Fall 2011 More News News: Arabic Studies

The Virtual Library of Freedom

A new project at William & Mary is the Virtual Library of Freedom, a group started by William & Mary alumna Hannah Thornton ’10.

Melissa Woods, a student at William & Mary, writes:
The Virtual Library of Freedom (VLF) is a student organization founded in 2010 that aims to promote cross-cultural discussion online between American and Middle Eastern students. The organization has built a web-site ( that features a database of documents, a student blog, and discussion forum, and is working on translating the entire site into Arabic, French, and Spanish. The documents included in the database discuss the topics of civil liberties, good governance, human rights, Islam and democracy, international relations, and non-violent protest. Blogs and discussions focus on current events, such as the death of Gaddafi in Libya. The web site is still an ongoing project, but each semester we are making more and more progress! VLF also seeks to promote discussion at William and Mary through on-campus events such as the “VLF Global Activism Week.” In the future, the organization hopes to partner with student organizations at Middle Eastern universities to foster dialogue and present more diverse opinions on the site.

Fall 2011 News News: Arabic Studies

The Arab Spring at William & Mary

The Arab world has witnessed a series of political upheavals this past year which would have been difficult to imagine in past years. The events have affected the faculty and students of the Arabic section in many different ways. Several students found themselves in Egypt or Syria as the revolutions were getting underway, and had to end their programs early, sometimes even before they started. Several faculty members also found themselves in the middle of rapidly unfolding events in Tunisia and Egypt. Prof. Chadia Mansour was visiting family in Tunisia over winter break just as the demonstrators took over the streets in Tunis and other cities, and she found herself on herself on a plane headed back to the US just as Ben Ali was headed out on a plane himself. Our Arabic language house tutor, Hagar Eltarabishy, was one of the multitudes who took to Tahrir Square in Cairo last spring, participating in demonstrations which led to the end of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Shukran ya Hagar!

The revolutionary events have had an effect also on the way that some of our Arabic classes have been taught. Prof. Eisele’s Arabic 308 class in Spring 2011 included a review and discussion of the latest news of the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, which happened to dovetail with many of the readings from both the classical period and the modern period, which dealt with the notions of tyranny and injustice quite often. This semester his Arabic 303 Media Arabic class devoted much time and class discussion to the revolutions and their aftermath, and included many news reports and documentaries on the events themselves.

Prof. Chadia Mansour has been especially active in this regard. She is an active tweeter and blogger on the subject of the Tunisian revolution, and is currently teaching a special topics course on the subject of the Arab spring. Her summer was taken up with research and preparations for the course, which included attending conferences about “Tunisia’s post January 14th Revolution” in al “Jahedh center” and Center of Islam and Democracy (CSID) in Tunis, where she also conducted interviews with young people on their perspectives on the Tunisian Revolution. She in turn conducted interviews with secular and Islamist activists from diverse backgrounds such as lawyers, professors, engineers , (including the well-known activist Mahdi Barhoumi who had a history of activism during and after Ben Ali regime), as well as interviews with members of internal ministry and military on the events of January 12 to the 14th and Ben Ali’s escape. As part of the course she has coordinated with activists from across the political spectrum and scheduled them as virtual guest speakers via skype in the Arab Spring class.

Prof. Mansour has also been active in setting up public forums for the William & Mary community to hear about and discuss these events, including a forum on the Tunisian Revolution, in Spring 2011, which included a guest speaker from Tunisia, Soubeika Bahri, as well as lecture and discussion by Prof. Mansour. More recently, Prof. Mansour was instrumental in bringing about the recent forum on the Libyan revolution, which included a visit by the Libyan ambassador to the United States. As she describes it: “One of my students – Malik Tatanaki- requested an independent study, and I advised him to work on the Libyan revolution since he is originally from Libya. This independent study led to the idea of holding an event on campus on Libya’s transition to democracy. Co-sponsored by the College & the charity, Libya al Hurra (“Free Libya”), Malik and I organized the event to host the First Libyan delegation at the college of William & Mary with Ambassador Al Aujali as the first Libyan official on campus on November 20th, 2011.” Following that, Chadia had a chance to try to change the perspective of Frank Shatz, a columnist for the local newspaper when she sat down with him for an interview on the topic of the Arab spring which was published in the paper on Nov. 18th.

The revolutions are far from complete, and we are following the events in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Tunisia closely and wish our Arab brothers and sisters in the streets throughout the Arab world success and peace in their struggle for democracy, social justice, and political delousing.

