Spoken Persian in Iran

Spoken Persian in Iran

If you eavesdrop on a conversation between two Persian speakers speaking the Farsi of Iran, or listen to any informal programme on the radio or television, then you will soon realize that spoken Persian is quite different from the written language. This is, of course, true of any language, especially of the vernacular of the urban population living in big cities. However, the differences between the spoken and written Persian are nothing as drastic as the differences between colloquial and written modern standard Arabic, for example. The most significant differences, apart from the accent of the speakers, are contained in pronunciation of certain vowels and verb endings. This is invariably done based on rules (of a sort) and so can be learnt. However, nothing will aid and accelerate the learning process as much as some time spent listening to the colloquial conversations of native speakers or audio files available on the internet, as well as radio broadcasts, comedies and chat shows where you will hear colloquial Persian being used.

The grammar of colloquial Persian is really not hugely different from that of the written language; however, the spoken everyday language is full of local colour and flavour, and the presence of many regional accents and dialects makes it that much more difficult for learners of Persian to follow. It is just as mind boggling trying to work out what a Cockney taxi driver in London says as it is to bargain in a stall in the Tehran bazaar. However, there are certain grammatical rules that can help.

First of all, the sentence order is more arbitrary in colloquial Persian than it is in the written language. For instance, it is not uncommon to start the sentence with the verb as in the following example:

(Last night I went to the cinema.)

Written — دیشب به سینما رفتم. 

Spoken — دیشب رفتم سینما.

The spoken Persian sentence order is that much closer to the subject–verb–object of some European languages such as English. It is worth noting that this order is most common with intransitive verbs, i.e., verbs that need a preposition, and do not take the direct object marker rā را.

Verbs

The other significant difference between the spoken and written Persian is the way in which verbs are pronounced, especially verbs whose present stem ends or begins with a vowel. The verb ‘to be’, in the present tense, is used mainly in its short forms, however, in spoken Persian the third person singular of this form is pronounced as just a final vowel after consonants, and as the letter س after vowels ā and sometimes u:

spoken

written

سَردِه

سَرد اَست

بُزُرگِه

بزرگ است

خوبه

خوب است

ایرانیه

ایرانی است

اینجاس

 (اینجا است (اینجاست

مالِ ماس

مالِ ما است

خونَس

خانه است

کُجاس

کُجا است؟

زرده

زَرد است

The following patterns should give you some idea of the spoken verbal forms. Compare the written to the spoken style. The asterisks denote the unchanged forms:

‘to go’

Present TenseSimple Past
PluralSingularPluralSingular
spokenwrittenspokenwrittenspokenwrittenspokenwritten
می ریممی رویممی رَممی رومرفتیم *رفتیمرفتم *رفتم 
می رینمی رویدمی ریمی رویرفتینرفتیدرفتی *رفتی
می رَنمی روندمی رِهمی رودرفتَنرفتندرفت *رفت

As you see the changes in the past tense verbs are quite minor, however, every one of the six cases of the present tense of the verb ‘to go’ is pronounced differently. The same applies to the subjunctive from of the verb:

PluralSingular
spokenwrittenspokenwritten
بِریمبِرَویمبِرَمبِرَوم
بِرینبِرَویدبِریبِرَوی
بِرَنبِرَوَندبِرِهبِرَوَد

Look at the present tense forms of the verb ‘to say’ گُفتَن:

Present SubjunctivePresent Tense
PluralSingularPluralSingular
spokenwrittenspokenwrittenspokenwrittenspokenwritten
بِگیمبِگوییمبِگَمبِگویَممی گیممی گوییممی گَممی گویَم
بِگینبِگوییدبِگیبِگوییمی گینمی گوییدمی گیمی گویی
بِگَنبِگویَندبِگِهبِگویَدمی گَنمی گویَندمی گِهمی گویَد

The past tense forms are the same as in ‘to go’, where only the second and third person plurals change:

they said   گُفتن       گُفتَند         

you (pl.) said  گُفتید   ⟵    گُفتین        

Other examples:

to come  آمَدَن  (remember that in the spoken language an alef  ‘ا’  appearing before a mim  ‘م’   becomes ‘u’  ‘او’)

Present TenseSimple Past
PluralSingularPluralSingular
spokenwrittenspokenwrittenspokenwrittenspokenwritten
می یایممی آییممی یاممی آیَماومَدیمآمَدیماومَدَمآمَدم
می یاینمی آییدمی یایمی آییاومَدینآمَدیداومَدیآمَدی
می ان (میان)می آیَندمی یادمی آیَداومَدَنآمَدَنداومَدآمَد

And the subjunctive present:

PluralSingular
spokenwrittenspokenwritten
بیایمبیآییمبیامبیآیَم
بیاینبیآییدبیایبیایی
بی انبیآیندبیادبیایَد

to give’ دادن:

