It’s Thanksgiving, and your student is home from The University of Iowa for the first time since enrollment. So far, so good: no tattoos visible, no pierced tongue, seems happy, still ravenously hungry. Perhaps that warning at Orientation about the differences parents would notice in their sons and daughters wasn’t true after all.
Then, at dinner, your student says, “I’m taking Kannada or Arabic next year.”
You reply, “How do you TAKE Canada? What would you do with Arabic? What’s wrong with French or Spanish?”
Welcome to the Baffled Parents Club!
Kannada and Arabic are the new additions to the University’s foreign language offerings. Kannada is the language of the state of Karnataka in southern India and 40 million people around the world speak the language. Arabic, of course, is the language of the Middle East and parts of Africa and the language of the Qu’ran, the Muslim holy book.
K.V. Tirumalesh, who joined the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty this fall to teach Kannada, has been an English professor at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad, India.
According to Tirumalesh, Kannada is a literary language, with both spoken and written forms. It has several dialects based on geography within the 75,000-square-mile state in which it is spoken, but the standard that is developing is the dialect of Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, and Mysore, which was the capital before independence from England.
“Kannada is the official language of Karnataka—it is the medium of instruction in the schools run by the government and the language of general administration,” he says. “Yet, English dominates at the level of higher education and continues to be the language of the ‘educated’ in all spheres. English is considered to be the language of opportunities and is a language even in Kannada-medium schools. Private schools impart education mostly through English. It should be noted that English is one of the two ‘national’ languages of India, Hindi being the other.”
Karnataka, India’s eighth largest state, is known for electronics, computer engineering, information technology and software, aeronautics, pharmaceuticals, and other manufacturing, and its government web site notes that some industries have relocated to Bangalore in Karnataka from the United States.
The idea to promote Kannada came from five scholars with University connections: U.R. Ananthamurthy, a visiting writer in the International Writing Program in 1974 and a Fulbright scholar here in 1986, now a distinguished writer in India; A.K. Ramanujam, a distinguished modern English poet and essayist and translator of medieval Kannada and Tamil poetry and folklore; Sheldon Pollock, an eminent Sanskrit expert and former chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Literature; Philip Lutgendorf, associate professor of Asian languages and literature and modern Indian studies cochair in the South Asian Studies Program; Michael New, president of the UI Foundation; and Paul Greenough, professor of history and global health studies.
The second new language, Arabic, is spoken by 186 million people in more than 20 countries in the Middle East and Africa. Because it is the language of the Qu’ran, the holy book of Islam, it is regarded as a first language in Muslim states. It is sixth on the list of major languages spoken in the world, behind Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, English, and Bengali. The instructor is Mouna Sari, lecturer in linguistics, a native of Morocco.
“All sections of my undergraduate class for this fall are closed already,” Sari says. “I’ve asked if there could be more. I think students are looking for something different, something to give them an edge. I’ve had inquiries about whether a Middle East minor might be developed including Arabic and courses in political science and religious studies.”
The new languages join 20 other languages taught at the University.
The University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers four or more years of instruction in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. The Department of Linguistics and the African American World Studies Program offer instruction in Swahili and Zulu, and the Department of Classics offers ancient Greek and Latin.
The Department of Asian Languages and Literature offers, in addition to Kannada, four years of instruction in either Chinese or Japanese; three years of Hindi; two years of Korean; and two semesters of Sanskrit.
The Department of Religious Studies offers Biblical Hebrew I, II, and III, a three-semester sequence, though none of its current majors requires Hebrew, says Maureen Walterhouse, program assistant.
Through a distance-learning consortium with Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, students on all three campuses may study Czech, Polish, and Serbo-Croatian using an Internet-based video conferencing technology called Polycom as the primary delivery system.
Russell Valentino, Russian professor and director of the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at Iowa, is lead project director for the new Iowa Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (REEES) Distance Learning Consortium. The consortium is being established through a $320,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education.
Of all the languages taught on campus, the fastest growing nationally is American Sign Language. At Iowa, a four-semester sequence in American Sign Language and a certificate program in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies are offered in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Students may take a sequence of courses in this language to fulfill General Education program requirements.
Kimela Nelson, director of the program, says, “We turn away more than 100 students every semester who would like to take American Sign Language. Every one of our introductory course times is filled to capacity. We have six and we could offer more and fill them.”
“I think students are looking at all the languages available to see what would be most useful in their planned careers,” Nelson says. “Maybe we can expand when the budget difficulties let up.”
The new languages come as a result of a UI International Programs’ initiative to strengthen new undergraduate and graduate programs in international studies and to fund courses in less commonly taught languages. The initiative is funded by two related three-year grants totaling $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education. Approximately half this sum will be awarded to graduate students as fellowships for language and area studies.
The highly competitive awards designate UI International Programs as a Title VI National Resource Center for International Studies, says William Reisinger, associate provost for academic programs and dean of UI International Programs.
“This reflects the federal government’s recognition of the University’s nationally distinctive commitment to international education,” Reisinger says. “The grants allow Iowa to continue to be a national leader, with innovative approaches that meet the needs of students and faculty in the 21st century.”
Codirectors for the NRC international studies center are Paul Greenough, a professor of history and global health studies; and James Pusack, chair of German.
By Anne Tanner