Art And Culture

Linguists Debate Impact of Virtual Space on Persian Language

“In a global village we all are entitled to use the information communication technology, but we need time to incorporate its culture into our lives”
Ali Famyan (L), Reza Shokrollahi (C) and Kourosh Safavi
Ali Famyan (L), Reza Shokrollahi (C) and Kourosh Safavi

A debate on the ‘Impact of Virtual Space on Persian Language’ held at Entesharat Fanni Iran (Iran Technical Publications) in Tehran on Oct. 5, was attended by writer, researcher in literature, critic, journalist and editor Reza Shokrollahi; linguist and translator Kourosh Safavi; and researcher in linguistics, literary critic and essayist Alirezaqoli  Famyan.

Translator and Editor Ali Solhjou, 71, conducted the seminar.

Famyan, 47, a faculty member at Payam-Noor University expounded on internet linguistics, advocated by English linguist David Crystal, 75, ISNA reported.

There are three fundamental principles in internet linguistics: the first is ‘brevity’ that explains a process in which the time and effort required to communicate and transfer information are reduced; the second is ‘informality’ and regardless of how we look at the virtual space, it is an informal environment; and the third principle is ‘text-symbol interactivity’, where “images and symbols are used within a context to convey thoughts and emotions,” Famyan said.

For their speed and convenience in communication, virtual social networks have become popular in recent years. However, there is no single “style manual.” Based on research in the US and Britain, 90% of internet-mediated messages exchanged between students and young adults conform to the grammatical norms of English language; only 10% are outside the customary usage. Still, there are concerns about language deterioration.

“Similar concerns are voiced about the use of the Persian language on the internet, which requires us to study the pathology of the phenomenon systematically. But scientific and documented studies in this regard can be counted on the fingers of one hand,” he observed.

Shokrollahi, 43, said his comments are based on the result of his observations of and interaction with the diverse groups of internet users over the past 14 years.

“According to the statistics presented by Iranian Students’ Polling Agency (ISPA), as of August this year, 52% of Iranians are members of different social networks. The same source claims that 40% of people in rural areas also use the networks. Telegram, for instance, has 28 million users in Iran.”

  Gap in Oral and Written Forms

Shokrollahi quoted linguist and film actor Mohsen Mahdavi (1925-2002) who said that the Persian script “would die out in the distant future.”

“There are indications in this direction, including the unstable linguistic gap between oral and written forms of the language and due to this one of the two forms will most probably yield to the other.”

The difference between oral and written Persian is of course not huge to raise serious concern. “But oral Persian changes at a faster pace.”

Thus, oral Persian takes over and officiates in a new written form. “There are numerous books now written in this style. The media and even official advertisements use the oral form; while the entire virtual space is now ruled by this language,” Shokrollahi said.

“Unlike in the past millennium, nearly all people are now accustomed to writing. But while the tide is turning in favor of oral form, other changes are also taking place that should be taken into account. Speed of communication is one of the recent changes, particularly in mobile texts that are more akin to oral language. Another change is introduction of symbols and ‘emojis’ that accelerate communication and compensate for the lack of words in expressing emotions.”

“The users do not regard Persian language as an asset. For them, the language is devoid of sentimental value, as is music, cinema and lifestyle. The new generation asks why they should write ‘Gorosne am’ (I’m hungry) while they say ‘Gorosname’.

Shokrollahi explained that introduction of new concepts and objects, simplification, mandatory abbreviation and the approach toward oral forms are all contributing to evolution of the language. “But the main concern is to what intellectual level such linguistic dynamism will lead us to.”

  Limited Vocabulary

“In recent years, a writing style has emerged with a very limited vocabulary, maybe even less than 300 words. When it comes to the mobile users, they mostly prefer their minimal language whose semantics are in written form. It is not clear whether this oral language can deal with the nuances of intellectual topics in the future.”

Limited vocabulary means limited thinking and even limited emotions. How can new definitions and theories be comprehended within this limitation? Both linguists as well as the Persian speakers are faced with more fundamental questions whose answers will provide a basis for future of the language, he added.

Safavi, 59, in his speech referred “to the misunderstandings that are quite frequent in virtual space.”

New technologies have facilitated communication between remote parts of the world which has become a global village. “We are entitled to use the communication technology, but we need time to incorporate its culture into our lives.”

“When our social ethos is different from that of a culture that is foreign, violence ensues.”

Virtual networks should exist. There is no need to worry about Persian language or script. But the virtual space or any borrowed technology should be accompanied with education, so that we know how to manage it. We are worried, because we are not trained.”

Poets like Sa’di and Ferdowsi will remain unaffected. “Even if we write in Armenian script, Hafez will still be the same. But what can we do about violence? This is the main question,” Safavi said.

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