Amoo ('Uncle') Poorang

Is it ok to entertain children at the expense of linguistic minorities? That was the question I asked myself a couple of months ago when I was watching a kids’ show on Iranian TV. In the show, a performer was entertaining a large group of 5-8-year-olds by clowning around and performing silly tricks. One aspect of his silly, bumbling and supposedly funny act was that he spoke Persian with a phoney Gilaki accent.

Gilaki is one the languages of northern Iran and genetically related to Persian, Kurdish, Talysh, Baluchi and other Iranian linguistic varieties. Gilaki shares most consonants with Persian, but has different vowels. You can learn more about Gilaki here and here.

What does a performance such as the one just described achieve? At one level, it makes children laugh. At another level, it perpetuates ethnic stereotypes and inculcates linguistic ridicule in children. Ethnic jokes heaping ridicule not only on Gilaki speakers but on anyone speaking Persian in a way other than the Tehrani standard are widespread in Iran. It is also a practice that causes widespread resentment among different ethno-linguistic minorities. In this context, one has a right to ask why such linguistic stereotyping should be officially endorsed on state TV and particularly in a show directed at the next generation? Shouldn’t our media serve to overcome ethnocentrism and to unite the nation around our common cultural heritage? Providing entertainment does not provide a license to fan hatred and misunderstanding among people. There is indeed a fine line between humour and racism.

Author Manouchehr Kouhestani

More posts by Manouchehr Kouhestani
  • What you have mentioned is just a very small part of the problems in our State TV programs. But what can we do but to criticise ones who by the way arent used to listening?!!! Nothing…

  • farzaneh

    I agree. unfortunatly It is a common problem not only in TV ,but also among people, and stereotypes have terrible effect on children ,that may remain for ever,so it should be forbbiden even in the case of kidding and laughing.

    Best regards,

  • Saeed

    Dear Mr Kouhestani,
    I enjoyed reading your post and appreciate your critical look on the program. I haven’t seen this program for a long time but the point is that the funny programs run by Poopak are very popular among Iranian Kids and (as you confirmed) kids consider what he says as “inculcated facts”. Such behavior might cement certain wrong steretypes and ideologies not favored. I guess making others laugh at the expense of humuliating the identity and language of a region is jeopardizing human values. This practice should be stopped and children should be made conscious of the fact that they are to respect rather than making fun of the various dialects spoken across the country.

  • fair

    Nice critique.

    Whats your idea about the series in which they ridiculed the standard variety ?What if we all ridicule all dialets?With all respect I do not agree with Behnams idea nothing.I like Gilaki dialect and accent but it seems that when a Gilak speak no one count on them as a serious guy in their speech and its just due to all misuses regarding this dialect.Unfortunately, it goes back to some fundamental problems.We must want to change these attitudes.

    Best,

  • The situation you describe and especially the questions that close your post could be easily applied to Peru. The people whose Spanish is coloured by the 3 vowels, grammar and vocabulary of Quechua and Aymara languages is ridiculed day after day by Lima-based mainstream media. The people with Andean accent -I mean, rural or ethnical accent (since Lima is an Andean city too), are perceived to be less inteligent or less educated because of this accent, since there is the belief that they cannot speak correct Spanish due to their low IQ. Even legislators and Congress persons of Quechua ancestry such as Hilaria Supa have to bear these stereotypes and are ridiculed and attacked in TV shows and in newspapers for their poor education.
    [to be continued…]

    • […continuing]
      Politicians that speak Spanish with no Andean accent, sharing the same poor education with the mayority of Peruvian political class, are not attacked by the media outlets as soon as their Spanish dont make them be perceived to be less inteligent people. Its sad that state-owned media are helping to spread this message. As you can imagine, we are talking about ethnical stereotypes that take language correctness as an excuse to spread this negative message: Peruvians that belong to diferent ethnical backgrounds deserve to be despised and ridiculed. Somothing like this shouldnt happen in the 21st century.

  • Khan

    Dear Kouhestani,

    Your post has raised a very vital and important subject of linguistic ridicule and ethnic stereotyping. It is often given as entertainment strategy. It is justified on the grounds of its pervasiveness in all cultures and in all times. Though I do not challenge its universality but I do not buy into its ‘entertainment’ rationale. Why a particular accent is targeted most of the time? Why not the so-called standard Tehran accent of Persian is ridiculed?
    Programmes like these are to a great extent constitutes the discourses of malice, hatred, non-acceptance and tend to make the social hierarchy in societies. They must be questioned as you have done. Good.
    In Pakistan, Pakhtoon, Baluchi and Punjabi accents of Urdu is ridiculed by speakers of Urdu who migrated from India. On the one hand it is entertainment but on the other hand it is dirty politics with very well crafted scheme of doing it.
    Khan

  • Morteza Zarei

    Here, I think, we should make a distinction between two groups of people. In the first group people knowingly want to ridicule and humiliate language minorities. These people must be stopped in a reasonable way, especially when they are doing so in wide-spread media. In the second group, however, they do not really mean anything, they just want to make fun of other people in a friendly way. Here we should laugh together and do not take it seriously. (Well, after all, sometimes language minorities provide very funny jokes!) My parents are Kurds, and whenever they see such things on TV they just laugh and do not get offended at all. Now, in the case of Amoo Poorang, as far as I know him from his TV shows for children, I think he did not really mean to “ridicule” Gilaki accent, although it is up to children psychologists to decide if this kind of entertainment is appropriate for children or not.

    • Zohreh

      Those who are unknowingly engaged in doing something are usually the necessary means through which the knowing group effectively fulfill what they are looking for.

  • renate

    State normalizing solutions such as regulating accents through shaming will never work to create a real working society. People that are made to reject their own linguistic impulses are alienated from themselves and will have a difficult time relating to others in empathetic and meaningful ways. Thus in effect thwarting the desired effect of solidarity and linguistic coherence.

  • atika

    The fact is true and it is now in every language. I would say….people without knowing the harm of this act of humiliating the language may cause the language identity crises. In the era of globalization people want to be multilingual without appreciating their own language, they deliberately deteriorate the language identity.

    atika

  • mary

    As far as I know that performer is very amiable and is loved among Iranian people, both children and their parents think highly of him and have a respectful behavior toward him and in return he never intends to hurt any body even at the expense of making others laugh and I know he is originally from north of Iran and this is his real accent, so if he wanna ridicule any body, first of all his parents are to get crossed and as we see never has such a this thing happened. altogether I think you have made a great deal out of it and jumped into conclusion.

    • To mary
      My post is not about whether he is respected or loved (though I still find your claim about his popularity highly controversial). Being from a linguistic minority does not give one the permit for utilizing ones accent as a means for linguistic ridicule. Furthermore, I have listened to his interviews in all of which he just spoke Persian with the standard Tehrani accent. I am quite confident he, just like you, does not believe that he is doing any harm to anyone. But the outcome of what he and others like him do, is a feeling of inferiority among linguistic minority members that shows itself in all their attempts to hide their accent in their encounters with others. After all, their accent has been associated with being hilarious!

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