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Language Study

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Each year, the department offers language instruction in the four main languages of the Near East/Middle East: Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish as well as ancient and other less commonly taught languages, such as Sumerian, Akkadian and Ugaritic.


The department offers a minor in Arabic, as of April 2017.

Arabic is the official language of 22 countries and the fifth-most spoken language in the world. It is also one of six official languages of the United Nations.  In addition to its global political importance, Arabic opens the door to an immensely rich and diverse cultural heritage in the Middle East and beyond. Proficiency in Arabic also opens the way for many graduates to obtain exciting jobs in academia, the government and think tanks.

The Department integrates the Arabic dialects and Modern Standard Arabic together in the classroom.  From Day 1, you will be learning to communicate the way that native speakers do with one another.  Students study from the Arabiyyat al-Naas series, developed right here at Cornell. 

In addition to the regular six-semester sequence of Elementary, Intermediate and Advanced Arabic, the Arabic Program offers a variety of courses including Qur’anic Arabic, Media Arabic, Arabic through Film and Modern Arabic Literature. The Program also offers an elementary course designed specifically for heritage speakers of Arabic who wish to develop their reading and writing skills. Furthermore, the Accelerated Arabic Course serves as a springboard prior to an immersion language program during the spring semester in an Arabic-speaking country. 

Each semester, an Arabic placement exam is conducted in order to place students in the right course level. Contact Munther Younes for details on how to schedule a placement exam.

Arabic courses offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies:

  • NES 1201 - Elementary Arabic I
  • NES 1202 - Elementary Arabic II
  • NES 1203 - Intermediate Arabic I
  • NES 2200 - Intermediate Arabic II
  • NES 2203 - Arabic for Heritage Speakers
  • NES 2204 - Introduction to Quranic Arabic
  • NES 3201 - Advanced Arabic I
  • NES 3202 - Advanced Arabic II
  • NES 3203 - Current Events in Arabic Media
  • NES 3700 - Arabic Language Through Film
  • NES 4200 - Modern Arabic Literature
  • NES 4210 - Arabic Grammar and Writing (in Arabic)
  • NES 4211 - Readings in Classical Arabic Literature
  • NES 4214 - Tales from the Thousand and One Nights
  • NES 4225 - Comparative Semitic Linguistics
  • NES 4867 - Understanding the Qur’an: A Critical Re-reading of Selected Passages
  • NES 6201 - Readings in Medieval Arabic Literature
  • NES 6221 - Judeo-Arabic

Current course listings, here.

What other opportunities are available outside the classroom?

Many students study abroad through Cornell-approved programs or through fellowships and scholarships to the Arab world.  On campus, Cornell students can live in the Arabic Language House and participate in cultural activities and Arabic-only weekly meals.  There are also many independent student organizations on campus that sponsor Arabic language and cultural activities throughout the school year.


Modern Hebrew

Whether you are preparing for travel abroad or are passionate about achieving fluency in a language that is important to you, when studying Hebrew at Cornell you will be part of a close knit group of students and faculty. Courses are built to enhance not only contemporary communication skills, but also to give students a window through which to understand the past. So, join us in learning about the many aspects of Jewish and Israeli culture, society, literature and history!

Hebrew (or 'Ivrit) is a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family, spoken by more than eight million people in Israel and around the world.

Modern Hebrew is a fusion of old and new, native and foreign. Between the end of the Biblical period and the beginning of Modern Hebrew, there exists a gap of roughly two thousand years during which Hebrew was used exclusively as a literary and liturgical language, and was not used as a spoken language. It was taught mostly for religious purposes but had no native speakers.

When the revival of the Modern Hebrew language started towards the end of the 19th century, people soon realized that Biblical Hebrew could not be the sole source for vocabulary needed for modern daily life. A need to supplemental Hebrew vocabulary arose. Vocabulary items that did not exist in the Bible were supplemented by other sources, such as religious texts and medieval poetry. At times, additional sources needed to be created or borrowed and were formed using already existing forms and compiled with the linguistic principles of Biblical Hebrew. 

Courses offered through the Department of Near Eastern Studies introduce our students to the culture, language and literature of modern Israel. The courses support students at their current level of Hebrew but also focus on continuing the development and enhancement of the student's command of grammar as well as writing, reading, speaking, and comprehension.

Each semester, a Hebrew placement exam is conducted in order to place students in the right course level. Contact Nava Scharf for details on how to schedule a placement exam. 

Hebrew courses offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies:

  • NES 1101 - Elementary Modern Hebrew I
  • NES 1102 - Elementary Modern Hebrew II
  • NES 1103 - Elementary Modern Hebrew III
  • NES 2100 - Intermediate Modern Hebrew
  • NES 3101 - Advanced Modern Hebrew I
  • NES 3102 - Advanced Modern Hebrew II: Special Topics in Hebrew
  • NES 3104- Advanced Hebrew Through Media and Literature
  • NES 3108 - Israeli Culture Through Literature

Current course listings, here.

What other opportunities are available outside the classroom?

