In Their Native Tongues

April 27th, 2007

Merle Krueger, associate director of Brown's Center for Language Studies, has long wanted to offer a course at Brown in an African language. He saw an opportunity this semester through a Fulbright program that brings foreign students to teach their native languages. 

In the fall the Center welcomed three such teachers, each of whom is enrolled as a visiting graduate student. Khairieh Abbas, a native of Jordan, is teaching Arabic. Ariadna Lugo, of Mexico, who before Hurricane Katrina had planned to teach at Dillard University in New Orleans, is offering Spanish. And David Kyeu, of Kenya, is teaching two noncredit sections of beginning Swahili. As far as Krueger can tell, Kyeu is the first to teach an African language at Brown. 

Krueger was stunned to receive more than 100 inquiries about the Swahili course, and was able to fill each section with about twenty students. "I was going to be very happy," he admitted as he introduced Kyeu to the students, "if we had eight or nine [students]." While most in the class are undergraduates, some are members of the faculty or staff.

On the first day, the class learned that the language is actually Kiswahili. Swahili, Kyeu explained, refers to the people who speak the language and to the region in Africa where it originated.

By the end of the hour students had learned that the Swahili people don't like words to end with consonants. Therefore, Kyeu said, if your last name is Cooke the Swahili will call you kuku. And expect them to laugh, Kyeu said, because the word also means chicken.

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Related Issue
November / December 2005