Featured News News: Arabic Studies

The Arab world revolutions and uprising: from the personal to the political

Roundtable discussion

The Arab world revolutions and uprising: from the personal to the politicalrevolutions in arab world rountable discussion

The revolutions, uprisings, and rebellions which have convulsed the Arab world have transfixed the world. Please join us for a discussion of these events from the perspective of citizens from countries which have witnessed or are witnessing these epochal changes.

Egypt:       Hany SalahEldeen
(Phd candidate, Dept. of Computer Science, Old Dominion University)

Tunisia:        Imen Laabidi
(Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant, Arabic House, William & Mary)

Libya:        Selwa Sheibani
(Depts. of Arabic & French, Virginia Commonwealth University)

Sudan:        Nadia Makkawi
(Dept of Modern Languages, William and Mary)

Thursday    April 21
Tyler 102
5:00 to 7:00 pm

Presented by William &Mary Programs in Arabic and Middle East Studies with support from the James H. Critchfield Fund

News: Arabic Studies

Prof. Roger Allen on “Literary History and Generic Change”

Lecture in Arabic:

Prof. Roger Allen
University of Pennsylvania

“Literary History and Generic Change”

Monday, March 14, 3:30 pm Washington 201

The Arabic section will be hosting a major figure in the field of modern Arabic literature on Monday, March 14 in the person of Prof. Roger Allen of the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently the Sascha Jane Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics in the School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, and Professor of Arabic and Comparative Literature in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, and since 2005 he has been Chair of the Department. He also has served as the president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) during the year 2009-2010.

(For more information see: )

Prof. Allen has made contributions in many different areas, and his visit to William and Mary will highlight two of them. First, in light of his expertise and contribution to the field of Arabic language pedagogy, he will be reviewing and evaluating the Arabic textbook project at its current stage of completion, including both the Modern Standard Arabic volume as well as the Moroccan colloquial volume. Second,  as perhaps the most well known and most highly regarded specialist on Modern Arabic fiction in the United States and Europe, he will deliver a lecture entitled “Literary History and Generic Change.” He will discuss a genre unique to the Arabic tradition, termed the “maqaama,” which employs rhymed prose to present a series of picaresque vignettes involving the same rogue character and narrator. Prof. Allen will discuss the importance of this genre to the Classical tradition, as well as its manifestations and reflexes in the modern period.

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News News: Arabic Studies

Tunisian Revolution Forum

February 11, 2011 6:00pm

Open Forum and Discussion on Tunisian Revolution
led by
Chadia Mansour
Blow Hall 334

Featured News News: Arabic Studies

Arabic Textbook Project

Ahlan ya gamaa`! (Hello gang!)
We are making progress on our Arabic textbook series.
We have completed and tested 4 chapters of volume one, and are working and testing the next 4 chapters this semester. It has been bumpy at times, but we are confident that in the end the project will be a significant advancement in Arabic language pedagogy.

In addition to the textbook for Modern Standard Arabic, we will be editing and testing the Moroccan textbook this summer in Meknes. This is a significant step, because it represents a serious attempt to deal with the issue of variation in Arabic language studies which until now has not been dealt with in a comprehensive fashion.

There are other projects underway at the present time that are trying to deal with this issue, but we feel that ours deals comprehensively with the three main issues that underlie the challenges that face learners and teachers of Arabic, namely: linguistic reality, linguistic dissonance, and linguistic choice.

1. Linguistic reality in Arabic must recognize the issue of variation–both the difference between the written and spoken varieties, as well as the geographic variation between the spoken dialects. We handle this by providing information on dialect variation in the Modern Standard Arabic textbook as part of the “linguistic culture” section of the text, as well as by providing related but freestanding textbooks on four of the main Arabic dialects: Moroccan, Iraqi, Egyptian, and Syrian.

2.Linguistic dissonance must be taken into account in designing materials which try to handle this reality: introducing too much variation at certain times and in certain contexts may be detrimental to the acquisition of any one of the varieties, and care must be taken in designing materials to take this into account.This is one reason why independent but related textbooks are provided for the four main dialects–separating the “codes” will allow attention to be paid to “accuracy” in each of them, which will facilitate the later development of native-like strategies for integrating the various codes.

3. Linguistic choice has to do with which varieties are chosen to be taught. Rather than replacing one linguistic ideology with another (Egyptian Arabic as the spoken “koine” instead of Modern Standard or another dialect), we believe that this choice should be left to the particular circumstances of each program and context of learning. For example, learning in country should demand that the local dialect be taught alongside the Modern Standard form. Outside of in country learning (i.e. outside of the Arab world), we should encourage introduction of dialectal varieties into the curriculum by providing good textbooks which will allow programs to offer dialect classes depending on the native dialects of their instructors.

