About Katrina Spencer

Katrina Spencer works for the International & Area Studies Library as a graduate assistant in outreach. In addition to librarianship, her professional interests include writing, foreign languages, and diaspora studies. Find out more at katleespe.com

Adventures in Arabic, Part III

This week we bring you our third and last entry in the “Adventures in Arabic” series. The content in Parts I, II, and III reflect eight months of elementary study of the Arabic language and include not only linguistic observations of interest but literary, cultural, religious, and strategic ones, too. Thank you for joining me on this journey. Or, that is, شُكْراً (shoo-krahn).

A girl writes Arabic calligraphy on a wall. Image Credit: Nur Meryem Seja on Flickr

A girl writes Arabic calligraphy on a wall. Image Credit: Nur Meryem Seja on Flickr

GRAMMAR

Gender applies here, too.

Remember that binary distinction that you had to make in Spanish class between el niño (boy) and la niña (girl)? Yes, gender appears as frequently and as importantly in Arabic, too. Just like the romance languages, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and more, nouns are divided into two classes, masculine and feminine, and the adjectives that modify them must abide by certain rules to respect the conventions of grammar. Even in English, word pairings like actor/actress, bachelor/bachelorette, god/goddess, host/hostess, waiter/waitress represent a similar concept.

Words belong to families.

A visual word map that traces different manifestations of the root ف-ه-م. Image Credit: Blogger Sawitri from myarabicnotes.blogspot.com

A visual word map that traces different manifestations of the root ف-ه-م (f-h-m). Image Credit: Blogger Sawitri from myarabicnotes.blogspot.com

Consider, for a moment, these groups or “families” of words below:

happy, happily, happiness, unhappily

interest, interesting, disinterested, uninterested

simple, simplify, simplistic, simply

In English, we have a base form of a word that provides a sort of template for additional suffixes and prefixes that we affix to its beginning or ending to establish new meanings. As outlined in the initial text used for Arabic 201, Alif Baa by Kristen Brustad, et al, in Arabic, “words are usually formed from a core of three consonants that constitute [their] basic meaning[s], called the root[s] of the word[s]. Words are formed by putting roots into different patterns or syllable structures” (207). For example, the root ب ت ك (k-t-b) will always address something in relation to the act of writing or the written word; the root س ر د (d-r-s) will always address studying; and ع – م – ج  (j-m-3*) will always address groups or plurality. These roots are organized in different patterns and coupled with various short vowels to indicate nouns, verbs, people, adjectives, and more.

k-t-b,  aktab (I write), maktaba (library), kitaab (book)

d-r-s, tadros (she studies)dars, (lesson), madrasa (school)

j-m-3*, aljamaعa (Friday), jaamiعa (university), tajmع (group)

SCRIPT

Transliterations are approximations.

A transliteration involves using the script of one language to write another. Unlike the Latin or Roman script used to write English, the Arabic script does not have letters for “p,” “v” or “x.” So, writing “Patricia,” “Victor,” and/or “Xavier” pose unique challenges. “P” and “v” are typically substituted by the Arabic letter “ب” (baa) while “اكس” (iks) is used to establish the sound of “x.” Accordingly, to make additional negotiations, “Champaign” is written as  “شمبين” (shambeen); “Europe” is “أوروبا” (oorooba) and “Harvard” is written as “هارفرد” (harfard). Also note that there is no capitalization in Arabic.

 The Arabic script can appear to be more “dainty” than the Roman script.

Take these words for example, all typed without any formatting and in the same size font. The Arabic words appear to be more condensed as they take up less space.

dog كلب

cat قطة

 fish سمك

Print vs. handwriting

There is a difference between reading a standardized font in print and reading someone’s cursive handwriting. This distinction would seem obvious as, inter-culturally speaking, even handwriting in English differs in appearance from language in print. See below:

A typed grocery list, from right-to-left and top-to-bottom: milk, eggs, strawberries, sugar, flour, banana, orange, meat, chicken, fish, dates, gum, eggplant, wipes, soap, juice, honey, watermelon, ice cream (a transliteration), chocolate (a transliteration).

