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UniPers versus Perso-Arabic - A Collection of Various Viewpoints:
Major problems and shortcomings of the Perso-Arabic script
Main arguments against changing the current Persian alphabet and responses
Main arguments for changing the Persian alphabet
Main arguments against changing the current Persian alphabet and responses:
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?

Response:
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 as follows:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

Response:
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.

Response:
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.

Response:
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 technology.

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 expenditures.

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 readers?

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 remain.

Response:
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 "" is frequently encountered in Persian text. The letter "š" is far less frequent and "ž" 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 difficult.

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) has written.

Response:
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 Asia.

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 alphabet.

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.

Response:
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 as well.

8. We will have to retrain everyone in the new alphabet.

Response:
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.

Response:
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 for Persian.

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.

Response:
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 alone.

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.

Response:
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.

Response:
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 system.

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.

Response:
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 alphabet.

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 to solve.

14. For one thing, it is much faster to write in the Perso-Arabic than in Latinized Persian.

Response:
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.

Response:
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.

Response:
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.

Response:
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.

Response:
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.

Response:
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.

Response:
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?

Response:
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.

Response:
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 alphabet.

 
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