An Etymological Dictionary of Astronomy and Astrophysics

فرهنگ ریشه شناختی اخترشناسی-اخترفیزیک

M. Heydari-Malayeri    -    Paris Observatory





1. Rationale
2. Brief linguistic history
3. Criteria
4. Practical remarks
5. Notes
6. Abbreviations and symbols
7. Transliteration of Persian characters
8. Linguistic and terminological references
9. Acknowledgments

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See also: A Novel Semantic Software for Astronomical Concepts
AstroConcepts: Un dictionnaire astronomique intégré à son navigateur web
A Multilingual on-line Dictionary of Astronomical Concepts
A multifaceted astronomical dictionary
Un dictionnaire astronomique à multiples facettes

1. Rationale

This online dictionary presents the definition of classical as well as advanced concepts of modern astronomy. Moreover, each English entry is accompanied by its French and Persian equivalents. The dictionary is intended to be helpful to professional as well as amateur astronomers. As a notable particularity, it also provides a detailed etymology of English and Persian terms. The etymological material contained in this work may interest linguists, in particular those concerned with the evolution of Indo-European languages, especially with that of their Iranian branch.

Apart from educational and outreach objectives in the field of astronomy, one of the main aims of this work is to contribute to the Persian language by creating a comprehensive dictionary of astronomy and astrophysics. The choice of astronomy and astrophysics is naturally imposed by the fact that these are the author's fields of expertise. Had he been a geologist, an archeologist, or a researcher in another branch, he would have undertaken a similar project in that discipline. The dictionary is founded on the following basic premises:

1.1. Persian, an Indo-European language with a rich literature and a long written record, which goes back to about 1500 B.C. in its oldest Avestan form, should be given support. In the present age of exponential scientific/technological developments, the languages which are incapable of expressing new concepts are unfortunately doomed to disappear. It would be a dramatic loss if historical languages, which have made important contributions to human culture and civilization, and therefore belong to common human heritage, died out.

1.2. The status of terminology in the field of astronomy and astrophysics, and more generally in physics, is not satisfactory in Persian. The author wishes to contribute to improving the situation, and hopes that this initiative will prompt others to take up the task of profoundly thinking about the causes, thus coming up with solutions which will enrich the Persian astronomical terminology, and in a broader extent the whole Persian language.

1.3. Languages are vehicles of culture and diversity. Imagine a magnificent garden with lots of different flowers, each with its proper color, shape, and perfume; and compare it with another garden filled uniquely with one kind of flower. No matter how lovely the latter garden may be, it seems poor insofar as it dramatically lacks diversity, and therefore constrains the freedom of choice. Similarly, a night sky in which all the stars shine with the same brightness and color is not only less romantic, it is also unfathomable, since the differences necessary to study the nature of stars are lacking.

1.4. In order to take up this linguistic challenge, the whole capability of Persian should be used: not only its modern literary heritage, but also the resources of Middle Persian (Pahlavi, A.D. c. -300 to +700), Old Persian (A.D. c. -600 to -300), and Avestan (A.D. c. -2000 to -300). Further linguistic tools are needed to meet the goal. The mine of various Persian dialects will be of great help. They have preserved very old Indo-European forms which are missing in Modern literary Persian, and sometimes even possess terms which are reminiscent of Proto-Indo-European roots whose Avestan and Old Persian counterparts are extinct (see Notes).

1.5. It is only by employing all these means together in a general scheme that Persian can own a powerful and efficient scientific/technical language. Sticking merely to Modern Persian, as traditionalists and conservatives do, seems highly inadequate and therefore has little chance to succeed. Evidence of this is the present dissatisfactory state of the Persian terminology in its confrontation with an ever-increasing number of foreign terms and also the lack of any workable project to solve the problems. In fact the restriction to Modern Persian implies over-using a relatively limited and incomplete word-base by multiplying combinations among a small number of possibilities. That approach, which lacks solid linguistic foundation and is rather ideologically motivated, can be likened to tinkering (bricolage) when an overhaul is needed. It should also be stressed that the most significant advances in Persian terminology in recent years are essentially due to the reintroduction of forms and affixes from ancient Iranian languages.

1.6. Being Indo-European, Persian can luckily benefit from the model as well as the past experience of the European languages which have managed to produce their present powerful terminology system. Persian has lots of cognates with the European languages and uses similar word-forming patterns. As far as experience is concerned, after the Renaissance, European intellectuals and scholars made use of the reservoir of Greek and Latin in order to coin new concepts. Persian can proceed in the same way with its ancestors, all the more so since it has the advantage of profiting from recent linguistic findings. In particular, Sanskrit, which is a sister/brother of Avestan/Old Persian, can be of great help.

1.7. The author believes that by matching the above pre-requisites there will be no astronomical concept or, in a much broader context, no concept of the human thought (in exact sciences, technology, philosophy, arts, administration, etc.) which will not be expressible with proper Persian words.