A typed grocery list, from right-to-left and top-to-bottom. It reads: “milk, eggs, strawberries, sugar, flour, banana, orange, meat, chicken, fish, dates, gum, eggplant, wipes, soap, juice, honey, watermelon, ice cream [a transliteration], chocolate [a transliteration]”.

The same grocery list, as above, but in handwriting. See the previous image’s caption for a translation of the listed items.

The same grocery list as above, handwritten. See the previous image’s caption for a translation of the listed items.

 

 CULTURE

Some names are very common.

As in English with names like Michael, Matt, John, Jennifer, Stephanie, and Mary, there are certain names that will appear over and over again in Arabic. Among them are Ahmed, Mahmoud, and Mohammed (Muhammad) for men and Fatima, Khadija, and Salma for women. As in English with names like Mary and Sara, some of these stem from holy texts. Mohammed, for example, and the many derivations thereof, refers directly to the founder of Islam.

You can make yourself a celebrity by reciting the Koran.

In many Islamic societies, the recitation of Koranic verses, or “قراءة (qirat), is a highly prized ability. Many young talents who sing well on shows like American Idol, The Voice, and The X Factor are applauded for their voices; reciting the Koran in some places in the Middle East can garner fame and attention.

STRATEGY

Typing.

If you take learning Arabic seriously, there are some invaluable resources you need to have handy. Some of the greatest of these are the tools used to type the language in the absence of an Arabic-lettered keyboard. Each of the sites below will allow you to type and/or select the letters you need to create Arabic language texts.

A dictionary.

Guess what word is used most frequently in the Arabic language. “The” or “ال” is the first; the twelfth is “God” or “الله”; and the 93rd is “world” or “عالم. With A Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners, students of Arabic can review the words that are most frequently used.

A screenshot of the University of Illinois' Summer Institute of Languages of the Muslim World

A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Summer Institute of Languages of the Muslim World

Thank you for joining us on our Adventures in Arabic. In addition, we encourage you to study any other language with a script different from your own. In a world of shrinking borders, knowledge of your neighbors will surely be valued in whatever profession you assume. On the University of Illinois campus, Arabic is offered not only through the curriculum but also through short-term IFLIP courses and intensive SILMW courses over the summer. For more posts like these, be sure to like our Facebook page and tune in next semester for more from Glocal Notes and the International and Area Studies Library.

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“The Fairer Sex” Writes

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What writers would you highlight to commemorate Women’s History Month? Comment below!

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Image Source: suggestive celine (via Flickr)

March is Women’s History Month and an appropriate time to highlight some of the women’s voices that represent world literature. After all,

  • American Hillary Clinton, who is an author of five books, is running for the U.S. presidency,
  • Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who is an author of five books, has a TED Talk that opens our courses concerned with social justice,
  • and Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, author of one book, continues to fight for the equal education of girls and boys.

Check out these literary works from across the globe that engage discourses of women’s and gender rights in ways that are frequently subversive, occasionally confrontational, and always powerful.

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Mahasweta Devi. Image Source: TopNews

Draupadi” by Mahasweta Devi (1978)

Tags: India, South Asia, Bengali, short story

In a poor, post-colonial town in India, rumor has it that an infamous young woman, “Dopdi,” who has yet to reach the age of 30, has become a menace to local authorities. Fighting for labor rights and attacking officials without warning, she presents a dangerous local figure. Yet no one can identify her with any certainty. While the police have laid traps to draw her out of hiding in the forest, Dopdi continues to evade capture. In the end, what is meant to be Dopdi’s undoing invigorates her spirit and renders her an even more powerful threat. The best reading of this story is dependent on minimal research into the South Asian mythical epic of the Mahabharata. Themes of gender, sexual violence, and classism are strong threads in this short and powerful work. To continue the conversation addressing sexual violence as a world phenomenon and its prevalence in South Asia, attend the April 5th evening screening of India’s Daughter at the Spurlock Museum.

