There are too many books out there with a desperate attempt at giving the dying Persian language a useless CPR. So far all I’ve learned is that regardless of what I do, my beautiful mother tongue will continue to erode with time and soon it may not be the poetic heritage that I have known and loved. No two books agree on what the problem is and most are so focused on previous damages that they seem impervious to what is happening right now.
More and more research is done to revive the pure Persian vocabulary so that once again they can take their rightful place which for centuries has been occupied by Arabic. This is admirable, but I am sadly reminded of a building tented to fight old termites while there’s a flood on the way! The grave damage done by the Arab influence has left its scars and we are so wrapped up in passionate resentment that it has blinded us to the new blows. I can’t help but ask myself, is there a difference?
Devout children of Ferdowsi seem to have finally awakened to the fact that their language has paid a dear price for their ignorance over the centuries, beginning with the Arab invasion in the seventh century. It may have taken us too long to finally become aware of the need to repair the damage, but do we realize that the true salvage of Persian language will require the prevention of a repeat? As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Now that we know how hard it is to “cure” is anyone trying to prevent a similar dilemma for our future generations?
Ferdowsi, the 11th century poet of Khorassan did more than his share of awakening and his words had offered more than enough to cure the ailing tongue. Alas, his message did not reach enough ears as it is only now that we hear some of what he tried to tell us. Whether it was the fear of powers at the time or fascination with a new faith that caused the damage is now immaterial. Times have changed and some of our pure Persian words are so foreign to us that they may sound strange, if not comical. I recently learned how to use the new-old words and I know it’s going to take some time to get used to it. I have a feeling that for years to come, words such as Khodrow for a car will continue to sound comical.
We may try hard to sift Arabic words out of our language, but are we at all concerned about other influences and the damage they’re doing? If “Tashakkor” is not acceptable, do we still continue our “merci’ or are we now switching to “Thanks”? Is “Sepaas” a funny word? And what about the very Persian “Ta’arof?” Do we have a new word for it? I laugh out loud when someone says, “Ajab cooleh” because not only is this a mixture of three languages, it also happens to use the wrong grammar in all three!
My American friend and I recently spent a day at an Iranian festival. When friends stopped by to chat, I apologized to her for speaking Persian.
“No need to apologize,” she said and smiled, “ I can somehow gather a general sense of your conversations.”
That came as a huge surprise. “You know Persian?” I asked.
“No, but you guys use enough English words in between!”
We do that, don’t we? All you need to convince you is an Insurance commercial on the Iranian radio. I believe we’re “okay” on this or do I need to say more?
Having failed miserably at teaching my own children, the dreamer in me enjoys the vision that someday, our great-grandchildren may aspire to once again revive their true language. I pray for them and hope they will have enough resources and better luck than we have. I can just see them dropping an “Oops” here and there and laughing at how funny the Persian “voy” sounds. They will feel as ridiculous about calling the beloved “joonam” – my life – as I did the first time my husband called me “honey”- which up to that point had been breakfast.
The truth is, languages change, but ours seems to change at a faster pace than most. Is it because Iranians are too impressionable? Or could it be that we aim too hard to please?
Some go as far as claiming that because Persian is such an incomplete language, it will forever need help. Ferdowsi would beg to differ, as he didn’t need help from another tongue to write his magnificent 60,000 verses. With our wealth of poetic literature, how can anyone doubt the competency of Persian? What would Ferdowsi have to say about the way we have shredded his beloved language?
The truth is, we may just be too lazy. After all, despite centuries of cultural invasions, the word “Tanbal” –lazy – seems to remain strong, as no foreign word has even come close to replacing it! Ferdowsi took thirty years to fight the battle for Parsi, will we take a minute to think?
Zohreh Ghahremani is the author of Sky of Red Poppies, winner of One Book, One San Diego 2012.