For the subjunctive present in the spoken form the بـِ replaces the می

Present Tense
PluralSingular
spokenwrittenspokenwritten
می دیممی دهیممی دممی دهَم
می دینمی دهیدمی دیمی دهی
می دَنمی دهَندمی دِهمی دهَد

to allow’ or ‘to place’ گُذاشتن

Present Tense
PluralSingular
spokenwrittenspokenwritten
می ذاریممی گُذاریممی ذارَممی گُذارَم
می ذارینمی گُذاریدمی ذاریمی گُذاری
می ذارَنمی گُذارَندمی ذارِهمی گُذارَد

The present stem of the infinitive ‘to want’ خواستَن changes from خواه  khāh to خوا khā. The conjugation follows the pattern of ‘to come’.  The present stem of ‘to know’ دانِستَن changes from دان dān to دون dun.  The past stem of this infinitive also changes from دانِست  dānest to دونِست dunest.

The infinitive of ‘to be able to’ (can/could) also goes through the same transformation:  tavānestan تَوانستَن   becomestunestan, تونِستَن and the present stem of tavān تون   becomes tun, and the past stem of tavānest تونِست  becomes tunest. The verb is then conjugated as the verbs seen earlier.

In spoken Persian, the present tense stem of the verb ‘to sit’ نِشَستَن  neshastan loses its initial n and becomes شین shin instead of نِشین neshin.

Nouns

Nouns also undergo some changes. Usually, but not always, the long vowel ā preceding an m or an n, changes to a long vowel u, as long as the spoken pronunciation does not match that of an existing word, therefore the shām does not becomeshum as this word already exists, neither does khan become khun as the word khun already exists and means something else:

ایرانی   ⟵   ایرونی نان   ⟵   نون خانه   ⟵   خونه
تابِستان  ⟵   تابِستون مِهمان  ⟵   مهمون آن   ⟵   اون
کُدام  ⟵   کُدوم بادام     ⟵   بادوم تَمام  ⟵   تَموم
حَمام  ⟵   حَموم دَوام  ⟵   دَووم جان   ⟵   جون
خواندَن   ⟵  خوندَن میدان   ⟵  میدون آمد   ⟵   اومَد
ـشان   ⟵   ـشون (the 3rd person possessive suffix) هِندِوانه  ⟵   هِندونه تهران  ⟵   تهرون
زبان   ⟵   زبون خیابان  ⟵   خیابون دوستِشان  ⟵   دوستِشون

The written plural maker ها is often reduced to a mere ā ا in Tehrani spoken Persian, so ketāb-hā  کتاب ها becomes ketābā کتابا.  Again, this only happens if the preceding letter before the is a consonant not a vowel.

However, the plurals made with ān, remain as ān and in this case the alef before the nun does not change to u.  Where the change occurs is in some adjectives and adverbs such as mardāne مردانه or bachegāne بَچِگانه where the word becomesmardune مَردونه  or bachegune بَچِگونه.

هَم ham, meaning too or also, also gets truncated when the language switches from written to the spoken mode.  For example, من هم می رَوَم  man ham miravam or  رامین هم می آیَد Rāmin ham mi āyad will change to منَم می رَم  manam miram, and  رامینَم میاد Rāminam miyād.

The numeral ‘one’ ¸یِک yek changes to یِه ye if it comes before a noun and is on its own:

یکشَنبه ⟵ یَشنبهیک اُتاق ⟵ یه اُتاقیک پِسَر ⟵ یه پِسَریک روز ⟵ یه روز

However, it stays the same in number combinations and after nouns:

پَنجاه و یک، صد و سی و یک، ساعت یک بَعد ازظُهر

مَگَر magar, meaning ‘but’ (used with a negative question when expecting the answer ‘yes’ or with an affirmative question expecting the answer ‘no’), also becomes ‘مَگِه mage’ in spoken Persian:

‘ مَگِه نَگُفتَم؟ (But) didn’t I tell you?’  Or ‘مَگِه می تونی؟ mage mituni?’ instead of ‘مَگَر می توانی؟ magar mitavāni?’ which means:‘but are you able to? Can you really?’

And finally, the direct object marker, or post-position را , also changes depending on whether it follows a vowel or a consonant.

After vowels, را becomes رُو ro with a short o vowel. After consonants it becomes a mere short vowel o -ُ  :

spokenwritten
خونه رو خانه را
 میوه رو میوِه را
 آقا رو آقا را
 لباسا رو لِباس ها را
اونُآن را  
اینُاین را  
منُمن را
کتابُکتاب را 
دوستاتُدوستهایت را

Although the change from written to spoken pronunciations are extremely common, some scholars, and guardians of the Persian language, disapprove of this style, and consider it lazy or detrimental to preserving the purity of the language.  However, these common changes are all the more widespread now, especially on social media, where, for example, there is a limit to the number of characters used.  The transcription of the spoken language of urban dwellers  is quite prevalent on social media platforms, as it is in short stories and novels when it is necessary to transcribe the realistic dialogues of characters.

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