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The Persian lexicon has a very large number of Arabic borrowings, including a small portion of very frequently used ones, and a larger portion of Arabic vocables seemingly spanning across all semantic domains. Much of the “Arabic” vocabulary used in the languages of the Indian subcontinent has been introduced indirectly through Persian.

I am wondering if there are any known patterns—phonetic, semantic, or otherwise in Arabic words Persians were exposed to but never adopted in their own language. To give an example for comparison, the sound ژ is somewhat common in Persian but practically all words including it were not borrowed into the Indic languages.

Besides function words and morphemes like the definite ال what tendencies in Arabic vocabulary would still stand out as entirely foreign against words current in Persian?

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  • “The sound ژ is somewhat common in Persian” Should this say Arabic?
    – Graham H.
    Jul 25, 2023 at 3:49
  • ژ = ʒ is non-existent in Arabic, except as a dialect variant of j
    – user6726
    Jul 25, 2023 at 4:04
  • @GrahamH. Sorry, my wording was unclear. I was saying that in native Persian words borrowed into Indian languages, those with ژ were ignored. I am asking if there are any known patterns that were ignored from Arabic to Persian—for any source sound, not literally the ژ sound Jul 25, 2023 at 21:33
  • Did you consider the most recent Arabic neologisms? I wonder, is Persian still borrowing Arabic words as soon as Arabs create a new one, in the IT sphere, for example?
    – Yellow Sky
    Aug 2, 2023 at 4:50
  • @YellowSky I was not considering those, although I was more considering what Arabic words Persian speakers were exposed to but did not adopt—as far as I know, contemporary Persian draws its neologisms from French and Russian primarily. (For example, Iranian Persian uses the French word for “elevator” while Tajik Persian uses the Russian one; both varieties use the French word for “vanilla.”) There may be some coincidental overlap due to French being a significant source of recent Arabic vocabulary. Aug 7, 2023 at 21:05

3 Answers 3

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In principle, Arabic nouns and adjectives can be borrowed into Persian without any phonological constraints. Verbs cannot normally be borrowed as such, but you can combine an Arabic verbal noun (maṣdar, infinitive) with a Persian verb (most commonly a form of the verb kardan) to produce a Persian phrasal verb. Or else you take an Arabic noun and add the Persian suffix -īdan to make a denominal verb.The Arabic article al- does occur in borrowed phrases like bayn-al-milal.

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  • For what it's worth, even idea that Persian verbs are a closed class seems to be somewhat of a myth perpetuated by puristic lexicographers—it is possible to find the Punjabi or Hindi verb چلنا as چلیدن in any Persian dictionary for example. There are some older dictionaries by عبد الواسع ہانسوی which describe the Indian and Arabic origins of various Persian verbs. Jul 25, 2023 at 21:40
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    @earlyinthemorning. I have edited my answer, taking your valid comments on board.
    – fdb
    Jul 26, 2023 at 15:03
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Arabic in Persian plays a similar role to Latin or French in English (despite ancient Iran having been a much more advanced civilisation than ancient England).

So while the Arabic influence is greatest in spheres like bureaucracy and religion, it is now essentially impossible to find a longer organic text or conversation in Persian without a single Arabic loanword.

So “never say never” applies here. For example, curse words are often used as an example of pure Anglo-Saxon words in English, but there are definitely some exceptions to that in English, and in Persian.

The purest Persian is probably that which is associated with the pre-Islamic religion of Zoroastrianism. It was preserved by the Zoroastrians, including the Parsis of India who are now spread around the world.

The modern Armenian language also preserves both the earlier non-Arabised pronunciation, like parsik not farsi and Ispahan and Tavriz not Isfahan and Tabriz, and Iranic words for a great many concepts, like president or cucumber, that did not survive in New Persian.

(Armenian is no more closely related to Persian than English is, phylogenetically.)

It is also interesting to consider in which spheres Persian, or other ancient Iranian languages, contributed the most words to Arabic and other Semitic languages. There are even words that went to Persian and Arabic and back.

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  • The 101 names are not old, If you are looking for "pure" Persian there is Old and Middle Persian.
    – fdb
    Jul 26, 2023 at 14:53
  • Thanks. I am looking for something still used today. Jul 26, 2023 at 16:56
  • This answer has me thinking of the converse—I wonder if there are non-Islamic religious terms in Arabic which never had traction in Persian Jul 28, 2023 at 19:42
  • @earlyinthemorning I'd look to religions like Druzism which originate in what are now Arabic countries but never had significant spread to Iran (even though the founder and namesake was actually from Iran). Jul 28, 2023 at 21:48
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I ended up coming across some research that addresses my question:

  • Perry, J. R. (2005). Lexical areas and semantic fields of Arabic loanwords in Persian and beyond. Linguistic convergence and areal diffusion: Case studies from Iranian, Semitic and Turkic, 23-59.

Perry discusses 12th century Persian lexicohrapher Bu Ja‘farak, who wrote a popular glossary of Arabic verbal nouns called تاج المصادر. This glossary became a source of “potential loans” of sorts, and writers used it to coin new terms. In considering words which pattern with مفاعلۃ (sourced from words sharing the same triliteral root), 166 words current in Persian are identified against 749 listed by Bu Ja‘farak and 883 available in Arabic. This word family is then split into three semantic fields—love, war, and trade—and then compared in proportion. Despite only a small portion of the Arabic vocabulary having longevity in Persian, the proption of the semantic fields between the two was found to be very close, with the only difference remarked on being that the war-related terms were slightly less likely to be adopted.

This is only one study focusing on one word group, but it gives enough interesting hints about where to look for further investigation.

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