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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Sports and Sovereignty: An Interview with Antonio Sotomayor

Antonio Sotomayor, PhD, an Assistant Professor and Latin American and Caribbean Studies Librarian at the International & Area Studies Library at Illinois

This week we speak with our very own Latin and American and Caribbean Studies Specialist Antonio Sotomayor about his debut full-length book The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico. In March 2016, Dr. Sotomayor and his book received an in-depth profile from the Illinois News Bureau in addition to other national and international coverage. Since the 2016 Olympic games, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are growing ever nearer, we caught up with the author for a few more questions about this fascinating and little-studied topic.

Glocal Notes: Your book takes as its thesis that national sovereignty can be, more than many other means under colonial rule, expressed through athletics. What are some of the real impacts on politics or public opinion that have occurred as a result of Puerto Rico’s competition and success as a team in internationally?

Antonio Sotomayor: It depends on what you mean by “real.” I view Olympic sport, and sport overall, not only as representative of politics or culture, but as politics as such and as a cultural medium. In that regard, Puerto Rico’s membership as a sovereign nation in the Olympic Movement has “real” implications in the different dynamics involved in the Olympic movement that include international relations, foreign diplomacy, representations of the nation, women’s agency in a patriarchal society, etc. Hence, Olympic participation for Puerto Ricans has given them a voice on several international political issues throughout the existence of the delegation including the Good Neighbor policy, post-WWII reconstructions, different Cold War boycotts, etc. For example, in my book, I dedicate a chapter to the Cold War conflicts that came with Puerto Rico’s hosting of the Central American and Caribbean Games in San Juan in 1966 and discuss the different ways Puerto Ricans navigated Cold War and regional politics in relation to the participation of Revolutionary Communist Cuba. Some Puerto Ricans, as allies of the United States, wanted to exclude the Cuban delegation due to their communist ideologies and were even willing to go against any policy by the U.S. to uphold their beliefs. Other Puerto Ricans – those who sympathized with Communist Cuba – defended their Caribbean “brothers” and were willing to risk their freedom to do this. This event caught the attention of the regional and international media and the resolution involved the direct intermediation of the International Olympic Movement led by an American, Avery Brundage (President of the International Olympic Committee), and a Soviet, A. Andrianov (Vice-President).

GN: The internationally competing Iroquois Nationals lacrosse team is another example of sovereignty through sports. Can you tell us about any other examples of this phenomenon, whether historical, current, or in the planning stages.

AS: The Philippines competed at the 1916 East Asian Games as a sovereign country despite being a U.S. colony. Scotland participates as a sovereign nation in the FIFA World Cup – but with Great Britain at the Olympic Games. Taiwan participates as a sovereign nation at the Olympic Games as Chinese Taipei. On the other hand, the lack of Olympic sovereignty, despite being a cultural nation, can be seen in places like Catalonia, in Spain, which has petitioned to be recognized as an Olympic nation since the early twentieth century. These examples only portray how the Olympic Movement, rather than an apolitical movement focused on entertainment, makes very political decisions by allowing some countries to participate and denying recognition to others.

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Sotomayor, Antonio. (2016) The Sovereign Colony: Olympic Sport, National Identity, and International Politics in Puerto Rico. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

GN: In your opinion, what are Puerto Rico’s chances of becoming a U.S. state or otherwise altering its political status in any way?

AS: Under the current socio-political, economic, and cultural conditions in the United States, I highly doubt that Puerto Rico will become a state of the Union. As for altering its status in any way, we’ll have to keep paying attention.

GN: There has been much in the news lately about Puerto Rico’s economic situation. Can you explain a bit about this?

AS: This is a very complicated issue and given that I’m not an economist, I might be misrepresenting the issue. But in very general terms, Puerto Ricans have had a complicated relationship with the U.S. and have grown increasingly dependent on U.S. markets. This occurred as early as 1898 when the U.S. took possession of the island after the Spanish-American War by transforming the growing local economy to fit U.S. capitalistic market interests. Local capital was destroyed in order to create dependency on U.S. goods and capital. This did not only happen through one-sided U.S. intervention; local capitalists who benefited from the new relations were also involved. Reforms during the mid-twentieth century only brought in further investment by providing tax incentives, a practice that continued until the 1970s. After new free trade agreements allowed U.S. businesses to relocate to cheaper markets, Puerto Rico slowly lost its edge and Congress eliminated the provisions for the tax incentives during a ten-year process, from 1996-2006. The remaining companies that left in 2006, coupled with the Great Recession of 2008,  created a “down-spiral of death” in the economy. Again, I’m oversimplifying the process. I would recommend that those interested in these issues read Judge Juan Torruella’s recent speech at the John Jay School of Law for a brilliant summary of the crisis.