1.8. An alternative to this solution would be to bluntly adopt English. This dramatic solution not only goes against the above premise 1.3, it also implies programming the slow death of Persian, which is denounced by premise 1.1. There is no doubt that foreign languages, in particular English, should be an integral part of basic education among Persian speaking people, and Iranian researchers should be able to write their results in English. They should also have the possibility to write in Persian if they wish, and communicate with Persian layman. Diffusion of knowledge among the public is a noble part of scientist's activities. Historically, Persian has lived an un-recommendable experience with a similar situation in the past, when Persian scholars wrote in Arabic (see below Sect. 2). It is therefore unwise to repeat that experience with English. After all, who can guarantee that English will remain the principal language of science for ever? During several centuries the language of science and philosophy was Latin. Sometime later French had the dominant position. And who knows, it may be Chinese or Spanish which will take over in some decades. At any rate, Persian must be able to rely on its own feet.

1.9. At present step, the author places himself in a purely theoretical framework, in the sense that he is only concerned with creating counterpart words as efficiently as possible. It should be emphasized that what matters at this juncture is to bring about the needed vocabulary. The simple existence of equivalents provides the possibility to use Persian astronomical terms if one desires to do so. No freedom of choice between Persian and loanwords will be possible as long as suitable Persian equivalents are lacking. In other words, the author does rigorously what he thinks to be the best to strengthen the Persian astronomical terminology, and will of course use his results in his Persian writings (Click here for an example). It will be up to Persian speaking astronomers/physicists, and in a broader context to defenders of Persian, to analyze and evaluate this work and decide on their own. The author has already carried out the task he has defined for himself.

1.10. The above remark can apply to French as well. Although there is seemingly a general lack of will/interest among French astrophysicists to coin French equivalents for modern concepts in their profession, it would be wise to create a reservoir of such terms. Here two different things should not be confused. Lacking French equivalent terms is one thing, possessing such terms but preferring not to use them is another. As long as suitable French equivalents do not exist, people are obliged to use English terms when speaking about astronomy in French. To the author's opinion, such a situation is not laudable for a language like French, which has enriched human culture so much. Creating French equivalents provides freedom of choice for those who prefer to use proper French words when speaking French, and at the same time supports French as an indisputable major scientific language. Therefore, in this work we insist on presenting French counterparts for the concepts which have so far lacked equivalents. Actually often only lengthy sentences exist to translate one English specialized word. The need is then to create a short and concise equivalent (see 3.4. Word length).

1.11. This work integrates the findings of previous efforts. However, it should be underlined that it is not a collection of all suggested equivalents. We have made a critical analysis of the published equivalents by various authors and sources and have selected those which fulfill our criteria.

1.12. The present version of this dictionary is in English for a number of reasons. The astronomical information presented can be useful to a larger number of people interested in astronomy who do not speak Persian. In fact this was the outcome of the discussions the author had with his colleague astronomers. On the other hand, the etymological material contained in this work can interest professional and amateur linguists who are not familiar with Persian. Anyhow, the author is glad to share his passion for astronomy and etymology with a vast audience and to display the various similarities of Persian with English, French, and other Western languages. And finally, the Persian version needed solving a number of purely technical problems mainly tied up with the the use of special Persian characters and also the administration of the corresponding data base. These problems are now being dealt with, owing to assistance by informatics specialists. Therefore, the author hopes to be able to present the Persian version as soon as possible.

2. A brief linguistic history

This work is based upon the results and experience acquired by Iranian scientists, translators, and linguists who, for about a century, have tried to translate the modern scientific/technical/philosophical concepts into Persian. Towards the end of the 19th century, Iranians got in touch with the European societies, which owing to the Renaissance and the industrial revolution had made tremendous scientific and social progress. Trips by Iranians to Europe to learn and invitation of Europeans to teach in Iran helped acquaintance with European sciences and techniques. Mainly after the Constitutional Revolution (1906-1911), the first of the kind in the Middle East, which was principally motivated by the ideals of democracy and modernism, many technical articles and books were translated into Persian and the modern sciences entered into educational domain.

However, the European sciences had concepts which lacked appropriate equivalents in Persian. Therefore, translating them was not straightforward since Persian had little experience as far as expressing even classical concepts. The reason was twofold. First, for centuries Iranian scholars used Arabic as the common language of science and philosophy. Even if icons like Biruni (973-1050), Avicenna (980-1037), and Khayyam (1048-1131) wrote astronomical/philosophical/poetical works in Persian and tried to coin interesting Persian equivalents, the bulk of their writings was in Arabic. For example, Biruni in his Tafhim coined many interesting equivalents for astronomical concepts in order to avoid Arabic loanwords. However, he was not able to find equivalents for many classical notions of astronomy (e.g. ecliptic, equinox, equator, conjunction, opposition, etc.), and therefore used the corresponding loanwords. If he had possessed our today's linguistic knowledge and tools, he would undoubtedly have found appropriate equivalents. The second reason was that Persian was not a language of clearcut phrases and unambiguous propositions. Persian was mainly the language of poetry, in which the poet prefers equivocal declarations bearing several senses and images. Of course playing with words is important for lyricism, but escaping precise concepts and statements is abhorred in exact sciences.

