Workin’ and Studyin’

21 Oct

I (Phillip) haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I’d write an update on my work and study here.

First of all, I am teaching English classes at CGE 3 evenings a week. I had a rough interview with the director, but, in the end, was able to convince her that I could do the job effectively. I also emphasized that, since I am her husband, it would be beneficial financially as well. I teach two classes this semester, Intermediate 1 from 4:00 – 6:00 pm, and Advanced 2 from 6:30 – 8:30 pm.

Teaching has been much more challenging than I was initially expecting. Though I am a native speaker, and consider myself relatively well-versed in English Grammar/Syntax, I have never before been charged with explaining English grammar to non-natives. The fact that our students often want colloquial, conversational usage throws another interesting twist. I often find myself giving them phrases and words, only to tell them not to say it to just anyone, or not to write this word/phrase in a formal context. My students have been, generally speaking, diligent and enthusiastic. This has made my life a lot easier as a teacher.

As for studying, I am engaging in a multiple-front, sort of mixed-bag approach. I do plenty of reading on my own, in the mornings and late at night in particular. I have also been able to work on some projects for CGE’s main director, Fred. Fred wrote a book a few years back, “101 Most Used Verbs in Spoken Arabic: Jordan and Palestine.” He recently published a revised 2nd edition, and wants to revise the audio files. Long story short, I am reading all of the English with two other Jordanians and, thus, my voice will be the one people hear when they purchase the book. That’s a bigger deal because the book is going to be published by Georgetown University Press for publication in America!

Phillip, Maryiam, and Fred working in our living room to record Arabic/English pronunciation examples for the CD to accompany Fred’s Arabic book.

I am working 6 “Fred” hours a week. In addition to the recordings, I am helping with Arabic coursework that will be used in future semesters, and occasionally helping with a few other projects as well. In exchange for my work, I get 2 hours a week for my own projects. Really, all this means is that I get access to one of our instructors 2 hours a week to ask all the questions I want. I had my first session yesterday, with Maryam, and it was a productive time. My greatest need, in terms of the spoken language, is practice and the ability to ask about finer points of grammar/syntax. I found myself asking “Which verb is best in this context?” or “What preposition do I use for this verb?”

Unfortunately, there is a real paucity of good materials for the spoken language used in Jordan. I am taking notes, both mental and written, and hope, one day, to work on a resource for people wanting to learn to speak in Jordan.

One of the most fascinating issues in dealing with the dialect(s) in Jordan is that Amman is about 1/2 Palestinian, 1/2 Jordanian. The city dialect is a bit “lighter” than the nearby suburban and rural dialects. This is common in most parts of the Arab-speaking world. What is interesting about Amman is that Palestinians have a number of verbs, phrases, proverbs, etc. that are not used much by Jordanians, even in the same city/area.
Yesterday, I was speaking with Maryam, who is from a suburb of Amman called Zarqa (“City Folk,” especially Palestinians in Amman, would pronounce it Zer’a, while Jordanians, especially those from the city, pronounce it Zarga) and I used the verb بقي (pronounced ‘bigiy’ by a male in the dialect) which means “He remained, stayed, kept doing something.” When I used it, she stopped me and said “We (Jordanians) use ظلّ (pronounced ‘Dall’ in the dialect), more.” I mentioned that the former is found in Fred’s book, to which she responded that Palestinians use that verb more (Fred had several Palestinians helping him with the book). I found this to be fascinating. In the same city/area, namely Amman and its surroundings, you have a diversity of pronunciation and usage that, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist to this degree within such a small area.

Another interesting colloquial idiosyncrasy in Jordan is the gender association with the pronunciation of the ق. In most cities of the Levant (Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan) and also Egypt, it is very common for all speakers to pronounce this uvular plosive simply as a glottal stop (thus for الزرقاء, “al-Zarqa'” you hear ‘Zer’a’ by most Palestinians in Amman). In Jordan, however, for a variety of reasons, it is deemed more feminine to pronounce it as a glottal stop, and more masculine to pronounce it as a “g.” In Syria or Lebanon, or Jerusalem, for example, there is no such gender stereotype associated with this pronunciation. Everyone in the cities of these countries/areas use the glottal stop pronunciation.

As always, there are lots of things about which I could spend time writing, but I will spare you unending details. This is my life, though, boring as it may seem to many. Arabic really is a fascinating language for so many reasons. Speakers, even speakers who are relatively uneducated in formal terms, have a vast amount of information and insight linguistically (even though they don’t always express it in accurate grammatical terminology). I am enjoying my immersion.

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