Cornell offers opportunities to study abroad (a semester or a year) in Israel at Hebrew University, Tel-Aviv University, Haifa University and Ben-Gurion University. For details on studying abroad in Israel, contact Cornell Study Abroad. For a glimpse of some of what Israel has to offer watch this video.



Persian, an Indo-European language related to English and German, was the vehicle of a rich and diverse Persianate culture that linked people from areas extending beyond Iran into the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, Caucasus and Anatolia. Until the mid-19th century, Persian was the official language of the Indian subcontinent, and Ottoman Turkish and Urdu (Pakistan) languages have been heavily influenced by Persian in their structure and vocabulary. It is the language of more than 110 million people around the world and is the official language of Iran (as Farsi), Afghanistan (as Dari) and Tajikistan (Tajik) – three vitally important countries for U.S. foreign affairs in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Persian is a sought-after language in international organizations, development and aid agencies, government agencies, journalism, think tanks and NGOs. There is a demand but a low supply of qualified Persian-speaking experts. Many of our students study Persian every year to prepare for employment in government agencies and international organizations. Our students are also often graduate students working in the fields of history, literature and art pertaining to India, Central Asia and Turkey. Persian is a necessary skill for scholars who carry out field work and research on art, literature, history of Central Asia, Caucasus, Iran and Anatolia.

Persian/Fasri courses offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies:

  • NES 1320 - Elementary Persian/Farsi I
  • NES 1321 - Elementary Persian/Farsi II
  • NES 1322 - Intermediate Persian/Farsi I
  • NES 2322 - Intermediate Persian/Farsi II

Current course listings, here.

What other opportunities are available outside the classroom?

Professor Gocheleishvili holds weekly Persian/Farsi dinners, Mondays, 6:30 - 8 p.m. in the Common Room of Flora Rose house during the semester. Dinners are open to all.

For more information on the Persian/Farsi dinners and courses, contact Iago Gocheleishvili.



Turkish belongs to the Altay branch of the Ural-Altaic linguistic family, the same as Finnish and Hungarian. It is the Westernmost of the Turkic languages spoken across Central Asia and is generally classified as a member of the South-West group, also known as the Oguz group. Other Turkic languages, all of which are closely related, include Azerbaijani (Azeri), Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tatar, Turkmen, Uighur, Uzbek and many others spoken from the Balkans across Central Asia into Northwestern China and southern Siberia. Turkic languages are often grouped with Mongolian and Tungusic languages in the Altaic language family. Strictly speaking, the "Turkish" languages spoken between Mongolia and Turkey should be called Turkic languages, and the term "Turkish" should refer to the language spoken in Turkey alone. It is common practice, however, to refer to all these languages as Turkish and differentiate them with reference to the geographical area , for example, the Turkish language of Azerbaijan.

The history of the language is divided into three main groups, old Turkish (from the 7th to the 13th centuries), mid-Turkish (from the 13th to the 20th), and new Turkish from the 20th century onwards. During the Ottoman Empire period, many Arabic and Persian words were intermixed in the Turkish language. Turkish formed the basis for Ottoman Turkish, the written language of the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman Turkish was basically Turkish in structure but with a heavy overlay of Arabic and Persian vocabulary and an occasional grammatical influence. Ottoman Turkish co-existed with spoken Turkish, with the latter being considered a "gutter language" and not worthy of study. Ottoman Turkish and the spoken language were both represented with an Arabic script.

In 1928, a "new language" movement was started by Kemal Ataturk. Five years after the proclamation of the Republic, the Arabic alphabet was replaced by the Roman one, which in turn sped up the movement to purge the language of foreign words. The Turkish Language Institute (Turk Dil Kurumu) was established in 1932 to carry out linguistic research and contribute to the natural development of the language. Today, literacy rates in Turkey are over 90%.

Turkish courses offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies:

  • NES 1330 - Elementary Turkish I
  • NES 1331 - Elementary Turkish II
  • NES 1332 - Intermediate Turkish I
  • NES 2332 - Intermediate Turkish II
  • NES 3330 - Advanced Turkish

Current course listings, here.

We do not currently have a Turkish Instructor to conduct language placement exams. Contact Chris Capalongo for more information.


In academic year 2015-16, NES had the largest Akkadian language enrollments in the country.  Knowledge of this language is considered crucial both for preparing undergraduates for graduate study and for preparing our graduate students for research projects in this language.

Akkadian was the major Semitic language of ancient Mesopotamia. It was written in the cuneiform script, which was also used to write Sumerian, Elamite, Hurrian and Hittite. Akkadian is attested in writing from the mid-third millennium BCE until the early first millennium CE, and during this long span of time it became the vehicle for literature and scholarship as well as for practical record-keeping, legal documents, correspondence and public inscriptions. The Akkadian language and the cuneiform script were adopted as the international medium of written communication throughout the ancient Near East, from Iran to Egypt, during the second millennium BCE.

Akkadian courses offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies

  • NES 1410 - Akkadian Language I: Code of Hammurabi
  • NES 1411 - Elementary Akkadian II: Historical and Literary Texts
  • NES 6410 - Akkadian I: Code of Hammurabi
  • NES 6411 - Elementary Akkadian II: Historical and Literary Texts
  • NES 6412 - Akkadian III: Archival, Political, and Economic Texts

Current course listings, here.

