July 29, 2006

Roses of Mohammad for breakfast, elastic loaves for lunch...

Back in January, the edict came down in Tehran that Danish pastries (shirini danmarki) should henceforth be called "roses of Mohammad" (gul-e-muhammadi). At the time, this seemed to be a specific reaction to the Danish cartoon controversy; but it seems that the Farhangestan -- Iran's equivalent of the Academie Française -- has a much longer hit list, including pizza (now to become "elastic loaf") and helicopter (now to be "rotating wing"), and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has decreed that the changes should be mandatory for official documents, schoolbooks and newspapers. The Reuters article observes that "[t]he words created by the Farhangestan as replacements to European loan words often sound cumbersome or comic to Iranians". None of the English-language news articles so far give the recommended Persian (or if you prefer, Farsi) circumlocutions.

My favorite example of this genre is the attempt some years ago, by one of the Francophone language-policing bodies, to replace "bulldozer" with "tracteur à lame horizontale" (= "horizontal-bladed tractor"). This was so completely unsuccessful that the proposed replacement now has a Google count of zero.

[Hat tip: Gwynn Dujardin.]

[Update -- Abnu at Wordlab pointed me to a paper by Ebrahim Monajemi, "Can ethnic and minority languages survive in the context of global development?", which gives some further details about the Farhangestan organization:

One of the academic cultural centers which tries to keep the Persian language free of alien words is the Academic Center of Persian language and literature or the department of Farhangestan-e-Zaban Va Adab Farsi. This organization has the duty to coin or adapt new words for the non-Persian ones. It consists of 25 Persian language experts and professors who are the final decision-makers. There are several specialized sub-departments such as Engineering, Medicine, Agriculture, Transportation, Military, Economic, and so on, that cooperate with the Center.

Farhangestan-e-Zaban VA Adab Farsi is responsible for coining the new Persian words against New Latin ones using by people or may be used in future. This organization follows the below procedures to coin or adapt appropriate words for the Latin ones. Its main policy is as follows (Farhangestan-e- Zaban-2001):

1. In coining and choosing a new word, Persian phonetic rules and learned speakers’ way of talking and Islamic points of views should be regarded as criterion.
2. Phonetic rules should be obeyed according the Persian way of talking.
3. New words that are found or created should follow the Persian grammatical rules for coining nouns, adjectives, verbs and so on.
4. New words should be chosen or coined out of the most common or frequent words that have been used since 250 AD.
5. New words can be chosen from among the most frequent and common Arabic words, as they are used in Persian.
6. New words can be chosen out of the middle and Old Persian languages
7. There should be only one equivalent in Persian for any of the Latin ones, particularly for technical words.
8. It is not so much necessary to adapt or create new Persian words for those Latin words which have been used internationally and globally.

It's not clear to me why "pizza" wouldn't count as one of "those Latin words which have been used internationally and globally".

Anyhow, searching for {Farhangestan Zaban} turns up quite a bit of other interesting information, including http://www.persianacademy.ir. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at July 29, 2006 02:14 PM