Main arguments against changing the current Persian alphabet
| 1. Who would transcribe thousands of
years worth of Persian writings (books, poetry, manuscripts)
? How long would this take ? This would be one of the
most immense projects in the history of mankind to transcribe
a community's entire history of literature... Is anyone
going to "redo" the calligraphy that exists on many monuments
in Iran or Afghanistan?
The process of changing over from the Perso-Arabic alphabet
to a phonemic Latinized one, such as UniPers, has to
take place methodically and gradually. A well thought
out plan of action for this transition has to be created.
This plan could involve various phases or stages such
- The initiation period -
In this stage, the Latinized Persian alphabet is introduced
in schools as a phonemic standard alphabet for Persian
transcription, as part of the regular curriculum.
Such a simple and easy to use alphabet should be effortless
and expeditious to learn for Persian speaking students.
It will help them in learning the correct pronunciation
of words they might have difficulty reading in the
current alphabet. For non-Persian speaking students
of the Persian language, it would lift the colossal
barrier of having to learn the cumbersome Perso-Arabic
script before starting to actually learn the language
itself. The only books that would need to be transcribed
in this phase are mainly language textbooks, and some
of the major Persian literary works like the Shahnameh,
Hafez's poetry, Balkhi's Masnavi, etc.
- The coexistence period
- This is the phase where an ever increasing number
of books, documents, signs, communications and other
newly developed written material are transcribed in
the new alphabet. The task of transcribing texts from
Perso-Arabic into Latinized script can be automated
with as little human intervention as possible. Therefore,
the effort and time needed for transcription would
be drastically reduced. The only major effort would
be in reviewing the Latinized texts by language experts
for possible tanscription errors. In this stage, most
Persian speaking people would be familiar with both
the old Perso-Arabic and the new Latin-based scripts.
It is expected that most everyone could plainly observe
the superiority of the new phonemic Latin-based Persian
over the old script.
- The completion period
- In this phase the new alphabet is well established
as a practical, efficient, and superior tool for all
kinds of written texts including books, manuscripts,
documents, digitized material, etc.. This is also
a period of natural phasing out of the old alphabet
in favor of the new. Despite the change over to a
Latin-based alphabet, the art of calligraphy in the
old one can continue. The creativity of calligraphers
can now be extended to cover the Latin script as well.
So nothing would be lost and all would be gained.
2. What would become of the ancient Persian culture?
Won't we lose it altogether?
First we need to make an all important distinction between
language and the script that the language is represented
by. Language is directly related to culture. Heidegger
emphasizes this relationship by creating the metaphor:
"language is the house of being (or culture)".
On the other hand, the script or alphabet is merely
a tool for reading and writing. It is not the language
itself. It has nothing to do with language and culture.
It acts like clothes on a person's body. The body represents
language and clothes depict the script. A person's body
will remain unchanged no matter what type of clothes
is worn over it. Thus, all languages can be transcribed
in any script. The best fitting clothes are the ones
that are tailor-made for a person's unique size and
shape. They best suit that person's body. The best alphabet
for a language is one that best suits the peculiarities
and sounds of that language.
The current Perso-Arabic is no more culturally significant
than the UniPers script. The difference is that UniPers
is tailor-made for the Persian language and Perso-Arabic
is not. Perso-Arabic is an unnecessarily convoluted
Arabic script plus four extra Persian specific letters.
Which script would best suit or serve the language and
therefore the culture? A cumbersome hard to read one
or a tailor-made easy to use one? By concluding that
a phonemic simple Latin-based alphabet can serve the
culture better, it becomes clear again that by adopting
a Latin-based phonemic alphabet, not only would we not
lose our ancient Persian culture, but help flourish
it by making it more accessible to all Persian and non-Persian
speaking people of the world.
3. Adopting a new alphabet will damage our literature,
and heritage. No one would be able to read the words
inscribed on walls of ancient buildings any longer.
