We met with Addie Block. Addie is from Springfield, Va USA and she is a PhD Student in Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Michigan. In an interview with Addie, we asked her the following questions:
Tell us about yourself
I’m Addie Block and I’m currently a PhD student in Linguistic Anthropology at the University of Michigan. My research centers on language ideologies, language policy, and orthographic ideologies in Morocco between Arabic and Tamazight. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2017, majoring in Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures and Geography. While at UT, I rode my bike from Texas to Alaska with Texas 4000 in the fight against cancer, volunteered with Arabic-speaking refugees in Austin, and worked as an Arabic language partner and instructional aide.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
I’ve been studying Arabic since 2010! I was 15 and went to Egypt with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) Program. I did the program again in 2012 for a semester in Morocco. After that, I participated in the Arabic Flagship Program at UT and spent my Capstone year in Morocco where I studied MSA, Moroccan Darija, and Egyptian Arabic. I achieved 3+ in reading, writing, listening, and speaking in 2017. I’m definitely not at that level now but I use Arabic in my daily life and as a part of my research.
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
NSLI-Y is a program for the study of “critical languages” abroad and I selected Arabic because it would offer me the ability to see more parts of the world with 20+ countries having Arabic as an official language. My elementary, middle and high schools in Springfield, VA had large immigrant communities from the Arabic-speaking world so I had exposure from early on in my life. My family also hosted many exchange students when I was young, including Arabic-speakers, which inspired me to apply for exchange programs as well.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
While on Capstone through the Arabic Flagship Program, our classes were divided between MSA, Moroccan Darija, and Egyptian Arabic. It was certainly challenging to switch from one class to another and mentally compartmentalize these varieties of Arabic in order to avoid mixing them. While it was frustrating at times, becoming highly proficient in two dialects has made it much easier for me to adapt to new dialects and feel comfortable with being uncomfortable. I have now been exposed to more dialects and language variation even within Morocco, such as Hassaniya Arabic, archaic Moroccan dialects, and Moroccan Jewish Arabic, and because of my Flagship experience, I am always excited to learn about the intricacies of variation. Another language challenge was serving as a volunteer teacher at the Childhood Protection Center in Meknes, Morocco. We worked with at-risk youth, aged 8-18, and had difficulty establishing authority, respect, and trust, by using language that they could relate to AND that was also professional. Engaging with the boys at the center, meant that we had to acquire a different register of Moroccan Arabic than we were being taught in the classroom.
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
Time. Patience. Open-mindedness. Tenacity.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
After completing my PhD program, I hope to pursue a career outside of academia in the realms of language policy and international education. I believe that study abroad and language programs need to be restructured and redesigned to accurately reflect and equip students for multilingual and multicultural contexts. Many programs inherently reify borders relating to nation-states, languages, and cultures. My aim is to deconstruct the frameworks within these programs that consequently bound these phenomena as discrete entities.
Quick Wee Questions
What’s your favourite Arabic word?
dakchi illi kayn. داكشي اللي كاين It is what it is (in Moroccan Darija).
What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?
ana mashi howa hadak/hiya hadik. أنا ماشي هو هاداك/هي هاديك I’m not myself.
Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?
Nawal El Saadawi.
What is your favourite place in the Arab World?
My favorite place in the Arabic-speaking world is Douar Anguizem, in Morocco. It is a small village where my partner’s family resides and where we celebrated our wedding.
What is your favourite Arabic quote?
khalli dak ljml ragd. خلي داك الجمل راكد Let the sleeping camel lie.
What is your favourite Arabic book? Why?
امرأة عند نقطة الصفر
What is your favourite Arab dish? Why?
Ma7shi. My Egyptian host mom would make it with all kinds of vegetables and she just put so much time and care into making it every time.