What Did You Learn this Summer?
The Summer Language Workshop prides itself on the diversity of its languages, programming and especially of its students. While each student’s experience at the Workshop is different, many of our alumni will attest that the Workshop offers students the opportunity to not only discover new things about the languages and cultures they study but also learn more about themselves.
Having wrapped up the 2014 session of the Summer Language Workshop, we are excited to update you on the important changes in our program and share reflections from students from each of the languages taught this summer. We hope that these short vignettes will inspire you to think back and remember what you learned during your summer in SWSEEL.
A Week in My Life at the Summer Language Workshop
by William Murrell
When you sign up for a summer Arabic intensive course, you expect to log many hours in the classroom and perhaps even more in the library doing homework. And in turn, you also expect significant improvement in the four basic language skills—listening, speaking, reading, and writing. However, some language teachers argue that there is fifth skill that is just as important as the others—cultural appreciation.
Oddly enough, I never realized how important this fifth skill was until I spent a summer studying Arabic in Bloomington, Indiana.
Clearly, Bloomington is not Cairo. But in Instructor Mohamed Ansary’s class, Indiana and Egypt don’t seem that far away. Regularly lamenting the fact that “American students learn how to talk about the United Nations in Arabic before they learn how to communicate with an Arab taxi driver,” Instructor Ansary, an Alexandria native, makes it his mission to teach his students Arabic culture just as much as he works to improve their listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills.
In fact, the entire Summer Language Workshop at Indiana University-Bloomington is designed to provide students numerous opportunities to learn about Arab culture and to bring Arabic outside of the classroom and into real life. To explain what I mean, let me walk you through a week in my life at the Workshop.
Monday: Class in the morning. Homework in the afternoon. And in the evening, all of the Arabic students (from beginners to advanced) gather for a weekly lecture from one of Workshop’s Arabic instructors. The lectures, entirely in Arabic, cover a wide range of topics, usually related to the culture of the lecturer’s home country. Yesterday, our lecturer talked about Jordanian history and archeology. Other topics have included Egyptian religious festivals, Tunisian marriage customs, Palestinian identity politics, Kurdish liberation movements, and Iraqi folk dances. Every lecture is accompanied with pictures, videos, and personal anecdotes, followed by a lively Q and A session—in Arabic, of course.
Tuesday: Class in the morning. And immediately after class we have Conversation Group. This entails one hour of loosely structured conversation in Arabic led by a native speaker. Our conversation group leader is a Tunisian doctoral student who playfully insists on speaking to us in his Tunisian dialect the entire hour. Initially, the new dialect was difficult to understand—as regular classroom instruction happens in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). However, as the weeks have passed, I have stopped noticing the abrupt change in dialect and started enjoying our conversations—which have ranged from the linguistic influence of Berber on Tunisian Arabic to conceptions of beauty in the Arab world.
Wednesday: Class in the morning. Homework in the afternoon. And in the evening, we have film night. Until this program I had never watched an Arabic film—even though I studied Arabic in the Middle East last summer (I think I was too busy doing homework). Far from offering a series of mind-numbingly boring yet “important” films from the VHS era, our program offered an exceptional line-up of Arabic films from the recent decade—films that were both “important” and interesting. My personal favorite was a Jordanian film, entitled “Captain Abu Raed.” Released in 2007, it was the first feature film to be produced in Jordan in over fifty years and went on to win numerous international awards.
Thursday: Class in the morning. And during our lunch hour we have what is called Language Table. What distinguishes this from our Tuesday Conversation Group is that instead of meeting with just our class (of eight people), all of the Workshop Arabic students and teachers meet together for unstructured Arabic conversation over lunch. Thursday Language Table has provided me the opportunity to get to know students from other classes, several of whom are native Arabic speakers who are in the program in order to improve their MSA (or academic Arabic). Additionally, I have been able to have meet and converse with all of the Arabic instructors in the program who come from literally every corner of the Arab world.
Friday: Class in the morning. Homework in the afternoon. And in the evening, well that depends. Hands down, the most memorable Friday evening of the summer was the week our Arabic teacher invited us to the mosque to participate in iftar (the big meal eaten after sunset when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan). It is difficult to summarize the experience in a few words, but here are a few things I will never forget about that evening: the amazing hospitality of the Muslim community of Bloomington; the fascinating conversation I had with Rashid (an Algerian judo instructor); the delicious Middle Eastern cuisine; and finally, the transformation of my wife who sported a full abaya and hijab (traditional Muslim dress and headscarf) when she accompanied me to the iftar.
Saturday: Saturdays vary, but fortunately, not only did the summer at the Workshop coincide with the month Ramadan, it also coincided with the FIFA World Cup. While in normal American life, it can be difficult to round up a group of people to watch a soccer match, at the Workshop there was no shortage of avid soccer fans. My favorite Saturday was spent watching the World Cup with some new Saudi friends who were in Bloomington studying English for the summer. We traded basic soccer vocabulary and cheered and yelled at the TV in the other’s language for hours.
Sunday: Sundays I take it easy and prepare for the upcoming week of classes. However, at the Workshop there is no such thing as a complete day-off from Arabic, as our usual weekend homework includes posting on the Workshop’s Facebook page, Tweeting (at least twice), and posting a 90 second video blog—all in Arabic, of course.As I write, I am in the middle of my last week of the program. It has been a summer of intense language study enriched by a wide range of weekly cultural activities. Tonight is our last film night. Tomorrow is our last Language Table. And next week we have exams—after which, I will leave Bloomington and return to America.
William Murrell (Arabic level 3, 2014) is a Ph.D. student in Middle Eastern History at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.
The spices of Indian cuisine—abundant and intoxicating, waft through Kashika Singh’s kitchen. We’re waiting for the chana masala to finish cooking, enjoying Bollywood tunes and chatting in Hindi in the meantime. For a moment, I forget that I’m in Indiana as it feels I’ve been completely transported into a quintessential North Indian experience. I admire a painting of Sarasvati on the wall and recall one of the first things that Kashika Ji taught us—all of the nouns associated with “learning” are feminine in gender, reflecting the pursuits of this revered goddess in knowledge, music, and the arts. Only a mere eight weeks ago, I didn’t speak a word of Hindi-Urdu but now I can confidently introduce myself, narrate my daily routine, ask various questions, and talk about my future plans as well as my past.
Kashika Ji has opened a door for me—a door that I knew had a wide threshold. Yet to overcome the challenges of learning two confusing alphabets and an equally disorienting verbal system was entirely worth it. For the first time, Indiana University’s Summer Language Workshop offered an intensive course in Hindi-Urdu where students acquire the equivalent of one year of language training in two months. As a Ph.D. student in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies with a major in Iranian Studies, I was particularly interested in the relationship between Farsi and Urdu, and India’s Mughal History. Kashika Singh, a seasoned instructor of Hindi-Urdu who taught numerous courses at the University of Wisconsin Madison as well as for study-abroad programs in India, encouraged all of us to immerse ourselves in the language, especially outside of the classroom. I, along with five other students, held weekly conversation hours, Bollywood film screenings, and Kashika Ji generously invited us to her home to teach us how to make chana masala, alu gobhi, raita, and chapatis.
