity as opposed to the Sunni Ottoman empire.
Uh, we have of course that Iranian identity.
So we have this accumulation of different identities and getting back to the
poetry, uh, which I always get asked.
Uh, the sort of, one of the main periods of flowering of poetry in Iran
was during the time that the Mongols, I think initially the Turks, this
again, I'm going from memory and then the Mongols, the Ilkhan dynasties.
And so there was this flowering of poetry, which focused to a large degree on, you
know, myths and traditions and, and, and the history of the great flowering of
the Persian empire back 2,500 years ago.
So the Iranians have been imbued with this sense of their identity, which
consists of all these different elements.
And depending on which Iranian you speak to, he may identify, or she may
identify more with the period prior the greatness of the, you know, Persian
empire or more may identify more with, um, you know, Islam and so forth.
So there's there's as an in...
and even today, as I mentioned earlier, there's this ethnic mixture in Iran.
You have Azeri Turks, you have Turkmans who are small number, but were very
influential initially, uh, in, um, some of the dynasties that were established.
You have Kurds, you have Arabs.
This, and then you have various, uh, sort of nomad groups.
So there's quite a variety of peoples within Iran.
And so probably today, the identity is one of Iran as a nation, the country
of Iran with all of the ethnic, uh, uh, you know, minorities that they have.
And in this, um, series, it has pointed out that amongst the people in the
Middle East, the Iranians have a much stronger sense of national identity.
You know, are you proud of being an Iranian?
And so a, a much higher percentage in Iran will say, yes, I am.
Whereas in places like Jordan or Egypt, apparently the identification is more
with Islam and less with the country.
So all of this is interesting.
The fact that I'm able to read and listen to all of this information
and kind of span the period from 2,500 years ago to today.
Uh, try and picture Iraq when it was part of Iran and or Persia and now and stuff.
Is, uh, to a large extent due to Sahra and her ability to create
material for me and find stuff for me.
I wish I could find someone to do the same for Arabic, uh, Arabic as a whole, or,
you know, Egypt or, or, uh, north Africa or the, the Levant, you know, Syria,
Lebanon, uh, Palestine, and so forth.
So, because that to me is the fun of language learning is, is exploring through
language, history, culture, people.
And, uh, so I'm very grateful to Sahra and I enjoy doing this in Persian
and I will certainly be looking forward to doing it in Arabic and in
other languages, uh, moving forward.
So there you have it.
Uh, I will leave you with a couple of videos on this issue of language and
culture, and I'd be interested in your own reactions and how you deal with,
uh, and to what extent you're attracted to the idea of, of learning about
culture and history through language.
Thanks for listening.