December 11, 2007

Banned in Iran

A friend of mine, whom I cannot name, at an undisclosed location in Iran which will have to remain undisclosed, has risked telling me this in a private (let us hope) email message:

I just spent a good hour going through about a hundred illegal proxy sites to bypass the government's internet restrictions. Not for porn, not for politics... but for Language Log (which, I guess, isn't so different). I thought you'd find it interesting that languagelog is banned in Iran. Or at least, it is in the town I'm in. What makes it so blasphemous, I don't know. But now I'm on the computer at 4am secretly getting my fix of linguisticky goodness with a dial-up connection and a computer that turns off when I open too many windows. It's worth it though.

We here at Language Log Plaza are indeed interested to learn that our basically educative, informational, and humorous efforts have been banned. (What my friend means by that "isn't so different" crack I cannot imagine. Our pornographic posts are few and far between and always have redeeming social worth. And our politics is kept firmly in check.) What on earth could possibly induce the government of a country of such extraordinary natural and human resources as the Islamic Republic of Iran to imagine that it might be in danger from us? There are threats of many kinds in their region of the world; but can it be that they actually fear... Language Log?

By my count we have mentioned Iran in 59 posts on this site, including the one you're reading now (in the first version of this post I thought it was more like 83, but that appears to have been because of careless searching that picked up words like "antiperspirant"; see if you can see why!).

We haven't always been entirely grovelling in our approbation of the Islamic Republic, I suppose, but we can hardly be described as having gone all out for regime change. Sometimes our critical remarks have cast aspersions on the USA rather than Iran; and mostly our remarks have been about distinctly un-saucy topics like developments in the study of Old Persian, or the importance of modal semantics. In every case, language is our topic; and it seems utterly fantastic to think that they might have the power to harm a large and important modern country if its population were allowed to read our site without going through proxy servers.

Several times (Aiding and editing the "enemy"; Jail copy editors for the right reasons; OFAC Censorship Still in Place; Submit a manuscript, go to jail; and OFAC Relents) we mentioned the policy of the Office of Foreign Asset Control of the US Treasury Department, which held the view (and may still hold it) that it is a criminal offense for an American even to engage in collaborative scholarship with Iranians; but we were and are entirely against that policy, so that can't be why we're banned.

Once I mentioned "Iran's suspicious experiments in transuranic chemistry", but for heaven's sake, take a look at the post: it was entirely devoted to providing me with a chance to comment on the pronunciation of the abbreviation "IAEA" at normal speech rates, so I could put in a couple of goofy jokes like the title "IAEA yippy yippy yie" (which still makes me giggle; sorry, but I just love re-reading my own stuff). No threat to the state there.

There was a post that called the Persian Gulf "the Gulf" (Another view of Americans and Arabic in the Gulf), but we then discussed the nomenclatural issue even-handedly (The (so-called) Gulf and (so-called) friendly fire). That could hardly be it.

Mark once mentioned that the official Iranian news agency IRNA had announced that Jesus had given instructions that Iranian Jews should defend the national interest of Iran (see Help me, I'm trapped in an Iranian news agency). But he was only quoting IRNA, and asking how and why Jesus had issued these surprising instructions. Inquiring minds want to know.

I mentioned once that Iran seemed to be innocent of sending me spam, so that was a friendly comment.

Mark discussed the case of an art professor who was fired for possibly saying (or possibly not) something about hair or chadors or something ( Spinning Fish: Mullahs defend Herodotus), but only in the context of journalism exegesis.

The absolute most critical thing about Iran that I have been able to find on Language Log is Bill Poser's remark in passing in one paragraph of his Kurdish to be co-official in Iraq that "In Iran under the Shah Kurdish was suppressed, as described in Margaret Kahn's book Children of the Jinn. Kurdish is now in public use to some extent, but the use of the language is banned in schools and the Kurds are still oppressed. Among other things, since most are Sunni Muslims they are not permitted to vote." That's the absolute worst Language Log has to offer, I think. But as far as I know, it is the simple, verifiable truth; and notice that Poser adds no value judgment or moral critique. If we have said anything worse, I have not yet tracked it down.