GN: You open your book with a description of the thrill you felt while watching the live broadcast of Puerto Rico’s basketball team as they defeated the U.S. “Dream Team,” 92 points to 73, at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. What are some other important events in Puerto Rican athletic history?

AS: My book is not really a chronicle of great games or great events in Puerto Rican sport history. As a U.S. colony, I think  the greatest event in Puerto Rico’s Olympic history is having an Olympic delegation in the first place, a process negotiated with the most powerful empire the world has known. This story of Olympic agency and will is Puerto Rico’s greatest achievement.

GN: Finally, if our readers ever travel to Puerto Rico, what are some must-do, sports-related activities they should add to their itinerary?

AS: They should attend a professional baseball game during the winter season. The Professional Baseball League of Puerto Rico was established in 1938 and was, along with the one in Cuba, a training ground for some Hall of Fame major leaguers like Willie Mays, Josh Gibson, Perucho Cepeda, and Puerto Rico’s national hero, Roberto Clemente. The league champions participate at the famous Caribbean Series of professional baseball. They should also attend a basketball game of Puerto Rico’s Baloncesto Superior Nacional league, the island’s most popular sport along with baseball. At these games, the visitor will experience Caribbean sports, which are full of passion, music, and talent. As for sightseeing, they should visit the Parque Sixto Escobar, an art-deco stadium from 1935, named after Puerto Rico’s first boxing hero. The stadium is next to the popular Escambrón Beach. You can also visit the Casa Olímpica de Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico’s Olympic Headquarters. Occupying the original YMCA building, the facility is great for hosting events and has an Olympic gym open to the public. A must-visit is Puerto Rico’s Albergue Olímpico in Salinas. There are athletic facilities to practice many sports and recreational activities. There are also children’s parks and pools, and you can visit Puerto Rico’s Olympic Museum.

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Sustainability Around the World

With last week’s observance of Earth Day and the celebration of Arbor Day this Friday, April 29th in the United States, we’ve decided to look a little more closely at the efforts of the world’s most sustainable countries. The Yale Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks countries’ performances on two high-priority environmental issues: protection of human health and protection of ecosystems. The 3 countries that rank highest in EPI score in 2016 are, in order, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden. This blog post will celebrate the sustainable progress of these countries and examine what they’re doing to promote the health of the earth and its inhabitants.

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Northern Lights, photo taken from Dave Grubb on Flickr Creative Commons

Finland

According to ThisisFINLAND, produced by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, 32% of the total energy use in Finland is renewable energy. The Carbon Neutral Municipalities (Canemu) Project, launched in 2008, brings together five Finnish municipalities committed to cutting their emissions by an ambitious 80% by the year 2030. By switching heating schemes to fossil-free biofuels like woodchips, recycling waste, and thinking creatively about other solutions, the Canemu Project has already made immense progress. Finland’s dedication to sustainability is backed by their commitment to promoting education regarding environmental protection. Environment Online (ENO) is a Finnish interdisciplinary and virtual school that intends to get teachers and students around the world to discuss sustainability and act together. ENO has spread to 5,000 schools around the globe and gets students to learn by doing. Not only does ENO intend to plant 100 million regionally indigenous trees around the world by 2017, but the school also works toward goals of bringing peace to the world through sustainable education and action.

