Taleban–Not Taliban

In Western discourse, the neo-fundamentalist Taleban movement and the noun from which it is derived are awkwardly, often incorrectly, represented. In Paxtu (Pakhtu, Pashto, Pushtu, etc.) the movement is rendered da talebano ghorzang, and in Dari (Afghan Farsi), jonbesh-e taleban. In Paxtu and Dari usage, the noun taleb (student, seeker of knowledge) is gendered, and the second vowel in the noun is the short e, not the long i. The correct local contexts use taleb for singular male, taleban for plural male and the movement and, theoretically, taleba for singular female, taleban (Dari) and talebanay (Paxtu) for plural female. In English renditions, it would be correct to say “Taleban” for the movement and plural male (as locally used), “Taleb” for singular male and “Talebs” for plural male. Thus, we can correctly say: The Taleban (or Talebs’) movement included thousands of Pakistani Talebs, hundreds of Tajiks, many Uzbeks and one Taleb from the US. Every Taleb was required to grow a beard. Some, but not all, Talebs (Taleban) were Paxtuns. The movement’s a’la shura (Supreme Council) included a number of one-eyed and one-legged Talebs.

(originally published in Anthropology News, April 2002, p. 3)


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5 thoughts on “Taleban–Not Taliban

  1. Interesting article. What is the word in each for the plural of a mixed group, male and female?

  2. Farsi and Paxtu use the label for plural male to identify a co-ed social category. In this case it would be “Taleban”. This form of patricentricity is available in virtually all societies dominated by men.

  3. To add confusion, to an Arab, Taleban means “two students”. Tullab is the plural.

    I think your distinction between Taliban and Taleban doesn’t make difference to a non-linguist. I pronounce both words the same.

  4. Correct, in Arabic “tolab” could mean “two students” but more accurately, it means more than one student–it is the plural of “taleb”. On both local and formal linguistic levels the phonetic representation [i] as in Iman or Rahim and [e] as in Ensan or Saleh are distinct and the distinction is critical in the Farsi and Paxto construction of the noun Taleb and its derivatives.

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