In brief, Persian was essentially used for literary works, mainly to create numerous poetical masterpieces (Ferdowsi 950-1020, Sa'di 1200-1291, Hafez 1325-1390, and others). More especially, after the Mongol invasion, during the Safavid era (1501-1722), Persian encountered a dramatic decline. The Persian prose became awkward and filled with an enormous number of unfamiliar Arabic words artificially introduced by clerks and writers of low literary talent, as if there was a competition among them with the goal of beating the contenders by introducing heavy Arabic terms and combinations. Strangely enough, not only did they replace Persian words with Arabic ones, they even proceeded to change familiar Arabic words with much odder ones! According to the eminent Iranian scholar and poet, late Professor M.T. Bahar, written Persian became a weird language which was neither Persian, neither Arabic, nor Turkish. Nonetheless, genuine Persian was being used by ordinary people.

It was in such a situation that Persian came in contact with the European sciences. The introduction of journalism entailed a relative simplification of the Persian prose. In fact journalists, politicians, and intellectuals had to avoid lengthy phrases abounding in unfamiliar Arabic terms in order to reach the public. Moreover, the use of printing machines largely increased the volume of the written material. To keep using Arabic in science and technique presented at least three important drawbacks: 1) Arabic itself had difficulty rendering new European concepts. It even turned out that Persian, being an Indo-European language following the same word forming patterns as European languages (see below 3.9), had major advantages over Arabic in this respect. 2) It was natural to translate directly from European languages instead of borrowing Arabic terms at second hand. 3) That approach was not consistent with the defense of Persian, a strong symbol of Iranian identity and culture.

During the initial period of the contact with Europe, scores of French words (the main European language of the epoch) entered into Persian along with clumsy Arabic translations. The problem did not lie in the loanwords, since no language can dispense with them. There are no pure major languages and desiring a pure language is simply ridiculous. For example, English has borrowed hundreds of words from French and other languages to enrich its vocabulary. The point is that all these loanwords have become English by obeying to the rules of the English grammar. Imagine how complicated and inefficient English would become if all the French loanwords followed their own original rules of grammar (conjugation, gender, derivation, etc.)! Persian was confronted with a comparable situation: Arabic loanwords kept their own rules and prevented Persian organisms from properly functioning. As a result, little by little Persian attained a paralysis. More specifically, the numerous loanwords brought groups of derivatives with themselves. For example, in spite of the fact that Persian had its own words for "thought" (andišé and others), the Arabic fekr brought with itself afkâr "thoughts" (Arabic plural form), tafakor, eftekâr, fekrat "to think", motafaker, mofakker, fâker, fekkayr, fakur (the latter is not used in Arabic!) "thinker", mofakkar "thought over", etc. This situation was very handicapping to Persian since it prevented Persian from developing its own word formation mechanisms.

To illustrate this situation, let us take another example with a modern physical concept: ionization. Initially, when this concept entered Persian, it was accompanied by several derivatives in French, which we give here in English: ion, ionize, ionized, ionizing, ionizable, etc. A respectable language cannot accept all these various derivatives which are foreign to its own grammar without losing its production power and set for slowly dying. The solution adopted by a group of researchers/authors (led by the mathematician Gh. Mosahab, 1959) was to accept only the root of the concept, the Gk. ion, and use the Persian grammar to make up the derivatives: yon "ion", yonidan "ionize", yoneš "ionization", yonidé "ionized", yonandé or yongar "ionizer", yonidani "ionizable", etc. Similarly we have: oksid "oxide," oksidan "to oxidize," oksidé "oxidized," oksâyeš "oxidization, oxidation," oksandé "oxidizer," oksâ "oxidizable." In fact this is the way European languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, and so on) form terms from common Greek and Latin bases, each of them following its proper grammar rules.

A paramount move to promote Persian was the creation of Farhangestân, the Iranian Academy, in 1935, one year after the establishment of the Tehran University. Among its numerous goals were: responsibility for the terminology of various disciplines with the aim of limiting the use of loanwords by replacing them with Persian terms; establishing the rules of the grammar. The primary members of the Academy were among the topmost Iranian scientists and literary masters. The results of their findings, published sporadically until 1941, were hundreds of neologisms which were widely used in textbooks, administration, army, etc. with tremendous positive impact on furthering Persian. The Academy's word-coining, however, was based on a one-dimensional or static approach in which conjugated derivatives were generally overlooked. Anyhow, this critique is not in any way meant to deny the crucial importance of Farhangestân in giving an impulse to Persian.