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Fjaðrárgljúfur, photo taken from Andrés Nieto Porras on Flickr Creative Commons

Iceland

Iceland’s dependence on fisheries and exports of seafood make sustainable harvesting of marine resources both an economic and environmental concern. Iceland implements a quota system in fisheries, advocates for an end to pollution of the oceans on a global scale, and takes an active role against persistent organic pollutants. The Icelandic Soil Conservation Service has been thinking sustainably and taking steps to fight soil erosion in the country’s large wilderness areas since 1907. Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, is already one of the greenest cities in the world. But it is aiming to take its status a step further by being entirely free of fossil fuels by 2050. The city has a long history of using geothermal energy and has saved an estimated 110m tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere between the years 1944 to 2006. While this success is largely due to the development of the city atop a volcanic region, Reykjavik’s commitment to sustainable living is admirable and something to keep an eye on in the coming years.

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Stockholm, photo taken from Tommie Hansen from Flickr Creative Commons

Sweden

The Swedish Institute stresses that sustainability is a way of life for most Swedes. This lifestyle is demonstrated by several initiatives across many Swedish cities. Sweden made a huge step toward sustainability in the early 1990s when the country switched from oil to district heating, the use of a centralized boiler to provide heat for a number of buildings. The central plant uses clean forms of fuel and also makes use of recycled heat from industries that might otherwise go to waste. Växjö, Sweden was the first city in the world to set a fossil-free goal back in 1996, hoping to reach it by 2030. Växjö encourages urban gardening and cycling, and its public transportation runs on biogas and other forms of renewable energy. Urban farming in allotment gardens is a hobby of Swedes across the country and urban beekeeping has been on the rise. “Passive houses,” which are low-energy buildings that power themselves through the use of energy from people’s body heat, have been popping up in a number of Swedish communities. Stockholm’s Central Station contains a geothermal system that captures body heat from over 250,000 daily commuters. The heat is channeled into water, which is then pumped into the nearby Kungsbrohuset office building to provide heat. The building cools itself with water from nearby Klara Lake.

To learn more about sustainable development around the world, check out the World Sustainable Development Web Archive, hosted by the International & Area Studies Library. Please comment below and let us know of other innovative, sustainable initiatives around the world that you find interesting. And be sure to like our Facebook page for more posts like these!

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“The Fairer Sex” Films, Too

Let us know your favorite female directors and/or movies directed by women in the comments below!

"We Can Do It!" poster for Westinghouse, closely associated with Rosie the Riveter, although not a depiction of the cultural icon itself.

The iconic “We Can Do It!” poster associated with Rosie the Riveter and female empowerment.

We heard you all loud and clear– you loved our March post on female authors from around the world! Just because Women’s History Month is over doesn’t mean we can’t highlight more talented female artists. So this week we bring you a post with films by female directors. And if you need further justification other than “we think it’s an interesting topic”, you may also be interested to know that:

  • April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and gender-based violence is a theme or undercurrent of many international documentary and feature films by women directors,
  • On Tuesday, April 5th from 7:00-9:00 pm the International and Area Studies Library is co-sponsoring a screening of one such film, “India’s Daughter” at the Spurlock Museum,
  • Renowned director Pang Eun-jin will be visiting the University of Illinois to screen two of her films, “The Way Back Home”, and “Perfect Number” on April 25, and 26 respectively.

Without further ado, here are a few fantastic films directed by a selection of talented women from around the world:

India’s Daugther: The Story of Jyoti Singh”  directed by Leslee Udwin (2015)

Tags: India, United Kingdom, Jyoti Singh, rape, documentary

“India’s Daughter” is a harrowing documentary recounting the infamous 2012 gang rape case in New Delhi which resulted in the death of a young girl, Jyoti Singh. Both the incident and the subsequent release of the film sparked protests and international conversations about women’s rights and violence against women. The film was banned from screening in India but has nonetheless had a worldwide impact, having been screened in countries all around the globe. One of the aspects of the film that makes it controversial is that the director, Leslee Udwin, is not a South Asian, and the film cannot help but comment on societal conditions and attitudes that contributed to the incident. The film is also difficult to watch because it gives voice to the rapists, their legal counsel, and the families of the rapists including the wife of one of the rapists who laments her suffering and the suffering of her children while her husband is in jail awaiting possible execution. .

Poster designed by Rachel Storm to advertise the April 5th screening of the film "India's Daughter".

Poster designed by Rachel Storm to advertise the April 5th screening of the film “India’s Daughter”.

More like this: “Saving Face” a documentary on acid attacks in Pakistan by Academy Award-winning Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy; “Salma” a documentary by Kim Longinotto telling the story of a Muslim poet and politician in Tamil Nadu, India who was locked away and confined in her home by her family for many years.