At first glance the above argument might sound quite
compelling. Especially, to people who are not familiar
with the current Persian script and its multitude of
fundamental problems. The fact of the matter is that
the difficulties of the current script prevent the majority
of Persian speaking people from studying the treasures
of their own Persian literature. The unwieldy nature
of the Perso-Arabic writing system has made reciting
Persian literature the exclusive property of the elite.
A phonemic Latin-based alphabet like UniPers would bust
open the cage which has imprisoned Persian literature
by making it accessible to all. Again, adoption of UniPers
would rescue Persian literature and culture from isolation
and give them the appreciation that they deserve. Inscriptions
on walls of old monuments and historic buildings cannot
be changed, but there are many ways that they could
be transcribed on signs for all to read. There are cuneiform
inscriptions in Persepolis and Behistan, Iran that cannot
be read by ordinary citizens. But this has not prevented
them from being transcribed and translated many times
over and made fully accessible to all. The act of transcription
of cuneiform writings into readable script has actually
helped scientists and regular citizens find a better
understanding and appreciation of them. Although being
able to read ancient documents and wall inscriptions
is important, it is by far the least significant role
for an alphabet. We have to keep reminding ourselves
that the highest priority for a script is to facilitate
communication among people, and to make written material
readily available to all with as little effort as possible
expended in learning how to read.
4. The Japanese alphabet is the most difficult in the
world with 4 different systems. Yet there is a larger
percentage of literate people in Japan than in Turkey
or Vietnam, which have adopted the Latin alphabet.
Japanese has 4 different types of writing systems: Hiragana,
Katakana, Kanji, and Romaji. Hiragana and Katakana are
syllabaries tailor-made for the Japanese language. Kanji
is a set of Chinese characters used in Japanese. Romaji
is a Roman (or Latin) alphabet for standard transliteration.
Out of the above 4, Romaji is used to write numbers
and abbreviations. It is also used in dictionaries,
text books and phrase books for foreign learners of
Japanese. When typing Japanese on computers, most people,
both Japanese and non-Japanese, use Romaji. Obviously,
the complicated and impractical nature of the non-Latin
Japanese writing systems has made it imperative to invent
a standard Latin-based alphabet. This is exactly what
ought to be done regarding Persian writing. Persian
needs a standard Roman-based alphabet that is practical
and simple in this modern age of computers and high
Now comparing Japan to Turkey and Vietnam is ludicrous.
An economic superpower like Japan has the resources
to educate its people no matter what the alphabet. For
countries such as Turkey, Vietnam, or Iran to be able
to appreciably raise the level of education of their
citizenry would require expending enormous resources
that they do not have. Why spend all our resources trying
to save a writing system that is completely obsolete
in the age of the computer and the Internet? A simple
phonemic Latin-based alphabet would expedite the elevation
of the education levels and dramatically cut down on
The complexity of Japanese script has also negatively
affected their culture. Japanese students can only start
reading regular newspapers by the age of 12. This means
they have to gather at least 6 years of experience with
different characters until they are able to read regular
newspapers. If they can only start reading the papers
at that age, they would not be able to read some of
their more serious literary works until they reach adulthood.
We have the same problem in Iran. Here is a question.
What percentage of the Persian-speaking adult population
can actually read the great works of Saadi or Ferdowsi
without difficulty? The concern here is not if they
understand the meaning of the writings. It is just to
know what percentage can actually READ the words without
any problem. That percentage is very low indeed. This
brings up another question. Is our culture and literature
better off written in a complex writing system that
most people have a hard time reading, or one that could
be easily read by all including non-Persian speaking
|5. The Latin-based alphabets of Turkish and Vietnamese
require many letters with diacritics. So the problem of
too many diacritics plaguing the alphabet would still
Modern Persian language with its only 6 vowels is almost
ideal for a phonemic Latin alphabet like UniPers. This
implies very little modification to the basic Latin alphabet.
