Semi Cursive Script
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Persian Alphabet: 32 Letters
Here is the Persian alphabet in its entirety. 32 visible letters. (There are 3 vowel sounds that tend to be invisible).
WAIT! You say. This looks nothing like Persian words I’ve seen.
That’s because these letters are all in the detached, standalone form. In actual words, the letters link up. Like cheerleaders, they go from individual pose with their arms out, to grouping together in a pyramid.
If it helps, to your right is the alphabet written as one word. I added an extra “یا” at the end, which is the last letter of the alphabet, followed by the first letter. Imagine a bracelet in which you wanted to connect all the way around.
Illusion of Complexity
Take a look at the first three letters (alef, beh, peh, shown right) of the Persian alphabet from our alphabet card.
In the first word, “Ab” (آب - water) the alef and beh are in their detached form. In the next word (bAdkonak), the order of the beh and alef are reversed, and they are attached. But there is a gap after the alef, and this boomerang shaped thing by itself (د - the letter d), and then another set of connected letters (“konak” کنک), and a little squiggle on top of the whole thing.
The third word, (pesteh) is a bumpy line with some dots above and below, and some dashes below, and this thing that looks like the prow of a viking ship at the end - none of these things appear in the alphabet written out above. What is going on?
It’s semi cursive.
Let’s break it down.
To take the example from the fArsi Cheerleader Metaphor post, here are the letters that make the word “fArsi”.
By themselves, they are in the “detached” form.
Aside: Why did we write “fArsi” backward? You read Persian from right to left. End Aside.
For these letters to come together into a single word, the “f” takes the “initial” form, the “A” takes a “final” form, the “s” takes an “initial” form and the “i” takes a “final” form. The “r” remains detached because “A” and “r” both don’t like to hold hands on the following side.
Let’s look at this in slow motion:
A semi-cursive alphabet is one in which most, but not all, of the letters connect in writing.
The Persian alphabet does not have a print form. What you are reading now (this here English text) is print. It is used in printing. Each letter stands alone - well, OK, they group together in words, but they respect each others personal space and don’t actually touch.
Cursive: Letters Holding Hands
Cursive, in contrast, is used in handwriting. In cursive, the letters join together so the writer doesn’t have to lift up the pen while writing. In a sense, the letters hold hands.
If you’re the first or the last letter in a word, you would only hold hands on the one side. If you’re in the middle, you would hold hands on both sides.
Persian: Seven Letters That Don’t Like to Hold Hands
The seven letters of the Persian alphabet that don’t like to hold hands are dAl, zAl, re, ze, zhe, vAv and alef. Seven letters have only two forms, “final” and “detached.” This is why we call it “semi-cursive”. You have to lift your hand from the paper in the middle of the word - it breaks up the word.
Now let’s visit the letters that DO attach.
beh, peh, teh, seh - ب پ ت ث
The Persian alphabet is shape based. Letters with a similar shape follow similar rules. After alef, the next four letters look like a staple with some dots above or below. Like morse code, the location of the dots indicates their sound.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the dots. When you write these in the middle of a word, it’s just a few bumps in the line, and the location of the dot tells all.
Here are all four forms, with the letter “b” (one dot below).
jim, cheh, heh, xeh - ج چ ح خ
After the staples come the hooks, or swans, with dots above or below.
When you write these in the middle of a word, you make a bit of a wave.
Here are all four forms, with the letter “j” (one dot below).
Then come dAl zAl reh zeh zheh
The seven letters of the Persian alphabet that don’t like to hold hands are dAl, zAl, re, ze, zhe, vAv and alef. Seven letters have only two forms, “final” and “detached.” This is why we call it “semi-cursive”. You have to lift your hand from the paper in the middle of the word - it breaks up the word. As mentioned above. And, WHOOPS, need to design the examples. Donate to speed this up. Thanks!
sin, shin - س ش
Here we show the letter “shin” (ش) in all four forms in the first line. Of course, you’d never see the first three standing alone like that, they have to connect to something: the second line shows the initial, medial and detached forms highlighted in red, as they occur in the word “shamshirash” which means “his/her/its sword”. The last line has the word without red highlights.
sAt, zAt, tA, zA - ص ض ط ظ
A nice transition in shapes. Notice that a letter with a single dot on top is often a “z” sound.
eyn, qeyn, feh, qAf, kAf, gAf - ع غ ف ق ک گ
What does the fox say?
lAm, mim, nun, vAv, heh, yeh - ل م ن و ه ی
And then they tack on the miscellaneous letters at the end.
You may have gathered from this that for most four form letters, the general rule is that the letters will look very similar across their four forms except that the final and detached forms seem to have a tail, or to be bigger. A few letters (“ye”, “he”, “qeyn” and “eyn”) look very different across their forms.
Some people consider typed Persian to be “print” and the fancy script in poetry books to be “cursive”. In fact they are both cursive. The fancy stuff is calligraphy. Click here for more on Calligraphy.
If you’re the initial (first) letter in a word, you hold hands with the letter that follows. If you’re a medial (middle) letter, you hold hands on both sides. If you’re the final letter, you hold hands with the letter before you and end with a big flourish. If you’re detached (by yourself), you stand proudly, in full flourish.
Most Persian letters have all four forms, “initial”, “medial”, “final” and “detached.”