The official activities of the Academy were halted in 1941 for obscure reasons, maybe under pressure of its adversaries. However, the research to replace the loanwords has been kept on mainly by individuals and editorial boards in universities and publishing houses. In fact, the real work is essentially carried out by "popular" initiative. The number of people involved and those who have made useful efforts is large and impossible to mention exhaustively here. However, we feel the need to commend a few names. Late M. Hesabi, Professor of physics at Tehran University, enriched the physical vocabulary and was particularly exigent about using pure Persian. He should be acknowledged for his important contributions, although his work had several shortcomings. For one, he did not give linguistic explanations for his words, or never wrote them; as if coming from a university professor with his standing was enough. Physics students learned those words artificially to pass the exams, but mostly did not use them after graduating. In fact they did not really understand the sense and the necessity of those terms which mainly sounded unclear. We must also mention the contribution by the above-mentioned Mosahab group that made up many technical terms which were widely accepted. Their important innovation was their daring to coin a number of new verbs, as explained above. This initiative was amply taken up by others. Another noteworthy figure is S. Kiya, Professor of linguistics, Tehran University, due to his efforts to draw attention to the importance of the Middle Persian/Old Persian/Avestan resources and also to foster research on dialects. We should also credit M.Sch. Adib-Soltani, linguist, polyglot, and mathematical logician, who has been the first to publish a comprehensive research on various issues of the Persian terminology and to construct a system of affixes following the Greek/Latin paradigm. He has also contributed to the philosophical terminology in particular by translating Aristotle's Organon "logic" directly from Greek and Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft "Critique of Pure Reason" from German into Persian. Another notable contribution is due to D. Ashouri, a specialist of social sciences and philosophy, the author of a prestigious Dictionary for Human Sciences (English-Persian), who has also carried out a remarkable translation of Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra. He is also concerned with social and cultural aspects of the language reform and has studied language pathologies in Persian. In a recent work, he points, among many other things, to the necessity of using the potential of ancient Iranian languages in order to strengthen the word-coining capabilities of Persian, although he himself mainly pursues the method of the first Academy.

3. Criteria

This project could not be properly carried out without adopting a number of basic principles. Based on the experience gathered through previous attempts and the author's own long experience in the area of Persian terminology, the following working criteria are chosen. They are also aimed at reducing the role of subjectivity in an area which does not belong to exact sciences.

3.1. One-to-one correspondence. This work is a specialized dictionary pertaining to the field of physical sciences. Here, in contrast to poetics, each concept has a clear, unambiguous definition. We therefore avoid using a single word for different concepts. We are also careful to prevent interference and confusion with possible related concepts, see below 3.8.

3.2. Requirement on abstract words and fundamental terms. Abstract words (for example "to think, meaning, concept", etc.) have a deeper link to thinking and imagination compared with concrete words ("door, pencil, tree, star", etc.); they are therefore more fundamental. Without ignoring the subtle relations between the abstract and the concrete, it should be underlined that abstract words are the main sources of derivatives. And a powerful language is marked by its ability in making up abstracts. We therefore require that abstract words be Persian.

Similarly, an efficient language should be able to express the fundamental astronomical concepts based on its proper system. This is why we require Persian equivalents for classical concepts such as ecliptic, equinox, solstice, conjunction, oppsition, and so on for which loanwords are currently used.

3.3. Euphony and estheticism. It does not suffice to form equivalents; they should be euphonic and easily pronounceable. We were careful to check their performance in various phrases and sentences in order to assure that they do not have aesthetical defects. For example, Persian kašé was suggested for "line" (Afzalipur 1978). But, the problem is that "to draw a line" will be kašé kašidan and "let us draw a line" kaše-yi bekašim, which are neither esthetic nor practicable.

3.4. Word length. Generally, we avoid long words which have numerous syllables. English terms are mostly made up of 2-3 syllables. Should the Persian equivalent be too long, it would be disadvantaged with respect to the loanword. It seems that there is a tendency to prefer short terms when the speaker has a choice (a sort of energy conservation in the communication process?). An example from French is helpful. The term redshift (2 syllables) is in French décalage vers le rouge (6 syllables). French astronomers, in their overwhelming majority, use "redshift" when speaking instead of its French counterpart. The same goes for "blueshift" and décalage vers le bleu. They have even Frenchified those terms: raies redshiftées "redshifted lines", flot bleushifté "blueshifted outflow". In comparison, trou noir is maintained against black hole, apparently since both terms are two-syllabled. We therefore conclude that English loanwords are less resisted when they encounter long native equivalents. Similarly, in Persian redshift is currently translated by the pure Persian phrasal jâ bé jâyi bé su-ye sorx, from jâ bé jâyi "displacement" + bé su-ye "toward" + sorx "red" (8 syllables). The recently suggested alternative sorx-gerâyi, from sorx "red" + gerâyi "tendency, inclination", does not seem satisfactory since it confuses the concepts of "shift, displacement" with "tendency, inclination". For the reasons presented above, this dictionary proposes ⇒ sorx-kib, from sorx "red" + kib "shift", verb kibidan "to shift, turn on one side, displace".