For more information on taking an Akkadian class, please contact Jonathan Tenney

Biblical Hebrew

Biblical Hebrew is the language in which the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was originally written, before its translation into Greek and later Latin and other languages of the diaspora.  Reading the Bible in Hebrew provides students with insight into the cultural, social and political world of ancient Israel in a way that is impossible when reading texts in translation.  Students gain a deeper understanding of who the Israelites were, what God or gods they worshipped, how they worshipped, how their rituals developed, who their closest neighbors were and how the conceived of their enemies.  As an ancient language, biblical Hebrew consists of words that are themselves artifacts.  When considered in their ancient Near Eastern linguistic context they bring the ancient past into the present, and the Bible comes into focus not just as a foundational document in Western culture, but as an unparalleled literary achievement of the ancient Near East.

Biblical Hebrew courses offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies:

  • NES 1111 - Introduction to Biblical Hebrew
  • NES 4102 -Biblical Hebrew Prose: Samuel
  • NES 6102 - Biblical Hebrew Prose: Samuel

Current course listings, here.

For more information on Biblical Hebrew classes please contact Lauren Monroe.

Hieroglyphic Egyptian

Ancient Egyptians spoke an Afro-Asiatic language that is related to Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, and North African languages such as Berber and Ethiopic. It has been a dead language since the 11th century CE, replaced by Arabic starting in the 7th century CE.

The written word of the Ancient Egypt, however, has survived. For over two thousand years, from the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2100 BCE) into the Roman era, Egyptian monuments were inscribed with hieroglyphs of the Middle Egyptian writing system. This is the ‘classic’ form of the language in which were composed The Story of Sinuhe, The Eloquent Peasant and other works of diverse themes addressing history, cultic and erotic devotion, satire, biography and wisdom.

The first of two courses in Ancient Egyptian introduces students to the script, phonetics and structure of Middle Egyptian. Working with excerpts from actual ancient Egyptian texts, students learn to use a hieroglyphic sign list and dictionary, and transliterate hieroglyphs into a standardized form that facilitates study of grammar and syntax. This prepares students for the more advanced verbal forms and fuller texts studied in Ancient Egyptian II. Together, these two courses prepare students sufficiently to interpret Middle Egyptian compositions or interpret inscribed Egyptian monuments and artifacts. It also forms a basis for careers in Egyptology that might include studying other Egyptian writing systems such as Hieratic or Demotic.

Throughout these linguistic courses, we also use ancient texts as windows onto the dynamic social lives of the Egyptians, a people whose contributions to the Near East and world heritage is very much alive.

Hieroglyphic Egyptian courses offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies:

  • NES 1450 - Ancient Egyptian I: Introduction to Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphs
  • NES 1451 - Ancient Egyptian II: Introduction to Middle Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Current course listings, here.

For more information on Hieroglyphic Egyptian classes, please contact Caitlin Barrett (classics), and Christopher Monroe (near eastern studies).


Sumerian is the language of ancient Sumer, which means that it was spoken in southern Mesopotamia from c. 3200-2000.  It was written in the cuneiform script and it’s the first identifiable language that human beings ever wrote down.  In fact, most Sumerologists agree that writing was invented specifically for the Sumerian language.  Knowledge of Sumerian is of prime importance for reconstructing all aspects of Mesopotamian Civilization because its study carried on long after the language ceased to be spoken and because of the great breadth of documentation written in the language. Sumerian is not genetically related to any other known language, which is one reason why the language is not very well understood.  The modern field of Sumerology was one of the first to reach out to the field of Linguistics and to adopt the power of computers and digital technology to study language. 

All Sumerian courses offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies:

  • NES 3661 - Sumerian Language and Culture I
  • NES 3662 - Sumerian Language and Culture II
  • NES 6661 - Sumerian Language and Culture I
  • NES 6662 - Sumerian Language and Culture II

Current course listings, here.

For more information on Sumerian classes, please contact Jonathan Tenney.


Ugaritic was the language of the ancient city-state of Ugarit, located on the coast of Syria. This language,  which belongs to the northwestern branch of the Semitic language family, is only verified in texts from the last two centuries of the Late Bronze Age (14th–13th centuries BCE), when, as well as writing in the Akkadian language using the Mesopotamian cuneiform script, the scribes and literati of Ugarit used a cuneiform version of the alphabet to write in their own language on clay tablets. They wrote myths, epics, ritual texts, letters, accounting records and contracts in the Ugaritic language. Their compositions are testimony to the Syro-Canaanite religion reflected in the Hebrew Bible, and these texts are therefore of great interest to scholars of the Bible and the ancient Near East.

All Ugaritic courses offered by the Department of Near Eastern Studies:

  • NES 1430 - Ugaritic I
  • NES 1431 - Ugaritic II

Current course listings, here.

For more information on Ugaritic classes, please contact Christianne Capalogo.

More Information

For a complete list of language courses taught through the Department of Near Eastern Studies, click here.