at new haven library i found a pimsleur intro course to syrian arabic. having struggled with arabic over the years, it has become a white whale, never to be conquered, but never to be given up either. knowing that i might actually be able to use a few words with my iraqi friends, as they had lived a few years in syria, i checked the cds out. i really liked the method -- simple, repetitious, slowly building. totally oral -- which is how we learned our mother tongue, by the way.
in lessons nine and ten, the examples become laden with a gendered, even erotic dynamic. male voice: 'do you want to do something, miss?' female voice: 'not miss, mrs.' 'excuse me, maam. do you want to do something?' 'no, thank you.' 'do you want to buy something?' 'no, i don't want to. do you understand?' 'ah, i understand. do you want to eat something with me?' 'no, i don't.' 'at 9 o'clock?' 'no, not now, not later.' i found myself laughing there on I-95 in the chevy truck.
no doubt part of my reaction -- titillation, laughter -- is due to having travelled once to syria, and feeling there that the farthest possibility was to talk to one of the beautiful women walking around. they would not let the tiniest sliver of an eye venture toward me. but in pimsleur's world, apparently, things are different! and according to my iraqi friend, men and women do talk there -- just not in ways known to me.
i tried out a few words with my friend's mom, who speaks 3 words of english, and was disappointed when she didn't understand some of them. syrians say 'behki' for 'i speak.' iraqis, apparently, say something like 'ah-chee'. say what??