Kashika Ji explains, “Hands-on activities are essential in an intensive course such as this one. I wanted to create an immersion-like environment and highlight the cultural differences between American and South Asian customs. It’s an opportunity for students to learn about vocabulary associated with food, verbs used in recipes, and how to express manners.” Kashika Ji describes herself not as teacher, but more as a guide for her students—“My students teach me so much, and I‘m here to coach them so they can comfortably function in Hindi-Urdu. The focus is task-based, and if students continue their studies abroad in India, then I’ll assist them in acquiring the linguistic skills needed for in-depth research. I’ve been teaching for twenty years and language learning can be a life-long pursuit if you love it. That’s why I strive to create a positive experience for my students when they begin studying Hindi-Urdu.”
At Indiana University, the Dhar India Studies Program offers a first-year course in Hindi-Urdu and Hindi at the intermediate and advanced levels during the academic year. David Endicott, a graduate student in the Department of Political Science says, “I highly recommend the summer program to anyone interested in improving their language skills. Our instructor provided the best mixture of intense language instruction and relaxed cultural conversations.”
Hindi-Urdu is spoken by more than 545 million people and can be written using the Devanagari script or a modified Perso-Arabic script. Introducing two alphabets at once is an overwhelming task for both students and instructor; hence the first 4 weeks of the course were taught in Devanagari, while the second month focused on how to read Urdu in nastaliq. While there are some vocabulary differences between the two languages, the grammar is virtually the same. Alexis Saba, a current Ph.D. student at IUB, says, “The Hindi-Urdu intensive language course has provided an invaluable introduction to both languages. My long-term interests relate to the study of education in India and Pakistan. For this reason, in depth knowledge of both Hindi and Urdu are vital. No other summer course offered the study of both languages in tandem, which is one of the reasons I chose to study at Indiana University. Through an intimate sized classroom environment, we had access to several one-on-one instruction opportunities with the professor and small group projects. Overall this has been an amazing summer. One week after classes conclude, I will be traveling to Pakistan and I am excited to finally have conversations with people in country. I feel extremely confident that the material I’ve learned in these eight weeks provided me with a solid foundation for continuing to explore both languages throughout my graduate coursework.”
Katie Cierniak, a Ph.D. candidate at IUB who has studied Bangla (Bengali) for three years and specializes in the field of International and Comparative Education, explains, “I wanted to learn an additional South Asian language to increase my ability to engage in comparative work in the region. One of the things I love about taking language classes is that you not only learn the language, but you also gain a good deal of cultural knowledge. In this class, a lot of that has come from our teacher, Kashika, sharing things in class, often incidentally or as things organically arise. I’ve also enjoyed watching films with the other students in the class. Not only are the films fun to watch and a good way to learn about different aspects of culture and to practice listening, they have been a nice way to form a bond with other students. By watching the films together, we have this shared experience, which usually leads to a lot of laughter as we discuss the film or refer to it in some way in class."
“This summer has been like nothing I expected.” says David Sowerby, a Junior at IUB. “I have taken two intensive language courses at IU, but nothing like the IU Summer Language Workshop. It's really a big challenge to learn a language in such a short amount of time. It’s really is a labor of love, though. And when you're slogging through, you make some really great friends on the way. “
Piper O’Sullivan (Hindi-Urdu level 1, 2014) is a Ph.D. student in the Indiana University Department of Central Eurasian Studies with a major in Iranian Studies. Her research interests include Conflict Studies and the literary politics of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, as well as Iranian visual culture. She holds an M.A. in Central Eurasian Studies (IUB) and a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College. She currently works at the Center on American and Global Security.
On Family and Forgetting
by Alina Williams
“I’m from Florida, but I go to a small college in upstate New York.”
Blank stare. “Then what are you doing in Indiana?”
Most people think I’m crazy to spend my summer in southern Indiana learning an obscure language whose closest relative is a distant Finnish. When they find out I’m an English major, they laugh and think I’m even crazier. I promise I’m not.
I am, however, among the minority in the Summer Language Workshop. Most here are Global Studies or International Affairs majors and many are planning on studying abroad in the very near future. I have no such plans. I am studying Hungarian purely for personal reasons, purely so I can better communicate with my family.
Hungarian is classified as a Finno-Ugric language, which colloquially translates to “only a small handful of people actually speak it,” and most are found in and around Hungary. However, in 1946, as a result of the increasing dangers of the communist regime, my mother’s parents emigrated from Hungary and moved to New York City to start their family. At home, they spoke Hungarian and French to my mother and her sisters, leaving them to learn English at school. In total, my maternal grandparents spoke six different languages. My mother and her sisters speak three. Whittle your way down to my generation, and you get me, an English speaker, but it wasn’t always that way.
When I was nine months old, my family moved from Bloomington, Indiana to Budapest, Hungary for a year so my mother could do research on Hungary’s involvement in the European Union. In preparation for the move, my father, an American, took the SWSEEL Hungarian course in 1995. While in Budapest, my brother attended pre-school, and my father stayed at home with me in our small apartment on Eper utca, or Strawberry Street.
At nine months old, language was just becoming a part of my world. Hearing Hungarian spoken everywhere around me, I began to pick it up, even before I had learned to speak English. After a year, we moved back to Bloomington where my brother and I continued speaking the Hungarian we had learned abroad. For a few years following our return to the States, we spoke to each other and played together in Hungarian. We maintained a bilingual household for six years, but the older we got, the harder it became to keep up the language. The farther we advanced in school, the more English we used, and the more English we used the more Hungarian we forgot. My brother and I have nothing left aside from a few words here and there, and even those are losing their meaning, but now I’ve come back to Bloomington in the hopes of reclaiming parts of my family’s language.
Prior to arriving in Indiana, I was curious as to why other people were interested in studying Hungarian. I knew languages like Russian and Arabic would dominate the program, but I didn’t expect to be one of only four students who chose Hungarian. One is a Ph.D. student and another a grad student, both studying linguistics. Then there’s myself and one other undergraduate learning Hungarian for reasons similar to my own.
On the first day, I felt completely out of my league as the linguistics students began speaking about vowel harmony, morphology, and the agglutinative properties of the language, words which I didn’t then and maybe still don’t understand. I quickly realized, though, that we were all starting from the same place and working our way up. With only four students in the class, it became almost like a private lesson. Additionally, with lectures about Hungarian politics and literature, we were able to focus not only on the language, but also the culture, the food, the ways of life different from our own. As the course progressed, I began to recognize certain habits and traditions that my family carried on, and words that I’d heard my mother and her sisters use jumped out at me. At the beginning, phrases like mit jelent and nem értem, translating, respectively, to “what does that mean” and “I don’t understand” were staples of my vocabulary, but after eight weeks, I’m able to hold simple conversations with my mother, so no, I’m not crazy to spend my summer in Bloomington learning this isolated language.