Wadjda” directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour (2014)

Tags: Saudia Arabia, Islam, girls, mothers and daughters, feature films

“Wadjda” is a bittersweet film about a little girl in Saudi Arabia who dreams of owning her own bicycle so she can race with her neighborhood friend. Her mother doesn’t want to buy her the bike because it is not considered a proper toy for girls. Wadjda decides to enter a Koran recitation contest so she can use the prize money to buy the bike herself. Just as Wadjda is running into walls about what is proper for women, we also see her mother struggle with this as her husband searches for a second wife and copes with an overly challenging commute to work as, presumably, she is not allowed to drive herself.  The film manages to find hope and humor in conditions where women’s lives are heavily policed from an early age. The film is all the more remarkable in that it is the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. In an interview with NPR, director Haifaa Al-Mansour recounts the logistical challenges of trying to shoot the film in a country where she is not supposed to be outside or mingling with men to whom she is not related.

More like this: “Blackboards” by Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf, a feature film about the lives of Kurdish refugees after the Iran-Iraq war; “The Square” by Egyptian filmmaker Jehane Noujaim on the Arab Spring.

Girlhood” by Celine Sciamma (2015)

Tags: France, black diaspora, coming-of-age films, gangs, adolescence, feature films

“Girlhood” is an intense and complicated film to watch, especially as an American [viewer] in a time when racism and civil rights is dominating the news. While this film is set in France, this film shows the ways in which race and economics are inextricably linked, irrespective, it would seem, of one’s country of origin. These considerations become even more complicated when one realizes that the director, Celine Sciamma, is white. On the one hand, “Girlhood” is supposed to be a coming-of-age story, where race is just one small part of a larger context that focuses on the development of a single character. On the other hand, that character is developing within the context of joining a neighborhood gang, fighting, drugs, prostitution, and an abusive family. These issues are thoughtfully considered in an interview between Celine Sciamma and Ghanaian-born film and culture writer Zeba Blay. Taking aside the complicated racial politics of this story, this film is also worth watching for its beautiful cinematography and the masterful acting by newcomer actress Karidja Toure who plays the lead role of Marieme. Like “Wadjda,” the film finds some hope and humor within a bleak situation, but with an ending that leaves the viewer anxious: one is befuddles as to whether the s/he is seeing a happy ending or the set-up for a tragedy waiting to happen.

More like this: Celine Sciamma has two other coming-of-age films, “Tomboy” and “Water Lilies“. To try out a different French female director, you can also check out the work of Agnes Jaoui. The library has several of her films and if you need a break from serious films on difficult social conditions, you can start with her 2000 comedy, “The Taste of Others“.

Take Care of My Cat” by Jae-eun Jeong (2004)

Tags: South Korea, friendship, young women, cats, feature films

“Take Care of My Cat” is a 2004 feature film about a group of friends who struggle to maintain their friendship and find their way after graduating high school in South Korea. One of the five girls, Hae-joo moves out of their smaller city of Inchon to try to make a new life in the more glamorous capital city, Seoul. Her success and ambition alienate her from other friends, most especially Ji-young. Ji-young is trapped by an impoverished home situation and has dreams that feel unattainable and hopeless. Trapped in between these two is Tae-hee who has both ambition and a difficult home situation. Tae-hee ends up in a place where she must choose between her two friends and in doing so choose a vision for her future. Observing the ways in which particular cultural conditions in South Korea impacted the girls’ choices and behavior was compelling while also considering the ways in which their struggles are universal. For example, Ji-young was unable to get a job she had applied for because she didn’t have an immediate relative to vouch for her, a custom that is largely irrelevant in the United States. Like women all over the world, for these girls becoming independent requires tough choices and unexpected development that can transform their personalities and values.

More like this: If you’re looking for another Korean film but would like to learn about North Korea, check out Yang Yonghi’s documentary “Dear Pyongyang“. For something completely different but still from East Asia, check out Joan Chen’s film “Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl“.

Be sure to comment below letting us know what films you’d recommend that are directed by women or featuring them in lead roles. And be sure to like our Facebook page for more posts like these.

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