Imagine being surrounded by so much knowledge that all you can do is stare in awe. Imagine seeing so many shelves, stacked top to bottom, with books filled with hidden treasures. Imagine walking through rows and rows of books in hundreds of languages. Spending a day at the Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas left me overwhelmed, inspired, and awe-struck.
I didn’t just go to the library for fun, although from what I know now, I would return any day. Rather, the visit was actually a school trip, so that students could start working on their Extended Essays (EE). As part of the demanding International Baccalaureate program, students are required to submit a 4,000 word extended research essay in any subject area. To some, the EE is a chore. To me, it has almost become an obsession.
Being the language nerd that I am, I knew that I wanted to write my research essay in either Spanish or French. But which one? It was then that a thought occurred to me: what if my essay was a two-in-one, in which I combined one of the two languages I was studying at school with… Arabic? I had a myriad of ideas but I narrowed them down to two: the influence of Arabic on Spanish, or the role of the French language in Morocco. Having explored the former in a history essay before, I turned my attention to the latter.
I thought back to the many times in India when I would speak to someone in Hindi, hoping to speak in a language that I didn’t often get to use outside my home in America. Interestingly, they would often respond to me in English. Waiters at restaurants, shopkeepers, even family friends– the language of imperialism dominated the native tongue of the people, especially in big cities. Could the relationship between French and Arabic be similar? A trip to Morocco over Winter Break made me realize first-hand the strong presence of French in the nation, despite the fact that Morocco had only been a French protectorate for 44 years. There were the obvious examples of this hierarchy, such as the fact that professional opportunities were more available to those fluent in French. But there were also the more subtle cases, such as the fact that Google in Morocco only has search engines available in English and French, although Google Tunisia has a version in Arabic. As I began looking into the topic, I started uncovering information that indicated the linguistic hierarchy in Morocco. The sociolinguistic impact of the French language was intriguing, and I wanted to know more. With that, I drafted a research question with my advisor (my French teacher!), and was ready to dive into my investigation.
I arrived at the PCL armed with my laptop, a list of resources I wanted to look at, and a set plan of what I hoped to get done. Little did I know that I would get lost in a sea of books, and that I would spend much of my time just walking through the shelves running my fingers along the spines of books written in French, Arabic, Hindi, Spanish, and so many other languages. UT Austin has been my top college choice for years, due to the fact that it houses one of the best Arabic programs in the country, the Arabic Flagship. This library visit really sealed the deal. To think that I could have access to such “gold” at a near-daily basis makes it even more exciting.
I have to admit that I got a bit side-tracked as I flipped through a book called اللغة العربية (Al-lughat al-3arabiya, meaning The Arabic Language), and skimmed over volumes about linguistics. Although all of my books were in French, not all of them were in the same section. I found some of the nestled in the French shelves, others in the area featuring books about North Africa, and another tucked away in the Arabic section, hidden from plain sight. It was a treasure hunt, to call it the least.
After gathering my resources, I lost track of time as I sat hunched over my books and taking notes and scanning pages for my research. I have no shame in saying that I scanned 123 pages, because I honestly do plan to go through every single one of them! The journey of my Extended Essay has just started, and I hope to make the most of it, which might mean more visits to this library soon, and possibly some interviews with UT professors! Inchallah, as they say in Morocco (due to French transliteration rules).