The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


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 the Faculty 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", "bullshit."

Arash Alavi


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