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News News: Arabic Studies

Beyond the Standard: Department of Education funds texts stressing dialects in Arabic

By Jim Ducibella | May 10, 2010

In a Washington Hall office the size of an average walk-in closet, the future of the Arabic language is being designed. Not the language itself, but the manner in which the language will be taught for years to come.

Close friends John Eisele and Driss Cherkaoui, both associate professors of modern languages and literatures at William & Mary, plan to devote much of their foreseeable future to producing seven textbooks. Three of them will focus on Modern Standard Arabic, the written form that is used across the Arab world. They also will write one volume each on the four major dialects of the language: Moroccan, Egyptian, Syrian and Iraqi. All will be supplemented with videos, CDs and other multi-media accompaniments.

The United States Department of Education is so enthusiastic about this monumental project that it has awarded Eisele and Cherkaoui a three-year International Research and Studies grant totaling $728,000. The grant will support the development, testing, revision and production of a little more than half of the project. That would include two levels of Modern Standard Arabic, and the Moroccan and Iraqi dialect modules.

During the spring semester, the professors were writing part one of the Modern Standard Arabic textbook, as well as working on the textbook on the Moroccan dialect.

Pearson Education is publishing the series. Although Pearson publishes in many different languages, the professors say this will be Pearson’s inaugural effort at publishing a textbook in Arabic.

A portion of their work has already been pilot-tested at the University of Arizona, under former student/now Arabic instructor Scott Brown. Brown reported that his students “really liked it, really thought it was excellent.” The professors are sounding out contacts at other universities about using their textbooks, particularly for summer programs. Cherkaoui, who founded the Arab-American Language Institute in Morocco in 2008, said he will start pilot-testing their work there this summer.

A different way to teach Arabic

“This is really different from anything Arabic has ever had,” Eisele said. “And it is really unusual for a major publisher to publish in a foreign language for which the audience is so small. So this is a big step for them.”

The audience seeking to learn Arabic may be small by comparison, but seems to be growing like a teenage boy.

Eisele joined the College in 1994; Cherkaoui arrived two years later. In those days, they may have taught Arabic to between 60 and 80 students. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that number grew steadily. Now the two professors work with between 250 and 300 students. Relative to the size of the College, the William & Mary program is one of the most robust in the country.

“The market changed tremendously after 9/11,” Cherkaoui explained. “The number of students grew to four and five times more than before. The same thing happened with hiring. Before 9/11, all across America there were maybe two or three university teaching positions open per year. Now, there are universities that have so many openings they can’t fill them all, since hundreds of universities have started Arabic programs. The need is there for a more complete manner of teaching the language.”

The U.S. government agrees, and feels a more inclusive style of teaching Arabic can only help in the war against terrorism.

“The government actually has been trying to force the field to teach more dialects,” Eisele said. “It’s had a salutatory effect on our project. It’s a shame it has to come through this channel, but it forces the field to deal with linguistic reality. The American government and military felt a tremendous demand for fluency in Arabic.”

For the past 15 years or so, there has been one dominant Arabic textbook used in the United States:
Al-Kitaab. That’s it. Produced by Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Al-Kitaab is three volumes long, supplemented by a host of videos.

“It’s well done, but it doesn’t really teach Arabic in a communicative fashion,” Eisele explained. “It doesn’t really get into the different dialects. It does have some excellent supplementary materials, but it can be improved upon.”

They also found that Al-Kitaab didn’t sustain or challenge third- and fourth-year students to their satisfaction. The two men were spending hours revising outside materials, getting videos for their class, making up question sets to accompany reading assignments.

“Finally, you have a pile of materials and you ask yourself, ‘What am I going to do with all of this?’,” Cherkaoui said. “And all you can think of is ‘Do something with it.'”

Several years ago, the men began meeting once a weekly at a coffeehouse. They not only discussed the ancillary material they were creating, but they also explored the intellectual aspects of the Arab world, especially poetry and literature, themes that they could wrap into the textbook.

“We could not start this from scratch if we had not known each other for so long,” Cherkaoui said. “We have been talking about something like this for a long time.”

Eisele produced a book proposal that Pearson heartily endorsed. The prospectus for publication became the foundation for the grant application, which carries with it the possibility for renewal.

Convincing college educators that there is value in something other than the traditional approach taken by Al-Kitaab will be an obstacle for the professors. But it may be one of the less imposing. There will be many hurdles to be scaled before all is said and done.

