By Carter Cranberg, The Daily Iowan
Video from Daily Iowan TV
“As-salamu alaykum” is a phrase that may become as popular as “bonjour” or “hello.”
As of 2010, Arabic has become the 10th most spoken language in America, a trend that has not gone unfelt by the University of Iowa. Because of a substantial increase in the number of students studying Arabic, the UI now seeks to hire an additional teacher.
UI Director of the Division of World Languages Russell Ganim said his department is in the process of acquiring a tenure-track professor with plans to select a candidate in early March.
Once hired, the new instructor will construct an Arabic major for the university. Currently, students may only earn a minor in Arabic.
“A new tenure-track hiring is a huge asset that will enhance the Arabic program,” he said.
Ganim believes the recent spike in the number of students can be attributed to both the prevalence of Middle Eastern affairs in the news, as well as the broad range of experiences the language department has to offer.
“I think 9/11 and U.S. political involvement in the Middle East has raised awareness, and there are more Middle Eastern students now in Iowa City than there were previously,” he said.
Dénes Gazsi, a UI assistant professor of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures and director of Arabic Studies, said Arabic has become practical and this has contributed to the rise in the number of students.
“We have students from a wide area of studies all taking the language,” he said. “The U.S. has a huge stake in the region, and there is a high demand for knowing the language these days. Many students want to combine the language with their major — whether it be business or political science.”
UI sophomore Ariel Perez, who is working toward an Arabic minor, echoed that belief as her reason for taking the language.
“I’m majoring in international law and also a Spanish minor, I figured that an Arabic minor would help me better communicate and work,” she said.
Cinzia Blum, a UI professor and sssociate director of the Division of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, said the growth has been recognized by the government and is projected to continue over the next 40 years.
“Arabic has been designated as a critical language by the U.S. Department Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs and Department of Homeland Security,” she said.
Blum said by 2050, there will be 482 million native Arabic speakers in the world.
The surge in the number of students not only follows the mounting curiosity in Arabic, Blum said, but also the fact that the UI is one of the only places in the state offering a variety of studies for the language.
“French majors can now choose a French and Arabic track that was created in 2003 and have to take Arabic classes as a result,” she said. “The minor in Arabic and the French and Arabic track in the French major serve the state of Iowa by being the only programs of their kind in the state. Also, the French and Arabic track is the only program of its kind in the nation.”
Blum said she feels the university’s current monopoly on Arabic programs lends to it being the “go-to” school for studying the language in Iowa.
Gazsi is happy that the department will get an additional teacher.
“We’re at capacity right now with a little more than 100 students and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has allocated funds for finding an addition professor,” he said.