Though, I have had to justify this decision to more people than I would have expected because I don’t intend to use Hungarian for any academic purpose. I am simply interested in furthering my ability to communicate with my family. I’m interested in regaining a means of expression that has been unavailable to me for thirteen years, and that’s what language is about: expression. It’s about learning how to convey thoughts and ideas in unique ways, but the ability to use language effectively takes years of study and consistent use. Most people don’t get the opportunity to practice a language for years on end in order to become fluent, but even learning the basics of a language is enough to alter the way you view your own.
Taking a new language forces you to analyze the way you use words in your own life. It forces you to take notice of everyday idioms and turns of phrase because every language, every culture, has their own way of telling stories. Any language class, no matter the level, brings a new perspective on the way we communicate with others, and it’s that perspective that allows us to better understand our first language.
I can’t undo the fact that, over the years, I’ve managed to forget an entire language, but I can make efforts to regain what I’ve lost. For now, my history with Hungarian makes for an interesting story, and isn’t that why we use language in the first place? So we can tell stories, communicate, and remember?
Alina Williams (Hungarian level 1, 2014) is a rising junior at Skidmore College, majoring in English with a concentration in nonfiction writing and minoring in Religious Studies.
A Mongolian Summer in Bloomington
by Kathleen Kuo
When I signed up for the Summer Language Workshop, I knew that it would be an intensive, fast-paced environment. What I couldn’t have anticipated was just how much I would enjoy the challenge of taking four hours of Mongolian a day - every day being almost equivalent to a week during the regular academic year! In the last month and a half I have grown very attached to the other classmates in my tiny class of four: Kate Graber, a professor in the Anthropology and Central Eurasian Studies (CEUS) departments here at Indiana University; Gregory Conte, a graduate of Georgetown University; and Brendan Devine, a history master’s student at Northern Arizona University who will come here in January to start his degree in CEUS. Every morning I come to class excited and eager to devour whatever it is that our teacher Tserenchunt Legden has in store for us - and some days, it literally is an actual Mongolian meal.
Tserenchunt bagsh (the Mongolian word for teacher) told me, “When I teach the culture I am more excited than teaching the language itself.” In class, bagsh frequently supplements our lessons with Mongolian songs and games that she learned growing up in the Gobi region of Mongolia. Bagsh also encourages us to ask her about life in Mongolia using our new grammar or vocabulary. I like to tell all of my friends that marmot meat tastes like horse meat (delicious!). My favorite in-class activity, however, is when bagsh breaks out her silken green bag filled with sheep anklebones, or shagai. We learned two different games to play with the shagai, but more often than not, we use them as pieces for bingo – or what Kate calls “the best memorization game ever.”
The shagai always leave one’s hands feeling a little gummy and gamey smelling afterwards, but I find the experience of handling these bones to be immensely charming. Talking to my other classmates, I found that they also enjoy these tiny cultural lessons from bagsh. Gregory said, “I like it when we talk more about the world of the Mongols… I learn foreign languages as a form of escapism. I don’t want to talk about my own life; I want to talk about other people's lives. Playing anklebones, shagai, and talking about livestock, I like that. It’s more earthy, more genuine.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays after class, we meet over lunch for our conversation hour (and a half). Thus far, we’ve eaten at various restaurants in downtown Bloomington, the dining hall at Forrest Hall, even a fellow student’s summer apartment. As we walk together to our lunch spot, we attempt to speak exclusively in Mongolian. More often than not, we end up talking about the people around us and I often wonder what others might be thinking as the small horde of Mongolian speakers head their way, staring and pointing at them and speaking in an unknown tongue.
Thanks to Tserenchunt bagsh and the Workshop staff, our class has been able to participate in a number of cultural events and activities both on and off campus. On campus, we’ve attended a Mongolian film screening (The Pearl in the Forest [Мойлхон]), a solemn story focusing on Buryats who were affected by the Purge in the 1930s, and we also had the chance to attend a panel on travel and study in Mongolia presented by current students from CEUS. We spent an afternoon learning how to make khuushuur (fried pancakes filled with meat) and bantan (a soup with flour and meat) at our teacher’s house. But the most exciting events, in my opinion, have been those hosted in the greater Bloomington community: celebrating Naadam (the Mongolian summer festival) and visiting the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural center.
Naadam is one of two important Mongolian holidays, the other beingTsaagan Sar, or the Lunar New Year celebration. This year, Naadam in Bloomington was held at Lower Cascades Park. The day was split into three portions: arts, food, and games/sports. Our introductory Mongolian class did all of the announcing for the arts portion in both English and Mongolian. We sang three songs in Mongolian for our guests, and former/current CEUS students recited poems and sang as well. At the very end, everyone held hands and participated in a traditional Buryat circle dance. After a break for food and drink, the three manly sports competitions then took place.
The three traditional manly sports of Mongolia are horse racing, wrestling, and archery. At our Naadam celebration, however, we had sprinting (horse racing), Mongolian style wrestling, and arm wrestling (in place of archery). I enjoyed watching the Mongolian wrestling tournament, as each winner had to do an eagle dance clockwise around the Mongolian flag that bagsh and her husband provided. Although I was sad to not be able to participate in Mongolian style wrestling (women are not allowed), I did get to try my hand at arm wrestling – and lost the very first round. All in all, my first Naadam was a great experience. An incredible sense of community filled the air as former and current students and Bloomington community members alike came together to celebrate. As Tserenchunt bagsh said to me, “Even though there were very few Mongols, we almost didn’t have any (one lady came from Illinois), my students made it. They made it exciting, were very active, and so I was very happy that we could organize the Naadam with my students even without Mongols. So it was a good Naadam in my opinion.”
Our trip to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center happened to overlap with a Mongolian children’s camp that was taking place there this summer. We had lunch with the teachers and leaders of the summer camp; for three hours, our hosts entertained us with fantastic Mongolian humor and hospitality. Of this trip, my classmate Brendan noted, “We got different kinds of Mongolian cooking, we got to try a different Mongolian soup. That was a great experience because there were probably six or seven different native speakers in the same room at the same time as us...I’ve gotten very used to hearing bagsh speak Mongolian and hearing everyone else in the class speak it, but when we get to meet native speakers like we did at Naadam or at the Buddhist center, it shows that while we are learning the language well, it’s still very different. I think it’s very important that we get actual tastes of that.”
