I can hear the voice speaking Italian, which I know a little, so I recognize right away that the Italian I hear down the hallway is not spoken by a native speaker. It’s one-sided, clearly a telephone conversation. I recognize it as the voice of Naor, one of our Harvard Academy Scholars. He works on the Mediterranean world, North Africa, and Sicily, so of course Italian is one of the languages of his work. It is not Naor’s only foreign language. He is Israeli and completed his PhD here at Harvard, so he has Hebrew and English as well, among other languages.
It’s quiet out in the hallway, the Italian ends, and in an instant Naor is talking with fellow Academy Scholars Noora and Pascal. Noora is Bahraini and received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in the United States; Pascal is French and studies Saudi Arabia. Their three-way conversation is in a stranger sounding tongue, with gutturals and hard consonants. Naor, Noora, and Pascal are in easy, rapid-fire conversation in Arabic. No doubt Naor learned his in the Levant; Pascal knows Saudi Arabic and acquired the colloquial of young Saudi street racers. And Noora, from a Gulf State, has heard Arabic from all over the world. They are joking, each raising the level of laughter with a quick comment topping the one before.
Such types of conversations might take place in the halls of the Harvard Academy in a variety of languages. How many languages are being used by the Harvard Academy Graduate Fellows and Academy Scholars this year? Let’s see: Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Pashtun, Spanish. That’s thirteen if you include Arabic and Italian. One might add that other foreign language: statistics.
The languages are an index of our internationalism. To me this variety represents a great deal of what the Harvard Academy is about: the anchoring of the social sciences in places around the world, making the Academy itself a center of many languages, and hence, many experiences of a staggering variety of cultures far removed from the United States. As I step down from over seven years as the executive officer of the Harvard Academy, I would point to the many languages spoken at the Academy as reassurance that it remains true to the mission of anchoring social-science theory with first-hand knowledge of nations, regions, and cultures so different from our own.
Laurence H. Winnie
Photos: Affiliates and friends of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies gathered on April 30, 2014, to recognize departing second-year Academy Scholars and Graduate Fellows. They also celebrated the tenure of Laurence Winnie, the departing executive officer. Top (left to right): Pascal Menoret, Academy Scholar; Kathleen Hoover, program coordinator; Jorge I. Domínguez, chairman; and Laurence Winnie. Bottom: 2013–2014 Academy Scholars. Photo credit: Martha Stewart