University gives a warm welcome to new farsi language program
Starting next fall OU will be among the few universities in the U.S. where students can learn Persian and become acquainted with the language from which many famous literary tropes and motifs are borrowed.
The Persian language is being added at OU, after the modern languages department received a donation to add the program, professor of Arabic Tom Hefter said.
The Persian language program will feature the two beginning levels of the language and may grow over time, Hefter said. The program will begin next fall, professor of Iranian studies Afshin Marashi said.
The Persian language is endangered in the sense that there aren’t many opportunities to learn the language in the U.S., Marashi said.
“Even though it’s a very important language and has a literary heritage that goes back 1,000 years… in the United States there are very few places that a person can learn the Persian language,” he said.
Without having OU as an option for Persian language classes, some students went to other universities to study the language on their own.
Alex Reisner, international and area studies senior, took Persian classes at Arizona State University this summer because they weren’t offered at OU.
Hefter also noted in his Arabic classes that several students were interested in learning Persian and had begun to learn by themselves.
Part of the reason for the lack of availability in the U.S. is that, unlike other Middle Eastern languages like Arabic, which is spoken in a few different countries, Persian is only spoken in Iran and a few smaller countries like Tajikistan and Afghanistan, Marashi said.
Another difficulty is that the current political situation with Iran prevents people from studying the language there and becoming familiar with the culture, he said.
“Part of learning a language is traveling to a country and sort of immersing yourself in the language and culture of a particular place,” Marashi said.
Without the opportunity to travel to a Persian-speaking country, it becomes much harder to get upper level training in the language, he said.
Without a grasp of Persian in the U.S., one loses a huge, influential body of literature, he said. Much 19th century English literature borrowed themes, metaphors, tropes and symbols from classical Persian literature, such as the idea of the moth and the flame or the lover and the beloved, he said.
Not learning a language also denotes a loss of the culture that speaks the language, Reisner said.
“So much of people’s identities are really ingrained in language,” Reisner said.
Within that lost cultural identity is the knowledge of medicinal plants or the people’s history, Reisner said.