The Academic Program is divided into two primary tracks, Classical and Modern Standard. Incoming students have the option to apply to either, or portions of each, both of which provide training at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels.
Classical Arabic Program
Within the Academic Program, Classical Arabic refers primarily to the language of the Qur’an, and secondarily to the various texts and works that are directly inspired by both its form and content. At the intermediate and higher levels, students receive direct exposure to Islamic legal, theological|philosophical, and mystical texts from the classical and medieval periods.
The first four levels are foundational in that they focus on “linguistic mobility”, meaning equipping a student with the necessary skills in grammar and morphology (nahw and sarf), and to excel in the reading, understanding, analyzing, translating, and interpreting of classical texts. This is in addition to “Classic Four” skills development necessary for advanced to intermediate fluency.
Level 5 then represents a unique milestone in the student’s Arabic development, as they transition from the task of learning the language to using it as a tool to access classical texts. This level is comprised of rotating, proprietary studies modules focusing on both classical and contemporary subject matter. Among these mini-modules (each usually two weeks in length) are Rhetoric (Balagha), Scriptural Exegesis, Poetry (pre-Islamic and classical), Psychology, Literary Criticism, Islamic History, Theology, Prophetic History, Speech Presentation (Khutba), and Terminology of Sacred Law (Shariah) and Prophetic traditions (Hadith). The books we utilize are all authentic, original, classical texts, which itself is evidence of the advanced level reached by Qasid students after fifteen short months, especially for those who come with absolutely no knowledge of the language. And those who have a previous background in Arabic are likely to complete the program in even less time.
Modern Standard Arabic Program
Modern Standard refers to the standard literary and communicative language of the Middle East and North Africa, recognized as one of the UN’s six official languages. It is the common medium for nearly all formal communication, both printed and spoken. And, as the official language of all Arab countries, it provides the most versatile tool for those interested in living or working in an Arab country, or those whose professional field intersects with any aspect of the Arab world.
Levels 1 through 3 of the MSA track follow normal undergraduate curricula, each level equivalent to an entire year of university Arabic. Currently, the base text is the now standard al-Kitaab series, ensuring a smooth transition for those continuing studies at their home institutions. All four language skills are emphasized from the outset such that students develop a balanced, confident command of the language. Actual texts are introduced early on in the program, helping students become fully functional outside the classroom.
Levels 4 and 5 provide advanced students with an opportunity to further enhance their language skills through rotating modules dealing with a variety of topics. Topics include Media Arabic, Readings in International Relations, The Arabic Novel and Short Story, Poetry, Literary Criticism, and Economics. No language acquisition materials are used other than the authentic books and audio segments used by Arab university students. And thus, graduating students will find themselves well equipped to engage the majority of Arab society, culture, and literature with ease.
Streams of Diglossia in the Middle East
As a student of Arabic, you are probably aware that there exist different varieties of the Arabic language spoken in the Arab world. How familiar, nonetheless, are you with these differentiations?
Since Qasid is offering ‘ammiyya classes starting in the coming weeks, we thought of giving you a brief backgrounder on the different streams and dialects of the Arabic language.
Let’s start by looking into the phenomenon of diglossia.
What exactly is it?
Well, a simple definition is it’s a sociolinguistic phenomenon where different varieties of a language exist in accordance to specific social contexts often dichotomized as formal and informal situations.
As far as diglossia is concerned, Arabic—for various practical reasons—has been categorized into three variants: Classical (fusha), Modern Standard (MSA), and Colloquial (‘Ammiyya).
Fusha is the oldest form of Arabic and is the language of the Qur’an, sacred texts, poetry and religious sermons. Until a couple of decades ago, it was the most-commonly taught type of Arabic on college campuses. It was first used in pre-Islamic Arabia and had continued to be widely adopted by Arabs up until the Abbasid Caliphate.
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is directly derived from fusha and has become the language of correspondence and discourse, the media, contemporary literature. MSA is still considered a formal, mainly written language that is not really used in day-to-day interactions, but is largely taught in Arab schools and used at workplaces, business circles, and governmental offices.