In addition to enjoying the Mongolian curricular and extracurricular programming, my classmates and I have been struck by the quality of instruction that we’ve received this summer at the Workshop. Kate noted that this was the only class she’s ever taken where by the second day we were all having full conversations with one another. Regarding his experience, Gregory said, “The six weeks spent here have been quite enjoyable, very productive. I’ve been quite impressed by everything, from the library to the bar scene.” Brendan told me, “Tserenchunt bagsh comes to class every day excited and energetic which is not easy to do at 8:30 in the morning. She’s very patient, which I like. We have people in the class at different extremes and bagsh does a great job of working with everyone at the same time but also accommodating that gap and where we are, which I think is important especially for intensive classes like this… I can’t imagine having had a better teacher this summer, which I’ve only ever said about a teacher once before.”
When I asked her about her approach to teaching, Tserenchunt bagsh answered: “When I teach my language, when I talk to people, I don’t like to be a teacher, I want to be their close friend. I try to expose my students into not only the language, the culture, I want my students to be interested and to know the culture.” Regarding the program and atmosphere at Indiana University, she added, “We have been trying to make a family of Mongolian language and Mongolian studies students...they are close friends because they are Mongolian language students. And I am very happy about that.”
On the first day of the summer language workshop, Tserenchunt bagsh asked our class, “Where do Mongols live?” The answers flew: “Mongolia!” “United States!” “Korea!” At the end of our collective brainstorming, the exclamation rang out, “Mongols live everywhere!” This summer, I have felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity to study the Mongolian language here at my home institution, as well as for the chance to experience Mongolian culture together with Bloomington’s Mongolian community. I consider myself and my classmates to all be members of the extended family that Tserenchunt bagsh has helped to create here at Indiana University and elsewhere. Now I know: Where do Mongolian language speakers live? They live everywhere!
Kathleen Kuo (Mongolian level 1, 2014) is a doctoral student in Ethnomusicology at Indiana University. She received her BA in Psychology from the University of Chicago and MA in Ethnomusicology from Tufts University. Although she has not yet settled on a topic for her dissertation, her research interests currently center around nomadic folk songs, organology, and Mongolia-South Korea relations. Kathleen has enjoyed her experience at the Workshop and is looking forward to continuing her studies in Mongolian language, culture, and history at Indiana University in the fall.
A Summer of Persian
by Amanda Al-Raba’a
The Persian language program at the Summer Language Workshop offers students an experience far beyond typical classroom language instruction. Under the tutelage of Ustad Solaiman Fazel, students gain exposure not only to the richness of the Persian language, but also to Persian film, literature, food, music, and culture.
Solaiman was born in Afghanistan, but moved to California at a young age. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Indiana University in the departments of Anthropology and Central Eurasian Studies. Solaiman’s good humor and patience help the intensive program go by quickly. He shows the class music videos, documentaries on different aspects of Iranian history and culture, and even Iranian television shows. Not only does Solaiman expose students to Iranian artists, but also to Afghani and Tajiki artists (whose languages share similarities with Persian). At the end of every class, students watch an Iranian film; from the Oscar-winning A Separation to the hilarious Marmoulak (The Lizard) to the more political Pear Tree, these films not only allow students to practice their listening skills, but also to discover a new national film tradition.
Each class begins with a person, group, book, place, or proverb related to Persian language and culture written on the blackboard. Solaiman then discusses the importance of the term. Terms have included, for example, famed author Simin Daneshvar, the National Iranian American Council, Alamut Palace, and Mawlana Rumi, to name a few. These terms each relate to Persian culture and history, and with each term, Solaiman introduces relevant vocabulary words so that we are constantly learning the language while we learn about culture. Not only is this a fascinating beginning to class, but it also expands our knowledge of Persian culture as well as vocabulary.
Every week in class, we read news headlines aloud from BBC Farsi, Iranian Daily Online, and Voice of America Persian. During the first weeks of class, this exercise served as reading practice while we learned the Perso-Arabic alphabet, but we did not understand many of the words. At the end of the program, it was truly remarkable to see how many of the headlines we could understand just based on the vocabulary and grammar we have learned in eight short weeks. It’s amazing to realize that at the beginning of the summer, we couldn’t even read the Persian alphabet, and now we are able to read and understand basic news articles in Persian.
Dr. Richa Clements, a student of Farsi in the Summer Language Workshop, comments on her experience this summer: “I learn best in a classroom, under the guidance of a challenging though considerate teacher, and I found one in Mr. Solaiman Fazel. Solaiman is a very engaging instructor and he manages to make the four-hour class very lively every day – even on exam days. We learn through a range of activities, including reading and writing, or speaking and listening not only to each other but with the use of various media like films, documentaries, radio, short clips of Farsi poetry and music videos, etc.” Solaiman’s combination of Persian high culture such as poetry, literature, and history with more popular culture, including popular music/music videos, contemporary artists, and films gives students a well-rounded perspective of both historical and current Persian cultures.
Solaiman’s teaching creates an environment that challenges and engages students, but in which they also feel comfortable expressing themselves. Solaiman says, “My classes are designed to be student-centered and I encourage student participation while challenging them at the same time.” From his perspective, an outstanding teacher must “care about students, encourage them on how well they do in the class and in their futures; be organized, communicate well, be responsive and attentive, explain clearly, and establish the class expectations firmly; have deep knowledge and intelligence about the subject; and have a good sense of humor, and enthusiasm for teaching.” Because of the intensity of the summer program, classes can be extremely challenging for students; Solaiman’s constant encouragement and enthusiasm keeps students engaged and enthusiastic themselves.
In addition to in-class exposure to Persian language and culture, we also have many activities outside of class to both reinforce our language learning and to expand our cultural knowledge. Our weekly language tables give us a chance to use Persian in a more conversational, free-flowing setting. Frequent visitors to language table—native Persian speakers as well as advanced Persian language learners—give us the chance to practice our speaking skills in a real-world setting. Additionally, there have been numerous talks this summer on a wide variety of topics. Narges Nematullahi talked about useful resources, Dr. Ron Sela gave a talk entitled “In Praise of the ‘Tatar’ Tsar Boris Gudonov,” discussing his current research project, and Narges Nematullahi gave students “A Glimpse into Persian History and Culture,” providing a contextual background for their language study.The Persian program at the Workshop provides students with amazing opportunities for learning about the culture and history associated with the various languages offered, as well as intensive language study. My entire class will come out of the program with an entire year’s worth of Persian instruction, as well as a wealth of knowledge about Persian culture. The experience is truly invaluable.
Amanda Al-Raba’a (Persian level 1, 2014) is a Ph.D. student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC Chapel Hill. Amanda is also a 2013 Summer Language Workshop alumna.
A Polish Summer
by Lisl Hampton
A year ago I left a career in publishing to start a doctoral program in cultural anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At the time I thought I might do my fieldwork in some kind of publishing, somewhere. By my second month at school I became more open to the idea of studying writing and reading more broadly. But which writers and readers? What writing? And, most importantly, where?