[Added later: plenty of people have written in to suggest that it might be the occasional references to gay sex in various contexts that got us a triple-X rating in Iran, and I suppose that is quite possible.]

Anyway, you decide: below is a complete list of all of posts prior to today in which the word "Iran" occurred.

    Banned in Iran:   A friend of mine, whom I cannot name, at an undisclosed location in Iran which will have to remain undisclosed, has risked telling me this in a private (let us hope) email message: I just spent a good hour going...   (December 11, 2007 12:03 PM)
  • Modal semantics in National Intelligence Estimate:   The page I've copied below the cut (page 5 from the summary National Intelligence Estimate, Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities , as reproduced in NYTimes Dec 3, 2007) struck me as remarkable in showing how important modal semantics is in...   (December 4, 2007 02:16 AM)
  • What old linguists do after they retire:   The energetic staff here at Language Log Plaza tries to deal with all aspects of language life, including geezerdom. For some unknown reason, I was assigned to the Geriatric Desk and I've posted about how geezerdom feels in the past....   (November 21, 2007 11:13 AM)
  • Linguistics at Guantanamo Bay:   The Standard Operating Procedures manual for Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay has been leaked. You can download it (238 page pdf document) here. (Feel free: it isn't classified - just "for official use only".) Most of it is rather...   (November 14, 2007 06:15 PM)
  • Ask Language Log: is "regime" a loaded word? :   Joseph Kynaston Reeves wrote: If you have the time and inclination, I’d be interested to hear your opinion on the word “regime”.  To me, the word, applied to a government, implies a lack of freedom and is implicitly critical...   (November 8, 2007 06:45 AM)
  • You say potato, I say bologna:   In the October 22 New Yorker, Michael Schulman reports on his conversations with Majella Hurley, an English dialect coach who is coaching Claire Danes as Eliza Doolittle in a revival of Pygmalion ("You say potato"). Halfway through the piece, Schulman...   (October 18, 2007 10:50 PM)
  • The Islamic language family:   One small point went unnoticed in Sally Thomason's very sharp two-part critique (here and here) of Tecumseh Fitch's recent short article in Nature. It was spotted by my sharp-eyed Edinburgh colleague Bob Ladd. The artwork accompanying Fitch's article depicts the...   (October 17, 2007 07:11 AM)
  • Zolf bar baad :   Today's NYT has a piece on Mohsen Namjoo (Nazila Fathi, "Iran's Dylan on the Lute, With Songs of Sly Protest", 9/1/2007). Searching on YouTube for Namjoo turns up this lovely song, a setting of a 14th-century ghazal by Hafez, as...   (September 1, 2007 05:58 AM)
  • From the headline desk at Language Log Plaza:   Here at the headline desk at LLP, we don't write headlines, we analyze 'em.  The latest headline episode began on Wednesday with Ben Zimmer's puzzlement at the following head on a Reuters story: Taliban say kill Korean hostage, set...   (July 28, 2007 08:55 PM)
  • Old Persian News:   There has been an interesting development in the study of Old Persian. Old Persian is the language of the royal inscriptions of the Achaemenid kings, such as the Behistun inscription of Darius, and is known to us almost exclusively...   (July 3, 2007 08:15 PM)
  • Omit needless needless:   George H.W. Bush, quoted in the NYT (story by Stephen Engelberg, 5/5/89): NORTH GUILTY ON 3 OF 12 COUNTS; VOWS TO FIGHT TILL 'VINDICATED'; BUSH DENIES A CONTRA AID DEAL   'No Quid Pro Quo,' President Insists ... The...   (June 3, 2007 02:26 PM)
  • Unilateralism:   This is a country that has failed to implement any of the recommendations of a six-year-old report to a U.N. committee dealing with key human rights issues; a country that stands almost alone in refusing to ratify international agreements on...   (May 29, 2007 07:53 AM)
  • Spinning Fish: Mullahs defend Herodotus:   In Stanley Fish's most recent NYT essay ("The All-Spin Zone", 5/6/2007), he unspins unSpun, Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson's book about how to cope with political rhetoric: The book’s subtitle tells it all: “Finding Facts in a World of...   (May 8, 2007 07:52 AM)
  • Growing ice cream in the Russian winter :   After the build-up about U.S.-Iran discussions at the recent conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, journalists were left to interpret some scant and ambiguous shards of interaction (Lee Keath, "Suspicions remain after Iraq conference", AP (via Houston Chronicle), 5/4/2007): Baghdad also...   (May 6, 2007 07:43 AM)
