Karen McNeil

PhD Candidate in Arabic · Georgetown University · Washington, DC · karenlmcneil@gmail.com

I am an Arabic teacher, linguist, translator, and overall nerd for all things Arabic. I am interested in Tunisian Arabic, Arabic pedagogy, Arabic linguistics, and literary translation.

Education

Georgetown University

PhD Candidate
Arabic & Islamic Studies — Arabic Linguistics

Dissertation: "Tunisian Arabic as a written language: Identity and vernacularization"

Aug 2018 - Present

Georgetown University

Master of Arts
Arabic Language, Linguistics & Literature

Thesis Topic: “ (‘in’) as a marker of the progressive aspect in Tunisian Arabic: A cognitive and historic approach.”

2012

Defense Language Institute

Associate of Arts
Arabic
2005

Wellesley College

Bachelor of Arts
History (with honors) and Spanish
2000

Experience

MITRE

Arabic Computational Linguist

Performed semantic annotations for Arabic NLP training data as well as creating guidelines, managing remote team, and reviewing annotations for accuracy.

Dec 2019 - Present

Defense Language Institute / AAC

Arabic Subject Matter Expert

Created Arabic curriculum for web-based language and cultural training for military foreign area officers. Project involves researching and collecting level-appropriate authentic materials, creating exercises (listening, reading, practical and supplemental), and creating assessments.

Nov 2017 - Sept 2018

Brown University

Director of Office of Student Veterans

Inaugurated office and built program to support military-affiliated students on campus. Also served as a first-year and sophomore academic advisor, a member of the Diversity Advisory Board, a member of the Health Careers Advisory Committee, and a First Readings seminar leader.

July 2014 - July 2018

CJK Dictionary Institute

Associate Editor

Responsible for reviewing and translating entries for the CJK Arabic Learners’ Dictionary. Ensured accuracy of English translations and appropriateness of Arabic examples. Also ensured that sense division, headword selection, organization of entries, and typography follow set guidelines.

Sept 2013 - Aug 2015

Oxford University Press

Lead Revising Editor (Arabic-English)

Reviewed entries for the Oxford Arabic Dictionary (2014) including verifying the accuracy and naturalness of English translations of Arabic headwords and examples, as well as utilizing the billion-word Oxford Arabic corpus to expand entries and discover new word senses that were previously not reflected in existing monolingual or bilingual Arabic dictionaries. Also prepared resource materials for the team and trained other reviewers.

Oct 2011 - Mar 2015

National Security Agency – Washington

Language Analyst (Arabic)

Translated foreign intelligence materials using Standard Arabic, Syrian, Iraqi and Libyan.

Oct 2008–Oct 2011

National Security Agency – Georgia

Senior Linguist (Arabic)

Translated foreign intelligence; trained and mentored 25 Arabic linguists; provided quality control.

Jun 2005–Jun 2008

Research

Dissertation

"Tunisian Arabic as a written language: Identity and vernacularization"

Social and technological changes over the past several decades have led to widespread writing of “spoken” Arabic dialects. In Tunisia, vernacular writing has flourished since the 2011 revolution: although the first novel written entirely in Tunisian dɛ̄rja did not appear until 2013, there are now nine vernacular novels, in addition to several translations, memoirs, and children’s books. This burgeoning print literature is just one part of expansion of vernacular Tunisian into domains previously reserved for Standard Arabic, such as advertisements (Walters 2003), radio stations (Achour Kallel 2011), classrooms (Bach Baoueb & Toumi 2012), the mosque (Sayahi 2014), and even in government (Sayahi 2019; Achour Kallel 2015).

This dissertation examines the expansion of Tunisian Arabic into writing. Encoding an ‘unwritten’ language in writing is not straightforward and mechanical, but rather a complex process that balances practical considerations with ideological stances such as autonomy from the standard language (Mühleisen 2005). Practical issues, such as affinity with an established written language in which people are accustomed to reading, may lead writers to prefer more Standard Arabic-like features, for example by preferring ⟨blAdh بلاده⟩ for blādu 'his country'. On the other hand, the writing of Tunisian Arabic as an expression of Tunisian national identity—distinct from the Islamic and pan-Arab identities—may lead writers to prefer forms that hew closer to the vernacular pronunciation, such as ⟨blAdw بلادو⟩.