Only 3 letters with diacritics are needed to customize
the basic Latin alphabet for Persian. Out of these 3 letters
only the letter "â"
is frequently encountered in Persian text. The letter
is far less frequent and ""
is quite rare. Therefore, in reading and writing in Persian
one would mostly encounter only one type of letter with
diacritic. Compare this to the Perso-Arabic alphabet where
out of the 33 letters there are only 17 distinguishable
shapes and almost all letters employ one or more dots
or lines as diacritics. Short vowels when added can appear
as additional diacritics. This multitude of dots and lines
above and below the letters can make reading extremely
6. The motivation for the followers of a new Latinized
alphabet is "West-struckness (or Qarbzadegi)"
as Ale Ahmad (pre-revolution Iranian writer who authored
the famous book: "Qarbzadegi" to warn Iranians
about the dangers of excessive or conspicuous Westernization)
UniPers is based on the Latin (or Roman) alphabet,
which should correctly be called the "International"
or "Universal" alphabet. Although historically
this alphabet appeared in the Western hemisphere, calling
it Western today is no longer accurate. The Latin alphabet
is not limited to the Western world. It is widely used
in Africa and Asia, as well as in the West. On the other
hand, the Perso-Arabic alphabet is only understood at
best by the people of a few countries in southwestern
Basing the new alphabet on the Latin is critical.
One of the major motivations for creating and promoting
UniPers is to open up the Persian language and its vast
wealth of literature to the whole world. This language
and all its greatness has been held captive by the complex,
cumbersome, and less-familiar Perso-Arabic writing system.
UniPers will open up the gates and let Persian soar
to new heights of greatness. Non-Persian speaking people
will as a result become much more interested in learning
the language and studying the great treasures of its
literature. We will see renewed and energized enthusiasm
by people around the world in delving into subjects
such as Iranology and Persian studies. West-struckness
will give way to "Persophilia". Persian
itself is a simple language to learn. What has prevented
more interest in learning this language is its Perso-Arabic
Why not replace Perso-Arabic with an already existing
phonemic Iranian alphabet like "Avestan"?
Many have been asking that question. They want to take
advantage of Avestan's phonetic benefits, and at the
same time avoid being branded as having been struck
by the allure of the West. Although the patriotic nature
of such reasoning is admirable, its practicability is
not. The Latin alphabet is already familiar to most
residents of Persian-speaking countries and the whole
planet in general. Therefore, there will be very short
and limited training needed to familiarize everyone
with UniPers. On the other hand, switching from one
unfamiliar alphabet to another far less familiar would
require enormous amounts of training, and updating all
printing and computer technologies to a completely new
alphabet. These obstacles and subsequent expenditures
can all be avoided by basing the new alphabet on the
most familiar and utilized characters in the world which
are Latin. Regarding the "West-struckness"
taboo, one has to again emphasize that today the names
Latin or Roman are really misnomers and there is no
such thing as a Western or Eastern alphabet. Alphabet
does not have a nationality and does not carry any historical
substance or significance. It is merely a tool for reading
and writing. One naturally seeks the best tool for any
task. The best tool for reading and writing Persian
is an alphabet like UniPers.
7. Perso-Arabic calligraphy and the beautiful writing
styles such as Nasta'liq and Shekasteh will be lost.
True, Nasta'liq and Shekasteh are very beautiful
styles of writing, but how often are they used? The
not so beautiful fonts like Naskh are being used more
and more today on the web and in print, and the beautiful
styles are less utilized because they are simply impractical.
Therefore, the existence of Nasta'liq and Shekasteh
has never been more in danger than it is today, even
though the current alphabet is still Perso-Arabic.
The art of calligraphy can benefit greatly from having
more than one alphabet to work with. Calligraphers can
continue producing Nasta'liq and Shekasteh works of
art - as they are in other countires that have adopted
the Latin alphabet over an Arabic-based one - and extend
their creativity to a whole new Latin-based alphabet
8. We will have to retrain everyone in the new alphabet.
That is correct. But mastering reading and writing
in a phonemic Latin-based alphabet such as UniPers can
take a few months, in case of children and beginners,
and only a few minutes for educated people. In contrast,
to master Perso-Arabic can take up to 9 years of practice.