  • Help me, I'm trapped in an Iranian news agency:   Was it an April Fool's joke? A simple translator's mistake? A subtle attempt at sabotage? A call for help? I'm baffled, frankly, but under the headline "Iranian Jews ready to defend national interests", the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) ran...   (April 8, 2007 08:57 PM)
  • BCCI in the news again:   Every once in a while a law case I worked on years earlier reappears in the news. This time it's about the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (here) and (here). The current news article suggests that in the old...   (April 7, 2007 02:29 PM)
  • The jagged, dash-strewn syntax of Robert Fisk:   Breathlessly urgent syntax from Robert Fisk in The Independent the other day: Oh how pleased the Iranians must have been to hear Messers [sic] Blair and Bush shout for the "immediate" release of the luckless 15 — this Blair-Bush insistence...   (April 5, 2007 10:45 PM)
  • Linguistic intervention in Iran :   It's not quite as bad as the spammers' "I need of your assistance" or "within the nearest time", but L/S Faye Turney's most recent letter of "confession", released by the Iranian embassy in London on March 30, really doesn't read...   (April 2, 2007 06:40 AM)
  • The Theory of Date Formats:   Arnold's discussion of the clever forensic use of date order by the Iranian government made me think a little about date formats. An analysis along the lines of Optimality Theory seems appropriate....   (February 27, 2007 01:43 PM)
  • Tell-tale date format?:   In a letter published in the New York Times on 2/26/07 (p. A24), M. A. Mohammadi, the Press Secretary in the Mission of Iran to the United Nations, attacks U.S. allegations about his country: The United States media should...   (February 27, 2007 10:18 AM)
  • Aramaic in the Tomb of Jesus:   Today's New York Times has a report on a new documentary by a team that claims to have found the graves of Jesus and his family and that they show that he was married to Mary Magdalene and was...   (February 27, 2007 04:45 AM)
  • The (so-called) Gulf and (so-called) friendly fire:   Earlier today Sally Thomason entitled a Language Log post, "Another view of Americans & Arabic in the Gulf." Will Language Log Plaza now face a worldwide boycott over an omitted word? Let me explain. In today's Guardian, reader's editor Ian...   (February 19, 2007 05:19 PM)
  • Grammatical parables at the Pentagon:   In yesterday's Pentagon Roundtable (transcript here), with SecDef Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, the first question that came up was about the Iranian role in supplying EFPs to Iraqi insurgents. Or...   (February 16, 2007 07:33 AM)
  • Whom shall I say [ ___ is calling ]?:   Commenting that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing", Gene Buckley offered me the following example from the New York Times of 1/15/07: (1) The answer, shaped in the National Security Council, is for the American military to make...   (January 23, 2007 10:31 AM)
  • Mailbag:   Well, I stepped on a few corns yesterday. Rather than add updates to the posts in question, as I usually do, I'll collect the email and my answers in one place here, and link forward from the earlier posts....   (January 16, 2007 07:07 AM)
  • "Every 52 seconds": wrong by 23,736 percent?:   Well, I wasn't going to blog this, because it's got nothing directly to do with speech and language. But it does have to do with rhetoric, and with the use of authoritative-sounding assertions backed up by empty references to scientific...   (October 13, 2006 08:02 AM)
  • Comma:   On CNN's The Situation Room, aired 9/20/2006, Wolf Blitzer interviewed President George W. Bush: BLITZER: We see these horrible... BUSH: Of course you do. BLITZER: ... bodies showing up, torture, mutilation. BUSH: Yes. BLITZER: The Shia and the Sunni, the...   (September 25, 2006 07:23 AM)
  • 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...   (July 29, 2006 02:14 PM)
  • Blogging from the seat of power :   In a recent debate with other New York Times columnists (Times Talks, U.S. Politics: What's Next?, July 17, 2006), Maureen Dowd got a big laugh when she said I don't think Bush is stupid either, but I think that they...   (July 22, 2006 12:47 PM)
  • Phony Oriental wisdom in the 12th century :   [Guest post by Victor Mair] About thirty-five years ago, I encountered for the first time the following saying (translated from Persian): “Seek knowledge even as far as China.” When I first heard this maxim, it immediately struck me as being...   (July 18, 2006 07:33 PM)
