Enrollment in Arabic courses and interest in Arabic-focused study abroad programs has increased at many American colleges and universities. Not everyone who studies Arabic will make a career out of it, but even so it can be an invaluable tool for intercultural communication and understanding.
About the Program
Although not a major or minor, courses in Arabic count toward the concentration in Middle East and Islamic World Studies. Arabic is offered at Hamilton through the Department of German, Russian, Italian, and Arabic. Students might choose Arabic as part of their course of study or because they are interested in the people and cultures of the Arabic-speaking world. Arabic can be useful to students with a background in political science or international studies due to the demand for Arabic in contemporary world affairs. Some students take Arabic to help them get jobs with the U.S. government or non-government agencies operating in the Arab world. Students of Arab descent often take Arabic to better understand their heritage and to learn the language of a parent or grandparent. Muslim students often take Arabic to read the Qur’an and other religious texts. Learning Arabic provides access to a vast body of literature and art and fosters the ability to interact with other Arabic speakers.
About the Language
Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages that include Modern Hebrew, Amharic, Tigre, Tigrinya, Syriac, a few Aramaic dialects and Maltese. In the Arab world, 250 million speak Arabic as their native language. Worldwide, 1.2 billion Muslims use Arabic in their prayers and religious recitations. Arabic is also the liturgical language of many Eastern Christian churches.
For practical purposes, we might divide Arabic into three varieties:
Classical Arabic is the oldest type of Arabic that is studied widely. It is the language of the Qur’an and texts from the classical age of the Islamic empire.
Modern Standard Arabic or al-Fusha is a direct descendant of classical Arabic and is now the language of elevated discourse or correspondence, contemporary literature, and the mass media.
Colloquial Arabic, or caammiyya, refers to the regional dialects used in everyday discourse and popular culture.
Arabic is relatively difficult because it requires learning a new script, new consonant sounds, a different syntax and an extensive vocabulary with few cognates. However, the most useful tool for overcoming the inevitable challenges of learning Arabic is a deep and abiding interest in the language and culture. Arabic is not the exclusive realm of elite students or the linguistically gifted. Arabic can be an enjoyable challenge for any student.
Middle East and Islamic World Studies
As a minor, the program requires that students complete five courses in the areas of Arabic and Hebrew language and literature, religion, political science and history.