Region 5: North Africa and the Middle East

Welcome to North Africa and the Middle East!

Welcome to the next exciting destination on our journey!

Let's explore!

Day Trip 1: Egypt

Where to land:

Luxor, Egypt


Greetings! Today we’ll be boating down the Nile River through the Egyptian countryside and linguistic history! Our first stop is the Valley of the Kings, containing over 60 royal tombs including the famous King Tutankhamun.

The tombs are decorated with hieroglyphs, the well-known, partially alphabetic writing system which either descended directly from Sumerian Cuneiform or merely borrowed its concept. Hieroglyphs and Cuneiform are the oldest known writing systems. Our alphabetic system and virtually all other alphabets in use ultimately derive from the Phoenician Alphabet (technically an abjad). A short boat trip down the Nile brings us to Wadi el-Hol, the Ravine of Terror. The graffiti carved into the valley date back 3,800 years and represent some of the earliest known ancestors of the Phoenician Alphabet!

After a rather long trip down the Nile, we’ve arrived at the Giza Necropolis, home of the Great Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. Now we’re heading to Cairo, Egypt’s capital, to see some smaller pieces of history.

This museum houses over 120,000 artefacts encompassing Ancient Egyptian history. Within this incredible collection are 11 mummies, including the famous King Tutankhamun. The museum also has an extensive collection of papyrus documenting Greek, Latin, Arabic, and Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Finally, we’ve arrived in Rosetta, a port city on the Nile Delta. It was here that the famous Rosetta Stone was discovered by an French expedition in the early 1800s. The stele recorded a decree of King Ptolemy V in hieroglyphs, Demotic (a later development of the script used for papyrus), and Ancient Greek. This bilingual document was the key for Western scholars’ understanding of hieroglyphs.

Before we leave Egypt, let’s sit down for what many consider to be Egypt’s national dish, Kushari. Kushari is a typically vegetarian dish of rice and lentils topped with pasta, fried onions, and tomato sauce. It was originally made by lower class families combining whatever food they had left at the end of the month into one dish. Today, you can find it in nice restaurants and even from food carts.

See at the next stop!

Day Trip 2: Iraq

Where to land:

Baghdad, Iraq


Welcome to the Middle East fellow TraveLINGers! Yesterday we visited the region’s largest city, Cairo, and today, we’ve landed in its second largest city and the capital of Iraq, Baghdad!

First thing, let’s check out the Baghdad Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the Middle East! Over the past few years, the zoo has seen some hard times and saw a dramatic reduction in its population. Since its reopening in 2003 however, the zoo houses over a thousand animals including a pair of tigers donated from North Carolina.

Now let’s head over to the Iraq Museum, which houses an incredible collection of Mesopotamian artefacts including cuneiform tablets. There are also relics from the ancient city of Uruk - treasures dating back more than 5,000 years old!

Iraqi cuisine has a long history stretching back some 10,000 years. Many of the popular dishes here are familiar worldwide such as falafel and kebab. Meals often begin with mezza, an appetizer and salad course, and can feature a dip such as hummus or baba ghanoush. Long grain rice is considered a staple and figures regularly in Iraqi cuisine. Less common abroad is Arabic coffee, which is a delicious, bitter brew.

Thanks for joining us on our exciting journey around the globe!
Stay tuned for the next stop!

Featured Linguists

Lina Choueiri, Featured Linguist

American University of Beirut

I did not come into linguistics by accident, nor did I know from a young age that I wanted to be a linguist. As a teenager in the early 80s, growing up in Lebanon during the civil war, I had in fact never heard of linguistics.

I was preparing myself for a career in medicine, because my family and my teachers all said I could do it. The thought of becoming a psychiatrist, and perhaps unlocking some of the mysteries of the mind stayed with me throughout my high school years. By the time I was ready to go to college, I had stopped romanticizing about the idea of a career in medicine; I chose instead to study mathematics, a subject I excelled at in school. I also joined some friends of mine studying French literature at the Université Saint-Joseph. I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with a degree in mathematics, but my advisor was encouraging me to consider a career in academia. The French literature curriculum included one course in linguistics, which was taught by a Jesuit priest, Père Aucagne, who had no formal training in linguistics. He had studied Greek and Latin and had a passion for languages. When I raised my hand for the first time, to ask a question in his class, Père Aucagne told me that I was the only literature student he had ever had who seemed to show an interest in linguistics. He also gave me a book to read and suggested that we could discuss it together. He added that he found the book difficult, but that my training in mathematics could be an asset, and that we might work together to understand it. That book was Syntactic Structures. It was the summer of that year that I decided to pursue a degree in linguistics.

This was easier said than done: we were in the late 80s, before email and the Internet, and the civil war in Lebanon was still raging. I needed to find out how and where to apply. I also needed advice from someone knowledgeable about the field, but I had chosen a specialization that very few in Lebanon had heard about. Père Aucagne put me in touch with the chancellor of the Université Saint- Joseph who knew Joseph Aoun. They thought that I should write to Joseph and ask him for advice. I sent Joseph a naïve letter inquiring about linguistics programs in the US and their admissions requirements. Meanwhile, the hostilities of the civil war had intensified, and I left Lebanon before receiving his answer.

I arrived in Virginia in May 1990 to stay with family. Soon after, I started applying to graduate programs in neighboring universities. I joined the program in general linguistics at the University of Georgetown in spring 1991. This is where I was first introduced to the different areas of specialization in linguistics, and by the time I completed my course work there, I knew I needed to spend even more time reading, studying, and catching up. I also knew that I wanted to focus my research on Arabic in particular, and Semitic languages in general. While completing my degree at Georgetown, I started applying to some PhD programs in the US, including USC, where I hoped to be able to work with Joseph. I joined USC in fall 1993, and I have been working on the syntax of Arabic ever since. I am now at the American University of Beirut. My work on the comparative syntax of Arabic dialects continues to be a source of excitement and pleasurable new discoveries.

Lina Choueiri

Featured Linguists

Eitan Grossman, Featured Linguist

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

I grew up in a small town in New York, and like a lot of North American eighteen-year-olds, I went to college right after finishing school. Focusing on languages and literature, the one class I took in a particular brand of New England linguistics was enough to turn me off. As it turned out, the American college experience wasn’t meant for me, and neither was America, and I quickly found myself living in Israel. I waited tables, served in the army as an infantry soldier, worked in a screw factory, and milked cows, among other sundry jobs, none of which I was particularly good at. After a few years, I was good and ready to go back to activate my brain a bit. Up until three weeks or so before I was supposed to begin my BA, I was convinced that I was going to be a water-and-soil engineer. How this idea got into my head remains a mystery till today. But over the summer, I got my hands on (and actually read) de Saussure’s Cours, which had been recommended to me by an English professor years ago. This led to reading Chomsky’sSyntactic Structures and Langacker’s Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Although I didn’t really understand any of them, I did understand that I was going to be a linguist, which pretty much scuttled my dreams of building irrigation pipes in exotic places.

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