A person can learn a great deal about languages by just talking to Dr. Vit Bubenik for an hour, so it’s easy to imagine one could acquire a good grounding in Arabic from him over a semester or two.
And that’s exactly what Dr. Bubenik is offering Memorial students this fall for the first time in two decades.
“The Arabic world wasn’t top of mind back then. There wasn’t such an awareness, or a sense of the need to understand the Arabic world as there is now,” Dr. Bubenik said. “Whether people are interested in understanding the culture, literature and philosophy, or if they have a linguistic curiosity, this course will give them a foundation.”
The course is Linguistics 4058: Modern Arabic I, and it’s being offered Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2-3 p.m. It’s a chance to gain familiarity with a language that is spoken by 250 million people, primarily in the Middle East and North Africa.
Dr. Bubenik will be assisted throughout the Modern Arabic course by two linguistics PhD students whose first language is Arabic – one from Jordan and one from Saudi Arabia – who will serve as “native informants.” In fact, one will be in the classroom for each class, providing authentic pronunciation.
The fall course will examine the structure and sounds of words and the language’s syntax. A second course planned for winter semester will build on this, offering grammar and setting students on the path to reading simple texts.
Dr. Bubenik acknowledges that the course will provide an interesting challenge for students, who might initially feel a bit lost when confronted by the sounds and letters of this Semitic language. However, he says students may be surprised how many words they know that have been borrowed from Arabic.
Those who study Hebrew, another Semitic language, will have a leg up, of course – but so, too, will those who speak Spanish, which shares about 3,000 words with Arabic.
“Because Spain was under Arabic rule until 1492, the Spanish language was influenced,” he explains. For example, the nouns that begin with ‘al’ are of an Arabic origin, because that’s the Arabic article. These words often refer to agricultural and labour products, an indication, Dr. Bubenik noted, of the kind of work done by Arab speakers in Spain.
It’s that ability to discern what language tells us about human history, experience and culture that makes its study so worthwhile, the linguistics professor asserts.