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)