One day while reading the Guardian online, I came across an article on Kraków, which had just become UNESCO’s seventh City of Literature. A project began to take shape in my mind. Sure, the shape of this particular project changes all the time, but at the heart is a community, simply a group of people who live together. One of the things I love most about cultural anthropology is its flexibility, which is because, of course, anthropology is simply about human life.
Eight months after this fortuitous perusal of the Guardian’s website, here I am in Bloomington, Indiana, deep into my first course in Polish. Before arriving in Bloomington, I had heard from a lot of people about the difficulties of learning Polish. I have taken Latin, some French, and a little ancient Greek, so I was not afraid of trying a new language. But since I am older, I assumed that studying Polish would require perseverance, diligence, and certainly some moments of uncertainty if not downright bewilderment. (Who knew a dictionary could have so many pages of entries starting with przy-?)
At this point I could tell you that Polish is so fun that it has been a piece of cake, or, perhaps, that at the end of the day my first few weeks here in Bloomington I cried myself to sleep, clutching my English-Polish dictionary close to my chest. No, neither has happened. Actually, the day-to-day elements of my studies at the Workshop are pretty routine. I spend twenty hours a week in Polish class with two other students and our cheerful and incredibly patient teacher, Kinga Kosmala. In moves that require great patience and skill, such as those acquired by many pediatric dentists, Pani Kinga extracts Polish from our mouths. And, yes, it can be painful. But Pani Kinga is a skilled teacher, and when we go astray, she guides us to the correct answer and we move on.
Though the introductory Polish course is rooted in studying grammar, we do lots of other things to support our work in the language and our understanding of the people who speak Polish. Early on, for instance, we made pierogi at Pani Kinga’s house. And every day, after working on our vocabulary and grammar in class, we watch part of a Polish movie in class and discuss in Polish what is happening. Twice a week we also meet at a cafe for Polish table, where we sometimes talk amongst ourselves or other times feel our way through basic conversations with Polish speakers who come to join us.
One thought I had many times this spring, before I came to Bloomington, was that I could have chosen to do my fieldwork anywhere. So why Poland? There are lots of good reasons and some less important ones too. Here’s the clincher, though: it doesn’t actually matter. What’s important is that I’m planning to study something that interests me, and more important (or equally important) I’m studying the language that will allow me to live somewhere else. Certainly, there are lots of technical aspects to learning a language. I’m glad I studied Latin so that I am familiar with inflected languages. (It can be a bit of a shock to realize that nouns have cases.) And studying a language requires enormous amounts of practice and work.
But to me, studying Polish is like doing anthropology. It’s about how the members of a community live. It’s learning the words they use to talk about feeling rain on their heads or rushing to work or meeting with friends. Early on at Polish table, someone asked Pani Kinga how to say that you’re warm (it’s summer in Bloomington, after all). Well, in Polish, Pani Kinga explained, you do not say that you feel hot, but you say that the environment is hot to you. The subject is in the environment, which acts on the subject. In English, on the other hand, we tend to think about the subject being the actor in the world, and thus the subject feels the heat, rather than the heat making itself known to the subject. For linguists such differences are pretty routine. But to me this beautifully expresses why we should all learn another language—at least one. Otherwise, in working through translations, we are kept at even more of a remove from the way life is lived by someone else. I would never argue that to know a language well is to know what it is to be another person or to be from another place. But I do believe that knowing another language or even studying one allows us to slip a little bit inside other ways of thinking and living. This in-between place also helps us see our own language from a new perspective and can help us not only think about how we see our world through language but have some sympathy with others who are trying to learn. So learning a language can be an empathic practice. Who knew?
Empathy, understanding, life, being, culture—all this in the simple study of a language. Maybe next year I’ll try Finnish.
Lisl Hampton (Polish level 1, 2014) is a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is interested in reading and writing and the communities that form around these practices.
Adventures in Lifelong Language Learning
by Elizabeth Plantan
I first participated in the Summer Language Workshop (then known as SWSEEL) in the summer of 2007, after studying one year of college-level Russian. Although originally from Indianapolis, I had never heard of the program. When a college professor recommended that I participate that summer, I couldn't believe that there was a Russian-speaking mecca in my home state of Indiana. Upon my arrival on the Bloomington campus seven years ago, I remember my surprise when after our orientation the halls of Ballantine suddenly erupted into the chatter of Slavic languages. My summer at SWSEEL left a noticeable impression, and I returned to Bloomington after graduation for a Master's degree at the Russian & East European Institute. Although I am now a Ph.D. student at another university, I decided to attend the Summer Language Workshop again this summer to brush up on my Russian language skills before embarking on dissertation fieldwork.
Throughout my years as a student, I have participated in several language immersion programs. The Summer Language Workshop stands out in its ability to attract both students and faculty from diverse and fascinating backgrounds. This summer, in our small group in Level 9 Russian, students are at varying levels of their educations and careers. One student is entering Yale as a Ph.D. student in Russian literature this fall, another is spending his summer at the Workshop acclimating to Bloomington before starting an MA program at the Indiana University Russian and East European Institute. Another is an undergraduate student participating in Project GO, who will use his language skills in his future military career. In other levels of Russian, students range from accelerated high school students to mid-career professionals. The beauty of the Summer Language Workshop is that it can accommodate both traditional and non-traditional students with ease – and, as students, we learn more by being exposed to these different viewpoints and life experiences.
Similarly, the faculty at the Workshop ranges from graduate student teachers to experienced professionals in various fields. Anna Sharogradskaya (to us forever "Anna Arkad'evna"), the director of the Regional Press Institute in St. Petersburg, is the lead teacher for Russian Level 9. She has been traveling to Bloomington for twenty years to teach Russian at SWSEEL, and has also taught a separate seminar on Russian media for students of various levels of Russian language. Vasily Arkanov, whose father is the famous Russian satirist and humorist Arkady Arkanov, has previously worked at NTV as a correspondent and theater critic. He has also translated several of Jonathan Safran Foer's books into Russian (including "Everything is Illuminated"). As a student at SWSEEL in 2007, I remember Larry Richter's formidable force as the instructor of Russian phonetics. It is hard to imagine the Workshop without him -- yet Viktor Kharlamov, a linguistics Ph.D. from the University of Ottawa, has filled his shoes with grace and ease. Twice a week we alternate class between lecture and hands-on recording in the computer lab. The Summer Language Workshop not only provides quality instruction, but also capable and fascinating instructors.
