In this article, I will explain the similarities and differences between Persian (Farsi) and Turkish and provide insights only a Turkish local would know.
My international friends usually think the Turkish language is somehow related to the Persian Language. By the way, Persian is also known as Farsi.
Some also believe Turkish or Persian languages are different dialects of the same language. As a Turkish, I want to clarify this misconception because the reality is very different.
Even though centuries of cultural exchanges created many loanwords, Turkish and Persian are distinctly different languages.
Persian and Turkish languages have different grammar structures, vocabulary, and sounds.
Turkish belongs to the Altaic and Turkic language groups, and Persian belongs to the Indo-European language group.
Kurdish people in Turkey speak Kurdish, which is similar and closely related to the Persian language. On the other hand, Azerbaijani people in Iran speak a language that is mutually intelligible with Turkish.
Persian vs. Turkish Languages
|Persian / Farsi
|Indo-European and Indo-Iranian
|Turkic and Altaic
|Mutually Intelligible with Dari and Tajik
Closely related and have some degree of mutual intelligibility with Zaza, Kurdish, Luri, Balochi, Pashto
|Similar to Azerbaijani
Closely related and have some degree of mutual intelligibility with Turkmen, Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh, Kyrgyz
|Number of Speakers
|110 million Persian native speakers (native and non-native). Source
|88 million Turkish native speakers. Source
1. Similarities between Turkish and Persian
Turkish and Persian originated in different parts of the world, and they are not the same language or dialects of each other.
Turkish is a Turkic language belonging to the Altaic language family, whereas Persian is an Indo-Iranian language belonging to the Indo-European language family.
Turkish and Persian languages have some loanwords from each other, but there is no similarity between their grammar and pronunciation.
Yet, some scholars propose Persian lost its typical grammatical features and grammatically became similar to Turkish due to cultural exchanges between Iranian and Turkic people. Source
Most loanwords in Persian languages are from Arabic and Turkish. Yet, even with the shared words, the understandability between Persian and Turkish is very low.
Today, around 1% of Turkish words have a Persian origin.
As for my personal experience, Turkish native speakers have near zero mutual intelligibility in Persian languages, but I can understand some words due to cultural exchanges.
Additionally, Azeri speakers, which constitute around %16-24 percent of the Iranian population, enable Turkish speakers to communicate with Iranians easily.
I will explain more about that below.
1.1 Turco-Persian Tradition
Turkish people are descendants of Central Asian Turkic people and indigenous people of Anatolia.
The Persians are an Iranian ethnic group that makes up over half the population of Iran and are indigenous to Iran.
Persians and Turks have different languages and cultural and ethnic roots.
Yet, it is undeniable that Persians and Turks have interacted many times in history and have blended more than most.
Since the Middle Ages, Turkic Empires created and led by rulers of Turkic ancestry embraced governing traditions that are Persian and Iranian.
Many Turkish dynasties used Persian as the language of the palace and as a language of literature. This fusion created a unique culture called Turco-Persian.
Safavid, Mughal, and (to some degree) Ottoman empires are examples of Turco-Persian tradition.
The Mughal Empire, which dominated Iran and India, was a Turkic dynasty heavily influenced by Persian culture.
For this reason, their beautiful architectural creations like the Taj Mahal are a fusion of Islamic, Persian, Turkish, and Indian architectural elements. Source
1.2 Persian Influence in the Ottoman Empire
Turkish scholars and the government used Ottoman Turkish in the Ottoman Empire between 1299 and 1922.
Ottoman Turkish had around 80% Arabic and Persian loanwords. This led to Persian influence in the Turkish language, arts, and government.
However, unlike other Turkic dynasties, I believe that the Persian language was limited in the Ottoman Empire.
Mainly due to two factors. One of them was Ottoman Turkish was primarily used in government and academic circles, and the Turkish population continued to speak the ordinary Turkish language similar to modern Turkish.
Secondly, unlike other Turkic dynasties, the Ottoman Empire was also influenced by other cultures.
