Invitations in Persian (Farsi)

Persian Ostensible (Ritual) Invitations

The concept of ta'arof is heavily reflected in Persian invitations, making frequent ostensible invitations part of everyday language in Iranian society. Ta'arof can most simply be interpreted as "ritual politeness." Being able to use ta'arof is valued in Persian society because it signifies one's sophisticated attitude of willingness to maintain interactants' face by demonstrating respect.

See more information on ta'arof in Eslami, 2005, p. 456-457, 478-479.

Classifications and Examples of Ostensible Invitations in Persian (Farsi)

Using the seven invitation features identified by Isaacs and Clark (1990), ostensible invitations in comparison with genuine invitations in Persian can be explained as follows, where A refers to the inviter, B the invitee:

  1. A extends an invitation knowing that B is unlikely to accept it
    e.g. A (male, early 20s) gives a ride to B (male, early 30s) and his wife C (female, late 20s) from another city to their house. A had mentioned earlier that he is having a meeting with his professor in the afternoon. The moment A drops them off at their home, C invites A over for lunch.

    C: Xob Salar mašino park kon berim xunɛ nahar
         'Salar, park your car here and let's have lunch together.'

    A: Næ, mæmnun. Mæn bayæd beræm danešgah kar daræm.
        'No, thanks. I have to go to my office. I should work.'

    B: Biya tu ǰεčizi  dorε hæm mixorim bæd miri dige, ta'arof mikoni? 
        'Come in, and let's have something together. You might leave afterwards. Are you making ta'arof?'

    A: ǰakeræm. Sobhæm goftæm ke bayæd beræm danešgah.
        'Thank you. As I said earlier in the morning, I have to go to my office.'

    C: ɛ, inǰuri ke xeli bæd šod, miumædi ye nahar særi amadε mikærdæm.
        'That's too bad. You should come and I will prepare lunch very soon.'

    A: Mεrsi, išala yε forsætε digε.
        'Thanks, hopefully another time.'

    B: dæstɛ golɛt dærad nækonɛ haǰi, hala hæmahæng mikonæm bia yɛ fifa bahæm bɛzænim!
        'Thank you very much bro. we'll arrange a get together to play Fifa!'

    A: Arɛ hætmæn
        'Sure! Yes'

    C: dæstɛt dærd nækonɛ, xodafɛz
        'Thank you, bye'

    B: çakɛræm. xodafɛz

    This excerpt shows how B and C extend the invitation recurrently throughout the conversation, despite the fact that they are both aware that it will not be accepted. B responds with an ostensible invitation at the end, which is returned with a positive response by A.

    Above passage collected and submitted by Eslami, 2016. See Eslami, 2005, pp. 459-461 for more information.

  2. A invites B only after B has solicited the invitation
    e.g. At a birthday party, a group of friends are talking about Persian food. A (male, early 20s) listens to B (female, late 20s) while she tells a friend about the food she (B) had cooked the night before. When B invites that friend over to eat the special food, A enters the conversation and solicits an invitation.

    A: Pæs mæn çi? Ghærar bud bɛ mæn hæm Alu ɛsfɛnaǰ bɛdia.
        'Then, what about me? You were supposed to invite me for Alu Esfenaj.'

    B: Bælɛ çɛra kɛ næ, hæmætun biayd yɛ xoroštɛ mæšti dorost mikonæm.
        'Sure, why not. you all should come to our house and I will cook some delicious stew.'

    A: Næ daštæm šuxi mikærdæm!
        'No, I was teasing you.'

    B:  Digɛ gofti hærfɛto digɛ!
        'You said it!'

    In this scene, a solicited ostensible invitation is used as a conversation opener, which is followed by an ostensible invitation by B.
    Above passage collected and submitted by Eslami, 2016. See Eslami, 2005, pp. 461-463 for more information.