  • Recycling grammatical terminology:   Christopher Hitchens' latest fighting words column for Slate ("Don't Talk to the Mullahs", 5/15/2006) directs a few desultory insults towards his recent virtual debating partner Juan Cole, while describing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's letter to President Bush: It then turns to a...   (May 16, 2006 05:52 PM)
  • The alcoholic orientalist thief vs. the tenth-rate syntactical train wreck:   Christopher Hitchens and Juan Cole have been arguing about how to interpret the anti-Israel rhetoric of the Iranian leadership. As I understand it, Cole believes that the Iranians are calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the territories...   (May 7, 2006 02:06 PM)
  • Arabic machine translation from Google Labs :   Franz Och at Google Labs has announced interactive sites where you can try Arabic-English and English-Arabic machine translation. I tried a random story on the Al-Hayat web site. Cutting and pasting from the story worked pretty well: the first...   (April 30, 2006 02:03 AM)
  • Adventures in celebrity onomastics:   When Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes announced the birth of their daughter on Tuesday, celebrity-watchers were eager to find out what to call TomKat's offspring (besides TomKitten, of course). The couple's publicist revealed that the baby's name is Suri, further explaining...   (April 21, 2006 10:45 PM)
  • I found my snowclone in Palo Alto:   Continuing our discussion of what's a snowclone and what's just a lot of playful allusion to and creative variation on some original (most recently: X-back Mountain?), I take up the legend on a flyer for the Artfibers Yarn Millshop...   (March 23, 2006 07:00 PM)
  • The perils of semiotic speculation :   During the recent controversy over the Danish cartoons, it's struck me how many people think that the events are messages of some sort, though they rarely agree about who has been communicating what to whom. The riots and embassy attacks...   (March 14, 2006 02:44 PM)
  • Respect :   Callimachus at Done with Mirrors represents his fellow Fluffians right back at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Yo, Iran!": We took it from W.C. Fields, because he was one of us. We're not going to take this from you, Iran. What'd they do?...   (March 9, 2006 02:19 PM)
  • Roses of Muhammad, bread of Vienna:   You've probably heard that the Tehran confectioners union has ordered "Danish pastries" (shirini danmarki in Farsi) to be renamed gul-e-muhammadi, or "roses of Muhammad", in an echo of "freedom fries" and "liberty cabbage"....   (February 17, 2006 01:55 PM)
  • A guest rant: "All we want are the facts" :   Just as I was posting my little complaint about Technology Review, this fine rant was submitted by Paul Kay for publication in Language Log: Is truth really under attack in American society? Or does it just seem that way? Does...   (January 19, 2006 06:14 PM)
  • The [sic]ing of the President:   In November, when the White House Press Office sought to change transcripts of a briefing by Scott McClellan (who either thought that it was "accurate" or "not accurate" that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were known to have had conversations...   (January 12, 2006 01:20 AM)
  • International Spam:   As you probably know I'm a fan of internationalization, but it can go too far. When I checked my email a few minutes ago I found two spam messages right in a row. One was in Japanese, advertising software....   (November 1, 2005 06:47 PM)
  • Kurdish to be Co-official in Iraq:   Article 4 of the draft of the new Constitution of Iraq makes Arabic and Kurdish co-official languages. Both languages are to be used in legislative bodies and courts, schools, and official publications and correspondence. This is great news for...   (October 12, 2005 07:52 PM)
  • [expletive discussed]:   In today's NYT story on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's role in the 1979 U.S. embassy seizure in Tehran, there's an unusually cumbersome form of bowdlerization: At 6:45 p.m. Monday, after seeing the picture on the Web site of The Washington Post, Mr....   (July 1, 2005 10:32 AM)
  • Bill Clinton has a blog:   [Or maybe he doesn't -- several people have written in to suggest that this is a fake. That probably makes more sense than the hypothesis that Bill Clinton would really write as frankly as he seems to in the entries...   (March 27, 2005 12:03 AM)
