Tag Archives: Arabic

A year abroad in Jordan

One of the joint degrees we offer at Oxford is in European and Middle Eastern Languages (EMEL). Unlike most of our students, who take their year abroad in the third year of their course, EMEL students go abroad in the second year (the same is true of those studying Russian from scratch). In today’s post Sarah, who studies Spanish and Arabic, tells us about the Arabic part of her year abroad in Jordan.

Only a few months ago, my friends and I went out for our very last meal together in Jordan. We had been there for around nine months, give or take a few weeks, and I think we were all genuinely upset and a little bit tearful to be leaving. It was sad to go, but it also felt a bit strange, given how much time we had spent there, and the many wonderful experiences we had had together in that beautiful country.

Our year in Jordan began in early September, when the weather was still warm and our Arabic still a little bit flimsy. We still spoke to the taxi drivers in formal, fuṣḥā Arabic, the kind of Arabic you hear in news broadcasts and official speeches, but not in the street. But as the heat ebbed away, and the weather turned so cold we started wearing blankets and coats even indoors, we learnt more dialect – both in classes, and through going out in Amman, Jordan’s capital.

At the suggestion of our teachers, we tried mansaf, Jordan’s national lamb and yoghurt dish, at traditional restaurants. We often ate baklava, and the cheesy dessert kanafeh, as a treat on Thursdays (the last day of the working week in Jordan, as it begins again on Sunday). We visited the towering malls of al-Abdali, haggled in the downtown markets and souqs of Wasit al-Balad, felt sophisticated eating cake in classy Jabal al-Weibdeh.

We travelled further afield, to the cities of Irbid and Madaba, to the Red Sea city of Aqaba, to the Roman ruins of Jerash, and of course to Petra and the Wadi Rum. Some of us had the opportunity to visit other parts of the region, and saw the wonders of Lebanon, Egypt and Oman. We met so many kind people, of whom perhaps the kindest were our teachers. They were so generous and shared so much of their lives and culture with us, and we are so grateful. We had so much fun.

I think we also grew more confident, as we were forced to leave the bubble of Oxford. We were living in a different country, with a different culture and a different language that we were trying our best to learn, and it could get hard at times. We had to rely more on each other, and I was so fortunate to share a flat for almost a year with three amazing women, each unique, but all so intelligent and kind. Being abroad built stronger friendships between us. There were ups and downs, highs and lows, but I think we could all enjoy the year so much because we had each other. Soppy, I know, but true.

It was for all those reasons that we felt so sad to leave at the very beginning of June. I was, and continue to be, so grateful for the opportunity we had to live in Jordan for nine months. It is why I am so jealous of the students going abroad this year. I wish you all luck; a little part of me wishes, too, that I was going with you.

What do Shakira and the works of Cervantes have in common?

This post was written by Sarah Wadsworth, a first-year Spanish & Arabic student at St Anne’s College.

“What’s the hardest thing about studying Golden Age Spanish?” my friend says, repeating the question I asked her, pretending to think. She laughs. “The fact that all the words sound the same. They all begin with ‘al’!”

Gross overestimation it undoubtedly is, but in considering the lexicon of just one Spanish text – in this case, Cervantes’ novela Rinconete y Cortadillo – I can see where she’s coming from. Words like ‘almojarifazgo’, ‘alcabala’ and ‘almofía’ abound even in this short story that we study in first year. It’s something we have both noticed, the prevalence of a little syllable which in turn speaks to a wider history of language transference.

IND119216 Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra (1547-1615) 1600 (oil on panel) by Jauregui y Aguilar, Juan de (c.1566-1641); Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, Spain.

For almost 800 years, there was Arabic social and cultural hegemony from Andalusia to Toledo and even into southern France at the Moorish empire’s peak in the 8th century. Though the Reconquista (‘Reconquest’) would eventually return power to the Catholic monarchs with the surrender of Granada in 1492, the effects of centuries of linguistic transference were already evident, a consequence of history that still echoes in so many Spanish words. The influence of Arabic is visible both in the esoteric terms mentioned above and in more vernacular language, as is demonstrated by the Spanish word “hasta” (meaning “until”) and its Arabic cognate “حَتَّى” or “ḥatta”. The place names Andalucía and Almería are also of Arabic origin; they are just two of the hundreds of Arabic names for various regions, cities, towns and villages across the Iberian Peninsula.

Bras’lia – DF, 17/03/2011. Presidenta Dilma Rousseff recebe a cantora Shakira Mebarak. Foto: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR.

From the Moorish characters of numerous Spanish ballads to the magnificent architecture of the Alhambra, it is a past that continues to resonate in both Spanish literature and the language itself. But the modern twist on the tale? Given the emigration of Arabic speakers to Latin America from the 19th century onwards, there are now significant Middle Eastern communities in the New World too, like that in the Colombian city of Barranquilla. There are those with roots in both cultures who have risen to fame – the singer Shakira is just one notable example. The linguistic connections between Arabic and Spanish seem as potent today as they were more than 600 years ago.