February 27, 2001
Farsi creeping into English
I agree with the essence of the argument made by G. Motamedi ["Bring
back Persia"]. Whether it is realistic to try to change a name
that has now been in use for over six decades and is well established,
however, is a different matter.
On the other hand, while most of us were not even born at the time of
the name change from Persia to Iran, we may be able to do something about
a de facto name change that is taking place as we speak.
There appears to be a concerted effort by some Iranian-Americans to
arbitrarily replace Persian with "Farsi", as the English name
of the language spoken by the majority of Iranians. As such, the word "Farsi"
is slowly creeping into American English as a de facto replacement for
Persian, and given that American English is the dominant form of the language,
it is not unreasonable to assume that the use of "Farsi" will
soon spread to other forms of English if this farce is allowed by Iranians
to continue unchecked.
Many in the American news media are picking up on this trend and using
"Farsi" as a replacement for Persian with increasing frequency.
My local library recently opened a Persian section and put a sign up over
it saying "Books in Farsi", while the section next to it said
"Books in Japanese" and the section next to that said "Books
in Chinese," as opposed to Books in whatever-the-Japanese-or-Chinese-call-their-own-language.
It is quite simple really: Farsi/Parsi is the native name of the language
spoken by the majority of Iranians, as it has been for millennia, while
Persian is the English name of that language, as it has been for millennia
(while equivalents of "Persian" has been used in non-English-speaking
Western countries for millennia).
Similarly, German is the English name of the language spoken by people
in Germany, while Deutch is the German name of that language, and 'Almani'
is the Persian name of it. In English, we don't say: "Do you speak
Deutch?". Instead, we say: "Do you speak German?".
The most prestigious educational establishments in the English-speaking
world (with regards to Persian language research/instruction) correctly
refer to the name of the language as Persian. For example, the course at
of Oriental Studies at Cambridge University is called Persian, as are
the programs at both UC
Berkeley and UCLA.
Interestingly enough, the word "Farsi" is nowhere to be found
in the referenced web pages describing the courses at these universities.
So, what's wrong with replacing Persian with "Farsi" anyway?
First, it is generally a bad idea to change a well established name. There
is a certain recognition that comes with the name: Persian poetry of Khayyam,
Hafez, and the increasingly popular Rumi. When I say "I speak Persian,"
the listener understands that I speak the language of these great poets,
and recognizes my heritage.
Second, in English, the word "Farsi" sounds like the English
word "farce", which means "nonsense", "absurd",
"horseplay", "comical", "travesty", "burlesque",