  • OFAC Relents:   Last May we discussed the US Treasury Department's view that publication in the United States of material originating in countries embargoed by the United States is illegal and the effect that this has had on scientific publication. I am...   (December 15, 2004 06:36 PM)
  • An Escape from Election News into Brahui:   Lately I've been finding creative ways to take my mind off the political news, and one of them involved checking Dravidian references for a student. This took me to one of the books I inherited from my father, the atheist...   (November 2, 2004 08:04 PM)
  • The Axis of Spam:   America is under attack. Unwanted linguistic material, possibly hazardous, is being launched at us in vast quantities. Spam received at my email address, which I now never advertise anywhere in machine-readable form (though it is of course too late)...   (October 27, 2004 04:43 PM)
  • Fear North Dakota:   The Oct. 10 edition of NBC's Meet the Press was partly devoted to a sort of debate between the Colorado Senate candidates Ken Salazar and Pete Coors, moderated by Tim Russert. At one point, Coors got a little tangled up...   (October 16, 2004 11:20 AM)
  • hard opponent must hope: today even respect issues:   2004 is the 40th anniversary of Gerald Salton's SMART system for full-text information retrieval, or at least of the earliest documentation of it that I've seen. One of the key insights of this system was that the content of a...   (October 2, 2004 05:59 AM)
  • Birlashdirilmish yangi Turk alifbesi:   Spurred by Language Hat's post on origins of Bishkek, the (current name of) the capital of Kyrgyzstan, I typed in some sections of a fiction set against the background of Stalin-era Central Asia, featuring the effort to develop a "New...   (September 27, 2004 05:14 PM)
  • Submit a manuscript, go to jail:   I know, I'm perverse; but after reading Bill Poser's revelation that coauthorship with a citizen of an embargoed country is a Federal crime, I have suddenly developed a yearning, a positive lust, to collaborate on a little scientific paper of...   (May 18, 2004 01:15 PM)
  • OFAC Censorship Still in Place:   Last month I reported that the Office of Foreign Asset Control of the US Treasury Department had abandoned its position that journals published in the United States could not edit papers submitted by residents of countries with which the...   (May 18, 2004 01:06 AM)
  • Jail copy editors for the right reasons:   The news that copy-editing a paper before it appears in a journal may be a criminal offense if they come from one of the Bad Guy countries (further details here) is perhaps the most astonishing I have encountered in months...   (March 4, 2004 03:07 PM)
  • Aiding and editing the "enemy":   The New York Times reports that the U.S. Treasury Department has dreamt up yet another novel form of censorship: Treasury Department Is Warning Publishers of the Perils of Criminal Editing of the Enemy. The New York Times, February 28,...   (February 29, 2004 10:37 AM)
  • The Passion:   Actor Mel Gibson has produced a controversial new movie The Passion about the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ which will appear in theatres in two weeks. It is controversial for several reasons. Some people consider it to stimulate...   (February 10, 2004 11:37 AM)
  • Inflections, genes and western Iran:   As a gloss on the discussion a while back on Indo-European origins, I have just discovered the neatest thing. Persian is odd among Indo-European languages in how low on inflection it is. In particular, it is one of the few...   (February 5, 2004 06:51 PM)
  • He used all his French:   According to the 12/15 New York Times story on Saddam Hussein's conversation with four members of the Iraqi Governing Council, Mowaffak al-Rubaie asked "When they arrested you why didn't you shoot one bullet? You are a coward. " The response,...   (December 15, 2003 11:21 AM)
  • Irresponsible Punditry:   The paper "Language Tree Divergence Times Support the Anatolian Theory of Indo-European Origin" discussed in a previous posting was the subject of an article by Boston Globe staff writer Gareth Cook in the Thanksgiving Day issue (p. A16). The...   (December 10, 2003 10:33 PM)
  • It's like, so unfair:   Why are the old fogeys and usage whiners of the world so upset about the epistemic-hedging use of like, as in She's, like, so cool? The old fogeys use equivalent devices themselves, all the time. An extremely common one...   (November 22, 2003 02:14 AM)
Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 11, 2007 12:03 PM