zondag, november 09, 2008

Jan Hoogland visits Umm ad-Dunya

De collega's van het NVIC vroegen of ik een stukje voor hun nieuwsbrief wilde schrijven.
Hieronder de tekst. Binnenkort een vertaling in het Nederlands.

For the second time in a thirty year career as an arabist I recently visited Umm ad-Dunya (the mother of the world). During this current semester I am having a sabbatical from my teaching position at the Radboud University in Nijmegen.
Since I am also the coordinator of the Dutch Institute in Morocco (NIMAR), which was founded in 2006, I decided to use this sabbatical to visit the two other Dutch scientific institutes in the Arab world: NIASD in Damascus and NVIC in Cairo.

Both visits served two purposes. The first purpose was to obtain a better knowledge of the colleagues at these institutes and their activities. Furthermore we discussed possibilities for cooperation between the institutes. One of the results of these discussions will be announced in a next edition of this newsletter.
For the operation of NIMAR it was very useful to stay at the NVIC for more than a week. I attended some of the classes, talked to various staff members, experienced the service of comfortable guestrooms and airport transfer. This certainly gave me new inspiration for the activities of NIMAR.

The second purpose of my visit to both countries (including a short visit to Lebanon when I was in Damascus) was to carry out some research. As a linguist I have always been interested in the linguistic situation in the Arab world, especially the phenomenon of diglossia (the coexistence of two varieties of a language: a so-called ‘high variety’ that is being used in formal situations and a ‘low variety’ for informal use).
During my visits to Morocco in the last few years I have noticed a development in this country that has interested me for many years: there is a growing use of the Moroccan Arabic dialect (the local low variety) for written purposes.
My visits to Syria, Lebanon and Egypt were intended to compare the situation in these countries with the situation in Morocco. And indeed, I noticed that a similar development is taking place in Lebanon, that in Syria this development seems to be at an initial stage, and that Egypt is far ahead of the other countries mentioned.
During my stay at NVIC I gave a lecture on this topic, and a workshop to the students who are currently staying and studying at the NVIC. Although I did not want to discourage the students, the developments just mentioned will, in the long run, certainly have consequences for students of Arabic and the teaching of Arabic.

Since a sabbatical is, to my opinion, also an opportunity for broadening one’s view, I also paid a visit to some pre-Islamic highlights of Egypt. Apart from a quick look at the pyramids in 1997, this was my first acquaintance with the Egyptian museum and the temples of Luxor and Al Karnak. Thus it was possible to get a good impression of the incredible richness of the Pharaonic past of Egypt, and since we did this on rented bikes, we did this in a real Dutch way.
Another favorite pastime that consumed lots of my time in Cairo was taking photographs of Islamic and historic buildings in the old city. This one famous street in Fatimid Cairo called shari’ al-Mu’izz li-din Allah, in which almost every other building is of historic importance, kept us busy for many hours by daylight and by night. The pictures below illustrate the picturesqueness of Cairo.

However, I also permit myself one critical remark about Cairo: the traffic in this city is incomparable to the traffic in any other city I have visited so far, and the Cairo traffic is certainly not comparable to Rabat or even Casablanca. When we were stuck in a traffic jam once more, I sighed I could not imagine wanting to live in this city because of these traffic jams and the polluted air.

However, in general I can only say my visit to Egypt and my stay at the NVIC were very successful. Exchanges of staff between the Dutch academic institutes in the Arab world are certainly worth continuing.

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