Selected Annotated Bibliography: Persian/Farsi Learner Language

Sara Khanzadi, University of Minnesota, Dec. 12, 2011

A note to the reader:
Almost no second-language acquisition research has been published on the learner language produced by English-speaking learners of Persian (Farsi). We are aware of only the following items even tangentially related to Persian learner language. There are rich opportunities for researchers interested in studying Persian learner language in more depth than was possible in our project.


Ghadessy, E. (1998). Some problems of American students in mastering Persian phonology. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, Austin.

This study focuses on the problems of Persian stop voicing for American students, and provides background on Persian language and culture. It briefly reviews the Persian and English sound systems and how they differ in terms of some consonants, vowels and intonation. This study concerns American learners of Persian as a foreign or second language, who encounter particular problems in the acquisition of the Persian sound system, particularly stops. Phonological problems identified in the available literature can stem from first language interference, certain aspects of the target language, learner strategies, methodology, and in some cases, inadequate instruction.

Two Iranian (NS) and two American (NNS) groups of students provided data for this study. Two groups of American students, one male and one female were tested. The male group included five American students (aged 25-39, mean:29) who had completed two years of Persian at University of Texas at Austin and had resided in Iran from one to three years. At the time of this experiment, they were all in United States participating in the graduate program at the University of Texas. During their stay in Iran they had not attended any special Persian classes, but were regularly engaged in oral communication with native speakers. The female group consisted of five American students (aged 19-26, mean: 26): four undergraduates and one graduate, none of whom had been to Iran. Three were in education and two in a foreign language education program. All participants were asked to produce twelve sentence carriers that contained Tehran Persian stops; their production of these stops was measured for voice onset time, initial closure, vowel duration, final closure and utterance length. Results for the NS and NNSs were compared.

Keshavars, M. H. (2007). Morphological development in the speech of a Persian–English bilingual child. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 36(4), 255-272.

The present study focuses on longitudinal data on a bilingual child’s acquisition of morphemes in English and Persian including determiners, plural marker, genitive, and copula. The data come from a Persian–English bilingual child, Arsham (henceforth Ar) who was born in Great Britain and lived there for the first 2 years of his life. A bilingual policy was established according to which the mother of the child (a native speaker of Persian) would speak to him only in Persian and the father (being bilingual in Persian and English) only in English. Data collection and analysis based on written diary records and periodic audio recording began when Ar’s first comprehensible words were produced (from 9 months on). This paper provides a morphological analysis of two-word and early multiword utterances produced from 16–23 months of age. The analysis showed that Ar used possessive, plural marker, copula, and determiners, which are features of the functional stage from an early age. Unfortunately, studies on early acquisition of Persian morphology by monolingual children are scarce; one is Rashtchi (1999), whose daughter, like Ar, used the morpheme –e as the short form of Persian copula in meaningful contexts during her second year of life. Thus, it seems that the development of Persian e-morpheme is similar in both monolingual and bilingual children.

Ar developed the copula morpheme during the two-word and early multiword stages in Persian, but not in English; this could be due to the fact that Persian is more richly inflected compared to English. On the other hand, although Persian is morphologically richer than English the concept of pluralness is not always marked; plural nouns in Persian do not always show number agreement with numerals. Ar did not show any sign of development of plural markers in Persian until he was 21 months old when he used the plural deictic expression /in-a/ ‘these,’ and even thereafter (until 23 months of age) his use of plural morpheme was restricted to one word only, namely gol-a ‘flowers,’ produced twice. At 23 months of age, Ar used considerably more plural morphemes in English. The English plural morpheme –s was never affixed to Persian nouns.


