I learned a bit of Mandarin before taking my first trip to Taiwan, and have been studying Persian more recently. Learning a new language can give a deeper understanding and appreciation for cultural nuances… and it’s also an excellent lesson in humility! Far be it from this beginner to teach you much of anything about these rich and beautiful languages, but the glossary below includes some of the words and phrases that come up in this series.
A few general notes:
- I made the stylistic decision not to italicize the non-English words within the books. While this is a matter of debate, it felt more true to my multilingual characters, who can slip effortlessly between languages.
- I generally use the term “Persian” instead of “Farsi” to describe the language spoken by the characters of Iranian descent. This is because Farsi is what it’s called in the language itself, so saying, “I speak Farsi” in English is kind of like saying “I speak Deutsch” instead of “I speak German.” (For a more expert look at these various nuances, as well as the Persian vs. Iranian conundrum that I didn’t even touch on here, check out this excellent blog post).
Mandarin Words & Phrases
Maternal grandfather (commonly used in Taiwan).
Maternal grandmother (commonly used in Taiwan).
A term of endearment. Literally means “precious” or “treasure.”
Wǒ ài nǐ
I love you
Zhù nǐ hǎo yùn
Persian Words & Phrases
Sour or tart cherries.
A term of endearment. Literally means “my dear.”
The colloquial Persian term for “father” (equivalent to “dad”).
This appears quite often as an addition to a name, as in “Roya-jaan.” While it literally means “soul/spirit/life,” it can be translated as “dear”—it’s a term of endearment and affection. You may also see it written as “joon,” but it’s often pronounced as “jaan” when spoken (see this great blog post for more info on this term). I went back and forth about how to best transliterate it, finally settling on “jaan” since this most clearly illustrates the pronunciation.
Usually refers to a maternal aunt, but can also be used for a close family friend (like Khaleh Yasmin in the books).
The colloquial Persian term for “mother” (equivalent to “mom”). The term is also used in French, of course, but in Persian it’s pronounced pretty much exactly how it looks, with an enunciated “n” at the end.
Green vegetables or herbs. Persian meals are often served with a sabzi plate containing radishes, walnuts, and plenty of fresh herbs like mint, basil, cilantro, parsley, scallions, tarragon, dill, and chives.
The “Book of Kings”: an epic poem written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi that is hugely important in Iranian culture.
A mythical phoenix-like bird.