Cultural and linguistic misconceptions

When it comes to cultures and languages, there are many misconceptions. So much so that I can’t list them all. It is normal, because it is human nature to try to ‘simplify’ things. I will try below to expose some common mistakes that people make.

1. In Iran, Arabic is not spoken, but Persian, a language quite different from Arabic. How many of you knew this? Although Farsi (or Persian) has an alphabet quite similar to Arabic, they are two completely different languages, with different vocabulary and different grammar. So to say that the Iranians are Arabs is wrong. They are Persians. In fact, in Iran only 2% of the population speaks Arabic.

2. Semitic languages. When we say “anti-Semitism,” everyone is thinking of a current (or feeling) of revulsion toward Jews, both in Israel and in the diaspora. But it is this term is not necessarily well used. The term “Semite” refers to a group of ethnic groups, to a group of peoples, around the Middle East. Hence the term “Semitic languages”, meaning Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and, surprisingly, Maltese. So the “Semites” are not Jews, but an ethnic group made up of many more peoples who speak different languages.

3. Languages can be written in different alphabets. For example, the Kazakh language was originally written in Arabic script, but after Kazakhstan “voluntarily entered” the USSR, the Kazakh language acquired the Cyrillic alphabet. In 2018, the Kazakh authorities decided to change the alphabet from Cyrillic to Arabic, in order to detach (at least culturally) from Russia. A measure that may seem irrelevant, but it matters a lot, because it outlines the character of the Kazakh people. Another example is that of the Republic of Moldova, which, until 1990, when it was part of the USSR, wrote the Romanian language in the Cyrillic alphabet, even if the neighboring country, the Socialist Republic of Romania (which was also communist and in close relations with Russia , even if it was not part of the USSR), wrote the same language with the Latin alphabet.

4. In Ireland people don’t speak English (as their main language), but Irish. In fact, the two languages are very different. Irish is part of the Celtic language family (including Welsh and several other lesser-used languages), while English is part of the Germanic language family (which also includes German, Dutch, Swedish, etc).

I will update this article.

1 Comment

  1. We need to look beyond the clothes and grooming to what the person is about. We must ensure that we don t stereotype people simply on the basis of, say, their national dress, or grooming preferences that may be influenced by their cultural heritage.

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