Tag Archives: language

Learning Farsi

My new friends teach me one word each day.

Sanjob. Squirrel (not hamster).
As we walked across campus, my roommate G told me how surprised she was at the number of hamsters we have in America. We had a lively conversation about pets in Iran and America, until I finally realized that we weren’t on the same level. Since my Charades skills for “squirrel” weren’t working (sorry, Rachel), I pointed to one in a tree. “Squirrel!” “Squirrel? Not hamster?” “No. Squirrel.”
At dinner that night, our new Iranian friend H taught me sanjob. Be sure to pronounce “job” like, well, job, ’cause otherwise you sound like a foreigner.

Mush. Mouse.
That night, G and I got on Google Images to finally look up “squirrel.” We also looked up hamster and mouse. Did you know that if you combine the words for “date” and “mouse,” you get “hamster”?

Jee-guh banavsh. Purple scream.
A purple scream is apparently the sound I make when I let a goal in during fusball, a sound for which Iranian women are famous. G and H laughed so hard with me as I tried and tried and tried to pronounce the guttural “guh” sound for “scream.”
We settled with banavsh, purple, as my word for the day.
(I have to think and speak quickly: apparently my Southern drawl makes for a poor Farsi accent.)

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Learning English


That’s the only Farsi word I’ve retained from the past few days. My roommate, on the other hand, seems to pick up a new phrase every time we talk.

In the process of talking, speaking to one another, I’m learning to speak English again. I speak slower and try not to mumble, mutter words under my breath. I repeat phrases, say them in different ways. I use hand gestures for words like “chopping” (not that that’s new for me). My roommate and I will shortly be the best Charades players in the building, uh, the apartment complex.

Yesterday I took her to her first American grocery store. I learned (and promptly forgot) the Farsi words for vegetable, honeydew, and cucumber. I realized how completely unhelpful I am when she started looking at beans and shrimp and trying to find loose-leaf tea and her particular type of untranslate-able breakfast cheese.

We took a long pause in the HEB aisle trying to figure out what dried vinegar was. Hand gestures and alternate vocabulary proved futile. When we got home, she held up a bag. “Dried vinegar!” I giggled a little, so she opened the fridge to show me fresh vinegar. “Those, my friend, are grapes. The dried ones are raisins.” We had a good laugh.

While preparing our gourmet frozen pizza dinner (that I over-cooked), she confirmed that I am Christian and asked me if I am religious. “You go to service, church, every Sunday, yes? You pray every day?” When her face showed astonishment, we tried to talk about prayer through a language, religious, and sleepiness barrier. We’ll have to try that conversation again another day.

Angoor: Farsi for “grape.”

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Various Thoughts on Language

Language is incredibly important.
It’s how we relate to one another.
It’s how we organize our thoughts. Scientists argue that one of the reasons we cannot remember events from our infancy is that they are not “tagged” with language in our brains. It’s like the memories are in a file, but we can’t find and open the file because it wasn’t labeled.

When we hear the Bible, we hear it in language. A book I’m reading, A Visual History of the English Bible, has some interesting thoughts. The medieval period is when we see the emergence of some strange Christian “doctrines”: indulgences, Purgatory, etc. This is also the same period that the Bible was most removed from the people. The Latin Vulgate was regarded as sacred, and only priests were allowed to read the Scriptures. Many priests didn’t even know any Latin. Thus, what else could medieval Christians do but create theology that answered all of their questions, without the authority of the Bible to challenge these “sensical” answers?
It is also interesting to note that the Protestant Revolution, based on sola scriptura, emerged shortly after the development of the printing press and the first vernacular translations of the Bible.

The heart of this post was scribbled out during my church’s Hebrew class. I have recently discovered that there is a non-negligible group of people who believe that Hebrew is the Holy language spoken before the fall and that will be spoken in the new creation.
I completely disagree.
One, there’s no Biblical backing for it.
Two, how is an All Mighty God tied to a specific (and, well, dead) human language? Though God wrote the ten commandments with His own finger in Hebrew, I believe He would have written them in Russian or Dutch or Brazilian if those were the languages His chosen people spoke. He does not hide His commandments from us.
Yes, Jesus spoke Hebrew. He also spoke Aramaic and Koine Greek.
I do not believe God is tied to one of our languages. Not Hebrew. Not my beloved Greek. Not the King James Version. He is transcendent. He is the λογος incarnate.
When He spoke the universe into being, He didn’t use breath and tongue and teeth to form words. He used meaning, Language itself with a capital “L”. All our languages, Hebrew, Greek, English, German, Spanish, Latin, are but feeble imitations of the true Language.

I like C.S. Lewis’s vision of Old Solar or the Great Tongue: the language spoken by all creation before the fall. No quote can quite capture the idea of the language, but it is a beautiful description throughout the whole Ransom Trilogy.

For Ransom, whose study had been for many years in the realm of words, it was heavenly pleasure. He found himself sitting within the very heart of language, in the white-hot furnace of essential speech.

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