More Like This: Gayatri Spivak’s essay Can the Subaltern Speak? (India and postcolonial nations), most any title by Jhumpa Lahiri (India & the USA)

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Gayatri Spivak. Image Source: Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung on Flickr

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Jhumpa Lahiri. Image Source: Il Circollo del lettori on Flickr

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (1988)

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Tsitsi Dangarembga. Image Source: Pan American Center on Flickr

Tags: Zimbabwe, Africa, English, novel

In this novel, “Tambu” is a young girl living in a country then known as Rhodesia in the 1960s. Because she is female, her ambition for academic study is not well supported by her community—that is, until her older brother suddenly dies and someone must take on a role of leadership and status to save her family from economic ruin. As Tambu is introduced to a new world of privilege, knowledge, and experience, readers examine what she leaves behind and what these sacrifices mean in shaping a new, hybrid identity. This bildungsroman succeeds in taking on the ambitious goal of engaging discourses of gender, colonialism, and competing cultures in a work deemed one of the most important to have come out of Africa. If you are a current University of Illinois student and interested in these themes and this novel in particular, consider taking a course taught by Dr. Manisha Babb. She teaches a cross-listed course called Modern African Literature offered in the English, African Studies, Comparative World Literature, and French departments, respectively as ENG 470, AFST 410, CW 410, and FR 410.

More Like This: Mariama Bâ’s Une si longue lettre (Senegal), Maria Nsué’s Ekomo (Equatorial Guinea)

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Mariama Bâ. Image Source: Wikipedia

A photo of Maria Nsue. Image Source: escritores.org

Maria Nsué. Image Source: escritores.org

Emails from Scheherazad (2003) by Mohja Kahf

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Mohja Kahf. Image Source: Aslan Media on Flickr

Tags: Syria, the Middle Eastern Diaspora, poetry

Do you remember Scheherazad(e)? She was the sole wife and queen to King Shahryar who eluded death by telling tales within tales that never ended? The stories of Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba all stem from this famous text. Mohja Kahf, a poet of Syrian descent, revisits this legacy in her compilation of poems. Emails from Scheherazad. Her bi-cultural identity informs and enriches her work, as seen in the poem “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears.” In it she describes being the product of both a Middle Eastern and an American culture. She regularly contradicts the widely held notion that being a Muslim and a woman is synonymous with being oppressed and her poems allude to globally recognizable female characters who face adversity—Eve, Malinche, Hagar, and more—suggesting a shared history and resilience. To get more connected to the local Muslim community on University campus, check out the United Muslims and Minority Advocates (UMMA) on Facebook.

More Like This: Arabian Nights/One Thousand and One Nights, Mona Eltahawy’s Headscarves and Hymens (Egypt & the USA), Ghada Abdel Aal’s I Want to Get Married (Egypt)

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Mona Eltahawy. Image Source: Aspen Institute (via Flickr)

 

A photo of Ghada Abdel Aal. Image Source Christopher Rose on Flickr

Ghada Abdel Aal. Image Source: Christopher Rose (via Flickr)

Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1983)

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Barbara Streisand as Yentl. Image Source: Ziegfeld Girl on Flickr

Tags: Poland & the Jewish Diaspora, Yiddish, short story

This text is actually written by a man. Because it inherently engages questions of genders and their roles in society, and also features a female protagonist, it remains relevant to global literature that tackles issues concerning women’s lives. The main character in this work, Yentl, has been spoiled by her father as a child by being allowed to study sacred rabbinical texts, an activity strictly reserved for men in her community. When her father dies, not wanting to abandon her religious learning, she makes a plan to hide her sex and continue on her path of erudition. However, there are some unanticipated expectations associated with her new role as a male. The cinematic adaptation of Yentl starring Barbara Streisand is inextricably linked to this literary work. If you’re an enrolled student and interested in this area, seek out the Program in Jewish Culture & Society for more about works written in Yiddish and on the Jewish diaspora. A selection of the program’s courses can be found on the program’s website.

