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Growing up in Iran, Maryam Mohaghegh spent hours in her father’s home library, which brimmed with English literature, academic journals and glossy magazines. It was blissful distraction to the political turmoil outside.

“Reading English was a relief—something soothing and familiar,” says Mohaghegh, now Persian lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

So last fall, when the editors of the new Farsi edition of National Geographic invited Mohaghegh to review the translations of the magazine from English into her first language, she couldn’t believe her luck.

“Growing up in Iran I’d always adored reading National Geographic in English,” she says. “Being invited to review the Farsi translation was an honor.”

An Admirable Career

Mohaghegh’s career and upbringing nicely prepared her for the job. Her father’s work as an English professor gave her insight into academia and an introduction to Western culture.

Copies of two issues of the magazine.
The Farsi edition of National Geographic first hit newsstands in Iran last October.

When Mohaghegh was 12 her dad landed a sabbatical with San Francisco State University. She adored the place, made new friends and learned more English. On returning to Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution she found politics and social norms had changed.

“I still loved my country but couldn’t relate. People seemed happy giving their life over their beliefs,” she says. “Reading English became even more blissful, a greater escape.”

While studying molecular biology at Tehran University she also took classes in English at a popular language institute, completing the entire four-year program in one year. The instructors were impressed and invited her to teach there.

Her growing linguistic talents led to other impressive work—oral examiner for the Cambridge University English language proficiency exams in Tehran, translator and communicator at the World Health Organization National Laboratory, then country program coordinator for a cultural exchange project between Iran and the Netherlands.

Mohaghegh in her office.
Mohaghegh in her office in Withers Hall.

As Mohaghegh became sought out for her elegant translations, especially by children’s book writers and illustrators, her reputation steadily grew.

Translating the Magazine

It was this reputation and now her work at NC State, teaching Farsi to undergraduates, that attracted and impressed Babak Nikkhah Bahrami at National Geographic. The editor of the Farsi edition sought a translator immersed in America’s culture to ensure that the intention and integrity of the English quotes and phrases remained. National Geographic is published in 35 languages and it is essential that translation reviewers carefully compare the new language version to English.

Mohaghegh is proud to contribute to the project. Sanctions against Iran have never been tougher, making this publication even more important, she says. Sending a simple letter from the United States to Iran by express mail, for example, is impossible due to sanctions.

“Having National Geographic in Iran is a positive symbol,” she says. “Simply being part of this precious piece of work feels incredible. This is what we are supposed to do as educators—provide resources for those seeking it.”

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  1. Most probably Idin is a Persian (Iranian) who speaks Farsi (Persian) and knows the difference between Farsi and Persian but regretfully he/she doesn’t realize that most people who read this bulletin don’t know the difference. Contrary to Italian (Romans) who immigrated to this country more than 100 year ago, Iranians immigration started in 60s and 70s. Before 1979 revolution you could rarely find people who had heard about Iran. Today, kids learn about Persian Empire and Cyrus at school but when they watch evening news they hear Iran and Ahmadinejad. I am sure there are some viewers who can’t communize Persia and Iran. Therefore we are in learning phase and it is very wise to use a title as a “Persian lecturer” who talks about the heritage and the culture which inherited from Persian Empire and at the same time to teach Farsi the language which is used today. We need to support devoted people like Ms. Maryam Mohaghegh who with their relentless efforts trying to speed up this learning phase.

  2. All the arguments about wrongness of using “Farsi” in English contexts by well-known linguists are clearly ignored in this article. Here is another way to look at the issue:

    If the language of the people of Iran is called “Farsi” in English (as the author of this article uses it frequently) the caption on the image should be: “Maryam Mohaghegh, FARSI lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages”
    If Persian is the correct English term to refer to the language of Iranians, the caption should end: “reviews translations of National Geographic into PERSIAN. Photos by Becky Kirkland.”

    One expects that an article about Iran, Iranians, and the Persian language, National Geographic, and an Iranian linguist published on an Academic website (NCSU) should be more careful about the usage of words than any other article.

  3. Congratulations Maryam,
    Nice article of a very intelligent, professional and caring woman.
    Beautiful person inside an out.

  4. Thanks to the Bulletin for this article. We get to know you even better dear Maryam. And thanks to the editor of the Farsi edition for choosing such a right person for the job.

  5. This position totally suits you Maryam jan. You are a talented, hardworking and friendly lady. I believe that National Geography’s Foreign Languages and Literatures made a perfect choice. I wish you success in this and every other career that you pursue.
    Your father is mentioned in this article. My father always speaks so high of him. We all respect your father as our professor. He is a noble man.

  6. Miss Maryam Mohaghegh is a professional in so many aspect , word cant describe her abilities , just can say .. whose have big intellect will get big responsibility. we proud of her.

  7. What an interesting Journey Maryam has been on. I love reading these tupes of stories. Who would have thought that a magazine like National Geographic would be possible in Iran and it would be edited at NC State.

  8. Maryam: You are truly an exceptional woman in so many ways. NSCU and your students are blessed to have someone with your dedication, compassion, intellect, and talents sharing your gifts with others…trying always to make our world a better and more peaceful place for all. Super kudos and thank you for being you.

  9. Maryam joon, wow… What a great article. Great job. Like you, as a little girl I loved reading my dad’s national geographics. Keep up the good work wish u lots of luck.

  10. What a beautiful article. Thanks so much to the Bulletin for sharing yet another way in which scholars at NC State are serving as agents of transformation — and translation.