Dear Mr. Khashaki
I am not exactly sure how I got on this list but, I do appreciate the opportunity to put in my two cents (with the understanding that I fully expect some change back)! By way of introductions, I am a Kansas born American of Iranian descent, Harvard graduate, former Salomon Brothers investment banker and currently work as a United States Trial Attorney at the Department of Justice in DC. I do not have any particular agenda or expertise for that matter on the subject at hand, nevertheless, I have found the discussion stimulating and surprisingly am motivated by your response to share a few comments and, perhaps, a bit more grist for your mill:
1. The Afghans who I know in the States (and abroad, including a current senior level spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Afghanistan and his wife) are more likely to say that they speak Farsi than Dari, when speaking in their native tongue. In fact they claim these languages are one and the same and have no problem identifying themselves as Persian speakers when conversing in English. Incidentally, the person of whom I speak is actually an “ethnic Pashtun” yet he states without hesitation that his “mother tongue” is Farsi (or when speaking English, Persian) and claims that even though Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group (not the “majority” as erroneously reported by the NYTs during the recent war — cf. CIA Afghanistan Country Report) many of them, particularly, the educated ones from Kabul and Herat grew up speaking Persian in the home as well as in school.
2. Although my Persian is not nearly as strong as my English, my Afghan friends (including ethnic Tajiks, Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Hazaras) and I have had no trouble understanding each other or the vocabulary, syntax or grammar we use when speaking Persian. Moreover, neither my friend at the Foreign ministry nor his wife consider their language to be a separate dialect from Persian but rather, the true or “original” modern Persian, i.e. “Farsi-e Darbar” (i.e. the Persian of the court).
3. It is my understanding that over the years a number of new words have been introduced into ‘Farsi-e Darbar’ or the Persian spoken in Afghanistan (much like Ebonics has introduced new words and grammatical structures into the English language, at least within certain segments of American society — e.g. to illustrate, as you may or may not be aware, some African Americans have introduced the verb “fodabi” into English which is, shall we say, loosely derivative of the verb “to be.” Conjugation: I fodabe, he fidibe, we fodabe goin to da sto, etc…). Though some have argued that Ebonics is a new dialect of English and the Oakland Unified School Board has even gone so far as recommend teaching courses in this new dialect so that the students can better understand what the instructors are saying, others beg to differ. Likewise, while it is true that some Persian speaking Afghan’s change word order, sentence structure and have introduced a variety of colloquial words, in my own real world encounters, standard grammar and syntax for “farsi” and “dari,” both in written and spoken form, are remarkably similar. The same could be said for “Tajiki,” which in large measure is akin to saying I speak American. Significantly, as Professor Yarsharteh and Matini have more eloquently explained, there is no dispute on the part of Tajiks or Afghans that their respective national literature i.e. what they study and learn in school is squarely a part of the corpus of Persian literature.
4. But more to the point, be it in the United States , England , Canada or any of the other commonwealth countries to which you refer, have you ever heard the expression “Farsi literature” or “Farsi Poetry”? I assure you that the Faculties of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, Yale, Princeton , Oxford , Cambridge and the Sorbonne all use the expression Persian literature and Persian Poetry.
5. The use of the term Farsi in English has proliferated and been perpetuated by Iranians living in the United States . Prior to our influx this was never an issue, and the language was exclusively referred to in English as Persian. Accordingly, we have no one to blame but ourselves. But more importantly, it shows the influence we can actually have. Some of our fellow Americans, in part, as a result of their desire to be politically correct and, perhaps, in part, reflecting a misguided attempt to show that ‘they are in the know,’ have taken to using the term Farsi (and this evolution or devolution, as the case may be, is far from over). But make no mistake, this has been fueled by our own kind. i.e. we have this strange habit of shooting ourselves in the foot even on a matter as simple as this. However, when I correct my American friends, be they in government, business or academia, they do not hesitate to use the term Persian when referring to our language.
6. Which brings me to my bewilderment with your ‘throw your hands in the air’ response to Ms. Davaran. Clearly, you were sufficiently engaged to respond to her missive so,… why not put that energy to constructive use for the greater Iranian good? I must admit that I find it more than a bit baffling that an educated and articulate person such as yourself would argue for something which is clearly counter to his own cultural interests. This is not about nationalism or one’s disdain for the current regime but, rather, simply a matter of cultural identity and cohesiveness. As the wheels of history turn, we have seen a variety of false distinctions imposed on us: orient vs. occident, eastern vs. western civilization, us vs. them,…. And, while there are some valid distinctions to be made, it has gone to far, again, in part because our own complicity. For example, in the United States, students are narrowly taught about their common “Judeo-Christian / Greco-Roman” heritage and great scholars of classics like Frye and Yarsharter who clearly understand that Western civilization sprouted from a common Judeo-Christian-Zoroastrian / Greco-Roman-Persian history are ignored. Surely, we Iranians share some responsibility for not correcting the historical record (though, I don’t mean by being blowhards and claiming everything is Persian in origin). So here is the point: when I hear you say, “[t]he outcome is not a matter for us to determine but for those whose language we are trying to influence,” I wonder why you would not want to put your fine quill to the task since your facility with the English would make these arguments that much more convincing. When you say “I am not the one whom you should convince … [but] [you] need to take your arguments to the governments of the English speaking nations … the US government (Voice of America), the UK government, Canadian Immigration authorities etc … I wonder why you as an articulate English writing Iranian are not leading the charge or at least a charge. For my part, I am taking it on from within. Together each of us can make a difference on such matters. The Jews have, the Armenians have so, why not us?
7. I want to underscore that this is not about “orff” but rather we have no one to blame but ourselves for the slicing and dicing of our history and heritage. Moreover, this doesn’t just affect you and I but will surely affect how our children and grandchildren are perceived as the stereotypes are continually laid on thicker and thicker with each passing day. As you may have heard, Leonardo De Caprio will be starring in a upcoming Hollywood extravaganza about Alexander the Great. No doubt, the portrayal of Persians/Iranians fed to the American masses will do even more damage to the way we are perceived by our fellow Americans. Why not stop passing the buck and acknowledge our own culpability for the ignorance we breed in our fellow Americans? If our best English language writers (and, all kidding aside, I would include you in that bunch even though I disagree with your take on this matter) do not contribute then who will? I do not intend to offend but, what collective “kerm” do we have to do this to ourselves? Have we become so drunk on our political disputes that we can not maintain any cultural cohesion.
So I wonder, why would you resist unity on such a simple matter of “cultural identity”?
8. I have read both of your messages and I honestly believe that the parallel with German is near perfect. From my vantage point, the solution seems rather simple. Like the Germans who say Deutsche when they speak in their native tongue, we say Farsi; and, when we speak English we should say Persian just as they say German. In this way, together, each of us could do our own small part for our common cultural identity.
Respectfully, Soroush Richard Shehabi