More Like This: Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank, Deborah Feldman’s Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots 

A photo of Anne Frank. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Anne Frank. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

A photo of Deborah Feldman. Image Source: Zimbio

Deborah Feldman. Image Source: Zimbio

Kinsey Report” by Rosario Castellanos

An image of Rosario Castellanos. Image Source: Milagros Mata Gil on Flickr

Rosario Castellanos. Image Source: Milagros Mata Gil (via Flickr)

Tags: Mexico, Latin America, Spanish, poetry

The title of this poem refers to American sexologist Alfred Kinsey, whose published works on human sexual behavior became well known in the mid to late 20th century. While this poem makes for a quick read, it remains in the reader’s memory indefinitely. It features six different feminine voices that expound on the condition of their gender. One woman reports on her marriage which has become a hollow and juridical union of self-sacrifice and anxiety; another fears being deemed a prude for lack of sexual activity or a whore for any carnal intimacy engaged outside of marriage; a third wistfully awaits a Prince Charming who will whisk her away from any care she might have. All of the voices problematize notions of female gender and show how societal expectations and traditional roles can, to say the very least, be limiting. For ways to find more Latin American literature, see this lib guide.

More Like This: All titles by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (Mexico), all titles by Clarice Lispector (Brazil), Sabina Berman’s (Mexico) Entre Villa y una mujer desnuda

A drawing of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Image Source: Wikipedia

A drawing of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Image Source: Wikipedia

A photo of Clarice Lispector. Image source: ana.claudia on Flickr

Clarice Lispector. Image source: ana.claudia (via Flickr)

Happy reading, sharing, and happy Women’s History Month! Let us know what additional authors you would add to this conversation. Also drop by the Main Library’s Marshall Gallery (first floor, east side of the building ) to see an exhibit curated by Leanna Barcelona highlighting women’s history at the University of Illinois. If you want even more titles, visit the Undergraduate Library’s post to commemorate Women’s History Month last year.

For more posts like these, make sure to like our Facebook page, where we share a new Glocal Notes article every week of the semester.

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The Gist of Jewish Studies

Shalom! Are you curious about the way our university frames Jewish Studies? Here’s a list of the top 10 things to know about this discipline across campus at the University of Illinois.

  1. The Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s course listings are inherently diverse.
A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Program in Jewish Culture & Society's website’s homepage.

A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s website’s homepage.

There are courses with content addressing the Jewish diaspora from several disciplines on campus including English, German, Hebrew, history, religious studies, social work, and Yiddish. Given all types of immigration due to conflict, displacement, immigration, voluntary and involuntary exiles, and the establishment of Israel, Jewish populations are found all over the world. These international Jewish communities and their histories of cross-cultural contact explain why Jewish Studies are rich and broad and why searching the Enterprise course catalog under all of the following headings is a good idea: ENG, GER, HEBR, HIST, RLST, SOCW, and YDSH. (Soon you will be able to search exclusively under “JS” for “Jewish Studies.”)

  1. Hebrew and Yiddish, too!

The below video features Dr. Sara Feldman describing her experience with developing expertise in Jewish Studies.

We are a privileged lot here at the U of I: we have the opportunity to learn two languages spoken within Jewish communities. Dr. Sara Feldman teaches both Hebrew and Yiddish on campus. She points out that while Hebrew has its origins in the Near East, Yiddish was born in Europe to groups that came to be known as Ashkenazi (see #10). The Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship, available to undergraduate and graduate students, encourages the study of less commonly taught languages and has the potential to support the study of both Hebrew and Yiddish.

  1. Cinema, anyone?
An image of the cover art used to promote the film Yossi & Jagger, a cinematic production that largely addresses LGBTQ issues. Photo Credit: José Vicente Salamero

Cover art from the film Yossi & Jagger, which largely addresses LGBTQ issues. Photo Credit: José Vicente Salamero

As with most any other cultural group, a rich body of cinema has been produced that speaks to the unique experiences and struggles known to the Jewish community. For example, the Jewish Studies Program recently screened A Borrowed Identity at the Art Theater, which was followed by a question and answer session for the broader Urbana-Champaign community. This semester, Dr. Feldman and Israeli visiting scholar Dr. Vered Weiss have initiated a film series that introduces selected works, each of which will be followed by a discussion.

