Sunday, August 19, 2007

Iran, the Other of the West?

Today, Iran is often represented as the Other of the West, by Iranians as well as Americans and Europeans. Is it?

Politically, the Iranians, with their Jacobin tendency and revolutionary history (the first revolution in the global South and the last social revolution in the world), are more like the French (my Great White Hope) than anyone else in Asia.

The syntactical body of the Persian language, moreover, is an Indo-European body, invisible to outsiders as it is, under its fine Arabic raiment. Its basic structure is SOV (with adjectives always coming after the noun they modify), so if you come to Persian from French or Spanish (SOV when a pronoun is used as the direct or indirect object, with adjectives usually coming after the noun they modify) for instance, rather than from English, you'll probably find it an easy language to learn.1

Nevertheless, even for English speakers, Persian may be in fact easier to learn than most other Indo-European languages, as Persian doesn't have grammatical gender of the sort that marks their nouns and adjectives among others. Persian is a very gender-neutral language. E.g., "she" and "he" are both expressed by او (u). That gender neutrality makes Persian love poetry very fascinating.

1 Engels claimed that he could master its grammar in 48 hours:
Since I am in any case tied up with the eastern mummery for some weeks, I have made use of the opportunity to learn Persian. I am put off Arabic, partly by my inborn hatred of Semitic languages, partly by the impossibility of getting anywhere, without considerable expenditure of time, in so extensive a language -- one which has 4,000 roots and goes back over 2,000-3,000 years. By comparison, Persian is absolute child's play. Were it not for that damned Arabic alphabet in which every half dozen letters looks like every other half dozen and the vowels are not written, I would undertake to learn the entire grammar within 48 hours. This for the better encouragement of Pieper should he feel the urge to imitate me in this poor joke. I have set myself a maximum of three weeks for Persian, so if he stakes two months on it he'll best me anyway. What a pity Weitling can't speak Persian; he would then have his langue universelle toute trouvie [universal language ready-made] since it is, to my knowledge, the only language where 'me' and 'to me' are never at odds, the dative and accusative always being the same. (Engels to Marx, Manchester, 6 June 1853, MECW Vol. 39, p. 335)

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