An Indo-European language distantly related to English and other European languages, Persian is spoken by some 100 million people in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and immigrant communities throughout the world. The three chief dialects of Persian are Farsi, Dari, and Tajik[i], spoken primarily in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, respectively. Persian and Dari are written in the Perso-Arabic script, while Tajik[i] is written in a Cyrillic script. Because of historical proximity of Persian speakers and Arabic speakers, Persian has been significantly influenced by Arabic, especially with regard to vocabulary.

Knowledge of Persian provides access to several major world civilizations and cultures, and to a region that gave birth to ancient and modern vibrant political entities. Prior to the 20th century Persian was the "official language" or "lingua franca" of most states in the Indian Subcontinent and much of Central Asia, as well as the language of high culture in the early Ottoman empire--virtually every educated person in these regions would have had at least a working knowledge of Persian, and much of the writing from these regions was produced in Persian. Therefore, scholars cannot study the pre-modern and early-modern history of Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent without mastery of the Persian language.

The 12th century poet and scientist Omar Khayyam, the 13th century poets Saadi and Rumi, and the 14th century poet Hafiz, are revered icons of Persian culture. Modern authors like Sadeq Hedayat and Forugh Farrokhzad are well known around the world.

During the past century Iran has emerged as one of the largest and most powerful Middle Eastern states, and exercises tremendous influence over the Persian Gulf. Since the mid 1960s, Persian has been defined as a "critical language" in the United States, reflecting both the chronic shortage and the increasing demand for qualified specialists in this language. Because it is an Indo-European language, Persian is arguably the easiest Asian language for speakers of English to learn. Also, Persian is perhaps unique insofar as written texts from as long ago as the 10th century CE are almost as easy to read as today's newspaper.

UT offers BA, MA, and PhD degrees in Persian Studies. First-, second-, and third-year Persian courses are offered every year, as are courses on Persian literature and Iranian culture and history. Persian language courses beyond the third year are offered based on the current needs of students in the program.