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20 questions for: Betül Aslan (#30)

I have always come across excellent Arabic speakers in Turkey. Betül Aslan is one of them. “The reason for learning a language is the most critical point that affects the learning process”, says Betül in interview #30 of the 9273 roots series.

Last updated: 6 months ago

Lisān al-‘Arab (لسان العرب), the famous dictionary of Classical Arabic, contains 9273 roots (and 4,493.934 words). A huge playground for people who are passionate about Arabic such as…

Betül Aslan

بتول أصلان

The woman who presents the beauty of Arabic literature to Turkish readers.

betuel alsan2
Betül Aslan
  • Date of birth: December, 4th, 1995
  • Place of birth: Eskişehir, Turkey
  • Place of residence: Sakarya, Turkey

How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn't know you?

Hi, my name is Betül and I am from Turkey. I have been a fan of Arabic and a bookworm since childhood. I graduated from Istanbul University with a Bachelor's degree in Arabic Language and Literature, and I am currently studying for a master's degree in the same field.

Meanwhile, I work as an Arabic teacher for children aged 9 through 14. Learning another language is a very inspirational process, and I am seeking to discover the world through literature. One of the things I enjoy the most is observing the development of the language learning process in myself and the children I am teaching.

I am also a member of the Arabic language and literature platform called Mirkat. We publish some translations of poems and texts selected from classical and modern Arabic literature. Thus, our translations are from Arabic to Turkish. In addition to those translations, we also publish a monthly newsletter to our subscribers and followers that compiles the latest developments and news regarding the Arabic language and literature around the world.

About mirkat.org

One day, five friends from Turkey who are interested in the Arabic language came together and dreamed of creating a medium for Turkish readers to share their passion. In 2020, they founded mirkat.org, a non-profit project that aims to popularize Arabic and Arabic literature among Turkish readers.

mirkat website2
website: mirkat.org

Translations of literary texts are shared every week on mirkat's website. Every month, they publish interesting articles and news about Arabic, translation of poems and quotes and pieces of classical and modern literature.

Remark: The word Mirkat is of Arabic origin. The Arabic word مِرْقاة (plural: مَراقٍ) denotes stairs. The root ر-ق-ي expresses to ascent; to lead s.o. up to; to promote

What was your first Arabic grammar book?

The first book I read was an Arabic grammar book for beginners called Arapça Dilbilgisi (Arabic Grammar) written by Mehmet Maksudoğlu. We read this book during our freshman year.

What is your favorite Arabic book (novel, etc.)?

I usually read novels, and there are many books and novels that I like, but Memoirs of a Vagrant Soul: Or, The Pitted Face (مذكرات الأرقش) by Mikhail Naimy (ميخائيل نعيمة) is the closest to my heart.

Mikha'il Nu'ayma ( ميخائيل نعيمة; US legal name: Michael Joseph Naimy; pen name: Mikhail Naimy, was a Lebanese Greek Orthodox poet, novelist, and philosopher (1889 – 1988). He is renowned for his spiritual writings, notably The Book of Mirdad. He is widely recognized as one of the most important figures in modern Arabic literature and one of the most important spiritual writers of the 20th century.

Naimy completed his elementary education in the Baskinta school, studied at the Russian Teachers' Institute in Nazareth and the Theological Seminary in Poltava, Russian empire. He wrote poetry in Russian, Arabic and English.

Naimy moved to the United States in 1911 and later to New York, where he joined with and eight other writers to form a movement for the rebirth of Arabic literature, the New York Pen League. Gibran was its president and Naimy its secretary.

In 1932, having lived in the States for 21 years, Naimy returned to Baskinta (بسكنتا), a Lebanese village at an altitude above 1,300 m (4,300 ft) above sea level, where he lived for the rest of his life. He died of pneumonia at the age of 98 on February 28, 1988 in Beirut.

An Argentine young man of Lebanese origin, whom we only know as Pitted Face, suffers from amnesia and struggles to understand his past and the withdrawal from society. Only at the end do we find out that Pitted Face has fled to America after he killed his wife during their wedding night.

How much time does a native speaker of English need to master Arabic?

The process of learning a language can vary from one person to another. Also, the amount of time allotted for daily learning has a direct impact on the process. Nevertheless, I believe that a person needs one to two years to develop the four basic language skills at a certain level.

In some ways, the Arabic language is difficult compared to English, but obviously, the motivation to learn Arabic can both shorten and prolong this period. One more thing to consider is that the reason for learning a language is the most critical point that affects the learning process.

Throughout my experience, there are two essential and motivational factors that I have noticed while learning the Arabic language, and those who can have even one of them would be able to proceed in learning Arabic nonstop. These two factors are the curiosity that always drives you to learn something new, and the job conditions that may require you to learn another language.

What is your favorite Arabic word?

