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Persian Studies

Persian, also known as Farsi, is an Indo-European language with roots going back to the Old Iranian languages but written in the Arabic script. It is the official language of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan and counts more than 100 million speakers around the world. In the early modern period, Persian was the lingua franca for the educated élite in the Indian sub-continent, the language of the Moghul rulers of northern India and the vehicle for Moghul literature. It is still taught in many universities in India and Pakistan.

Persian is perhaps most famous for its poetry; its fine epic and lyric poetry earmark it as one of the great canons of world literature. Great Persian poets like Omar Khayyam, Hafiz, Sa'di and Rumi have been beloved by Europeans reading their words in translation for over two hundred years: to read these poets in the original only adds to their depth and beauty. Persian is also the second language of Islam with many important works of history, literature, philosophy and Sufism (Islamic mysticism). Like true masterpieces, these works keep their appeal; their depth, scope and wit continue to fascinate us, opening vistas on the societies they address and reflect.

Students of Persian benefit from the fact that the written and spoken forms of the language are close and have remained relatively constant over time. Students of Farsi are quickly able to communicate with the native speakers and to read a range of classical and modern materials.

In our language classes, students will learn standard spoken Persian (the form spoken in Tehran) and written Persian.

During the year abroad, students spend some months studying in Iran in order to develop their language skills as well as learning more about Iranian culture and society.

Iran is a key country in the Middle East and to know Persian is essential for those who want to be involved in this part of the world. You can become a translator, a journalist, or work in broadcasting. There is always demand from diplomatic services. Because of the recent changes in the Middle East, many multinational companies are starting investing in Iran so there are lots of opportunities in banking, commerce, oil and gas, and other international companies for those knowing Persian and with specialist knowledge of Iran.

Persian has been studied and taught at Cambridge for many years by eminent scholars including E G Browne, R A Nicholson and A J Arberry. As a result, Cambridge has excellent resources in Persian studies. We teach classical and modern Persian language and literature and several history courses that cover Iran's history since the Islamic conquest to the twentieth century.