The IU Summer Language Workshop also stands apart from other language programs by offering a multitude of extracurricular programs. From Russian-language movies and lectures to career brown bags and cultural programs, the summer is packed with opportunities to not only learn the language, but also to get to know the culture of the region and the potential careers that might await for serious foreign-language learners. The Russian-language lectures from this summer have touched on topics as varied as the origins of punk rock in Russia to the future of European energy politics. The movies spanned from Soviet classics to modern day blockbusters. Career panels have included professionals from the State Department, the CIA, USAID, and the Peace Corps. Students are encouraged to attend as many of the career panels and brown bag lunches as they wish, or even take part in other extracurricular activities. This summer, that has also included the formation of a Russian poetry group, a Russian theater troupe, and even a Russian radio show and podcast. If those activities and daily coursework weren't enough to keep students busy, the Workshop also has the advantage of being located in Bloomington. Bloomington in the summer is a rare treat for those of us who have been here during the school year when the restaurants are packed and campus is crowded with students. From the farmer's market to Lake Monroe, the surrounding area is a perfect setting to enjoy the beautiful summertime weather.
To say that I've enjoyed my time at the Summer Language Workshop would be an understatement. It would miss the nuances of what it's like to spend the summer here in Bloomington, devoting time to Russian language learning. With summers at the Workshop almost perfectly bookending the beginning and end of my career as a student, I have begun to appreciate how truly rewarding it is to learn a foreign language and to be afforded the luxury to focus solely on language learning for an entire summer. My first realization of how far my language learning has progressed since that summer in 2007 happened at the first Russian language table of the summer, back in June. I sat down next to a group of students and started chatting at full speed, introducing myself and asking the girl next to me what level she was in. She stared at me blankly, eyes wide. I counted on my hand to explain what I had asked. She help up one finger. Один, she said. The best part of this process is remembering that's where we all started.
Elizabeth Plantan (Russian level 3, 2007 and Russian level 9, 2014) is a Ph.D. student in Government at Cornell University. Her research focuses on environmental politics and social movements in Russia and China. Prior to starting her Doctoral program at Cornell, she completed her Masters at the Indiana University Russian and East European Institute in 2012.
A Summer of Fast-track Swahili
by EugeNia Williams
My name is EugeNia Williams and I am a first-time participant in the IU Summer Language Workshop’s newly established Swahili program.
As a prospective graduate student at the Indiana University African Studies department interested in second language acquisition, after a neurological event I wanted to review and renew my Swahili skills, given that I’ve had very few opportunities to practice speaking Swahili in the last several years.
Growing up in East Chicago, I was surrounded by a polyphony of foreign languages and cultures, including Polish, Croatian, Serbian, Armenian and Spanish. I was fortunate to be exposed and experience a multitude of languages and cultures through many of my school friends, whose families were originally from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Honduras and other parts of Central America. I can still remember sitting at the kitchen a table, visiting one of my school buddies, fascinated by new exotic aromas and tasting mouthwatering and succulent foods from different parts of the world.
Being exposed to different languages and cultures has had a profound and continuing impact in my life. I say that because at the ripe age of fifty plus I embarked on a journey of learning Swahili, as well as the culture of the Swahili people. I seriously began considering studying Swahili when I had an opportunity to travel to Kenya. Standing in an old stone structure, staring out into the Indian Ocean, at that moment I developed an insatiable thirst to learn Kiswahili.
Subsequently, when I saw that Swahili was one the languages offered at the Workshop, I needed no persuasion to quickly become a participant in this year’s Swahili summer program.
Becoming an active participant was easy with activities like the International Food Festival, where there was a menagerie of international cuisines. I was impressed when I walked through the door to the food festival; it was like being at a mini taste of Chicago in one cavernous-like room. There were elongated tables lining the walls displaying foods which represented the languages and cultures offered this summer. There were appetizing sides, main meal dishes and a variety of desserts that encouraged you to ignore any weight watching goals for the day. There was plenty of space for the children to move about as energetically as they do, along with dancing and singing.
The festive atmosphere and youthful energy proved contagious and compelled me to join with Mwalimu Omar and Mitchell Farmer, the Workshop’s Outreach coordinator and former student of Swahili, to sing an East African favorite song of mine called ‘Malaika’. Our performance was accompanied by the musicians of Salaam band, who played music throughout the Food Festival. I must confess, they played a lot better than I sang! It was an experience highlighted by fun, conversation and learning the cultures represented at the Workshop while enjoying the traditional tasty delicacies prepared by the Workshop’s instructors.
While opportunities for learning extended beyond the classroom, the greater part of our language instruction took place in a more studious and academic setting – the intermediate level Swahili class. At the pinnacle of our class was Deogratias K. Tungaraza whom we called Mwalimu (Swahili word for teacher) Deo. His dedication and elegant teaching style, developed through many years of language instruction, guided our class through eight weeks of intensive language study, honing in our reading, writing and listening skills.
Mwalimu Deo came to Indiana University in 2011, after teaching Kiswahili at Louisiana State University and Ohio State University. Prior to coming to teach in the United States, he held various posts at the University of Dar-es-Salaam and was Founder Director of the Dar-es-Salaam University Press. Despite the diversity of the students in our class, Mwalimu Deo’s awareness of and attention to the individual language skills in our class has served us well and culminated in a growth opportunity for all of us.
While coming from diverse academic and professional backgrounds, all the students in the Intermediate Swahili course shared a strong sense of dedication to Swahili language and culture. One of the students in the class was Samantha Gulden, an IU Swahili Flagship student and Global and international Studies major, who is looking forward to her upcoming trip to Zanzibar, where she will further immerse herself in the Swahili culture and language. Another student, Sam Devoe, is a graduating senior who has family in Kenya. Sam hopes to go to Kenya to coach children in basketball and is taking Swahili to better prepare for this unique opportunity.
Both the Intermediate and introductory Swahili classes participated in a celebratory activity congratulating high school and middle school students, who took part in the Swahili Startalk program. Mwalimu Deo, Sam Devoe and I read a congratulatory poem to the young students called Ngonjera, while Mwalimu Okelo’s class sang a song.
I began by saying this was my first participation in the summer language workshops, that said, I’d like to conclude by saying, I hope to remedy that, by becoming a participant in future language Workshops.
Safari njema everyone!
EugeNia Williams (Swahili level 2, 2014) is a volunteer with the Senior Companion Program – Catholic Charities in Indianapolis, IN. In the past years, EugeNia also served as a Program Assistant at AmeriCorps/Vista with Purdue University Extension Service; worked with AmeriCorps/VISTA – Catholic Charities/Refugee Program, Indianapolis, IN, and 4H Youth Development in Indianapolis, IN; and was a Substitute Teacher in Perry Township.
How I Danced My Way Through Tatar
by Hope Wilson
It can be difficult to get a room full of students to dance. IU Summer Language Workshop students are, of course, a touch more adventurous and less self-conscious than most. After all, they've decided to come to a program in which their classroom time is inevitably marked by making mistakes, and many of them, after which they have to shrug off their embarrassment to go ahead and make even more mistakes: there's a lot of courage involved in learning a new language, and the Workshop students have to have it in spades. Still, even the bravest students tend to get a little bashful when they're asked to engage in spontaneous Tatar dancing.
