Learning Arabic - language is a powerful tool

Sociolinguistics Series: Part 44

Language is a powerful tool.


We are now in the Arab Bazaar! There are colors and sights to see all around--which seems to be a theme in this diverse, bustling city. There are some Arab women selling fresh vegetables in the streets, while others--both men and women now--are in their shops, beckoning us in to check out their beautifully painted pottery, handwoven quilts, and heartfelt stories.

I go into a few places, admiring the scenery around me. I get asked a lot whether I'm Chinese or American, and I reply that I'm both--just like Arabs can be Arab-Israelis, I can be Chinese-American. Of course, I know that the status of a Chinese person in America is not the same as an Arab living in Israel.

I later learn that Israelis want to create a country where only Jews get the top-tier citizenship. It's a hard concept to struggle with at first, and I will discuss the idea deeper in a later chapter, but I knew that as an American, the idea of anything besides pure, true equality would sound ludicrous to me.

Back to the bazaar. After introducing myself to some shop owners, I mention that I took Arabic this past semester. And though I know I only speak MSA, I try to communicate with the small portion of the language that I know. I can use Arabic to talk about where I'm from, what school I go to, what I'm studying, and why I've traveled to this region.

I ask them the same. I learn that one shop owner, Abbad, is from a Druze village; another one, Muhsin, is Palestinian, and he has family living in the West Bank. I ask about why they've chosen to come live in the Old City, and Abbad says that, as a secular Druze, he chose to move away from his village.

Muhsin says that he makes better money in Jerusalem; he commutes from the West Bank to the Old City everyday for work, and uses the money to provide for his family. It's at this point that I realize there are so many Palestinians who come into an Israeli-dominated economy to make better money for their families--and I will touch on this more when I talk about going into Ramallah for the day.

Beyond surface level introductions, I start asking them about their craft and language. I learn that they, like many other Arabs, learned MSA in school but prefer their local dialect as it is easier for them to use.

I also learn that they make their own jewelry, quilts, and pottery. By the end of the day, I had bought a pair of earrings. They were in the shape of olive trees--the symbol of peace and reconciliation--and had the Arabic word for Palestine ("فلسطين" or "Filustiine") engraved under it.

Speaking of the Arabic word for Palestine, I read a very interesting--albeit enraging--article last summer. Apparently, back in 2016, a conservative lawmaker in the Israeli Parliament said that there should be no state of Palestine because the Arabic language (in MSA) does not include the letter "P."

Indeed, there may not be a hard "p" sound in Modern Standard Arabic (which is why in the word for "Palestine," Arabic uses the "f" sound for "Filustiine" instead), but that should not be the defining factor of who gets to exist and who doesn't. Who would ever think to justify human inequality with a note in grammar?!

And, if she actually believed in her argument, then Jews would be in trouble because there is no "J" in the Hebrew alphabet. On a similar note, Americans couldn't have pizza because the "tza" sound doesn't exist as a letter in English! And who are we to use the English version of a word ("Jew" or "Palestine" as it is the "y" sound in Hebrew and the "f" sound in Arabic for those respective words) to define the existence of a culture that isn't Western, American culture?

Luckily, none of the Israelis I have ever met have echoed the sentiment of this Parliament member, and none of them are as closed minded as she was--obviously, she was stuck in a time where people were at each other's throats.

Today, actually, there are new, informal letters being introduced to the Arabic alphabet (such as the hard "p" sound) to accomodate for loan words from other languages that use sounds Arabic doesn't traditionally use; this is similar to how English adopts non-traditionally-English ways of pronouncing words that come from foreign languages.

Before we get too sidetracked and before we leave the bazaar, I want to talk about the name of the market--and if you were keen, you would have noticed that in this sentence, I used two different words for the same thing: bazaar and market.

Well, those are not the only words used for this either. Israelis call it "shuk" and Arabs call it "souq" or "souk." Spanish people call it "zoco," Armenians call it "shuka," and other spellings for this same thing (a commercial quarter, marketplace, what have you) include shooq, soq, esouk, succ, suk, sooq, suq, and soek--depending on if you're from West Asia, Northern Africa, or the Horn of Africa. "Bazaar" is actually Persian.

Just some food for thought, because people who come from all the above mentioned walks of life live in Jerusalem, and they all have different terms for the same place they buy their groceries and quilts from.

After our time at the market/bazaar/souq/shuk/quilt-selling place where I had some great conversations in Arabic, we walked back to our hotel for our first guest speaker talk. I will be covering this talk in the next section!

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An Open Letter To Democrats From A Millennial Republican

Why being a Republican doesn't mean I'm inhuman.

Dear Democrats,

I have a few things to say to you — all of you.

You probably don't know me. But you think you do. Because I am a Republican.

Gasp. Shock. Horror. The usual. I know it all. I hear it every time I come out of the conservative closet here at my liberal arts university.

SEE ALSO: What I Mean When I Say I'm A Young Republican

“You're a Republican?" people ask, saying the word in the same tone that Draco Malfoy says “Mudblood."

