Last week I taught a course called “Cinema and Society in Iran” during the Rollins Intersession. Intersession is a word the college made up to refer to the one-week January term that allows students to take a mini-course lasting only five days, though each day is likely to require about 4 hours of meeting time -- brutal for teacher and student alike.
Iran has been interesting to me since about 1980 when I was teaching at a university in Pueblo, Colorado, and was asked by a group of Iranian students to be their faculty advisor. They were the ones who taught me my first lessons about this interesting country, including how to say “good-bye” in Farsi (“Hodofes,” more or less).
A couple weeks ago, John S., my Iranian friend here in Florida, introduced me to Nairika, a UCF student from Tehran and they both came to class one day to talk about their personal experiences growing up there. Very interesting and informative. At one point John corrected one of my students who had mispronounced the country as “Eye-Ran,” which, of course, a lot of us gringos are inclined to do. Dear readers, I encourage you never to say “Eye-Ran,” except in sentences like, “I ran to my anthropology class with joyful anticipation.”
As a useful reminder, I provided the class with the following pronunciation guide: You should always say “E. Ron” not “Eye Ran.”
I helpfully added that they could win a lot of friends and admirers if, whenever they hear anyone say “Eye Ran,” they simply declare in an authoritative voice, “You ignorant rudesby! It’s ‘E. Ron’ not ‘Eye Ran!’”*
I like teaching this course because there are so many other interesting things to learn about Iran and its films. For one thing, Iranian movies often focus on children. In one remarkable film by Jafar Panahi, a little six- or seven-year old girl finds herself alone in the heart of Tehran and tries to make her way home amidst the swirling traffic and the sometimes dismissive adults. Then, about half-way through the film, the little actress looks directly into the camera, tears off part of her garb and declares, “I don’t want to act any more!” And then… Well, the film is called The Mirror, in case you’re interested.
Jafar Panahi also directed Offside, a comedy about women who are arrested in Tehran’s soccer stadium during the 2006 qualifying round for the World Cup. The film deals with their interactions with the hapless police who are required to guard them in a remote part of the stadium during the game. This is infuriating to the guards, since they want to be in the stands cheering, not off somewhere looking after a bunch of women dressed like men..
Some of the filming actually took place during the qualifying match, so there are lots of scenes where the huge Iranian crowd can be heard shouting and cheering for their team. A typical cheer: “What does Iran do? It riddles you with goals!” That movie is pure fun to me. Some day I hope I will be able to watch a soccer game in Iran so I can hear with my own ears the crowd roaring, "Iran will riddle you with goals!"
* Shortly after this was posted, the editor in chief of CultureWorld pointed out that Merriam-Webster.com considers both E-Ron and Eye-Ran to be acceptable pronunciations of Iran. In light of this, I feel obligated to issue the following statement: The Merriam-Webster.com lexicographers must be a bunch of ignorant rudesbies! Or else they are following the age-old principle according to which dictionaries reflect popular usage. Which means that it won't be long before we see "nuke-yuler" offered as a perfectly good way to pronounce nuclear.
OMG, here it is: "Though disapproved of by many, pronunciations ending in \-kyə-lər\ have been found in widespread use among educated speakers including scientists, lawyers, professors, congressmen, United States cabinet members, and at least two United States presidents and one vice president. While most common in the United States, these pronunciations have also been heard from British and Canadian speakers." (From Merriam-Webster.com)
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