Oh My Road! * – In Iran I was feeling linguistically at home. It sounds weird, right? Let me try to explain. On many accounts I can easily establish links between French and Persian, and I think that’s part of the reason why I fell for Persian. I already mentioned the spelling systems, but the similarities don’t end there.
There is this interesting habit they have of contracting the words. You know how in French class they teach you that “I don’t know” translate into Je ne sais pas? And how you will never hear a French person in everyday life actually say Je ne sais pas, but you’ll hear everything from Je n’sais pas to Chépa? Well the same happens in Persian. To say “I am going” you’re supposed to say miravam, but what you actually hear is miram. To say “I’m not” you’re supposed to say Ne hastam but you say nistam. I know this happens in English also (“I am not” vs “I’m not”) but I think Persian and French do it to a greater extent.
Then of course there are all the odd French words you come across like shans (chance, luck) or mersi (merci, thank you), but they are the same in most languages in this area.
However there are other factors that played a big role in giving me this homely feeling. They are somewhat more subjective but also definitely related to each other: a definitive language awareness and an inclination to play with the language. I’ll talk about the first some more in a while. As for the second one, it is difficult to describe, but I had a feeling listening to people talk that they liked their language, they enjoyed using it. They were very inclined to playing with it, words, tones, intonation, everything. They like it. The oral culture still seems is still much alive, too. Anybody in Iran, down to the very humble villager, can quote some classic poetry.
So in the end…
While in Iran, I have never spontaneously opened a book the right way (because it’s the wrong way for Europeans). But all hope is not lost: I had a proper conversation with the taxi driver who took me to my last host in Iran. And I know one thing for sure, it’s that I want to learn more Persian. I want to learn it properly. I bought a little book of Khayam’s poems, in Persian, my aim being to one day be able to read them without a translation.
And if the day I start learning Persian properly I have any doubt about why I wanted to do that in the first place, then I’ll listen to the man singing at the end of this mix and it shall be self-evident again!