On the other hand, colloquial Arabic, or ‘ammiyya, refers to national and regional dialects that occupies popular culture media; including movies and music, and daily-life communications. The Middle East and the North African region carry numerous forms of ‘ammiyya that varies according to geography, socio-economic as well as religious concerns. Linguists have generally considered a dialectical division existing between the Middle East and North Africa, followed closely by a division between conservative Bedouins and sedentary dialects.
Some linguistic scholars have categorized the dialect groups into the following four:
- The Maghrib: Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, and Tunisia
- Libya and Egypt
- The Levant: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, and parts of Iraq.
- The Gulf Area: Saudi Arabia, Yemen, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar.
While others have divided the major dialect groups into six:
- Egyptian Arabic, spoken by around 76 million in Egypt. It is one of the most understood varieties of Arabic, due in large part to the widespread distribution of Egyptian films and television shows throughout the Arabic speaking world.
- Gulf Arabic, spoken by around 34 million people in Arab states of the Persian Gulf and eastern Saudi Arabia.
- Iraqi Arabic, spoken by about 29 million people in Iraq.
- North Mesopotamian Arabic, spoken by around 7 million people in northern Iraq, northern Syria and southern Turkey.
- Levantine (or Mediterranean) is spoken by almost 35 million people in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, and Turkey.
- Maghrebi Arabic, heavily influenced by Berber in pronunciation is spoken by around 45 million North Africans in Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Niger, and western Egypt; it is often difficult for speakers of Middle Eastern Arabic varieties to understand. The Berber influence in these dialects varies in degree.
Linguists have also noted other varieties that include the following:
- Andalusi Arabic, spoken in Spain until 15th century, now extinct.
- Bahrani Arabic, spoken by Bahrani Shia in Bahrain and in Oman.
- Central Asian Arabic, spoken in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan, is highly endangered
- Hassaniya Arabic, spoken in Mauritania, some parts of Mali and Western Sahara
- Hejazi Arabic, spoken in Hejaz, western Saudi Arabia
- Judeo-Arabic dialects
- Maltese, spoken in Malta, is the only one to have established itself as a fully separate language, with independent literary norms. It is the only Semitic tongue written in the Latin alphabet.
- Najdi Arabic, spoken in Nejd, central Saudi Arabia
- Shuwa Arabic, spoken in Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, and Sudan
- Sudanese Arabic, spoken in Sudan
- Yemeni Arabic, spoken in Yemen, southern Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, and Somalia
Generally speaking, Arabs; particularly those living close in proximity, are able to understand and follow the various dialects that exist in other parts of the region. At its extreme, however, these dialects may not even be mutually intelligible and some linguists may even categorized some as being a completely different language vis-a-vis Arabic altogether.
It is popularly believed that even though Arabic-speakers are able to understand one another in a general sense, they often have trouble understanding the North African dialects, apart from Egyptian, which has gained popularity through popular media culture.
Nevertheless, the ability to comprehend one another and their familiarity with the different dialects depends on the level of education and exposure to other dialects, i.e. by picking it up through music, soap operas, and contemporary poetry, as well as through their command of the MSA, which they learn through formal schooling.
MSA is, in a way, the lingua franca among Arabs of differing nationalities. However, many Arabs grow up knowing fusha and ‘ammiyya, and would often interchange between the two in their conversations based on differing context and counterparts.
If you have reached a point in your studies where you are comfortable enough to pick up a dialect to complement your Arabic learning, which ‘ammiyya dialect should you choose?
Teachers say that the choice returns to your own preference and also the availability of dialect teachers, textbooks and tutors. It is nonetheless useful to know that the Egyptian ‘ammiyya is the most widely-spoken dialect in the Arab world due to the popularity of Egyptian movies.
The Levantine dialect is also an excellent choice due to its breadth of usage in the region, with Syria spearheading a growing number of television shows and popular media’s preference for the Levantine dialect.
If you are planning to travel to the Gulf or Maghrib regions, or you are planning on pursuing a career, conducting research and specializing in the two areas, then it would be better for you to select one of the regions’ dialects.
Whatever the reason, learning ‘ammiyya is an excellent choice to pursue as part of your Arabic studies.