Sunday, November 18, 2012

Weeks 11/12: Aquisition

I thought I'd center this post around my core motive for studying in Jordan- acquisition of the Arabic language. "Why" you might ask, why am I learning Arabic? My earliest interest in studying Arabic emerged during my introduction to the Spanish language. From our first classes in middle school onwards I slowly was informed of how many Arabic words and sounds remain in the Spanish language. From fifth grade on I was left wondering how these similarities came into existence. The short answer to my question came from taking a class in the history of the Islamic world during my freshman year of college. Since then building an in-depth understanding of the history of cultural syncretism in the Iberian Peninsula has become my academic focus. I believe the study of an era when Abrahamic religions, Semitic languages, and Romantic languages thrived together is highly relevant with the current state of the world. Therefore my core professional goal is to help people understand one another's language and culture. This might take form in teaching, translating, or foreign relations. Before I get down to the specifics of Arabic I'd like to present my Halloween costume.
I was Scuba Steve and my friend Martha was Scuba Cindy

There's no way around it, Arabic is difficult. And there is no single Arabic language. Here in Amman I've been learning colloquial Jordanian Arabic and Modern Standard (Fus-ha). It's discouraging but besides reading the newspaper or watching television most of what we learn at universities in the States isn't something you'd use on a day-to-day basis in Jordan. This is not to discredit the importance of Fus-ha. I still highly recommend you pay attention in Modern Standard Arabic as some Jordanian adults intersperse more formal phrasing and vocabulary to strengthen their points. Not to mention, any important legal document or political speech will most likely be in Modern Standard Arabic. Yet the truth is still obvious when I speak or dream in Arabic, I have acquired much more of the colloquial tongue than Modern Standard. Again Arabic is difficult. But there are strategies I've learned that someone with no experience can use to pick up on grammatical structure and phrasing. Now that I think of it, this might work for any foreign language. The hint is, listen for the way native speakers of Arabic speak English. Listen to the common trends of how foreigners restructure English grammar in what seems to be a peculiar or incorrect manner. Sometimes this will reflect their projection of Arabic grammar onto the English language. This strategy came from my early days of understanding almost nothing and making the most of the fact that many people in Jordan speak better English than a lot of westerner speaks Arabic. I'll use some examples now. You will always hear Arabic speakers say "as you like" in English. It's something we don't say that much in the States, or at least in New York. But in Jordanian Arabic the polite phrase zay ma bidak (as you like) is used all the time. Another example is Jordanians accounting for time passing by saying things like "before two days" or "before thirty years." In English we'd normally just say "two days ago." But by listening closely to the abnormalities in grammar you can pick up on the Arabic tendency to account for the passing of time with qabla yeomayn (literally before two days). I'm not sure if this strategy will make sense just on paper. That is something I have been facing, the difficulty of conveying the spectrum of my experiences from across the planet. I'm doing my best though. 
After one more anecdote I'll move onto some more pictures. I walked out of the gym this past weekend and a man with his family in the car pulled up in front of me. He called ya shab (hey you youth) and proceeded to ask me for directions to a street near my house. I was first surprised that I knew what street he was talking about and even more when I realized I didn't realize I was being adressed or giving directions in Arabic. It just happened. I was dumbstruck after they drove off. 

If the formatting works out this is a picture of the first true winter sky I saw in Jordan. One day last week the clouds rolled in, it rained on and off for 12 hours, and it has been cold ever since. I honestly don't know what the temperature is. It is all relative to me right now. I know this mindset will fall apart as soon as I step of the plane in Syracuse come December.

This is the school gym I played volleyball and basketball
in this past weekend with a group of fellow choir members.

1 comment:

  1. You are correct in your analysis of language structure that you can detect from someone speaking English. What I really enjoyed about learning Spainish was that some phrases could't be literally translated into english. For instance the phrase 'menos mal' but that it made better sense than an enlish counterpart. B