Even then all its intricate rules and exceptions may
never be completely mastered.
9. The whole idea of changing the alphabet belongs
to Iranian expatriates, and no one in Iran or Afghanistan
even bothers with this problem since they are faced
with much bigger ones.
Historically speaking, the idea of a new alphabet
was generated inside Iran. Many proposed alphabets,
UniPers included, were developed there. The reason for
the lack of overt support for a new alphabet in the
Persian-speaking world is due mostly to political and
legal concerns, and a ban on free exchange of ideas
than anything else. As soon as the environment is made
conducive to freedom of expression and exchange of thoughts,
one will see a resurgence of interest in a new alphabet
10. There is an absence of some vowels in the Perso-Arabic
script, but not entirely. After all, the long vowels
are always written out.
Lack of short vowels is indeed a major shortcoming
of the Perso-Arabic alphabet. The existence of 50% of
the vowels is insufficient for reading and writing most
Persian words. Unlike the Arabic language, the nature
of Persian (like other Indo-European languages) requires
that all vowels be written out. Otherwise, we encounter
the existing problem of words with differing pronunciations
sharing the exact same spelling, or having to guess
the exact pronunciation of less-familiar words. The
current system of writing is plagued by this one deficiency
11. A prime example of separation of language and alphabet
is what Ataturk implemented in Turkey over 70 years
ago. As a result, the Turks are completely disconnected
from their rich history and culture, simply because
they can not read the old alphabet. Nearly all Turks
under 60 years of age can't appreciate the beauty of
calligraphy in Ottoman art and architecture nor read
any original historical documents that predate Ataturk.
To assert that Turks have been cut off from their
history and culture is absolutely false. Books and information
on Turkish culture, literature, and history are more
prevelant today than they have ever been. At the same
time Turkish people have attained a much higher level
of education than anytime in the past, allowing different
levels of society to take advantage of the opportunities
in learning about their great heritage. Turkish culture
has flourished ever since the switch. Literary figures
like Ahmad Hashem, Nazem Hetmat, and Aziz Nesin, etc.
have appeared. The barrier for non-Turkish people who
are interested in studying Turkish literature, culture
and communications has also been lifted making Turkish
a major language in today's world.
The Ottoman era calligraphy can and IS still be enjoyed
and admired. Art transcends all barriers. Calligraphy
is an art that was invigorated in the Islamic world
due to restrictions imposed on paintings and sculptures
by the religion. Before the establishment of printing
machines, calligraphy became more than just art in the
hands of the scribes. It was the essential tool for
inscribing books and manuscripts. Since the adoption
of mechanized printing, calligraphy has lost its significance
as a vital part of book and manuscript production, and
gained a station equivalent to other visual arts. Therefore,
the argument on saving the old system of writing with
its tremendous number of faults and deficiencies in
order to keep the art of calligraphy alive is quite
outdated and irrelevant.
Now, regarding the inability of Turks in reading their
old Ottoman-era documents. Some questions will help
unconceal the nature of this alleged issue. What percentage
of the daily, monthly or yearly utilization of the alphabet
in a society like Iran or Turkey is expended on reading
ancient documents? Is it not better if copies of these
documents are transcribed in the modern alphabet in
order for all people to benefit from reading them? Let
us take the case of Iran where the old alphabet still
exists. And let us make the remote assumption that somehow
in their daily lives Iranians get a chance to browse
an old document. What percentage of them will actually
be able to read it without difficulty? The answers ought
to be obvious, and categorize this whole matter of reading
old documents as a non-issue. After all, studying ancient
documents belongs to the domain of linguists and historians
not ordinary people. The scientists whose fields require
them to study ancient manuscripts will need to read
and understand the writings and languages of those documents.
12. The problem is the method of teaching reading and
writing not the kind of the script utilized. A new script
is not a panacea.
