Now what?

My layover in Paris was scheduled to depart soon, and I had yet to eat lunch. With thirty minutes until take-off, I quickly purchased a souvenir for my younger sister and thought it best to stuff it in my carry-on away from the man to my left, for I noticed his signals to his partner-in-crime whenever a bag was left unattended in the duty-free shop. I stored the Eiffel Tower in the back pocket to ensure its safety, and smiled upon catching sight of the laminated cover my mother had stuffed in last minute.

My mother is an Arabic and Quran instructor, as is my father, and she felt that an Arabic grammar book would help her 18-year old daughter on the other side of the world. After receiving the slim plastic-bound handwritten gift from her student’s grandfather, she deemed me a worthy final destination. The keepsake later accompanied me to my Arabic classes in Jordan, where I gathered gems that I’ll show in a story for another day.

I soon entered the local university and studied language engineering, properly known as linguistics. As a member of the final graduating class of linguists at UH, I reconsidered my decision to join the department too many times to count, and soon grew accustomed, even eager, to watch the utter shock plastered on most faces after hearing the l-word.

One million EPP, V→T, T→C, and X-bar trees later, I feel that I’ve been a linguist since childhood, maybe even PRO at the controls. Though I am born and raised in Houston, my parents pride themselves upon my classical Arabic literacy. They trained me to speak not a word of English until the tender age of five, when I was forced to leave the nest for the big and bad first grade. That may explain my unnaturally talkative nature and awkward self-expression.

However, learning Arabic formally for twelve years can make or break a poor soul. The journey wasn’t worthwhile for some of my former classmates, and a 3-minute dialogue effectively bankrupts their vocabulary bank. Though the fourth and seventh grades served me well, I soon lost interest in a world to which I couldn’t relate. But of course, how could my Eurocentric mentality appreciate the language of multitudinous peoples? I wish the world had invested time and effort in lovers like me. The beauty of the mind and its wondrous ability to process two worlds simultaneously. The ever-pressing issue of Arabic language change. The effect of Orientalist discourse on modern society.  The origins similarities and differences of both tongues, and implications in the philosophical, religious, and political world. Linguistics and modernity…. now what?

I live in a world that has yet to provide me with an answer to these questions among many others that subconsciously affect the Western individual. This is why I choose to be the change.

I extracted some ideas from my personal statement in composing today’s post 🙂


Because I’m an English major, people assume I’m an avid writer, eating, drinking, and sleeping research papers because they are the joy of my life. When I clarify that my real interest in languages is a purely linguistic one, most walk away discouraged to search for the next victim, I mean, essay ‘editor’.

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POW: Prisoner of Words

By Zainab Ghwari

“I attended a Quran class until I started college. Of course, I had to stop then… you know, because of all the work and stuff.”

“I wish I could learn Arabic so I can actually get what I read. Maybe when I finish school/retire/my kids grow up.”

“It’s way too hard to throw my life away and learn Arabic. Allah SWT knows my intention. Reading the translation is good enough.”

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Where is the Love?

By Zainab Ghwari

I still remember my first usra. Though I had no idea it was an usra (halaqa + class x sisterhood=usra, which literally translates to ‘family’ in Arabic), I was so comfortable and satisfied with every week’s gathering. Some say the warm, thick, & cheesy pizza kept them coming, but for me, something beside cheese stuffed my crust. (Actually, the crust was unstuffed; Pizza Hut introduced the good stuff later).

Our usra leader was a 17 year old at a time when Continue reading