3.5. Sheer verbs. Persian suffers from a lack of sheer or simple verbs. Although Middle Persian was quite rich in this kind of verbs, Modern Persian lost many of them under the linguistic disruption imposed by Arabic. They were instead replaced by complex or even phrasal verbs containing loanwords. The result was a substantial weakening of word forming in Persian. For example, âzmudan (to examine, test) was replaced by "emtahân kardan," gozidan (to choose) by "entexâb kardan," âramidan (to rest) by "esterâhat kardan". These are relatively simple examples, since there are numerous phrasal verbs formed by a mixture of Persian and loanwords: mowred-e hojum qarâr dâdan (to assault, attack), bé marhale-ye amal dar âvardan (to operate, act), bé ma'raz-e namâyeš gozâštan (to expose). Although these phrasal verbs create their proper shades of meaning, the problem is that they are unable to form suitable, concise derivatives and are therefore useless for terminology. Already in 1973 the author made a study of this issue, and published his results in a Persian literary review (Click here for the typed html version). Nowadays many people interested in upgrading Persian are sensitive to this question and many efforts have been applied to remedy this shortcoming. We will therefore avoid complex verbs.

3.6. International terms. This work naturally adopts all international scientific terms of the physical vocabulary, in particular those of elementary particles (proton, electron, neutron, bosons, fermions, quarks, and dozens more, as well as those predicted by supersymmetry theories, e.g. gravitino, photino, zino, wino, etc.). The same goes for the chemical nomenclature. The dictionary also uses the nomenclature adopted by the International Astronomical Union for astronomical objects, for example those of asteroids, planetary satellites, exoplanets, and the like. Similarly, it adopts traditional international star names of Arabic origin. However, it highlights the original names of Greek mythological characters for the ancient constellations rather than their Arabic transformations (Kefeus instead of the Arabicized Qeytas, Perseus instead of Barsâvus, etc.).

3.7. Loanwords. Borrowing concrete terms without their original derivatives is not problematic, and we accept them regardless of their origin. These loanwords are considered Persian, in the sense that all Persian rules can be applied to them. On the other hand, due to the global impulse of the language reform and the need to promote Persian, there is a tendency to similarly replace this kind of loanwords. As an example, we can mention the loanword loqat "word", which is the Arabicized Greek logos. Apart from its Arabic plural form, loqât, it does not have other Arabic derivatives. On the other hand, it has been used in a few hybrid forms loqatnâmé "glossary, dictionary", logatsâz, loqatsâzi "word maker, word making". Nevertheless, since several decades loqat has been replaced by the Persian vâžé (from Middle Persian vâcak, from Avestan vacah- "word, speech", from root vak- "to speak", Sanskrit vacas "speech, word", cognate with L. vox "voice", vocare "to call", Gk. ops "voice", epos "song", PIE root *wek- "to speak"). Even ordinary people and writers/authors who are not considered particularly avant-garde extensively use vâžé. We cannot exclude the esthetical aspects in preferring vâžé.

3.8. Group treatment. Search for an appropriate equivalent requires that the concept in question be analyzed not only individually, but also in a more global context which may extend to other sciences. This is needed for clarifying the particular signification of the terms which have nearby senses. For example, to translate analyze it was necessary to consider equivalents for its close concepts: solve, resolve, dissolve, as well as its antonym synthesize and in a broader context to separate, divide, distribute, and diffuse in addition to their corresponding derivatives. Other examples are the word groups current, flow, flux, inflow, outflow, stream, and actinometer, bolometer, photometer, pyrheliometer, pyrometer, radiometer and binary, double, dual. There are many other groups and this work has been particularly careful to adopt a proper equivalent to each of the terms.

3.9. Etymology. Indo-European languages follow similar "thought patterns" in constituting words. The fact that they possess hundreds of cognates underlines their common origin and word forming basis, even if they have evolved differently as far as syntax is concerned. This fact suggests that etymology can often be used to find appropriate equivalents. Here are a couple of examples. Let us imagine that Persian had no equivalent for moonlight and we wanted to coin one: "moonlight" from moon (O.E. mona, from P.Gmc. *mænon-, akin to Gk. mene "moon", men "month", L. mensis, Sanskrit más, "moon, month", Avestan mâh, Modern Persian mâh, "moon, month", PIE *me(n)ses- "moon, month") + light (from O.E. leht, cognate with Gk. leukos "white, clear", L. lux "light" (also lumen, luna), Sanskrit roka "brightness, light", Old Persian raucah-, Avestan raocah- "light, luminous; daylight", Middle Persian rôc, Modern Persian ruz "day", PIE *leuk-). The looked-for equivalent will be "Persian for moon" + "Persian for light". Persian moon is mâh, or mah, cognate with English moon as indicated above. For "light" in Persian there are several choices, one is tâb, from tâbeš "light", from tâbidan "to shine". The resulting equivalent will be mahtâb. And this is exactly the word used in Persian for moonlight!