Arabs view their language differently from the way other cultures view their languages. To them, classic Arabic is a “sacred” language, since it is the language of the Koran, and it is valued above all other forms of the language. The modern version of this classical language, Modern Standard Arabic, is the language that is taught in schools throughout the Arabic world. It is used in most newscasts, as well as being the primary form of the written language used in literature and journalism.

The traditionalist view

Many involved in teaching Arabic, both native and non-native speakers, believe that Modern Standard Arabic should be the primary focus of Arabic language teaching in the first two to three years, leaving the learning of the everyday colloquial speech to a later point in time-if at all.

“This attitude is something we have to deal with,” Eisele said. “Hopefully, we can change some of those attitudes, but things have already begun to change. A generational shift is going on right now in the States with regard to teaching the dialects, but in the Arabic world the traditional view still holds sway. This is despite the fact that Arabs themselves rarely use the formal standard language for communicative tasks outside of a small circumscribed group. This is especially true in Egypt and Lebanon, where the dialect has been gradually taking over some of the tasks (such as news reading) usually assigned to the standard language. But even in these countries, many traditional language educators view the teaching of dialects as beneath them.”

Eisele continued: “We believe there’s room for us to establish a base of support, and to say ‘You know, we’re not against the literary language. We want to teach it and teach it well. But we also want to teach some of the common, everyday language, and that means we have to take in some of these dialects as well.’ ”

Eisele and Cherkaoui argue that any language that dates back almost 2,000 years carries a lot of culture with it. Previous texts have not done a good job of incorporating information on that cultural background, which they consider a serious drawback, and one which they are taking great pains to avoid.

“American students need to understand what this culture is all about,” Cherkaoui said. “Is language separate from culture? I don’t think so. Without understanding the culture, you may know some language, but that’s all you know. Someone who comes to America and knows English, but not our culture, feels really strange. That adds some weight to our shoulders. We really have to think clearly how to implement Arab culture into the textbooks.”

The plan is to film videos in several Arab countries, authentic scenes featuring authentic people employing everyday dialect. That work has been contracted out by Pearson, but there is a commitment to shoot in such a way as to “put” students into real situations.

“We hope,” Cherkaoui says, “to give an adequate accounting of both the colloquial dialects as spoken languages and of Modern Standard Arabic as a written language, and how they function together in Arab society and culture. We are not partisans of one side or the other (colloquial versus Modern Standard), but believe that students should be exposed to the variation in the Arabic language situation as early as possible. This will serve to deepen their understanding of Arab societies, cultures and identities.”

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News News: Arabic Studies

Ed Dept. Grant Awarded

John Eisele and Driss Cherkaoui have been awarded an International Reseach and Studies (IRS) instructional materials grant from the Dept. of Education. The grant, totaling $728,000 over three years, will be used to develop a textbook series for Arabic language, both the literary language as well as four main dialects of Arabic. The project, entitled “Teaching Arabic Variation: Developing language resources for integrating Modern Standard Arabic and Arabic dialects,”  addresses the need for greater numbers of individuals who are knowledgeable about and fluent in the Arabic language. Since an important aspect of proficiency in Arabic is the attainment of productive fluency (in speaking) in at least one of its dialects, and some passive fluency in one or more other dialects (in listening), the curriculum and language learning resources to be developed under this grant will include workbooks on four main Arabic dialects (Moroccan, Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi) in addition to a series of three textbooks which focus on Modern Standard Arabic.

In the first volume of the latter series, each unit has as its cultural focus a different urban cultural center in the Arab world, and as part of that feature distinctive phrases in the local dialect are provided to give students their first taste of Arabic linguistic reality in all its variety. In the dialect modules information is likewise provided on important local dialects within the national spheres treated: for example, the Egyptian Arabic module would include information on distinctive features of Sa`iidi, Alexandrian, and Bedouin dialects, among others, which are an important part of the linguistic competence of native speakers of this dialect. The currect grant will support the development, testing, revision, and production of a little more than half of the project: two levels of MSA, and two modules of the dialects (Moroccan and Iraqi). The project in its entirety will eventually provide materials for at least three to five years of study of Modern Standard Arabic and at least one of the Arabic dialects covered by the materials, depending on the number of class hours per week and the amount of time devoted to the study of a dialect. They will be learner centered, technology-rich, and tasked based, with each unit developing the four skills in a coordinated and focused manner. The materials will be pilot-tested at The College of William and Mary as well as at several institutions in the United States and abroad, and will be published in both printed form as well as in an online format.

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