  3. A extends the invitation beyond the level of social courtesy
    e.g.  A (female, late 40s) and B (male, early 50s) are having guests for dinner. Meanwhile C (their friend, early 30s) stops by to borrow their camera.

    C: Mɛhmun darin mozahemɛtunam šodæm
        'You have guests, I won't impose on you.'

    A: bia tu Væhid ǰan, ghæribɛ nistæn, Aghayɛ æsædina inǰan
        'Come in dear Vahid. You know our guests well, Mr. Asadi and his family are here.'

    C: næ xalɛ bayad bɛræm Sara o bæçɛha montæzɛræn
        'No, aunt, I should go. Sara and others are waiting for me.'

    A: çɛghæd ta'araof mikoni to, sɛ sutɛ šamo amadɛ mikonæm
        'You are making ta'arof. I prepare the dinner in no time.'

    C: khalɛ bɛkhoda hæmɛyɛ karamum mundɛ Sara hæm yɛkæm mæriz æhvalɛ
        'I really have a lot to do, aunt. Sara is not also feelingwell.'

    B: ǰoloyɛ dær khɛli bædɛ, boro donbalɛ sara o bæchɛha biayn inja bištær xoš migzærɛ
        'It's not good to stay by the door, go pick up Sara and others, we will have more fun together.'
    C: mæmnun æli agha, ma kɛ hæmiše inǰayim, miaym hala
        'Thanks Mr. Ali, we came here several times, will do later.'

    A: bašɛ væli dust daštim miyumadi. 
        'Ok, but we would have liked to have you here.'

Above passage collected and submitted by Eslami, 2016. See Eslami, 2005, pp. 463-466 for more information.

There is a cultural variation for the reasoning approaches being used in such extended invitations. For the analysis on what English invitations and Persian invitations are likely to emphasize, see Eslami, 2005. Below is an example of how both parties' face is valued in Persian culture.

Šoma næyayd kεæslæn nemišε
'It is impossible without you'

        ægε šoma εftεxar nædin xoš nεmigzærε
        'If you do not give us honor, we will not have a good time'

The examples collected and submitted by Eslami, 2017.

  1. A persists or insists on the invitation
  2. See Eslami, 2005, p. 466-467 for more information.

  3. A is vague about the arrangements

    See Eslami, 2005, pp. 467-468 for more information.

  4. A hedges the invitation to B

    To hæm biya xob dust dari
    You can also come, if you like to'

    Ma xošal mišim ægεšomam εftεxar bεdid
    'We would be happy if you come too'    

    To compare, the imperative form is mostly used in genuine invitations:

    Zæng zædæm æzætun dævæt konæm jomεšæb bæra šam tæšrif biarin dorε hæm bašim
    'I called to invite you over for dinner on Friday night'

    The examples collected and submitted by Eslami, 2017. See Eslami, 2005, pp. 468-472 for more information about hedges and interrogatives.

    ' Do you want to?'

    This would be interpreted as a genuine yes / no question, rather than an invitation.

  5. A delivers the invitation with verbal and non-verbal cues
    Data for nonverbal signals in Persian invitations is not available.

Distinguishing Ostensible Invitations from Genuine Invitations in Persian

When interpreting ostensible and genuine invitations in Persian, factors determined by the context may play a larger role than in English. The differences between genuine and ostensible invitations can be subtle and the use of ta'arof can be difficult even for native Persian speakers.

See Eslami, 2005, pp. 465-475 for more information about differences, cues, and complexity in the expression of ostensibility.



Some of the above passages were provided by personal communication from Dr. Eslami in 2016 and 2017. The examples are based on a research project she conducted in 2016 and are used by permission. The data come from observations of natural invitations, tape-recorded natural language, and interviews.

Eslami, Z. R. (2005). Invitations in Persian and English: Ostensible or genuine? Intercultural Pragmatics, 2(4), 453-480.

Isaacs, E. A., & Clark, H. H. (1990). Ostensible invitations. Language in Society, 19(4), 493-509

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