I know that not all Democrats feel about Republicans this way. Honestly, I can't even say for certain that most of them do. But in my experience, saying you're a Republican on a liberal college campus has the same effect as telling someone you're a child molester.

You see, in this day and age, with leaders of the Republican Party standing up and spouting unfortunately ridiculous phrases like “build a wall," and standing next to Kim Davis in Kentucky after her release, we Republicans are given an extreme stereotype. If you're a Republican, you're a bigot. You don't believe in marriage equality. You don't believe in racial equality. You don't believe in a woman's right to choose. You're extremely religious and want to impose it on everyone else.

Unfortunately, stereotypes are rooted in truth. There are some people out there who really do think these things and feel this way. And it makes me mad. The far right is so far right that they make the rest of us look bad. They make sure we aren't heard. Plenty of us are fed up with their theatrics and extremism.

For those of us brave enough to wear the title “Republican" in this day and age, as millennials, it's different. Many of us don't agree with these brash ideas. I'd even go as far as to say that most of us don't feel this way.

For me personally, being a Republican doesn't even mean that I automatically vote red.

When people ask me to describe my political views, I usually put it pretty simply. “Conservative, but with liberal social views."

“Oh," they say, “so you're a libertarian."

“Sure," I say. But that's the thing. I'm not really a libertarian.

Here's what I believe:

I believe in marriage equality. I believe in feminism. I believe in racial equality. I don't want to defund Planned Parenthood. I believe in birth control. I believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe in welfare. I believe more funds should be allocated to the public school system.

Then what's the problem? Obviously, I'm a Democrat then, right?

Wrong. Because I have other beliefs too.

Yes, I believe in the right to choose — but I'd always hope that unless a pregnancy would result in the bodily harm of the woman, that she would choose life. I believe in welfare, but I also believe that our current system is broken — there are people who don't need it receiving it, and others who need it that cannot access it.

I believe in capitalism. I believe in the right to keep and bear arms, because I believe we have a people crisis on our hands, not a gun crisis. Contrary to popular opinion, I do believe in science. I don't believe in charter schools. I believe in privatizing as many things as possible. I don't believe in Obamacare.

Obviously, there are other topics on the table. But, generally speaking, these are the types of things we millennial Republicans get flack for. And while it is OK to disagree on political beliefs, and even healthy, it is NOT OK to make snap judgments about me as a person. Identifying as a Republican does not mean I am the same as Donald Trump.

Just because I am a Republican, does not mean you know everything about me. That does not give you the right to make assumptions about who I am as a person. It is not OK for you to group me with my stereotype or condemn me for what I feel and believe. And for a party that prides itself on being so open-minded, it shocks me that many of you would be so judgmental.

So I ask you to please, please, please reexamine how you view Republicans. Chances are, you're missing some extremely important details. If you only hang out with people who belong to your own party, chances are you're missing out on great people. Because, despite what everyone believes, we are not our stereotype.


A millennial Republican

Cover Image Credit: NEWSWORK.ORG

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Why The Idea Of 'No Politics At The Dinner Table' Takes Place And Why We Should Avoid It

When did having a dialogue become so rare?


Why has the art of civilized debate and conversation become unheard of in daily life? Why is it considered impolite to talk politics with coworkers and friends? Expressing ideas and discussing different opinions should not be looked down upon.

I have a few ideas as to why this is our current societal norm.

1. Politics is personal.

Your politics can reveal a lot about who you are. Expressing these (sometimes controversial) opinions may put you in a vulnerable position. It is possible for people to draw unfair conclusions from one viewpoint you hold. This fosters a fear of judgment when it comes to our political beliefs.

Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of political belief, there is a world of assumption that goes along with any opinion. People have a growing concern that others won't hear them out based on one belief.

As if a single opinion could tell you all that you should know about someone. Do your political opinions reflect who you are as a person? Does it reflect your hobbies? Your past?

The question becomes "are your politics indicative enough of who you are as a person to warrant a complete judgment?"

Personally, I do not think you would even scratch the surface of who I am just from knowing my political identification.

2. People are impolite.

The politics themselves are not impolite. But many people who wield passionate, political opinion act impolite and rude when it comes to those who disagree.

The avoidance of this topic among friends, family, acquaintances and just in general, is out of a desire to 'keep the peace'. Many people have friends who disagree with them and even family who disagree with them. We justify our silence out of a desire to avoid unpleasant situations.

I will offer this: It might even be better to argue with the ones you love and care about, because they already know who you are aside from your politics, and they love you unconditionally (or at least I would hope).

We should be having these unpleasant conversations. And you know what? They don't even need to be unpleasant! Shouldn't we be capable of debating in a civilized manner? Can't we find common ground?

I attribute the loss of political conversation in daily life to these factors. 'Keeping the peace' isn't an excuse. We should be discussing our opinions constantly and we should be discussing them with those who think differently.

Instead of discouraging political conversation, we should be encouraging kindness and understanding. That's how we will avoid the unpleasantness that these conversations sometimes bring.

By avoiding them altogether, we are doing our youth a disservice because they are not being exposed to government, law, and politics, and they are not learning to deal with people and ideas that they don't agree with.

Next Thanksgiving, talk politics at the table.

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