  1. The Illini Hillel Center
Exterior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

The exterior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

The interior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

The interior of the Illini Hillel Center at the University of Illinois.

Just as we have ethnic cultural houses on campus on Nevada Street, a cultural center based around Jewish identity and culture is found not far away, on John Street. It has its own library, free coffee, a terrace, and weekly cultural events including Shabbat (see #10) services and meals open to anyone in the U of I community.

  1. The Israel-Palestine Conflict
A map outlining occupied territories of Israel-Palestine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A map of Israel-Palestine. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Tensions between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians have been volatile for at least six decades now. Some think that the inherent difficulties— territorial, religious, cultural, ethnic, economic, and more—are the most complex and the least resolvable of our time. To help to navigate these issues, the library has created a LibGuide on the Arab-Israeli Conflict. This resource offers answers to frequently asked questions and access to our related holdings. While on that topic, know that this A-Z Lib Guide database allows you to choose keywords to yield additional guides to help orient you in your research.

  1. Sayed Kashua

Below: Sayed Kashua’s series Arab Labor is reviewed by commentators on the television channel KCET.

Our campus community includes a successful Israeli-Palestinian screenwriter and author by the name of Sayed Kashua. His work, written in Hebrew, addresses the difficulties experienced by inhabitants of Israel-Palestine who pursue an ethos of tolerance but are nonetheless impacted by the violence, debates, and conflicts that have become synonymous with the region. Explore the library’s holdings credited to this artist including novels like Dancing Arabs and the television series, Arab Labor. Note: When looking for works by this author in our catalog, use this transliteration of his last name: “Qashu.” Just last week Kashua gave a reading of his new book, Native, at the Urbana Free Library.

  1. A major, a minor, or a graduate certificate

As with many of the cultural studies programs on our campus, the Program in Jewish Culture and Society offers varying levels of involvement. Both undergraduate and graduate students can participate in the courses offered and different credentialing options are available, depending on status. Director Brett Kaplan reports that the program is actively growing the minor and is reaching out to classes, sororities and fraternities, and Hillel in order to expand its reach.

  1. Listserv & Social Media
An image of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s Director Dr. Brett Kaplan

An image of the Program in Jewish Culture & Society’s Director Dr. Brett Kaplan

By e-mailing the Program in Jewish Culture and Society’s Director Brett Kaplan (bakaplan@illinois.edu), you, too, can sign up for the program’s listserv and stay abreast of various community and campus events like film screenings, community talks, and local conferences that deal with themes of the Jewish diaspora, identity, and culture. The program also has a Facebook page.

  1. Our Library Specialist
An image of Dr. Celestina Savonius-Wroth, a librarian and expert in religious studies on the University of Illinois campus.

An image of Dr. Celestina Savonius-Wroth, a librarian and expert in religious studies on the University of Illinois campus.

If you are researching geography, history, politics, religion, sociology, or other topics related to Jewish society, Dr. Celestina Savonius-Wroth (cswroth@illinois.edu) of the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library has rigorously studied questions of Jewish identity and is available to help you shape and build your research. Also, if you prefer to do some independent exploring, check out these resources:

Holocaust in Context

Index to Jewish Periodicals

Jewish Studies

  1. A Beginner’s Vocabulary
An image of a Jewish couple's marriage ceremony. Photo Credit: Robert Faerman

An image of a Jewish couple’s marriage ceremony. Photo Credit: Robert Faerman

Here are some of the terms that novices and experts will encounter at any stage of study in this field:

