PIE roots as a mnemonic device in Farsi spelling

Persian roots in which a silent vāv must be written after an initial khe are often considered the bane of foreign learners of Farsi. I myself felt some discontent at having to learn this silly spelling rule after initially encountering Persian in the wonderfully clear Cyrillic script used by Tajiki. However, one of those little eureka moments one encounters in historical linguistics was that these words can be traced back to Proto-Indo-European roots with intial *sw-, e.g.:

  • خواهار ‘sister’ < PIE *swésōr;
  • خوابیدن ‘to sleep’ < PIE *swep‑;
  • خویش ‘himself’ < PIE *swe‑ (I guess, but even if I guess wrong, it still helps to remember).

Thus, a little knowledge of PIE can instantly serve as a mnemonic device in some tricky aspect of a language that arose millennia later.

Increasing age may make it more challenging to learn a language to real conversational proficiency and lose that accent, but I’ve been so encouraged lately by how a decade-plus of sometimes focused and deliberate, but just as often casual and absentminded, learning provides remarkable benefits in reaching a middling level effort-free. Another example is when I recently picked up an intermediate-level reference for Japanese grammar (a language I’ve never formally studied) and realized that I know most of the words used in the example sentences purely through some kind of osmosis over the years. It is wonderful how everything out there ties together somehow. Now if I could just have these fruits of a decade’s experience and have that decade itself back…

Perso-Arabic vocabulary in Tatar

The great thing about learning Tatar vocabulary is that, with a little effort at finding out the different spellings, you often get Farsi and Tajik vocabulary (and Arabic, Turkish, a lot of Caucasian languages…) for free. Here’s a list of just a few recent things I’ve acquired:

Tatar Farsi Tajik
игътибар ‘attention’ اعتبار
хөрмәт ‘respect’ حرمت хурмат
һөнәр ‘specialization, focus’ هنر ҳунар
дәрәҗә ‘rank, authority’ درجه дараҷа
табигать ‘nature’ طبيعت табиат
дәвам ‘duration’ دوام ‘durability, endurance’ давом ‘duration’
шигар ‘slogan’ شعار

There may well be Tajik cognates for the two missing items, but unfortunately I never managed to buy a Tajik-Russian dictionary, and I can’t figure these out with my Russian-Tajik dictionary.

The dull conversations of Tajikistan

I’ve been travelling in Tajikistan for a few days now and I’m not liking it much as a linguist. It’s not because the people aren’t friendly; for not a single night have I lacked invitations for a place to dine and sleep comfortably. But conversations here tend to all be the same. The first repetitive response happens all over the former Soviet Union: Your name is Christopher, eh? Like Christopher Columbus/Christopher Lambert! I guess I’m used to that one, and I just laugh and pretend I haven’t heard it myriad times before.

But essentially all conversations devolve into this very quickly:

Tajik: Are you married?

Me: No, I am not married yet.

Tajik: How old are you?

Me: I am 29 years old.

Tajik: You need to get married! [The more good-humoured locals will at this point indicate the closest unmarried woman and propose I marry her]

Me: I don’t wish to get married yet.

Tajik: Why?

Me: Because I wish to travel and study and remain a free man.

After this they tend to grumble a fair bit — it does seem that some are appalled by what I said — and the conversation returns to marriage constantly. It would be nice to talk about something else and to perceive some element of culture. What happened to even fairly poor, rural locals knowing something about shashmaqâm or Persian classical poetry as travelers in Transoxania reported less than 20 years ago? It’s especially frustrating since I came hear to learn Tajik, but there’s not enough of a variety of conversational topics to really expand my vocabulary.

Ordering game in Persian

In the most recent edition of Teach Yourself Modern Persian (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2004), author Narguess Farzad pokes fun at the textbooks of yesteryear with their obsolete examples no longer useful for the contemporary student. He quotes from the Reverend William St Clair-Tisdall’s Modern Persian Conversation Grammar (1923), which features a dialogue between a table servant and master:

‘What kind of meat do you wish today for dinner, Sir?’

‘Can venison be procured?’

‘No, Sir, it cannot be got, because they do not bring venison here, and no one can get it unless his Royal Highness or one of his hunting companions sends it to someone as a present.’

‘Well, get ready hare or some ducks or pigeons or quails or any kind of game that you can procure. There must be a very good and plentiful dinner to-day, for I have asked some of my friends.’

Now, it turns out that that book is in the university library here in Helsinki. If you are curious and think that this dialogue may in fact come in useful someday, here’s the original Persian:

آقا امروز برای شام چه قسم گوشت میل میفرمائید.

آیا) گوُشتِ آهوُ پیدا میشود

خیر آقا پیدا نمی شود زیرا گًوشتِ آهو در اینجا نمیآورند و بدستِ هیچکس نمیرسد جُز‌اینکه حضرتِ والا یا یکی از همشکارانِ او آنرا بطور تعارُف برای کسی بفرستند.

خوب گوشتِ خرگوش یا چند اردک یا کبوتر یا بلدر چین (کوکرک) یا هر قسم گوشتِ حیوانِ شکاری بدست بیاید دُرُست کن — باید بمروز شام خیلی خوب و فراوان باشد زیرا چند نفر از دوستان خود را وعده خواسته ایم