USC offers Persian language classes for first time

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USC this fall is offering Persian language classes for the first time ever. University officials say students have been calling for the courses. A grant from a foundation helped establish the program.

In Southern California, there are lots of reasons expanded Persian language classes are significant.

“Considering Southern California is home to the largest population of Iranians outside of Iran and that USC is a prominent university in this region, the significance of this announcement is undeniable,” says Bita Milanian, executive director of the Farhang Foundation.

The L.A.-based Iranian cultural organization is a non-political, non-religious group promoting Iranian history, art and language. The group and its contributors gave USC $250,000 to launch the Persian language program.

Milanian says it will help build bridges of understanding that transcend the daily headlines. “Language is the first element," she says. "Knowing the language of a country or region is what connects you to its people, bypassing all the political borders. Educational opportunities in these areas of Persian language and Iranian studies will not only help preserve the language culture and history but also create the opportunity for deeper understanding of Iran and its culture."

The call for more Americans to study Middle East languages grew after the September 11th attacks. Even now, 10 years later, there are very few college courses in Persian or Farsi.

UCLA is one of a handful of places in the country with a long established program. It focuses on ancient Iranian history. In Orange County, UC Irvine offers a few Persian language and literature courses. USC now joins the short list.

USC religion and linguistics professor Bruce Zuckerman says he expects the new classes to fill up not only with second-generation Iranian-Americans, “but I also expect to have students interested in the language, the culture and the region. And let us be clear: the Iranian region is one that has great impact on our lives today and has had great impact going back into ancient times. The Persian and Iranian culture is a rich heritage and one that is crucial to the development of civilization in the west. “

USC and the Farhang Foundation hope to raise more money to expand the effort – enough for USC to establish a broader program and to create an Iranian studies minor.