  • aliyah: (n.) one of many successive waves of immigration to Israel
  • Ashkenazi: (n. and adj.) Jewish people of European descent, excluding regions like Spain, Portugal, and Greece
  • Israel-Palestine: (n.) a hotly contested land in the Near East that regularly struggles with issues of sovereignty
  • Mizrahi: (n. and adj.) Jewish people of Middle Eastern descent
  • Sephardi: (n. and adj.) Jewish people who historically resided in the Iberian Peninsula, especially up until the 15th century, including those who were later expelled from the region
  • Shabbat: (n.) Known as “(the) Sabbath” in English, this is a holy day of rest that comes at the end of the week for Jews.
  • Orthodox, Haredi: (n. and adj.) These terms refer to conservative, observant Jews who attempt to respect traditional precepts of religiosity.
  • Yiddish: (n.) A language used within many Jewish communities that is of Germanic origin

Bonus: Author’s Pick

The University of Illinois' Library's Catalog record for Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

The University of Illinois’ Library’s Catalog record for Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

Also, to begin framing your understanding of Jewish Studies, consider checking out Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, which grapples with issues of identity and heritage and comes in graphic-novel form.

For more posts like these, be sure to like the International & Area Studies Library’s Facebook page.

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Adventures in Arabic, Part II

Welcome back, Arabophiles! And thank you for joining us at Glocal Notes for the second edition of “Adventures in Arabic.” As promised, this week we will share “Ways To Cope with Difficulty” and “Miscellany.”

As always with this blog, one of our most pertinent goals is to make you more aware of the resources that we have in our library and on campus to help you with your needs. These resources come in many forms. Among them are the print, the digital, the human, the interdepartmental, and the ones that go beyond the borders of our university. Shall we take a tour?

WAYS TO COPE WITH DIFFICULTY

A screenshot of the homepage of the International and Area Studies Library's portal to materials and research strategies pertaining to the Middle East & North Africa. Found at http://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/middleeasterncollection/index.html.

A screenshot of the homepage of the International and Area Studies Library’s portal to materials and research strategies pertaining to the Middle East & North Africa. Found at http://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/middleeasterncollection/index.html.

Print & Digital Resources

As mentioned in Part I, in Arabic class here at UIUC we use a text book called Alif Baa by Kristen Brustad and her colleagues. Aside from occasional dalliances with Google Translate’s pronunciation function, I’ve found the text to be quite sufficient as a learning tool. What’s more, it is accompanied by a compact disc which holds the class’ listening exercises and videos that demonstrate how the script is written.

However, if a beginner were interested in complementary texts, one might consult the call number ranges or addresses that indicate where print reference materials are held in our library. Don’t know where those are? No problem. That’s why we have lib guides. Our University Library is a big proponent of lib guides, which are concentrated, digital resources designed around a theme and meant to help you find what you need when you need it. Here are four that pertain to learning about the Arab world and the Arabic language:

Human Resources

But there’s more!

Professor Laila Hussein is the Middle East and North African Studies Librarian at the University Library. Specifically, Professor Hussein works at this blog’s home unit, the International and Area Studies Library. She can help you find sources for your term papers, tell you about the Bibliography of Africa course and, as a native speaker of Arabic, discuss how Modern Standard Arabic differs from regional dialects. She recently published a piece about her broader work in the American Library Association’s International Leads.

Professor Kenneth Cuno is the campus’ local expert on most things Egyptian. He has spent decades studying Egyptian society and culture to come to a better understanding of how the country and its people link their ancient and pharaonic past to the present and its political uprisings. His courses this semester focus on modern Egyptian history and mutable concepts of family over time. His recent publications include Modernizing Marriage: Family, Ideology, and Law in Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Egypt and Race and Slavery in the Middle East: Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Empire.

Dr. Eman Saadah is the director of the Arabic Language Program. In addition to coordinating the multiple sections of beginning Arabic courses, she is the official faculty chaperone for students traveling in the winter study abroad program to Jordan. She coordinates an annual 3-week trip for students interested in visiting the Middle East. Moreover, if you’re studying Arabic, you can write to her and ask about the weekly conversation tables held on Thursdays in La Casa on Nevada Street at 4:00 p.m. that discuss modern issues in Muslim-majority countries.