Even so, at the 2014 Summer Language Worskhop Sabantuy festival, that's just what they did. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of Dilyara Sharifullina and full of her homemade kosh tele, crispy pastries covered with powdered sugar, students representing a number of different languages forgot their bashfulness to learn a few basic steps before dancing freely to a fast-paced Tatar tune.
Just a few days later, these very same students were on-hand to help teach these dance moves to audience members at the Workshop’s Talent Show. Some two dozen students took a break from enjoying others' performances to learn the sort of dance seen at Tatar weddings and to try to keep up with the pace of the music. The dance ended up equal parts chaotic and exuberant, with the participants laughing as they returned to their seats to see the next skit.
The classes offered by the Summer Language Workshop are, without question, intense and challenging; the Tatar language class was no exception to this. Tatar is a Turkic language spoken by approximately six million people, the majority of whom live in Tatarstan, a republic in the Russian Federation. For four hours every morning - and many more hours at home each evening - the Tatar students studied vocabulary, drilled grammar, and practiced speaking new phrases (and, eventually, new sentences and paragraphs) in this language.
Tatar is also a language that is very infrequently taught in the United States: no universities teach it as a regular language course, and there are only a few summer language courses, with most of them abroad in Russia. Resources for learning Tatar are limited, and most of what materials do exist are tailored to Russian speakers who want to learn what is a minority language in their country. There are only a few textbooks for learning Tatar, and the only English-Tatar dictionaries published are slender; there are no reliable online dictionaries, and Google is only beginning to implement programming to translate Tatar webpages. Course materials were frequently developed personally by Dilyara. Yet in spite of this, the course was vibrant and interesting, and activities were both engaging and widely varied. This was not limited to activities in the classroom, but also those outside of it.
After all, in spite of the Workshop’s considerable academic rigor, one of its greatest strengths as a program is how it engages students outside of class. The Tatar class's Sabantuy festival, where the dancing took place, was one example of that. In Tatarstan and the surrounding republics, Sabantuy is the most popular national festival; taking place in late spring, it celebrates the end of plowing with food, dancing, games, and contests. It's not limited to one day, but instead takes place over several weekends, with the celebrations starting in the smallest villages and then rippling out to gradually larger settlements; the final, largest celebration takes place in Kazan. The Workshop’s celebration lasted only a single evening, and lacked the horse races and wrestling that are hallmarks of a traditional Tatar Sabantuy, but it provided some sense of the exuberant fun involved in the traditional holiday. Blindfolded participants were guided to candy by their classmates shouting instructions; there were sack races and feats of balance. It was a welcome break from homework and tests, a lighthearted and fun activity, and yet at the same time it was a valuable glimpse into the deeper aspects of Tatar culture and Tatar life.
While students in the Workshop do indeed work incredibly hard for a great many hours every day, there are also many opportunities for engagement with the cultures of the language they're studying, and there are opportunities for genuine fun. The 2014 Sabantuy celebration was one such chance to learn – but also to explore, to celebrate, and to get over their shyness to spend a little bit of time learning how to dance.
Hope Wilson (Tatar level 1, 2014) is a second-year graduate student in the Slavic department at Ohio State University. Her research interests include looking at how grammar is influenced by language contact with a particular emphasis on the mutual influence of Tatar and Russian on one another.
A Unique Experience
by Daniel Metz
Indiana University, home to the widely-recognized Summer Language Workshop (formerly known as SWSEEL), is also home to the only Turkish Language Flagship Program in the country. The Turkish Language Flagship Program is one that invests a lot of time and attention to a focused group of students in order to give them intensive training in Turkish language and culture before sending them on a year-long period of overseas study in Turkey’s capital city of Ankara. This co-habitation of language programs sparks the opportunity for students at the Bloomington campus to mingle with one of the most interactive communities in the country for Turkish learning.
The Summer Language Workshop, in collaboration with the local Turkish academic community, was able to offer a diverse agenda of events that allowed students to experience various aspects of Turkish culture. These included activities such as coffee hours, networking sessions where students were able to communicate with native speakers; lectures by foreign academia; and cultural demonstrations of art, film, and cuisine.
On June 22nd, near the beginning of the program, the collaborative efforts of instructors and students from each of the Workshop’s languages produced one of the most popular events of the summer, an International Food and Music Festival. The event was held in the Willkie Auditorium in order to be able to comfortably host as many Workshop students as possible, which ended up being more than necessary due to the high student attendance.
The festival featured a wide array of foods and desserts that were prepared by Workshop instructors and were typical of the countries where the languages being taught are commonly spoken. Delicious aromas drifted through the one of the largest student gatherings while expert musicians elegantly played traditional melodies from the countries that were represented.
There were two tables, one on either side of the auditorium, that were quite long, and filled to capacity with delicious, ethnic foods. Of the Turkish foods that were prepared for the event, there were different types of baklava, kısır, hummus, babaghanoush, pita, olives, cheeses, and many other side dishes. It was truly a pleasure for all to experience.
There are several native Turks that belong to the local Turkish community which have been actively working with Indiana University, its Turkish Flagship Program, and the Turkish Student Association to provide an ideal environment for Turkish learning. Two of the many involved members from the Turkish community who contributed to students’ experience this summer are Dr. Sibel Ariogul Crum and Dr. Sibel Begec.
Dr. Crum is a Lecturer of Turkish for Indiana University and taught the Intermediate Turkish class this summer. Dr. Begec, a visiting scholar in Indiana University’s Department of Education, has been an assistant professor in the fields of Art Education and Visual Arts at Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, located in Canakkale, Turkey.
Another interesting figure, relevant to the Workshop’s Turkish segment is Nicholas Kontovas, the instructor for the introductory level Turkish this summer. A SWSEEL alum turned instructor, he is well known in the Summer Language Workshop community in part for his fluency and skill in linguistics, and being a veteran in mastering foreign languages including everything from his native tongue of French, to Russian, Chinese, Uygur, Persian, and of course Turkish. Nicholas was quite the interactive mediator of much of the Turkish-oriented programming, including the conversation hours in which students participated to practice their fluency and communication skills.
One of the more unique events this summer on Turkish culture was Dr. Sibel Begec’s demonstration of the Turkish art of Ebru, known in English as water-marbling. On July 15th, Dr. Begec led a workshop where she demonstrated this distinctive form of art, in which layers of water-insoluble paints are transferred from the surface of water in a metal pan to the face of a blank piece of paper.
Students who were interested in trying to create their own Ebru art were purchased their own art kits by the program. Dr. Begec showed students the various methods, techniques, and utensils that can be utilized to create the art form. Paint brushes, combs, thinly-pointed sticks were just a few of the many tools that could be used to create the final products.