Ostadzadeh, Z. (2005). Contrastive analysis of sentence patterns in English and Persian. Office of International Scientific Cooperation (Persian Language and Literature Development Section), Ministry of Science and Technology. Retrieved from

In English and Persian, the basic functions of the clause are the same but Persian contains five canonical structures whereas English has just four. While in both languages the subject is the first element of the clause, the order of the elements is different in the two languages. In canonical structures in Persian, the predicator is always the final element of the clause (SOV), while in English it always fills the second position (SVO). In the context of valency, both languages have the same functions. Intransitive clauses are either monovalent or bivalent. Monotransitive clauses are either bivalent or trivalent. English intransitive clauses are always trivalent.

payâm / name râ/        be maryam / dâd-ø Persian (SOV)
Payam/ letter/ Comp/ to Maryam/
Payam gave the letter to Maryam English (SVO)

Transitivity Valency
mehdi xâbid-ø
[Mehdi slept]
intransitive monovalent
in be pâsox to bastegi dâr-ad
[It depends on your response]
intransitive bivalent
ali dâvar Šod-ø
[Ali became a referee]
intransitive(complex) bivalent
man nâmeh râ xând-am
[I read the letter]
monotransitive bivalent
ma ketab ra baray-e to xarid-im
[We bought the book for you]
monotransitive trivalent
rezâ bačče râ ali nâmid-ø
[Reza named the child Ali ]
monotransitive trivalent

Tarallo, F, & Myhill, J. (1983). Interference and natural language processing in second language acquisition. Language Learning 33(1), 55-76.

A study of English speakers' acquisition of relative clauses in Chinese, Japanese, Persian, German, and Portuguese is reported. Various structures were tested to separate interlanguage features attributable to first language interference from those universal to second language acquisition. Application of an accessibility hierarchy theory and previously unexamined structures are assessed.  Persian is an SOV language and has a relativizer. This relativizer may be deleted under some conditions. Persian indirect objects are marked with a preposition, as are possessives. Extraction of nouns with a preposition requires leaving a resumptive pronoun. Relativization of direct objects may optionally leave a resumptive pronoun but relativization of subjects may not.  Structures tested for Persian include leaving a resumptive pronoun (correct except in subject position), stranding a preposition (always incorrect), and moving the preposition in front of the relativizer (also always incorrect).

The man who came from Iran is rich.

1 mardi keh (ou) az eeran amad pooldar ast
man who he from Iran came rich is

Obs: Ou (the RP) must be left out.

The man (who) I hit was Iranian.

2 mardi keh man ou ra zadam eerani bood
man (who) I him DOM hit Iranian was

Obs: Ra is a definite direct object marker. Ou (the PR) may be left in or out.

The man (whom) I spoke with was American.

3 mardi keh man ba ou sohbat kardam emrikayee bood
man (whom) I with him speak did American was

Obs: Ou (the RP) may not be left out, nor may ba moved before the relativizer, as in:Mardi ba keh man sohbat kardam emrikayee bood.


Wilson, Lili, & Martin. (2001). Farsi speakers. In Swan, Michael, & Smith, Bernard (Eds.). Learner English: A teacher's guide to interference and other problems (pp. 179-194). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

This reference book provides detailed contrastive analyses of the relevant features of 22 different languages with English; the stated goal is to help English teachers predict and understand possible native language influences on their English learner language. The chapter on Farsi focuses on the features of the phonology, orthography and punctuation, grammar, and vocabulary of the Farsi (Persian) language that contrast with those of English, and so might influence the learner language produced by Farsi-speaking learners of English. These same features might or might not influence the learner language produced by English-speaking learners of Farsi.

Phonology:  the Farsi and English phonological systems differ in their range of sounds, as well as in their stress and intonation patterns. Persian has only eleven vowels and diphthongs to 32 consonants, while English has 22 vowels and diphthongs to 24 consonants. There are five English consonant phonemes that do not have near equivalents in Farsi.

Orthography and punctuation: Farsi is written in Arabic script, which is completely different from the Latin script of English. Farsi is written from right to left with the letters joining each other according to very definite rules. Farsi students of English (and American learners of Farsi) have to learn a completely new alphabet and new way of writing.  

The authors point out that Farsi and English are both Indo-European languages, and share many grammatical similarities. Areas of grammar that differ, and may cause learning difficulties, include questions, negatives, auxiliaries, a special confusion with Chera (=why not?), question tags, time, tense, modal verbs, non-finitive forms, word order, the active and passive voices, articles, adjectives and adverbs, comparatives and superlatives, gender and number, prepositions, phrasal verbs, and subordinate clauses.

Persian and English vocabulary are very different, except for a few high-frequency words. The chapter concludes with a brief explanation of differences between American and Persian educational culture.


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