Well, I really like the word روحي that Arabs use while expressing their love

Besides, the word روح is very impressive in both phonetic features and meaning. Although it was passed to the Turkish language later as “Ruh”, I believe that its both meaning and pronunciation in Arabic are much more attractive and profound.

Which Arabic word do you like least?

There is no specific word I dislike, but unfortunately, I do not prefer words with ض since I cannot pronounce the letter well. Especially if words with ض contain other bold letters as well (such as ق ,ع, and ط).

“My mum used to tell us in our childhood that the way we act and deal with our highest level of anger reflects who we really are.”

Betül Aslan

Which Arabic dialect do you like best?

I think the Palestinian dialect is the best! Although the Syrian dialect looks closer to Standard Arabic, the Palestinian dialect sounds good to my ear.

What is your favorite Arabic colloquial word or expression?

One of my favourite expressions is عن جد؟ which means Really? or Seriously?

What is your favorite Arabic quote or proverb?

Well, I think it is the question that Mahmoud Darwish (محمود درويش) poses to himself at the end of The Dice Player poem:

من أنا لأخيب ظن العدم؟

“Who am I to disappoint the void?”

What is the best thing that was ever said about the Arabic language?

It sounds good to me every time I hear that verse from the Holy Quran in Surah an-Nahl/The Bee (16:103) which says:

وَهَـٰذَا لِسَانٌ عَرَبِىٌّ مُّبِينٌ

while this revelation is in clear Arabic.

REMARK: مُبين means clear; plain; evident. Commentators of the Qur'an have suggested that the term مُّبِينٌ, in the above verse of , is used here to stress the fact that no human being – and certainly no non-Arab – could ever have produced the flawless, exalted Arabic diction in which the Qur'an is expressed.

Hence, the expression الْكِتابُ الْمُبينُ is also a synonym for: The Qur'an.

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

My mum used to tell us in our childhood that the way we act and deal with our highest level of anger reflects who we really are. Therefore, when I am getting angry or pissed off at someone or something, I always try to be the one I want to be.

It is very precious to me that my mother raised us this way.

Which three people would you like to invite for dinner?

Although the people I would invite are so different from each other, I would like to invite the authors I love the most, such as Mikhail Naimy, Orhan Pamuk, and Wilhelm Genazino.

Admittedly, I have no idea how the dinner would turn out :)

  • Mikhail Naimy (1889 – 1988) was a Lebanese Greek Orthodox poet and novelist and of the most important figures in modern Arabic literature (see above).
  • Orhan Pamuk (born 1952) is a Turkish writer and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature.
  • Wilhelm Genazino (1943 – 2018) was a German journalist and author. He was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize, the most prestigious award for German literature.

What was the last great meal you had?

The Falafel I ate a few weeks ago at a Lebanese restaurant was very tasty. I think It was a great meal.

What is your favorite city?

My favourite city is Istanbul.

No matter where I go or which city I live in, I always find myself making plans to return to Istanbul.

Istanbul – certainly one of the most amazing cities in the world.
picture credit: pixabay (smuldur)

Which book would you give to a dear friend?

Well, I think It depends on whom the person is. For example, If I am going to give a book to a Turkish friend, I would choose A Season in Hakkari by Ferit Edgü.

However, If my friend is not from Turkey, then I would choose The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati. I cannot deny that it is a fascinating book regarding human instinct for survival. It is so brilliant that I want everyone to read it.

Remark: What is As Seaon in Hakkari about? In short: A disciplinary transfer leads a teacher into a remote village somewhere in the mountains in Eastern Turkey. There are neither conventional roads nor electricity. Although the teacher will only stay for the winter, he puts great effort into educating the local children while he can.

What is your all-time favorite movie?

The Before Trilogy by Richard Linklater.

before sunset movie plakat2
Movie Before Sunrise – starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.

Remark: The Before Trilogy consists of three great movies:

  • Before Sunrise (1995) is set in a single night in Vienna as Jesse, an American student traveling Europe, and Céline, a French student visiting relatives, meet on a train to Paris. They wander the streets of Vienna and fall in love, but they go their separate ways and agree to meet again in the future.
  • Before Sunset (2004) takes place nine years after the first film,
  • Before Midnight (2013) takes place nine years later, and is set in a single afternoon on the Peloponnese coast in Greece.

What music do you listen to?

I mostly listen to alternative such as 47SOUL, Mashrou Leila, and Cairokee.

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When were you happiest?

One of the happiest moments of my life was when my students whom I started teaching Arabic last year became able to speak Arabic in their classes this year.

What is your greatest fear?

The fear of living a meaningless life.

What is your life motto?

You can be genuinely happy as long as you are making others happy.

Betül Aslan, thank you for your time.

CALL FOR SUGGESTIONS: Who should we interview soon?

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