Learning Arabic - language is a powerful tool

Sociolinguistics Series: Part 44

Language is a powerful tool.

Irene Yi
Irene Yi

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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I Am A College Student, And I Think Free Tuition Is Unfair To Everyone Who's Already Paid For It

Stop expecting others to pay for you.


I attend Fordham University, a private university in the Bronx.

I commute to school because I can't afford to take out more loans than I already do.

Granted, I've received scholarships because of my grades, but they don't cover my whole tuition. I am nineteen years old and I have already amassed the debt of a 40-year-old. I work part-time and the money I make covers the bills I have to pay. I come from a middle-class family, but my dad can't afford to pay off my college loans.

I'm not complaining because I want my dad to pay my loans off for me; rather I am complaining because while my dad can't pay my loans off (which, believe me, he wants too), he's about to start paying off someone else's.

During the election, Bernie frequently advocated for free college.

Now, if he knew enough about economics he would know it simply isn't feasible. Luckily for him, he is seeing his plan enacted by Cuomo in NY. Cuomo has just announced that in NY, state public college will be free.

Before we go any further, it's important to understand what 'free' means.

Nothing is free; every single government program is paid for by the taxpayers. If you don't make enough to have to pay taxes, then something like this doesn't bother you. If you live off welfare and don't pay taxes, then something like this doesn't bother you. When someone offers someone something free, it's easy to take it, like it, and advocate for it, simply because you are not the one paying for it.

Cuomo's free college plan will cost $163,000,000 in the first year (Did that take your breath away too?). Now, in order to pay for this, NY state will increase their spending on higher education to cover these costs. Putting two and two together, if the state decides to raise their budget, they need money. If they need money they look to the taxpayers. The taxpayers are now forced to foot the bill for this program.

I think education is extremely important and useful.

However, my feelings on the importance of education does not mean that I think it should be free. Is college expensive? Yes -- but more so for private universities. Public universities like SUNY Cortland cost around $6,470 per year for in-state residents. That is still significantly less than one of my loans for one semester.

I've been told that maybe I shouldn't have picked a private university, but like I said, I believe education is important. I want to take advantage of the education this country offers, and so I am going to choose the best university I could, which is how I ended up at Fordham. I am not knocking public universities, they are fine institutions, they are just not for me.

My problems with this new legislation lie in the following: Nowhere are there any provisions that force the student receiving aid to have a part-time job.

I work part-time, my sister works part-time, and plenty of my friends work part-time. Working and going to school is stressful, but I do it because I need money. I need money to pay my loans off and buy my textbooks, among other things. The reason I need money is because my parents can't afford to pay off my loans and textbooks as well as both of my sisters'. There is absolutely no reason why every student who will be receiving aid is not forced to have a part-time job, whether it be working in the school library or waitressing.

We are setting up these young adults up for failure, allowing them to think someone else will always be there to foot their bills. It's ridiculous. What bothers me the most, though, is that my dad has to pay for this. Not only my dad, but plenty of senior citizens who don't even have kids, among everyone else.

The cost of living is only going up, yet paychecks rarely do the same. Further taxation is not a solution. The point of free college is to help young adults join the workforce and better our economy; however, people my parents' age are also needed to help better our economy. How are they supposed to do so when they can't spend their money because they are too busy paying taxes?

Free college is not free, the same way free healthcare isn't free.

There is only so much more the taxpayers can take. So to all the students about to get free college: get a part-time job, take personal responsibility, and take out a loan — just like the rest of us do. The world isn't going to coddle you much longer, so start acting like an adult.

Cover Image Credit: https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/free-college-new-york-state.jpg?quality=85

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?


This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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