Dr. Sirma Kostadinova: Bulgarian language has resemblances with Persian

Dr. Sirma Kostadinova: Bulgarian language has resemblances with Persian

Sirma Kostadinova, Ph.D. (source: Sirma Kostadinova)

An interview with the head of the Iranian Studies at the University of Sofia about Bulgarian Iranology and Iranian culture

Denitsa Kitanova

This article was originally published by the Bulgarian news agency Focus on 4 July 2021. It is republished with the consent of the agency. The title is changed. A subtitle is added.

Mrs. Kostadinova, do students in Bulgaria choose to study Eastern cultures and why?

Iranian Studies is part of the Center for Eastern Languages and Cultures at the Sofia University. It houses a variety of specialties studying the languages and cultures of countries and peoples of the Far East and the Middle East. Young people are definitely interested in them and this is evidenced by the annual intake of students into our programmes.

The groups in which future specialists in Eastern languages are trained are small – in the Iranian Studies programme, there are up to 10 students. They are usually highly motivated and attracted by the unknown face of the East. Iran rarely find place in the news in Bulgaria, and when it does, it is most often in political context. Students tell us that even before they started their studies, they had only a cursory knowledge of Persian culture, but during their studies they discovered that the Persian language was a gateway to a a completely new and different world with which they remain forever connected. This is a world of a millennia-old cultural tradition that inspires and touches everyone. While they learn the Persian language, students read the original classical works of poets like Rumi, Khayyam, Ferdowsi. Studying the history and civilization of the Iranian-speaking world, they better understand the worldview of of Iranian speakers. During their studies they have the opportunity to visit Iran for short language courses and meet face-to-face with significant cultural monuments that still impress today with their impressive their impressive appearance and scale – the ancient capitals of Pasargadae and Persepolis, remarkable cities such as Isfahan, Shiraz, and the current capital Tehran. Our students can pursue careers as experts in diverse areas of public life such as international relations, public administration, culture, education, translation, media, tourism.

What are the different kinds of Iranian languages that are spoken today? In which countries is Persian language spoken today?

Iranian languages are part of the Indo-Iranian language group, which separates from the Indo-European language family around the second millennium BC. In the distant past, the Iranian languages included Ancient Persian, Median, Saxon, Bactrian, Sogdian, Khorezmian, Middle Persian (Pahlavi) and a number of other languages. Today the modern Persian language is spoken mainly in Iran, but also in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan as well as in other countries around the world with large Persian-speaking communities. Kurdish is another living language, part of the Iranian language group, which is studied alongside Persian in the Iranian Studies major. Dari – one of the two official languages of Afghanistan and very close to modern Persian, is included in the in the curriculum as an optional subject

In what ways does the Persian language resemble and in what ways it differs from Bulgarian?

Both Bulgarian and Persian are Indo-European languages and their common past, from which, although we are separated by millennia, still is reflected in some similarities in the grammatical structure of the two languages. For example, the grammatical tenses and inflections we use in Bulgarian have their equivalents in Persian. Unlike in Bulgarian, however, in Persian language, there is generally no category of noun gender. The two The two languages also differ significantly in their vocabulary.

Are there Persian words in Bulgarian language and how have they entered?

The languages belonging to the Indo-European linguistic family have common words in most languages. These are words such as “brother” (Persian: “baradar”), “mother” (“madar”), “daughter” (“dohtar”), “wife” (“zan”), “land” (“zamin”), “tree” (“derakht”). With a common root are also concepts such as “light”, “darkness”, “mirth”, “wisdom”, “demon”, which speaks eloquently that in ancient times people gave names not only to objects of real reality, from the surrounding world, but also to abstract ideas, that describe the inner world of man.

There is another way in which Persian words entered the Bulgarian language in more recent past and this happened through the mediation of Ottoman Turkish. In our everyday life we use words like “baksheesh” (tip), “divan” (sofa), “gerdan” (necklace), “perde” (curtain), whose counterparts we find in Persian, albeit sometimes with different shades of meaning. For example, ‘girdan’ in Persian denotes “neck”, while in Bulgarian the word “gerdan” is the name of the jewel which we usually put around our necks. In Persian, “baksheesh” has the meaning of “gift”. Another interesting word in Bulgarian that is combination of two Persian words is “shadravan” – literally it can be translated as “flowing joy”. 

Dr. Hajar Fiyuzi, a long-time professor at our specialty, compiled and published some time ago the collection Persian words in the Bulgarian Language”, which gives us an idea of how many words in the Bulgarian language are derived from Persian. A thorough research and knowledge of the historical path of the languages and of cultural exchange between the peoples in order to establish the ways in which one or another Persian word finds its place in the Bulgarian language. We expect very soon in Iranian Studies specialisation to present a dissertation on this question.

You participated last week in an international conference about metaphor. Tell us about this conference and your participation in it?

The conference I participated in with a paper on prepositions in the Persian language as carriers of metaphorical meaning, took place in four days. It brought together in a common virtual space metaphor researchers from all over the world. Among the most impressive for me peculiarities of the Persian language is the fact that the speakers of the language, in order to express actions or states of everyday life, use phrases with figurative meanings: “I dare,” for example, is Persian for “I throw my heart into the sea.” The phrase “I put heat on my heart” is also widespread, meaning, that something moves me very strongly, makes me sad. The heart as the symbolic centre of feelings finds a natural place in these expressions, some of which have their equivalents in the Bulgarian language, such as “it weighs on my heart” or “my heart is heavy”. There is similarity in imagery in Bulgarian, Persian, and in other languages of the world, It is indicative of the fact that despite of belonging to a particular culture, society, religion, a person describes personal experiences and relations with the surrounding world in speech with universal expressions that occur in a variety of languages.

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