Nothing is ever a panacea. Yet some solutions to
existing problems are more effective than others. An
effective solution to the problem of raising the level
of education of Persian speaking peoples, and opening
up the Persian language to the world, is the adoption
of a Latin-based phonemic alphabet like UniPers. Is
this a cure for all ills? Nothing ever is. In an ever
changing world, applying old solutions that have failed
over and over again to mundane problems, and expecting
new results is nothing short of insanity. No matter
how many new ingenious methods of teaching Perso-Arabic
are devised, one truth can never be altered. That is
the convoluted, complex, and deficient nature of this
writing system. No reform or teaching method can ever
transform Perso-Arabic into a phonemic, simple to master,
technologically friendly, and tailor-made alphabet for
the Persian language. It is as if expecting the same
horse-and-buggy means of transportation to perform like
the modern bullet train. No matter how many creative
changes are made to the horse-and-buggy it will never
be able to even come close to rivaling the bullet train.
In a world of rapid transportation, the only rightful
place for the horse-and-buggy is a transportation museum.
Exactly the same reasoning applies to the Persian writing
13. English spelling is also very cumbersome. Words
with common pronunciation can be written in various
ways. Like "feat" and "feet", or
"fair" and "fare". This has not
prevented England or the US to advance in industry and
democracy. The English language has become international.
The cumbersome nature of the English writing system
is due to the fact that it is not phonemically structured.
The whole intention has always been to preserve the
historical spelling of the words for etymological purposes.
Especially, in regards to borrowed Latin, Greek, and
French words. Therefore, the inherent problems in English
writing are specific to that system and have no baring
on other Latin-based scripts. German and Spanish can
be brought up as examples of Latin-based scripts that
are close to being completely phonemic and thus much
easier to learn. UniPers is even simpler since it is
structured as a completely phonemic script.
The complexities and lack of rules of English spelling
have been recognized and addressed by many. There are
several grassroots efforts underway today focused on
reforming the English spelling. The difference between
English and Perso-Arabic writing systems is that the
former can be reformed and the latter cannot. Unlike
Perso-Arabic, the English alphabet, being based on the
Latin, has actually made English readily accessible
worldwide without the necessity to learn a less-familiar
The response to the argument that the difficult
English writing system has not stopped England from
advancing in democracy and industry, is similar to the
one given for Japanese. There are vast regions and peoples
of the world who are categorized as English-speaking.
This has contributed to English becoming the undisputed
international language of commerce, science, and technology.
Therefore, it is ludicrous to compare Iran's means with
the resources available to the English-speaking world.
Why deprive all from learning the Persian language and
elevating the education evels by saving the obsolete
Perso-Arabic writing system? Comparisons of the Persian
alphabet to English or Japanese serve only one purpose,
and that is to preserve the status quo. And by saving
the status quo we keep burdening the future generations
with the same problems that we were not courageous enough
14. For one thing, it is much faster to write in the
Perso-Arabic than in Latinized Persian.
This one can be categorized as another non-issue.
Speed is not an absolute quantity but relative. These
days most texts are in digitized format which makes
rapid handwriting an obsolete talent. It is difficult
to imagine anyone being concerned these days about how
fast they can write. But to give solace to people who
are concerned about this issue, one can always refer
to the shorthand writing system for the Latin alphabet
that has been around for a very long time.
15. Like it or not, Arabic language and/or the alphabet
is part of the Persian heritage.
Again, language and alphabet should not be confused.
The Arabic borrowed words in Persian can also be easily
written and read using UniPers. The case of Persian
language purification is distinct and separate from
introducing a Latin-based alphabet for Persian. As was
mentioned several times previously, the alphabet is
only a tool for reading and writing. It has no inherent
cultural value of any kind. Language, on the other hand,
does have cultural value. An alphabet can change without
directly affecting a language or a culture. However,
the alphabet can indirectly promote and invigorate,
or depreciate and debilitate the language it represents.
That is why an alphabet has to be chosen that would
positively affect the language. Such alphabet has to
be designed to serve the language and all its needs.
