The choice of which Middle Eastern language to study can be an agonizing one, especially for those of us who value language skills as an essential aspect of our area studies education. The vast majority of Middle Eastern Studies students, both undergraduate and graduate, elect for Arabic while the few, the proud, the unpragmatic choose Persian, Turkish, and other less-widely spoken languages. There is certainly a strong case to be made for studying Arabic but other Middle Eastern tongues remain important for a number of reasons. Let us attempt to tease out some potential justifications for the study of less widely-spoken languages.
Persian- When one studies the Persian language, he has complete and unfettered access to the inflated national ego and chauvinistic imaginary of the Persians, which dwarfs even that of the Arabs. The Persians, whose language has been sadly circumscribed to Afghanistan, Iran and the relatively insignificant Tajikistan, have a glorious past dating back to days of US-supported Shah. Learning Persian would give you the ability to simultaneously quote poetry to scholars of the Mughal period and collude with the State Department on its top-secret Restoration of the Iranian Monarchy Initiative. If your Farsi is superb and your career aims more modest, you could help the Iranians tweet to freedom by working for Open Society’s secret office in Bahrain. Sample Tweet: Shmo baroi jomai madani vokei va jomai jahon omodeh hastid?
Translation: Are you ready for real Civil Society and the World Cup?
Potential Careers for Farsi speakers:
Spokesman, Iranians for Reinstatement of the Monarchy, Los Angeles
Assistant to the Mughal Emperor- Old City, Dehli, India
Carpet merchant- Kabul, Afghanistan
Turkish- Learning Turkish will help you connect with Turkic speaking breathren all over the Asian continent, especially populations in the remote, obscure countries of Central Asia. You can revive the pan-Turkic movement by writing the definitive grammar textbook of a Turkish Esperanto that is to be spoken from the villages of Turkmenistan to the oil fields of Kazakhstan. Learning Turkish can be a challenge- the grammar of this agglutinative language is even more complex than the place of religion in the Turkish society. If you have no moral qualms about perpetuating the hegemony of the modern state, you can help the Turkish army maintain its position as protector of the secular republic by working as a Turkish language teacher/army commandant in subversive Kurdistan. Fortunately, I have had the chance to learn some Turkish through my interaction with the young Turks at our department. Bilgilid Tsekkur Attaturk Edderimadiliguri oz bodinjon mikilet! (Oh, Attaturk may the sun never set on your eggplant sandwich).
Some Potential Careers for Turkish speakers:
Roller Blade shop owner in Izmir
Protector of the Turkish republic
Head of State Archives- Kyrgyzstan
Hebrew- What are you, a Zionist?