03.15.17

Farsi vs. Arabic: A Look at How the Two Languages Match Up

A lot of times when people find out I speak Arabic, I get asked the following question: “Is Arabic the same as Farsi?” The answer is no — Arabic is not the same as Farsi — but I usually go into a bit more detail than that because I like people to get a feel for these two languages and how they compare and contrast with one another.

The Arabic Alphabet

After explaining that the two languages are in fact different, I then explain that they use the same alphabet. The Arabic alphabet is the basis for several languages including Farsi, Kurdish, Pashto, and Urdu. Even Turkish was written in the Arabic alphabet up until the last century. Each of these languages has some variation in lettering — but they all share the same foundation.

They Look Similar, But Sound Completely Different

The next thing I usually tell people is that although the two languages share the same alphabet, the languages are completely different. This explanation doesn’t usually resonate with anyone until I go into further detail by comparing two languages such as Portuguese and French and how they share the same alphabet but are far from being the same language.

Language Groups and Families

That usually clears things up, but in truth, Farsi and Arabic are even more different than Portuguese and French because they don’t have a language group in common. Portuguese and French are both Latin, or Romance, languages while Farsi and Arabic represent two different language groups: Iranian and Semitic, respectively. In fact, Farsi is not only in a separate language group from Arabic but it’s also in a separate language family. Arabic is in the Afro-Asiatic family while Farsi is in the Indo-European family.

Coincidentally, Portuguese is also in the Indo-European language family, but it also differs from Farsi in many ways. Perhaps next time I’m asked about Farsi vs. Arabic I’ll say, “Farsi is actually more closely related to Portuguese.” However, given the fact that they are spoken in nations almost 3,500 miles apart, it would probably be best not to confuse matters even more.

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See also: The Culture Behind Farsi Translation

See also: The Most Interesting Facts About Arabic to English Translation

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Comments

  1. Niall MacDonagh 07.30.17

    Rather than using French and Portuguese to show the difference between Farsi and Arabic maybe English and Irish (Gaelic) could have been used. Or English and Welsh. Because of their common roots a French speaker (or even an English speaker like me) might be able to pick out enough from written Portuguese to get a sense of its meaning. whereas Gaelic has no existing comparable language. OK, maybe Scots Gaelic but they are really dialects of one language not separate languages.

    1. Caitlin Nicholson 07.31.17

      Thank you for the feedback, Niall. Indeed, English and Irish (Gaelic) are very different. The point of the article is to show that Arabic and Farsi are, in fact, more different than French and Portuguese. However, people still mix the two of them up (while rarely mixing up French and Portuguese). Irish language, as you pointed out, has no comparable language and is rarely mistaken for English.

    2. Simon 09.21.17

      Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic are distinct languages – easily as distinct as, say, Portuguese and Catalan – although they are of course related, much the same as Portuguese and Catalan are. What’s interesting about them is that they are both members of one specific branch of Celtic languages (Goidelic, together with Manx) as distinct from Welsh, Cornish and Breton, which belong to the Brythonic (or Brittonic) branch. Hence there are some very similar-sounding lexemes between all these languages, but the Goidelic and Brythonic branches are, generally speaking, not mutually phrasally intelligible.

  2. Wael 09.11.17

    I compare Arabic and Persian or Farsi to French and German being languages of neighbors that influence each other but are from different language families. French is from Latin or romance family where as German is more like Swedish and English and have Germanic roots. I say that beause I am learning German and French but I Know English and Arabic.
    French has some common words and letters with both German and English but is completely different.
    Likewise Arabic and Persian have some common letters and words as Arabic originated in Nowadays West Asia or Middle East region or historically Arabic Peninsula geographically close to Persia historically or present day Iran .
    But Arabic is from Afro Asiatic language group but Iranian is from Indo European and Aryan origin .
    But yes just like German language as I have seen and experienced myself have some common words and letters with French but are different than French likewise are Arabic and Persian that have some common letters, words and scripture writings but are different languages with different rules and pronunciations and do belong to different family groups.

  3. Rick Ciampi 09.16.17

    Very succinct and thorough explanation and I love the comparison!!

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