Zvi Gilboa / Middle Eastern & Southern Asian Languages & Cultures 

As imaginary gates to foreign tongues and cultures, academic language courses lead more often than not into artificial entry halls designed for pleasure rather than pain, to protect before they expose. Sitting in the classroom rather than pushing and being pushed around in the market, what learners often see in their surrounding is something of a mirror image, the image of peers with whom they share not only space and an alleged language level, but also intellectual interests, professional aspirations, and perhaps even social background.

With one’s linguistic conditioning and “good habits” accounting for much in one’s proficiency, and with the space of language acquisition accounting for much in a person’s learning experience, we ought to think, then, not only of why we teach, what we learn, and how we practice a language, but also where and when we do, and whom we encounter while doing so. In this respect, encouraging our students and creating opportunities for them to use their newly acquired language as often as they can outside of the classroom, and with as many speakers as possible, is arguably more important than having them master some seven esoteric verbs, five exceptional nouns, and three conflicting synonyms.

As part of our dream Mead Endowment project, my students and I will interview, in Modern Hebrew of course, a variety of speakers for whom Hebrew is either a mother tongue or a language of choice, and who are currently either lone language wolves or part of a larger speaker community. As part of these interviews, we will seek to understand, and accordingly ask interviewees that they share memories, experiences, and thoughts related to the role Hebrew played, and perhaps continues to play, in their lives. In addition to interviewing speakers at the University and in the Charlottesville area, we will be traveling to places where larger speaker communities are found, most notably Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, and meet with speakers of diverse religions, ethnicities, and age. In conclusion of the project, we will present a short documentary that will trace our trips, interviews, and conversations throughout the year. The project will be integrated into the third-year and independent study courses, and will also be open to interested students from earlier years. The projected number of participants is between ten and fifteen students, and expenses will be for travel, hospitality, and equipment.

Proposed budget:

One day excursion to Baltimore for 10 people to conduct interviews

  • Van rental/gas $180
  • Food for 10  $350

One day excursion to Washington, D.C. for 10 people to conduct interviews

  • Van rental/gas $180
  • Food for 10 $350

Meetings to share learnings and develop content for documentary

  • Meal for 15 people x 3 meetings $675
  • Materials/equipment to produce documentary $500
  • Refreshments for meeting to share documentary with interested faculty, students and members of the community $300

TOTAL $2,535