Cultural Reflections Encountering Linguistic Nuances in Iran

One day, I came across a signboard that read “Salon Salamani”. I exclaimed, “Wow, this is great! They serve ‘salan’ in Iran too!” Upon approaching the restaurant, I realized that there was no arrangement for dining. There were a few chairs and some mirrors. It became evident that this was just like any other shop back home, with the word written on its board – “HAIR CUTTING SALON.”

Upon reaching Iran, I had started practicing Persian, but “Salon Salamani” made me realize that I needed to be cautious. I couldn’t pinpoint why, but it seemed subconsciously evident that the influx of new words, scientific and technological terms from Western languages, which had seamlessly integrated into our own, had a similar effect in Persian.

Railway, telecommunication, station, and ticket would also be commonly used in Persian. I learned that while we adopted words from English, Iranians had done the same from French. Hence, in Persian, a station is referred to as “istasyon,” they say “ato bus” for bus, and “bilit” for ticket. The translations of many other words had also undergone changes. For instance, while we said “rail” or “rail ki patri,” they had replaced it with “rah aahan.”

The loudspeaker had become “boland go,” and a tie had become “taee.” Through translation, Iranians had moved so far ahead that even the meanings of some Persian words were also translated. “Shahzadi” and “shahzada” had transformed into “shahpur” and “shahdokht.”

This phenomenon stemmed from a fervor for nationalism that had surfaced during the reign of Reza Shah, leading to the eradication of all Arabic words from the language and their replacement with Persian equivalents. While some good words were integrated, some were haphazardly adopted. For example, “tukhm murgh” replaced “baiza” for an egg.

Nevertheless, Arabic still remained unscathed. Shah continued to be addressed as “Aala Hazrat” until the end. Despite being an Arabic name, it was retained, whereas the title “Asim” remained. However, the meaning of the word “Afghan” is still not clear to the Iranians.

Saadi Shirazi once said: “Naam neek raftagan zaya makun Ta beh maand naam neekat barqarar.” (Do not tarnish the reputation of those who have passed away, so that their good name remains intact in the future.)

For a Pakistani, speaking Persian, it is essential to note that the meanings of many Persian words have changed. Just like it has happened in our language. For example, the word “raees” does not mean what it used to in Arabic. In our context, these words have become associated with wealth and riches.

In Iran, their meanings remain the same as they were in Arabic and are still used as “sardar” for “raees,” “shahzada” for “ameer” or “commander,” and “ghareeb” for “pardesi” or “foreigner.” The discussion revolved around the changes in the meanings of Persian words. For instance, “kalafat” now means “mama” or “khadima,” “dimaagh” became “naak,” and “shalwaar” became “patloon,” and “clahay hat” for “topi.”

Numerous innocent words that are part of our language have acquired new meanings in the context of Iranians. So much so that they are beyond reproach. This journey from old Delhi to the new world… – Saad Rashid Alkhairi.