English or Persian?

“What is the meaning of the choice of English in the slogan on this car?” That was one of the questions I asked the participants in the 2nd Language-on-the-Move Workshop I taught at the University of Isfahan. I had come across the car featuring the slogan “END SPEED” on the outskirts of Isfahan during an earlier visit. “End” is used in Iran to indicate a superlative and means ‘ultimate’ or ‘great.’ “End speed” is thus not an imperative, as one might think, but a descriptor: ‘superfast.’ When I asked the question, I had, of course, my own interpretation of the language choice in this slogan ready. I thought that the choice of English in this slogan signified that the author-driver of the car wanted to project an ironic and postmodern identity and that the choice of English served to further highlight the obvious discrepancy between the content of the ‘superfast’ message and the reality of the somewhat dilapidated car. The workshop participants agreed with my interpretation and added some further information: they felt quite certain that the driver was a man in his 20s or early 30s, who paid a lot of attention to his appearance and styling, including a carefully cultivated 5-o’clock shadow. They also highlighted the fact that the car was a Paykan, the prototypical Iranian car that most Iranians feel quite emotionally attached to. So, they thought that the irony of the slogan went beyond the actual car and could be taken to mean that the country as a whole was ‘superfast.’

While the participants and I thus broadly agreed in our interpretation of the slogan, some participants actually rejected the premise of my question that the slogan was in English. They argued that the slogan might look English but was actually Persian because “end” in English doesn’t mean ‘ultimate,’ ‘super’ or ‘great.’ Rather the word has been borrowed into Persian and acquired that meaning there. On consideration, I have to agree: the premise of my question was indeed mistaken, based, as it is, on an assumption of linguistic discreteness. The question of whether the slogan is in English or Persian is ultimately pointless and I fell into the same trap that Bourdieu berates linguists for:

To speak of the language, without further specification, as linguists do, is tacitly to accept the official definition of the official language of a political unit. (Language and Symbolic Power, 1991, p. 45)

I’m grateful to all the workshop participants for that reminder and for the many stimulating discussions we had during the 2nd Language-on-the-Move Workshop at the University of Isfahan!

Author Ingrid Piller

Dr Ingrid Piller is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Ingrid’s research expertise is in the fields of intercultural communication, bilingual education and the sociolinguistics of language learning and multilingualism in the contexts of migration and globalization.

More posts by Ingrid Piller
  • Christof Demont-Heinrich

    So, if the word/slogan is “borrowed” into English and is actually Persian, do we really need Persian — or German, or Japanese, or Kiswahili, etc. — if they can be “borrowed” into English and those “borrowings” aren’t really English, but German, Japanese, Kiswahilian, etc.?

    • It depends on the context and specific example, of course. I’ve just come across a similar example in a Tchibo-Shop in Dubai. Tchibo products there all have a German product name in largish print above an English product name below in smaller print – so, it’s easy to identify what is “German” and what is “English” in the Tchibo world. One product I looked at was identified as “Joghurt-to-go-Box” in German and as “Yoghurt Pot Carry Box” in English. The German term is clearly assembled from English elements (in addition to the fact that ‘joghurt’/’yoghurt’ has a Turkish etymology). Personally, without the product itself to look at, I would have found both the so-called German and the so-called English term quite incomprehensible. If you are curious, a ‘Joghurt-to-go-Box/Yoghurt Pot Carry Box’ is a plastic container for yoghurt plastic containers … Go figure!

  • vahid

    Dear Ingrid,
    I really enjoyed the workshop and the discussions and learned a lot. Many thanks…

  • Hussein M. Farsani

    Dear Ingrid,
    It is no exaggeration that your workshop at the University of Isfahan, particularly with regard to the way you presented it, was the liveliest and warmest event in a long time. This was not difficult to understand if one just noticed the enthusiasm with which all the participants attended the sessions and kept talking about it outside the workshop to their other friends and classmates. For me, just as for anyone else I presume, it was a memorable event I’ll never forget.
    All the Best Wishes

  • Banafsheh

    Dear prof. Ingrid,

    Thanks for your excellent presentation. Beside the way you presented the materials ,there was a sweet smile on your lips from the first to the end . You impressed me .Thanks so much.


  • khan

    Interesting shades of interpretations on borrowing and appropriating. The word End has also been given a new meaning. It is often used to show that someone has gone beyond the limits. Is not it close to Persian sense?

    In my experience such slogons often construct the person as literate, educated, modern and well-to-do of course.

    Best wishes,

  • hi- i am girl iranian – of city hamedan -thank you very much for this topic of iran but why this!

  • Sara

    Dear Ingrid

    This connotation or rather the meaning of the word “End” is not new for me.It is often used in the similar context as above in my language , which is URDU. I would second you when you say ‘end speed’ is a descriptor and means ‘super fast’.

  • This is a really neat example! It reminds me of Joseph Gafaranga’s concept of a ‘Medium’ – for the owner of the car, ‘End Speed’ might not contrast in its linguistic identity with words and phrases which we would label as Persian. The problem is how to figure out what these linguistic identity categories are without labelling things in the first place. Gafaranga (2000, ‘Medium repair versus other-language repair: Telling the medium of a bilingual conversation’) uses conversation repair as a window into this.

    It also reminds me of a friend who’s fluent in French and English (or should that be “the varieties endorsed by the states of France and Great Britian … or America …” damn, this is difficult). We were talking about the experience of ‘deja vu’, and he suddenly said “Woah, that’s odd, the word ‘deja vu’ makes sense in French”. So for him, ‘deja vu’ was an English word. How are we supposed to get anything done if there are potentially 6 billion languages on the planet?