Another example can be "astrology". First remember that in the past it was synonymous with astronomy and did not have its present-day negative aspect. Astrology, from Gk. astron (cf. L. stella, Sanskrit str-, tara-, Avestan star-, Middle Persian star, stârag, Modern Persian setâré, axtar, PIE *ster-) + -logy "discourse" (from Gk. legein "to speak"). The Persian equivalent will be axtar, as above, + guyi from goftan "to speak, talk", that is axtarguyi, which is a classical Persian term; axtargu "astrologer" has been used by e.g. the Persian 13th century poet Jalal-e Din "Rumi". The same goes for "astronomer" (axtaršenâs, used by Ferdowsi, 10th-11th century) and "astronomy".

There are hundreds of examples, but a last notable case will be appropriate: interdict "to forbid, prohibit or place under an ecclesiastical or legal sanction", from L. inter-dicere, from ⇒ inter- "between, among", + dicere "to speak". In Avestan we have exactly the same structure: antarê-mruyê "to prohibit," from antare- "inter-" (Old Persian antar-, Sanskrit antar-, Old High German untar-, Proto-Indo-European root *enter "between, among") + mruyê "to speak", from root mrû- "to speak, say". The prefix antare- is used with another equivalent verb to produce the same sense: antare-uxti, "to interdict", from antare- + uxti "to speak, to say". E. Benveniste (1975) made an interesting investigation on the origin of the "to speak inside" paradigm for the concept of interdiction. He argues that inter- derives in fact from *en-ter, the second component, while being a comparative form, introduces the notion of separation. His conclusion is that antarê-mruyê, or inter-dicere mean "to pronounce inside (a group) so as to separate (or isolate somebody)". According to Benveniste, the Avestan terms are the oldest forms in the Indo-European languages which convey an important piece of information about an aspect of Indo-European life/tradition in pre-historic times.

Etymology is therefore very helpful, but it cannot lead to solution in every case. Let us take a couple of examples: analemma: the shape resembling a figure of 8 obtained by plotting the position of the Sun at the same real time, from the same location, every day throughout the year. The term comes from L. analemma whose original sense was "the pedestal of a sundial". Subsequently, the distinction has disappeared and the term has taken the sense of sundial itself. The Latin term derives from Gk. analemma "prop, support", from analambanein, from ana- "up" + lambanein "to take". Therefore, etymology is not very helpful in this case. In Persian we propose hurpicak from Modern Persian hur "sun", variant xor, Middle Persian xvar "sun", Avestan hû-, hvar- "sun", compare with Sanskrit surya, Gk. helios, L. sol, O.H.G. sunna, Ger. Sonne, E. sun; PIE *sawel- "sun" + picak "a curled, a twisted figure or object," from picidan"to twist, to involve, to coil." Another example is cause "a reason for an action or condition; something that brings about an effect or a result". This term and its derivatives (e.g. casuality) constitute important concepts in science and philosophy. It comes from the L. causa "reason, purpose", of unknown origin (see below Sect. 3.12).

3.10. Plurals. Naturally, Persian has its own tools to form plurals. However, in this area also it has been affected by Arabic. More specifically, many pure Persian words have been treated following the rules of Arabic. This work supports Persian plural forms.

3.11. Affixes. Prefixes and suffixes are important tools for word formation in Indo-European terminology. Although Persian posses numerous affixes, many of them are traditionally under-used. Based on previous work by others and the author's own research in this domain, the dictionary uses a considerable system of affixes. It contributes also by introducing several new affixes.

3.12. Terminology in other languages. The reference language of this dictionary is English. However, in order to find the most suitable Persian equivalents we have tried as far as possible to examine the corresponding equivalents in other European languages, mainly French, German, and Spanish.

Let us take a couple of examples, the first one scale: "something graduated especially when used as a measure or rule; a series of marks or points at known intervals used to measure distances (as the height of the mercury in a thermometer)." This word derives from Late L. scala "ladder, staircase", from L. scalae, "stairs, rungs, ladder"; akin to L. scandere "to climb". The Persian counterpart was found using the German equivalent: Maßstab, from Mass "measure" + Stab "stick, bar, pole, baton". Our adopted Persian word is: marpel, from Middle and Modern Persian mar "measure, count", from Avestan root mar- "to count, remember" (compare with Sanskrit smr, smarati "to remember, he remembers", L. memor, memoria, Gk. mermera "care," martyr "witness") + Persian pel "stick, a bit of wood". Pel can also be interpreted as the contraction of pellé "staircase, ladder". Another example is cause whose origin is not known, as explained above (Sect. 3.9). In German die Ursache is composed of ur- "primal" + die Sache "thing, matter". We propose bonâr from bon "basis, root, origin, ground" + âr, from Avestan root ar- "to set in motion, move, go" and Sanskrit ir- "set in motion, impel, agitate, go", compare with Tabari ar "motion, movement"; PIE *er- "to move, set in motion;" literally, "original motion, basic motive".

