This past December I decided to put my Arabic skills to use by participating in a neurological study being performed by Dr. Reem Khamis-Dakwar at Teacher’s College. The goal of the study is to examine the neurological functions of diglossia in Arabic speakers. Diglossia is the condition of a single community speaking two distinct dialects or languages, which is very prevalent in the Arab world, where the formal dialect is very different from the various spoken dialects. Dr. Khamis-Dakwar explained that her team is also studying diglossia as it applies to African American communities, where the rules of spoken language often differ greatly from the formal English taught in schools.
My job was to wear an EEG (see picture) and respond to various stimuli on a computer screen for a few hours. In this way she was able to measure my brain’s response to formal and non-formal, Arabic and non-Arabic words and sounds and then compare it to the responses of native Arabic speakers, who have a much more internalized differentiation between formal and spoken varieties than I would.
It was really fun to take part in the study, which I will likely return to in order to obtain more data as my abilities progress. I look forward to learning about Dr. Khamis-Dakwar’s results at the end of the process.