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Hobby linguistic learner here.

Farsi naturally shares a lot of simple words with other Indo-European languages:

  • German for [daughter]: "Tochter" / "doxtar" (دختر)
  • English for [bad]: "bad"/"bad" (بد)
  • Russian for [thank you]: "Spasiba" (Спасибо) / sepasgozar (سپاسگزار*)

However, "Are" (آره), the casual word used in northern Iran for [yes] doesn't quite sound the same as "Ja/Yeah/Da (да)".

Farsi speakers from central Iran, especially small towns and villages, frequently use "Ha" (ها) instead of آره , and ها sounds a lot more like "Ja".

Did ancient or middle Persian use ها or maybe even "xa" (خوا) for [yes]? If yes, how did آری take its place with some speakers?

For what its worth, I think خوا was the original word. The verb "to want" in Farsi is خواستن, and the idea of agreeing or responding positively with "yes" carries connotations of positive wanting in my mind.

*Also, is "sepas" (سپاس) an example of how Farsi lost the Middle Persian morpheme "spa"? Wikipedia mentions that the Sassanian name for Isfahan was "Spahan".

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    English "bad" and Persian "bad" are not cognates. Their identity is coincidental. – fdb Jun 11 '18 at 14:57
  • @fdb What about "xub" (خوب) and "good"? They both start at the throat/back of the mouth, have an "ooo" vowel, and end near the lips. – techSultan Jun 11 '18 at 15:43
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    You will notice that words for 'yes' vary a lot in IE languages. English yes, Spanish , Albanian po, Polish tak, Greek nai etc. are all from different PIE roots. – melissa_boiko Nov 14 '18 at 14:53
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    спасибо and sepasgozar are not cognates either. For real borrowings from Iranian to Slavic see czechency.org/slovnik/… – Vladimir F Nov 24 '19 at 9:35
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First, you seem to be starting from the assumption that all words that are similar between Persian and other IE languages must be cognates. But that's not true; there are three distinct reasons two words can be similar:

  1. Actual cognates. In your first example, "Tochter" and "دختر" ("duxtar") are both direct descendants of PIE *dʰugh₂tḗr.
  2. Pure accident. Your second example, "bad" and "بد" ("bad"), is actually the standard example of this, but your "Спасибо" example might be more fruitful. The Russian word is a relatively recent contraction from "съпаси богъ" ("sŭpasi bogŭ", "save us God"), which has nothing to do with the PIE root *speḱ "to see" that the Persian and various other words for gratitude ultimately derive from. For actual western words related to "سپاسگزار", you have to turn to things like German "spähen", which you'd never guess were connected at first glance.
  3. Borrowing. Armenian "վատ" ("vat") sounds a lot like Persian "بد" ("bad") because it descends from a word that late Classical Armenian borrowed from Old or Middle Persian. (There are of course also borrowings into Persian from other IE languages.) If you tried to reconstruct "վատ" back to PIE following the rules of Armenian sound change, you'd get garbage, even though it actually is an IE word—because the first half of its evolution happened in Persian, not in Armenian.

So, what about your question? I don't know much about modern Farsi, but I think it's more likely that it didn't have a casual word for "yes" until one was invented, not that it had one, lost it, and invented a new one.

Trying to guess a priori what root an unattested word might have come from is a mug's game. You're expecting to find "yes" in a word for "to want"—but the actual roots IE languages' "yes" words (both modern and ancient) come from have meanings like "already", "to see", "itself", "this", "that", and "therefore". Or they're contractions originally meaning things like "so may it be" or "this is". Or they're borrowed from neighboring families and can't be reconstructed natively (try to work out what Romanian "da" could derive from in Vulgar Latin…). None of this is anything that could have been guessed; it all has to be found, or reconstructed by the comparative method. (You might be able to guess a few of the colloquial words that derive from "hail"-type interjections. But then you'd find dozens of false positives for every correct hit.)

Most IE languages' modern words for "yes" were coined or borrowed relatively recently. Other than the Germanic and Slavic languages, most IE languages answered in the affirmative by repeating the verb, as in Latin, or modern Irish. Of course these languages did all have words with some kind of positive/affirmative meaning, but they couldn't be used as casual "yes". And they aren't related to modern casual "yes" words—e.g., Latin's "enim" ("truly, so") is related to all kinds of things, like Baltic "anas" ("that"), but not to any modern Romance word for "yes".

Germanic *ja and Slavic *da are cognate—both come from PIE *yē, which means "already", and has descendants all over IE like Latin "iam" and the Iranian family of *hyáh- relative pronouns. Exactly how *ja and *da are related beyond that isn't clear, but obviously Iranian languages never used those *hyáh- words as a casual "yes".


Finally, your proposal kind of contradicts itself. For example, you propose a lost Iranian word that isn't related to "ja"—and then, to argue for it, you point out that there's a modern dialect word that isn't related to your own proposed word, and that does sound like "ja"? That would be an argument against your theory, not for it.

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  • My day job has kept me busy. I miss this stuff! Thanks for the master class answer. – techSultan Apr 29 '19 at 16:56
  • There is though a casual word for yes in Persian: simply ha, same as in Armenian and some other neighbouring languages. – Adam Bittlingmayer Nov 24 '19 at 19:59
  • I actually read a very vehemently written linguistics paper that did its best to convince me that Romanian da comes from Latin ita and not from Slavic... – LjL Nov 26 '19 at 23:20
  • Incidentally, Latin iam has Italian già and Spanish ya as outcomes, and at least the former can be used as an alternative affirmative instead of , with a slightly different connotation of "well, yeah", or something (I think the latter too, but I barely speak any Spanish so don't quote me on it, Italian on the other hand is my native). – LjL Nov 26 '19 at 23:23
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Well, you know it's not like there aren't synonyms in Persian. Look: Ari (آری) and bali (بلی) are totally formal and you can find them in old Farsi books (but you can't find hA there). Farsi is an Indo-European language but it doesn't mean that all the words in Farsi should have an Indo-European root. Ari (آری) changed to Are (آره), and Are is less formal. Bali (‌بلی) changed to bale (بله) but bale is formal and proper to use. Note that we still use Ari and bali.

As for hA, it's just used in spoken Farsi and has the same meaning as Are (آره) (used to express agreement) but it does have other meanings like "what" (when you don't understand what someone's talking about).

As for خوا, there is no such word as خوا but there is خا. The latter is totally informal and used in spoken Farsi only, it's also kind of rude.

You should also know that Are (اره) isn't used exclusively in the Northern part of Iran. It's used everywhere just like hA (ها).

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  • a more polite (though still informal) alternative to خا is خُب (which is probably a shortened version of خوب meaning "good") which means "alright (i will do it / accept it)" and is used to agree to do something or accept someone's suggestion/excuse or sometimes used when someone is talking to indicate you understood what they said and interested/curious in it and want them to continue (i.e.: like saying "right" when someone is talking to you in English). – Microsoft Linux TM Feb 26 at 8:08
  • another version of خب is خِیلِ خُب (which is probably a shortened version of خیلی خوب meaning "very good") which is used to agree to do something or accept an argument/excuse while sounding your frustration or reluctance: "alright (i will do it / accept it, you can stop now), and is obviously also relatively impolite. – Microsoft Linux TM Feb 26 at 8:08
  • another more polite alternative to خا, and even more polite than خب, is باشِه (which is informal form of باشَد = it be) which means "alright" and is used to agree to do something or accept someone's suggestion/excuse. – Microsoft Linux TM Feb 26 at 8:08

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