New Markets in an Ancient Land – Localizing in Persian

15 12 2016

Nearly 80 million people inhabit Iran, the second largest country in the Middle East, and years of trade restrictions have limited that enormous consumer population’s connection to international products. Businesses in the west hoped for an explosion of trade after the nuclear-program-related trade sanctions of 2012 were lifted shiraz-1481595_1280in early 2016, but that has not yet happened. Apparently, logistical and diplomatic work remains to be done to secure trust and compromises about policies, the current resistance arising more from the government of the U.S., than that of Europe or Iran.

 

In spite of the hitches, Persian localization is accessible, and much more approachable than it was ten years ago, before some large-scale localization work was done by mega-companies such as Google and Microsoft. The frontier has been softened by the development of new, effective tools for translation into Persian, larger software glossaries, an increased number of available language and subject matter experts, and the like.

There are three modern strains of Persian, Iran’s being called by both Persian and Farsi. Since the Muslim conquest of Persia in 651 AD, the word “Farsi” began to be used in documents, because the word “pars” – for “Persian” – contains a “p” and Arabic does not provide a corresponding character or sound. That term “Farsi” was officially adopted to describe the Persian language by English nations in 1935, for political reasons, and it is often used in the west, but Persian refers more accurately to the language of Iran versus the Persian of Islamic/Arabic influences.* The two other modern strains of Persian are Dari, spoken in Afghanistan, and Tajiki, of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the latter of which uses the Cyrillic alphabet; but speakers of all three Persian variations can understand each other without significant obstacles.

Obstacles to localization, on the other hand, abound, for many of the usual reasons: religion, culture, consumer history, limited native on-site expertise, and unusual language features. Consider the simple fact that Persian reads from right to left, and therefore a customer reading advertising text who comes upon the left-to-right reading name of a European or American company has to switch directions when reaching the English interruption. Directional processes affected by the placement of tabs and action buttons must also be considered. The entire orientation of a page is going to be different.

Since the ninth century, Arabic has influenced Persian – the scripts are quite close, for example – but there are still notable differences that will show up as errors in translation software that is checking for Arabic alphabet accuracy. For example, Perso-Arabic individual letters have up to four different, slightly altered forms, depending on their location within the word, and therefore the automatic joining of letters (when prefixes are involved, for instance) is not always desirable. Because computer programs are set up to join the letters of distinct words in a cursive string, a nonprinting character called ZWNJ (zero-width non-joiner) must be used to override automatic joining and ensure breaks where they need to be.

There is passionate national feeling for Persian in Iran – it is an ancient language that has been evolving in a country with a seven thousand-year-old architectural presence on the planet. English is spoken more commonly than it once was in Iran, and it has a presence in major Iranian cities, but that presence is still a limited one. Even young consumers, who may be fluent in English, prefer localized websites. It’s a country where per capita income has been for the most part steadily rising for decades until the trade sanctions of 2012. Now that those have been lifted, there seems to be every reason to hope that the Iranian consumer market will soon be a strong one.

As one of the top fifty language service providers in the world, Skrivanek has extensive experience localizing all types of content for the Iranian market, and we are happy to discuss your needs any time.

 J. McShulskis

 

* “Persian NOT Farsi,” by Shapour Suren-Pahlav, 2007, Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, http://www.cais-soas.com/CAIS/Languages/persian_not_farsi.htm

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