Angela Williams is the Associate Director of the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES). She is a doctoral candidate in the Education, Policy, Organization and Leadership program. Aside from being a competent Arabic speaker, she is also studying Persian.

Interdepartmental Resources

A screenshot of the University of Illinois' Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies website's home page.

A screenshot of the University of Illinois’ Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES) website’s home page.

The Center for African Studies (CAS), the Center for Global Studies (CGS), and the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (CSAMES), and the European Union Center (EUC) have affiliated  professors who offer a variety of courses pertaining to the Arabic-speaking world. Moreover, these three centers host a series of events and talks that shed light on multiple topics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and development efforts in Sub-Saharan African countries. There are also regular Iranian tea times at these campus cultural houses. To sign up for the Center for African Studies’ weekly newsletter, delivered by e-mail, write to Terri Gitler (tgitler@illinois.edu); to be included on the Center for Global Studies listserv, complete this form; and for CSAMES’ email list, click this link and fill out the form.

The Summer Institute of Languages of the Muslim World (SILMW) is native to our campus and is currently run by Dr. Eman Saadah. She is from Jordan and teaches Arabic during the eight weeks of the summer term. In addition to intensive courses, the program offers cultural workshops and field trips to help introduce students to Islamic cultures. Also, if you recall the federally funded fellowship mentioned in Part I of this post, also known as the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship, SILMW is FLAS-eligible and offers up to seven different languages for study, including Arabic.

Outside Academic Resources

Middlebury College offers intensive study every summer for eleven modern languages. Arabic is offered at its California campus site and is eligible for the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) federal award.

Middlebury College offers intensive study every summer for eleven modern languages. Arabic is offered at its California campus site and is eligible for the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) federal award.

Arabic at Stanford: If you’re feeling a bit shaky writing and pronouncing your letters, this nifty website can help you to perfect scribing and vocalizing the Arabic script.

Georgetown University: This page tells you what makes learning the Arabic language challenging for native speakers of English.

Middlebury College: If you’re looking for an immersive experience, but can’t quite make it abroad, you might consider Middlebury College’s Language Schools. At Middlebury, you can join a summer-long program in which you sign a Language Pledge and communicate almost exclusively in your target language for the duration of the summer term. In addition to courses, there are extracurricular activities that are all conducted in the target language, including theater, cooking, sports, poetry, and more. A total of eleven modern languages are taught through the Middlebury College Language Schools: nine are offered on the Vermont campus and two, including Arabic, are offered every summer in California. As with SILMW, these programs are also FLAS-eligible.

Around the Web

Thankfully, learning Arabic isn’t all about dictionaries, papers and tests. It is also about humor, travel, struggles, pronunciation, sharing, solidarity, culture, and community. When you’re not sounding out your alif tanwins, deciphering your waslas and choosing your proper kursis, you can check out these pages that will speak intimately to your challenges and successes:

 

MISCELLANY

 A female student wearing a hijab. Photo Credit: Tahir Ansari

A female student wearing a hijab. Photo Credit: Tahir Ansari

What’s required vs. what’s necessary

I’ve come to think of my relationship with Arabic much like any long-term one that I might have with another person; I’ve found that when I put in the time, energy, and attention for working on Arabic, peace, harmony and good tidings are my rewards. When I don’t, there’s discord, anxiety and friction between us. Knowing this, doing “just enough to get by” isn’t the best approach in creating a strong foundation for a lasting love. This frequently means requiring more of myself than what is recommended. Doubly more. As a friend of mine likes to say, “The struggle is real.”

This is my first time having an instructor who is a hijabi*.

As far as I can tell, what my instructor wears has had no bearing on the efficacy of her teaching. As a Westerner and a feminist, I’ve been exposed to schools of thought that suggest the garment is outrightly oppressive. However, writing off the cultural practice entirely without hearing from the people who respect it would be unjust. As the many think-pieces published on various Internet platforms state, a hijab does not equate to oppression just as a bikini does not equate to freedom. When we assign definitive meanings to garments, we limit the dialogues we can engage about them. Interestingly, recent news articles seem to suggest that the hijab is taking a strong foothold in the mainstream. See a Muslim policewoman’s uniform in Minnesota and a retail model’s attire for H&M. It would seem that fewer and fewer preconceptions about the covering are true.

