Will Fingilish destroy Persian completely? Absolutely not
By Lilly Ghahremani
July 21, 2003
There are a few things my mother and
I will never agree on: that
Madonna has any musical merit at all, that sushi is a good meal
("I swear I
can taste the seaweed," she says as she spits it out), and...
Our debates began with the simple question of what
to call our
language. Was it Farsi or Persian? I didn't take this issue as personally
as many older (and perhaps more learned) family friends seemed to. The
Iranian vs. Persian and Farsi vs. Persian questions consistently provide
scripts for theatrical debates of well-rehearsed opinions over darkly
brewed chai that take place into the hours of the night. (Indeed, our
Iranian pride rarely allows us change course midstream!)
temptation was to cave to her point of view simply because she's
my mom and by the Code of Persian Procedure, she is always right (there is
a token caveat for father's veto, but it's really quite overlooked).
won on her own merits, with the simple point that speaking English yet
referring to the language of "Farsi" is as ridiculous as talking
about how you're "taking EspaÑol."
Our second heat of linguistic debate centers on mixing
languages. This is the debate that consumes us. As I see it, there
are three variations on
the Persian-American child. First there are those who can speak, read and
write. The golden children, these folks are fully literate. Then there is a
sector of the population who speak, but have only some or no reading or
writing ability. And of course we have the ever-present third class,
identifiable by a look of complete confusion and a "huh?" when spoken
their mother tongue.
Born and raised in the United States, I am of brand
2. By contrast, my younger brother and sister are definitively
part of batch 3. I figured that
assured me favorite child status, but it did not. How I ruined my chances
to exploit this hard-won ability (I had studied Persian every semester for
four years of college) was beyond me. I hadn't acquired most favored nation
status in the Ghahremani world, and I wanted to know why. With her
trademark honesty, my mother told me - she detested that I resorted to
infusing English into my Persian conversations. For the record, I shall now
state my case.
My usage of English was born of frustration and
necessity. Propelled by my urge to participate in Persian conversations
without sacrificing an
ability to fully explain or express my thoughts, I began to use English
filler words. For an example:
"Jane o khailee doost daaram. Valee meetuneh
annoying baasheh." (I like Jane very much. But she can be
With each sentence, I weighed the cost and the benefit;
getting all those other words out of my mouth was worth plugging
with an English word here or
there - or seemed so to me. Mom did not agree. She claims the rampant usage
of "Feengeeleesh" is a social disease that preys upon our linguistic
currency. As armchair anthropologist, she notes that it has ravaged the Los
Angeles community beyond repair, and she didn't want me to catch it. (Cover
your ears, Iranian moms!) I kept on.
I gathered Persian friends in college and law school,
hitting an anticipatable sharp learning curve during my years at
UCLA. My friends
welcomed me into their circle; many of them were also prone to "mixing",
and I trudged forward with my enthusiastic use of broken Persian. I found
that the comfort of knowing that I had a fallback language eased me into
speaking Persian less consciously. Whenever possible, I'll pronounce the
English word I'm dropping with as much of a Persian accent as I can muster.
As time goes, I find that the Persian words come to me much more naturally,
but I am subconsciously grateful for that crutch.
I write this brief note as platform and one-woman
rally of support for those individuals who find themselves in the
same predicament. Will the use
of Fingilish destroy the Persian language completely? My thought is no. Absolutely
not. Over the course of time, it will build more confident speakers of the
mass emigrant population, we
shoulder an obligation to support the promotion of our language at any
level. We must keep those words alive. "Fingilish" is a badge worn
culture that struggles deeply with biculturalism (on soil that isn't
always the most welcoming). It is, in its own silly way, a show of love by
who live with one foot on each continent.
As for me, well, I continue to speak my own brand
of Persian, and to throw in English substitutes for words that
simply aren't in my mental
dictionary yet. Yet. That is the key >>> See
Lilly Ghahremani is a literary agent and authors'
attorney based in San
Diego, California. Her company, Lennie
Literary Agency, is actively
scouting Persian and other multicultural writers.
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