3.13. Familiarity. Experience shows that new words when they have familiar semantic elements are accepted more easily by people. There is even a sort of biased now-vâž-tarsi (neologophobia) among including people acquainted with a foreign language. They seem reluctant to use new Persian terms while they more easily accept unfamiliar loanwords coming mainly from English. Of course one should not try to coin odd terms systematically. But on the other hand the familiarity aspect should not be a basic requisite. It would be impossible to coin familiar terms for concepts which lack Persian equivalents, if one upholds the criteria of precision and clarity which are necessary for scientific terminology. Requiring familiar compounds for those concepts also means avoiding increasing the number of independent new terms, whereas Persian is badly in need of them. see 3.14, 3.15.

3.14. Personality. Apart from the above-mentioned qualities, a suitable equivalent must have several other characteristics, one of which "personality," as called by Adib-Soltani (1995). This criterion means that a major scientific or philosophical concept should not be translated by a banal, commonplace Persian term. The simple reason is that a term lacking a distinctive personality would get lost among other ordinary notions. Although there is a part of subjectivity in rating the personality of words, particularly as far as terms of lesser importance are concerned, this requirement undoubtedly leads to more reliable results. Let us take an example. The Persian barafzâyeš does not seem a good equivalent for ⇒ accretion, an important astrophysical concept. Composed of prefix bar- + afzâyeš, it simply means any "addition, increase." In fact, afzâyeš is the most ordinary Persian equivalent for "addition" (mathematical or not). Therefore, in order to get over this difficulty, this dictionary proposes farbâl, from far-, prefix denoting "increase, abundance" + bâl, from bâlidan "to grow, to wax great." Farbâl and its verb farbâlidan seem also more efficient in creating the corresponding derivatives.

3.15. Enriching the vocabulary. The author believes that the Persian astronomical vocabulary and more generally the physical vocabulary should be enriched with new terms. As pointed out in Section 3.13, what matters essentially is to have umambiguous equivalents for scientific and technical concepts. We therefore reject "mental laziness" and try to contribute to the vocabulary by introducing new, independent terms.

3.16. Respect of previous efforts. It is unreasonable to coin new equivalents for concepts which have already been properly translated into Persian. And it would be a pity to overlook a good equivalent found in previous attempts. In order to access these suitable equivalents, we have performed an appropriate bibliography of the relevant literature published in Persian. Accepting those words also means acknowledging efforts done by others. We believe that one is not allowed to ignore previous findings, but is free to accept or reject those words after doing the necessary analysis.

As mentioned above, a critical review of the terms previously proposed has been carried out, and we have chosen those which are compatible with the standards advocated here. Moreover, in order to prevent confusion, we have avoided giving new definitions to the terms previously used by others.

4. Practical remarks

4.1. The entries, appearing in boldface, are the original English terms. The Persian equivalents appear twice on the same line, in transliterated Latin characters and in proper Persian writing. The French equivalent is presented in the following row. The first paragraph is devoted to the definition of the entry. The second one gives the etymology of the English term. The following paragraph presents the etymology and justification of the Persian counterpart. The last paragrah gives the most current synonymous terms, which have not been accepted as the main Persian equivalents.

4.2. A number of entries are not specific to astronomy. They are given for several reasons. They are byproducts of the word coining system, which also considers linguistic nuances and relations between close concepts. Their inclusion in the dictionary therefore allows a larger view of the situation regarding the concerned concept. Many of them are needed for etymological purposes. They may also be general terms used in astronomy for which Persian equivalents are necessary.


What distinguishes an official/standard word from a dialectal one is basically its use by "classical" poets/writers. And the history of Modern Persian shows that many regional words have been introduced by literary authors and "classical" lexicon compilers from different parts of Iran. This means that once a dialectal word is used by a poet/writer/lexicographer it has entered into the "official" Persian. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the whole vocabulary of the Persian language is not used by classical authors. We find numerous Indo-European words which lack known Old Persian or Avestan ancestry but are extant in Persian dialects. Here are some examples of these "unofficial" dialectal, but genuine Indo-European terms:

1. The insect (honey) bee in English derives from Old English beo, akin to Old High German bia "bee," Old Irish bech, Lithuanian bitis, Old Slav bicela, Proto-Indo-European base *bhei-. The Avestan/Old Persian counterpart of this word is not known (at least to the author). However, we can find very similar words meaning "bee" in Persian dialects: in Lârestâni: biz; Qâeni: bouj; Tâleši: bezâz; Rašti: barzak; Torbat-e Heydariyei: bunj, and so on. And, ironically, in standard/official Persian we use the loanword zanbur!