There are heritage speakers in class.

In language pedagogy courses, new instructors are taught that there are “true beginners” and “false beginners.” True beginners have had zero to little meaningful contact with the target language being taught. False beginners are learners who may have taken the language years ago and have significant gaps in their history of learning. Or, a false beginner could be a heritage speaker who has spoken the target language for years at home but has insufficient experience in terms of reading and writing it. The heritage speakers, it seems, ask fewer questions and make fewer comments. This may be because the basic principles of the language come more easily and/or naturally to them based on their more personal experiences.

I still can’t write my name.

At the time I started writing this post, the statement written just above was true. It took me about four weeks to learn to write my name. This isn’t because my name is inherently difficult or that I’m painfully slow at picking up grammar cues. It is because the letters “k” and “n” come rather late in the abjad (alphabet) – “N” is the fourth to last. It may, then, take 20 class meetings before you can use the Arabic script to write your name, and even more than that if you’re a Henry, Harold, Heather, or Helen, as “H” is the last consonant of the alphabet. Here are some of the names I learned to write rather early: Rashid, Sara, and Tabatha.

This is not something you do for “fun.”

Over the course of my foreign language learning career, I have noticed that there are some languages that students from the United States approach casually. We say, “I’m going to brush up on my [fill in the language of your choice here].” Or, “I used to study [fill in the language of your choice here] in high school.” These languages tend to represent cultures that are nearer to the U.S. geographically and ideologically than the Middle East. Arabic is not one of these languages.

If you are American, chances are that there were no cable channels in your home that featured the Arabic language. Chances are that your local grocery chain didn’t have a specific marketing campaign to celebrate an Islamic holiday. Chances are, if you’re from the U.S., your favorite pop station isn’t regularly mixing Arabic-infused songs into its daily rotation. My point is this: Different languages and cultures are portrayed in different contexts in the United States. While Arabic class is fun, it’s also demanding, informative, challenging and rewarding. One thing it is definitely not, however, is an “easy A” for a Western, non-native/non-heritage speaker.

With this course, time must be carved out minimally five days a week for attentive practice. More than anything, this teaches me to moderate my expectations. If by the end of the semester I can…

  • politely and warmly greet people from the Maghreb, the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula
  • introduce myself properly and respectfully
  • pronounce vowelled texts
  • count to one hundred
  • state the colors
  • know the days of the week and months of the year
  • name common food items
  • talk about the weather
  • and mention how I’m feeling…

I will be content.

If you didn’t catch Part I of this series last week, click here to go back in time, and be sure to follow our page on Facebook for more posts like this one.

Multiple types of marinated olives, a common food eaten in the Mediterranean. Photo Credit: Speleolog from Flickr

Multiple types of marinated olives, a common food item eaten in the Mediterranean world. Photo Credit: Speleolog

 

 *Mini-glossary of terms

abjad: The Arabic alphabet, which relies exclusively on consonants; most vowels are largely excluded from the script in writing.

hijabi: Any Muslim woman who wears a hijab, a covering for the hair, head, and upper body.

kursi: Literally “chair,” “throne,” “seat” or “stool.” In grammatical terms, the kursi is a written symbol upon which the Hamza (ء) sits but has no pronounced vowel.

Marhaba!: “Hello!”

Mumtaaz!: “Excellent!”

taliib (masc.)/taliibah (fem.): seeker of knowledge (“student”)

tanwiin: A grammatical term that refers to three different diacritical marks that indicate that a word ends in the sounds “-an,” “-in” or “-un”

Tasharrafna!: “Nice to meet you!”

ustaad (masc.)/ustada (fem.): teacher

waajib: homework

wasla: A diacritical mark (ٱ) that indicates the sound Hamza should be elided or suppressed in pronunciation

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