Dr. Begec demonstrated the procedures to form only a few of the different patterns that are commonly used in Ebru, but the intricate designs, abstract color combinations, and ornately-placed patterns that students used, in addition to those shown during the initial presentation, made for a beautiful display of the creativity of the Workshop’s students.
Undoubtedly, this summer’s programming made for easy access to many cultural demonstrations that aren’t typically available to most American students. This includes more than just the language each student was in Bloomington to study. With the opportunity to learn about the cultures associated with 11 different languages, this is an experience which won’t be forgotten by any of the Workshop participants.
Daniel Metz (Turkish level 2, 2014) is studying Journalism, Political Science, and Central Eurasian Studies, and is about to enter his junior year at Indiana University. Daniel is looking to eventually become a political journalist. Originally from Chicago but looking to move to the west coast after graduation, Daniel seeks to utilize his foreign language skills to become a specialist in reporting on international politics.
A Little Bit of Uz-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan in Bloomington
by Kevin Roth
As a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV to the cognoscenti) in Turkmenistan from 2005 to 2008, Uzbekistan very much represented the Other. Several important Turkmen cities lie very near the border, and the northern provinces include a significant Uzbek minority. The locals there crossed the border fairly freely, but volunteers could not without a visa which everyone knew was nearly impossible to acquire. So, despite the myriad attractions that were so close, we could not visit the Registan of Samarkand, nor could we travel to the disappearing Aral Sea, as former PCV Tom Bissell did in his 2003 book Chasing the Sea, a copy of which was eagerly passed from volunteer to volunteer during my time in Turkmenistan.
Uzbekistan is by far the most heavily populated country in Central Asia and boasts such amenities as the region’s only subway (in Tashkent), but the relative size of this year’s Uzbek program stands quite in contrast to this. During the introductory session on the morning of the first day of the Summer Language Workshop this year, another participant inquired which language I had come to study. Having replied Uzbek, she responded, “Oh, one of the big ones.” Given that I had never participated in Workshop before, and still remembering Uzbekistan as the big neighbor from my time in Turkmenistan, at first I could not tell whether she was being sarcastic, but her prediction proved correct, as by myself I constitute half of this summer’s introductory Uzbek course. Studying a new language in a small class offers many advantages, and the only real drawback is that one cannot simply hope that the instructor will call on a different student with a question when one is unprepared.
Before beginning this course, I knew little about Uzbek, except that in its new Latinized form it looks crazy, as xs and qs and apostrophes occur in abundance, as in the following words: o’rtoq (‘friend), qo’y go’shti (‘mutton’), qurg’oqchilik (‘drought’), qo’g’irchoq (‘doll’). In my opinion, Uzbek written in Cyrillic is much more visually appealing, but the Latinized form does have one considerable advantage: when typing on a computer (to, say, look up words in an online dictionary), it is very convenient to have all the necessary characters immediately available, without the need to search for the various diacritical marks that distinguish, say, Turkish.
Our talented instructor, Dr. Gulnisa Nazarova (or “Gulnisa opa” [‘older sister’], as we call her in class), is a native of Tashkent, but usually teaches Uyghur at Indiana University. Since my classmate and I both know Russian, much of the instruction is in that language, rather than English. In this way, we can study two languages at the same time, reviewing Russian as we learn Uzbek. We cannot help but smile when Gulnisa begins to write in Cyrillic without realizing it, or when she makes a statement about “uyg’ur tili,” then quickly corrects herself to say “o’zbek tili.”
In addition to being the most widely spoken Turkic language in Central Asia (and second only to Turkish in the world), Uzbek may lay claim to the title of easiest Turkic language to learn, since it is the only such language without vowel harmony and has a simpler vocalic inventory. As with all Turkic languages, the grammar is refreshingly free of irregularities. Like all Turkic languages, Uzbek is agglutinative in structure, which occasionally creates words of unusual length: qo’ng’irog’ingizni (‘your call’), asabiylashganingizda-chi (‘What about you when you are irritable?’).
On the second day of class we chose Uzbek names for ourselves, a practice common to the pedagogy of all languages (I transform from Kevin to Ignacio in Spanish, and to Kaeso in Latin). Having dissuaded me from naming myself Temur, on account of the dubious reputation of the most famous holder of that name, Tamerlane, Gulnisa bestowed upon me the name Olim (‘scholar’), while my classmate became Sevara (derived from sevmoq, ‘to love’).
In class Gulnisa has exposed us to Uzbek music, particularly the songs of Yulduz Usmonova. Most fascinating was her tale of the epic exchange between that singer and Oxunjon Madaliyev. The latter complained in a song that Uzbek girls were becoming too modern, and that he would turn instead to the more traditional girls of Turkmenistan. Yulduz Usmonova replied with a song of her own, calling upon Madaliyev to do just that, and expecting him to essentially come crawling back before too long. Madaliyev then issued his own musical rebuttal, and the exchange continued over several more songs.
We meet at the Starbucks in the IMU (look for the plaque in the solarium foyer that lists Ira C Batman among the trustees) at 1:00 on Tuesdays and Thursdays for an hour of conversation table. Usually we are joined by some of Gulnisa’s former Uyghur students, with whom we can easily communicate since the two languages are so similar. I suspect that both the Uzbek and Uyghur students fall prey to the narcissism of small differences.
Three of the sixteen chapters in the textbook concern food, so one day we held class not in the morning in our usual classroom in Sycamore Hall, but in the afternoon at Gulnisa’s home, where we were first treated to the customary show of mehmondorchilik (‘hospitality’): tea and snacks, including the blinichki pancakes that are evidence of the Russian influence on Uzbek cuisine, an influence that has been reciprocal, as Uzbek restaurants are common and popular throughout Russian (and in certain parts of Brooklyn). We then prepared the Uzbek national dish: palov. This was the first time I had eaten the rice-based dish since I left Turkmenistan in 2008, and it was just as good as I remembered.
In class we have been watching the movie Kelinlar Qo’zg’oloni (‘The Daughter-in-Laws’ Riot’) in ten-minute increments at the end of class. This movie tells the story of a woman who lives together with her seven married sons and their numerous children. The youngest son’s wife has some new ideas, and hilarity ensues. We also watched clips from an Uzbek movie modeled on Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, a novel familiar to most graduates of the Soviet educational system, as it depicts a very sordid side of American life. I dubbed it Uzbekskaya Tragediya.
Kevin Roth (Uzbek level 1, 2014) teaches Latin at the Atlanta Classical Academy and is a Ph.D. candidate in Classics at SUNY Buffalo, preparing to defend his dissertation this fall. He has been interested in Central Asia and Turkic languages ever since serving in the Peace Corps. At the annual conference of the Association of Central Eurasian Students at IU this past March he presented a paper entitled "However Many Languages One Knows, That Many Times Is He a Person: an Analysis of Neo-Latin Grammars of Turkish and Persian."