Persian aka fArsi

Posted by Rezwan Razani on Jun 24, 2013 at 03:49 PM

You say potato, I say sibzamini.

Language Police

For some time now, the Persian Language Police in America have insisted that people refer to the Persian language as “Farsi” - even while they are speaking English. These same Language Police do not, however, insist on the reverse: that people refer to the English language as English even if they are speaking Persian. Instead, they let those Persian speakers call the English language “Ingilisi” to their heart’s content.

Double Standard

This, my friends, is a double standard (see sidebar). If English speakers are to refer to Persian as “Farsi” at all times, then Persian speakers should use “English” instead of “Ingilisi” while speaking Persian.

Likewise, a lot of Iranians get grumpy when Americans call Iran “Eye Ran” rather than “Ear on”. These same folks when speaking in Persian will say “Ahm ree kAh” instead of “uh mer ih kuh” and I have yet to hear an American (Uh-mer-i-c’n) complain about this.

Permission to use “Persian”

Consider:  the word for the English language in Persian is “ingilisi.” In English it’s “English.” The word for the Persian language in English is “Persian.” In Persian, it’s “fArsi.” The word for the German language in English is “German”. In German it’s “Deutsche”. The word for the French language in English is “French”. In French it’s “Francais”, and English in French is “Anglais”. Here are some translations of “Persian” in other languages. Clearly, they didn’t get the “it’s Farsi” memo either.

There you have it. Brilliant logic to show that when you speak English, it is OK to use the word “Persian” for the Persian language instead of “fArsi”.

So, is “Farsi” Wrong?

Given the logic above, does this mean that it’s wrong to call Persian “fArsi” while speaking English? Should the language police now go out and retro-brutalize English speakers who are saying “fArsi”? Not at all!

It doesn’t matter.

Really. Language is flexible. Either usage is correct.

Now that so many people have insisted to a bunch of English speakers that our language is called “fArsi” even in English, they’ve set a precedent. And language works on precedent and consensus. As my guru Harold Van Winkle (Author of “Elements of English Grammar”) says:

Rules for standard English [and Persian, by corollary] are determined largely by consensus, by tradition, and by the works of recognized writers. Language is constantly undergoing gradual change, with the result that new words are added, the meaning of old words change, some words fall into disuse, and some words and expressions once considered colloquial become accepted as standard.

It’s Your Prerogative

So, you see, extiAr dArid. (“The choice is yours.”) “Persian” or “fArsi” is a matter of preference. There is really no right or wrong. We can just disband the language police force right now and stop the correction-brutality! Luckily, the world is big and has room for people who like to say things differently. For traditionalists and mavericks alike. Diversity rocks!

My preference, as you can see from this website, is to use the English word in English and the Persian word in Persian. I like clear boundaries. It turns out that most people in the world measurable by Google also use “Persian” and not “Farsi.”

Most, but not all.  And the minority is not “wrong.”  Likewise, I also reserve the right to be inconsistent and flip around sometimes. Inconsistency is fun!

Think of it as improv - a valuable life skill

Inconsistency?  Improvisation?!  استخفرالله

But wait!

Says a member of the newly formed Languge Militia (I knew we couldn’t keep the language police disbanded for long).

Isn’t the purpose of language CLARITY? And if we now have two words in use in English to signify the Persian language, won’t people get confused? When you say you speak “Persian” they’ll think you’re from somewhere different than if you speak “FArsi”. Then you have to spend precious time explaining that these are the same thing. That’s inefficient. And unacceptable.

The Purpose of Language

The response to this, of course, is that the purpose of language is not, in fact, clarity. No. If it was, things would be a lot clearer, don’t you think? Do you think that all the confusion in the world is a result of the misuse of language? How naive. The purpose of language is:

  1. to express thought (and here is where you might strive for clarity and accuracy);
  2. to create;
  3. to improvise; and
  4. to communicate - and here is where clarity is often not valued. Why? Because the purpose of communication is:
    1. sometimes clarity,
    2. but more often it’s obfuscation; that is to hide/confuse/cloud things up.
    3. Heck, sometimes the purpose of communication is outright deception.
    4. And then there’s my all time favorite: manipulation.

The “I’m from Persia” vs. “I’m from Iran” decoy is a good example of the conflicting motivation behind communication. In some cases the speaker will just want to confuse people about what they speak or where they are from. This same “Persian/Iran” distinction could also be an example of clarity if the speaker is using the distinction to make a political statement. Sometimes, it really doesn’t matter, that’s just the first word that popped into the speaker’s head. Maybe it’s the aliteration - it sounded better in the flow of the rest of the words used. “I’m Fariba and I speak Farsi” vs. “I’m Parisa and I’m from Persia.”

A Phinal Note: The letter “F”

I met someone who brought up this point: The word “FArsi” has an “f” in it, instead of a “p.” This is because the word “fArsi” is arabicized. The Arabic alphabet (adopted by the Persian language, the way the Turkish language has now adopted the English alphabet) does not have the letter “p.” They therefore use the “f” sound for “p.”

When we insist that people call the language “fArsi”, we are (ironically) insisting that they use an Arabic word for the language. Persians have a “p” and use it quite a lot. Persians are from “pArs” which becomes arabicized as “fArs.” (When you add the “i” to “fArs” to get “fArsi” it’s like adding “ish” to “anglo” to get “english.”) So my question is, what is the actual Persian word for the Persian language, if “fArsi” is actually the Arabic word? Do we actually speak “pArsi?” Or does that infringe on the Zoroastrian population of emigrants from Iran who are now in India?

In any case, with this new letter “f” controversy, “Persian” is looking more and more attractive as the word of choice for the language. But again. extiAr dArid. It’s all a consensus thing. There’s a continuum: Persian - pArsi - fArsi. And if you have the personality to carry it off, you can call it just about anything. See “Creativity.”

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