To the editors:
I thought Reader staff writers were a cut above the educational and literary level of most other Chicago journalists, but after your reference in Calendar (March 12) to a lecture to be delivered in "Farsi," I'm beginning to wonder. You mean Persian.
"Persian" is the proper designation in English of the language known to its own speakers as Farsi, just as "German" is the proper designation in English of the language known to its speakers as Deutsch, etc., etc. It's unnecessary, and insulting to both English and Persian, to use the native term for a well-known literary language, older than English, which has had a word to designate it in English, French, Russian, Italian, Swedish, etc., for centuries. We dignify other less familiar languages with English terms (Swahili, not Kiswahili; Neo-Melanesian, not--or at least in addition to--Tok Pisin), as, mutatis mutandis, do the French, Germans, Ukrainians, etc. It shouldn't be any harder to appreciate that the Iranians, or Persians, of Iran speak Persian (which, incidentally, they call Farsi) than to remember that the Dutch of the Netherlands (or Holland) speak Dutch (which, equally incidentally and irrelevantly as far as English is concerned, they call nederlands). Yes, I know that many Iranians call it Farsi when speaking English; but they have an excuse--they're not native users of English and have merely been intimidated by the ignorance of alleged native speakers.
Professor of Persian
University of Chicago