2. Another example is the French papillon "butterfly," farfalla in Italian, from Latin papilio, akin to Old High German fifaltra, Sanskrit pipila "ant," PIE *pelpel-. In several Persian dialects the term has conserved its old form, as in Lârestâni palpalaku, Tabari pâppalu, pâppali, Lori papi, Kordi pepûle.

3. The Latin word caput "head" is cognate with Sanskrit kapala "skull; bowl," Gothic haubip, German Haupt, English head, all deriving from the PIE *kaput-. The Avestan/Old Persian forms are not known. However, the corresponding Iranian offshoot is extant in Lori: kapu "head," kapulek "skull, middle of the head." Compare also with Pashto kaparay "skull."

4. Berg in English means "mountain" (as in iceberg), from Middle English bergh, from Old English beorg, beorh "hill," Middle Dutch bergh, "mountain," Old High German berg "mountain;" PIE *bhergh- "high." We have berg in Lori meaning "hill, mountain." This word is related to the Persian borz in (the mountain chain) Alborz, and borz "height, magnitude," Old Persian baršan- "height," Avestan barezan- "height," Sanskrit bhrant- "high." These terms are akin to Old English burg, burh "castle, fortified place," from Proto-Germanic *burgs "fortress" (Old Norse borg "wall, castle," German Burg "castle," Gothic baurgs "city," English burg, borough, French bourgeois, bourgeoisie, faubourg); all from the PIE base*bhergh- "high."

5. The domestic mammal dog in Modern Persian is sag, from Middle Persian sak or sag, Avestan spâ-; compare with Sanskrit svâ-, Greek kuon, Latin canis, Armenian šun, Old English hund, Old High German hunt, Old Irish cu, Welsh ci, Russian sobaka; PIE *kwon-. In several Persian dialects this term has conserved its older Avestan form with respect to its Modern "official" counterpart: Tâleši, Tâti: espa, štiyâni: esb, Kâšâni, Sorxeyi: esbâ, Lâsgardi: aesbae.

6. The Avestan root ar- "to set in motion, move, go" and Sanskrit ir- "set in motion, impel, go, agitate" come from the PIE *er- "to move, set in motion"; compare with Latin oriri "to arise, appear," Greek horme "impulse, onrush." In Modern Persian rasidan "to arrive," from Old Persian rasa- (Sanskrit rcchati) derives from that root. Interestingly, we find the Avestan form in Tabari: ar "motion, movement."

7. In Gilaki fanderesten means "to look, view." Most probably it derives from Avestan darés- "to behold, view, perceive," compare with Sanskrit drsti "seeing, viewing; sight, wisdom, the mind's eye," Pali dassa "to see or to be seen," Greek derkesthai "to see clearly, look at," Old Irish derc "eye," Old English torht "bright."

8. The English home, from Old English ham "dwelling, house, village," comes from Proto-Germanic *khaim- (cf. Old Norse heima "home," German Heim "home," Gothic haims "village"), from PIE base *kei- "bed; to lie, to settle; beloved." The PIE form is extant in the Persian Aftari dialect: kiye "house, home." The official form in Modern Persian is xâné "house, home," from Middle Persian xânak, xân, xôn, cf. Latin cunae "cradle," Greek kome "village" (other cognates: Latin civis "townsman," French cité, English city, cemetery, Sanskrit śiva- "auspicious, dear").

9. The words case, cascade, decay, occasion, and many others derive ultimately from the Latin cadere "to fall" (Spanish caer, caida). The Latin term comes from the PIE base *kad- "to fall." The Old Persian and Avestan derivations are unknown, but the Persian equivalent exists in various present-day dialects. For example, in Gilaki (Langarud, Tâleš): katan "to fall," ba.ka.tam "I fell," dakatan "to fall (in a marsh, in a pit)," vakatan "to fall from tiredness, be exhausted," fakatan "to fall from (lose) reputation," in Laki: katen "to fall," kat "he fell," beko "fall!," in Tabari: dakətə "fallen," dakətən "to crash down," dakə "stray cow."

In recent years there are very positive signs of consciousness about the importance of Persian dialects spoken inside and outside the present-day Iran. A remarkable number of glossaries and studies have been published, and modern poets, for example Nimâ Yušij, have introduced dialectal words in their poetry. Of particular importance are the works of the distinguished writer M. Dowlatâbâdi whose novels, for example Kalidar (10 volumes), contain large numbers of very interesting dialectal words which enrich the Persian vocabulary.

Abbreviations and symbols

Transliteration of Persian characters

Linguistic and terminological references