Arabic, French, Italian, English, and Greek are the primary cultures that affected the Turkish language besides the Persian Language.
Yet, it should be noted that the Persian language in the Turkish language may be lessened after the reforms taken by the Turkish Republic around 1920-1930.
2. Differences between Turkish and Persian
After centuries of cultural exchanges, the Turkish and Persian languages have evolved.
Yet, Turkish and Persian languages have very different paths of evolution, creating a fundamental barrier between languages that is very hard to break.
The Persian language is part of Indo-European Languages. On the other hand, Turkish and other Turkic languages were born and evolved in Central Asia.
2.1 Origins of the Persian Language
The Indo-Iranian language is the largest and southeasternmost branch of the Indo-European language family. This branch has around 1.5 billion native speakers.
Persian, with its 110 million native speakers, is one of the most spoken Indo-European Languages.
All Indo-Iranian languages, including Persian, are believed to have evolved from a proto-language about 5 thousand years ago.
The maps below may help you understand the difference between the geographies of native speakers of Turkic languages and Iranian languages.
2.2 Origins of the Turkish Language
All Turkic languages come from Proto-Turkic, and Turkish is about 3000 years old.
This ancient Turkic language evolved into Turkish, Turkmen, Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Uyghur, Tatar, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic languages.
Turkish has its origins in Central Asia. Even then, Turkish had its unique alphabet.
There are 4 main subgroups of Turkic Languages. These are,
- Oghuz languages with 125,400,000 native speakers.
- Karluk languages with 38,000,000 native speakers.
- Kipchak languages with 28,300,000 native speakers.
- Siberian Turkic languages with 1,200,000 native speakers.
There are around 193,700,000 native speakers of Turkic languages.
3. Turkic (Turkish) Languages Spoken in Iran
The Iranian population consists of 53% Persian native speakers and 18% percent native speakers of the Turkic languages. Turkic languages form the second most prominent language group in Iran.
Azeris and other Turkic People living in Iran provide a substantial cultural connection between Iran and Turkey.
Turkmen and Azerbaijani languages are very similar and highly mutually intelligible with Turkish.
Turkmen and Azerbaijani languages are the most spoken Turkic languages in Iran. 13% of the Iranian population is Azerbaijani native speakers.
|Native Languages in Turkey
|Both Turkish and Other
|Less than 1%
Source EU’s Eurobarometer 2005 Survey
Kurdish is an Indo-European Language and is classified as an Iranian Language. Linguistically, Kurdish is similar to Persian.
It is estimated that Kurdish people form between 15-20% of Turkey’s population.
Yet, Kurdish descendants of Turkish people do not always know the Kurdish language. I have many friends of Kurdish origin, and they are native speakers of Turkish languages.
Persian and other Iranian language speakers have varying degrees of mutual intelligibility with Kurdish. Source
5. Which is harder to learn, Turkish or Persian?
If you are undecided about learning Turkish or Persian, here is my short answer.
Because both Persian and Turkish have vast cultural backgrounds, to master these languages, you need to live in a country where the language is spoken natively.
And if you intend to learn Turkish or Persian, think about which country you love to stay in for a year and then decide to learn that language.
Here is the long answer…
Turkish and Persian can be hard and complicated to learn, with each language having its challenges.
Grammatically and logically, Persian is closer to European languages because it is an Indo-European Language.
Yet, you need to learn the Arabic alphabet to start learning Persian.
Turkish is easy to read. Turkish uses the Latin alphabet and nearly the same sounds as the original Latin language.
Anyone who knows how to read Latin, Spanish, or Italian can easily read Turkish with a few hours of practice.
Turkish grammar has fewer irregularities and straightforward rules.
Additionally, Turkish only has one main dialect (Istanbul dialect), which all Turkish speakers understand. You do not need to learn local dialects to use Turkish.
Yet, Turkish is not easier to learn Persian because Turkish grammar structure and logic differ significantly from Latin languages.
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