Persian: A Guide for the Perplexed

In this post by the questionable* Casey Michel on the otherwise fine website Registan, he links to this article on Eurasianet, while referring to:

Those who follow the remnants of Farsi’s linguistic tendrils

I do not understand why Anglos insist on referring to Persian as “Farsi”. “Farsi” is one of the names used in Persian to refer to Persian, but it is not the only one. The situation is not unlike that of Spanish, where in the language itself one hears reference to “español” and “castellano”. But Anglos are not nearly as addicted, particularly in serious writings, to refer to Spanish by either of those names. And indeed, at least “castellano” has gained limited currency in English as “Castillian”. “Persian” has long been the academically appropriate name for the language known to natives as “Tâjiki” “Fârsi” (also “Pârsi”) and “Dari”. Please use “Persian”. Please.

And while we’re on the subject, if you must try to sound “native”, don’t embarass yourself by pronouncing “Dari” (دری) as “Dâri” (داری). The first vowel in “Dari” is like the “a” in “apple”. The first vowel in “Fârsi” is closer to the “a” in “father”, although in fact it is more like a long version of the “o” in the BBC’s pronunciation of “sod” (or for those of you who didn’t grow up on the BBC, and you know who you are, like an exaggerated version of the Bostonian pronunciation of the “o” in “body”).

At any rate, the crime is not Casey Michel’s alone. The article he links to is not in fact on “Farsi” at all, but the authors don’t seem aware of that either. It begins with an even greater offense from the perspective of anyone who has even cursorily examined Iranian linguistics:

For nearly 600 years, the lingua franca along a lengthy Central Asian stretch of the fabled Silk Road was Soghdi, a proto-Persian language.

“Proto-Persian”? In the same way that Gothic is “proto-English” I suppose. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a splittist when it comes to language. I believe the point of language is to communicate, and I believe every effort should be made (through education) to make sure that people can communicate with people who speak related varieties to their home variety, rather than having to constantly refer to an unrelated intermediary language (can you imagine a world where Jamaicans and Scots are raised to resort to Chinese to communicate rather than work out the differences and similarities between their spoken varieties?). But although in casual conversation one can jokingly refer to Kurdish or Pashto as “bascially Persian” and I won’t mind, from a strict linguistic perspective, referring to “Persian” is already engaging in a kind of splittism among Iranian speech varieties. Quite simply, Persian is a Western Iranian variety and Sogdian was an Eastern Iranian variety. Sogdian should not be understood merely as a “part” of Persian (although both can be considered “part” of “Iranian”); it has had its own illustrious career, including its impressive lexical influence (note that another Eastern Iranian variety, Avestan, is also oft-mentioned) on almost all non-Siberian Turkic varieties. This is because speakers of the Eastern Iranian varieties would have been the Indo-Europeans with whom the Turks (coming, as they did, from the Northeast) would have had some of their earliest and most frequent contact.

*He is questionable due to his history of implying that you are a rightist if you want to nationalise your country’s economy, and in this article for some reason he seems to think having countries compete to use your country as a military colony means your country is doing well, somehow.

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