UniPers is just such an alphabet for Persian.
16. Perso-Arabic is the official alphabet of Iran according
to the 15th amendment of the constitution of the IRI.
The Iranian government will surely oppose a new alphabet
and even boycott it.
All that needs to be said about this issue is that
laws can always be changed. What is seen as solid legal
ruling today can be overturned tomorrow. The existence
of such laws does not in any way lessen the tremendous
structural problems surrounding the present Persian
alphabet. The thorny issues are there and no law can
ever change them. The only thing that can change them
is effective action with a clear-cut intention. Once
people see the benefits of using an alphabet like UniPers,
they would naturally eliminate all barriers to its adoption.
17. The Imperialist/Colonialists want to replace the
Islamic alphabet with their own. Destroying the Arabic
alphabet is part of a larger conspiracy to destroy all
Islamic traditions, beliefs, etc.
This one is definitely a non-issue. There is no such
conspiracy in the works by the Western countries. Of-course
such a response will never satisfy conspiracy-theorists.
Unfortunately, nothing else can be said or done to make
them understand that it is the local Persian-speaking
people who are behind these efforts out of love and
respect for the Persian language.
UniPers is designed to replace and/or complement
the Perso-Arabic, not the Arabic alphabet. The Arabic
language will continue to be written in the Arabic alphabet
which was designed for it. Therefore, none of the Islamic
traditions or teachings will ever be altered by the
adoption of UniPers.
18. The same alphabet is prevalent in all Islamic lands
and all historic, cultural, thoughtful, legal, economic,
social, literary, and artistic works are written and
kept in this alphabet. The language of all these Islamic
countries is based in Arabic the language of the Koran.
The above statement is completely false. Several
Muslim countries use the Latin alphabet. For example,
Turkey and Indonesia. Does this make Turks and Indonesians
less Islamic? The answer is a resounding NO. Language
is again distinct from writing. The Persian language
belongs to the Indo-European family of languages but
is written in the Arabic script. The Turkish language
belongs to the Turkic family of languages which is related
to Mongolian, but is written in the Latin script. There
are many other examples of Muslim countries with different
languages and writing systems.
19. All Islamic scholars, including Iranian ones, have
written in the Arabic alphabet and language.
There is no statistic to back up this claim. Please
send it to us if you know of any. It is natural for
Islamic scholars as experts in the fields of Islamic
studies, to know the Arabic language and alphabet. Just
as the Catholic hierarchy is expected to know the Latin
language. One does not expect that all Catholics be
required to know the Latin language and be fluent in
reading and writing. The same should not be expected
of the Muslim people. They should not be expected to
know the Arabic language and alphabet simply because
they are Muslims. Again, Turks and Indonesians are just
as Muslim as others without knowing the Arabic alphabet.
20. Removing the Arabic-specific letters would prevent
the word from being correctly pronounced.
If one is referring to the borrowed Arabic words
in Persian, then we have to be reminded that they have
lost their Arabic character and have become Persianized.
They are never pronounced as in Arabic. The Arabic-specific
letters are pronounced like the similar Persian ones
or not pronounced at all. Therefore, as far as the Arabic
loan words are concerned this is a mute issue.
If this issue refers to the Arabic language, then
that language will retain its own alphabet and can be
read by Islamic scholars. Translations of the Arabic
texts can be studied by non-experts as they are today.
21. Would Iran have been better off if Reza Shah had
changed the alphabet?
Not if Ataturk's method of changing the alphabet
overnight was employed. A gradual transfer from Perso-Arabic
to Latin would have made significant improvements internally
and externally for Iran.
22. Tajikis who use Cyrillic can't read Perso-Arabic
and therefore Hafez, etc. in Perso-Arabic. The same
phenomenon will occur in Iran if the alphabet is Latinized.
Only if the alphabet is changed overnight. Applying
a gradual shift would prevent such phenomenon from occurring.
Tajikis read Hafez quite well in their own Cyrillic-based