Using a quantitative analysis of nine print novels (2013–2021) and a 32-million-word corpus of internet forum posts (2010–2020), this paper explores the expansion of Tunisian Arabic into writing and how Tunisians writing in dɛ̄rja make orthographic choices to collectively position themselves in relation to Standard Arabic, French, and the other Arabic vernaculars. The study finds that the writers who view Tunisian Arabic as an independent “language” and Tunisian as a distinct national identity — in contrast or even conflict with an Islamic pan-Arab identity — are more likely to both write in Tunisian Arabic and to use innovative, rather than standard, spellings. It also finds that even pro-Standard Arabic / pro-Arab partisans often express their arguments in Tunisian Arabic, underlining the extent to which Tunisian Arabic has become normalized as a written language. Through this analysis, this study provides a valuable window into the process of vernacularization in the Arab world.

Tunisian Arabic Corpus

I created the first large-scale corpus of Tunisian Arabic, available free to the public at tunisiya.org. The corpus contains materials from a wide variety of genres, including novels, folktales, talk radio, blogs, and screenplays, and is accessible through a custom-built search and concordancing tool. This corpus has been used by scholars all over the world, supplying data for journal articles, dissertations, and at least one book. The ultimate goal of the corpus is to provide data for reference materials for Tunisian Arabic (and North African Arabic more broadly), most critically a bilingual Tunisian-English dictionary, grammar, and basic coursebook for Tunisian Arabic.

Teaching

Salve Regina University

Instructor
  • Beginner Arabic I
Fall 2021

Georgetown University

Teaching Assistant
  • The Arabic Novel (Fall 2020, Spring 2021)
  • Intensive Second Level Modern Standard Arabic II (Spring 2020)
  • Intensive Second Level Modern Standard Arabic I (Fall 2019)
  • Intensive First Level Modern Standard Arabic II (Spring 2019)
  • Intensive First Level Modern Standard Arabic I (Fall 2018)
Sept 2018 – May 2021

National Cryptologic School, Maryland

Instructor
  • Foundations of Cryptologic Arabic Grammar
Feb 2011 – Apr 2011

Publications

Refereed articles

  • McNeil, Karen (in press). “'We don't speak the same language:' Language choice and identity on a Tunisian internet forum.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language.
in press
  • McNeil, Karen (in press). “When the leak becomes a flood: The development of vernacular literature in Tunisia.” Perspectives on Arabic Linguistics XXXIV. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
in press

Book Chapters

2019
2017

Collaborative Books

2014

Manuscripts in Preparation

  • “Negation and aspect in Tunisian Arabic: A typological and functional perspective.” Under development by invitation for Afef Labben and Nadia Hamrouni (Eds.). Linguistics of Tunisian Arabic: Structural, Sociolinguistic and Pragmatic Perspectives, Tunis: University of Tunis.

Essays

  • Banipal. Autumn/Winter 2010. “Portrait: Ezzedine Madani,” with Miled Faiza.
2010
  • Jamaliya, September 23, 2007, "'Qatalū al-rasūla' .. nizār qabbānī wa zawjatuhu balqīs - Qirāˀa li-shiʕar nizār qabbānī bi-ʕayūn amrīkiyya ['They Have Killed the Prophet:' Nizar Qabbani and his wife Belquis - A reading of Nizar Qabbani's poetry through American eyes]."
2007
  • Jazoor, September 11, 2007, "'Qatalū al-rasūla' .. nizār qabbānī wa zawjatuhu balqīs - Qirāˀa li-shiʕar nizār qabbānī bi-ʕayūn amrīkiyya ['They Have Killed the Prophet:' Nizar Qabbani and his wife Belquis - A reading of Nizar Qabbani's poetry through American eyes]."
2007

Translation

Novels

  • Ghenim, Amira (forthcoming 2023). Calamity at the Nobles’ House. Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. Europa Editions. (under contract)
forthcoming
  • Makhbout, Shukri (2021). The Italian. Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. Europa Editions.
2011

Poems, Excerpts, and Short Stories

  • Rmili, Emna. “At the Safehouse.” Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. Banipal (Spring 2022).
2022
  • Ghenim, Amira. “Excerpt from Calamity of the Nobility.” Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. The International Prize for Arabic Fiction: The Shortlist 2021.
2021
  • Shukair, Mahmoud. “An excerpt from Shadows of the Family.” Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. Banipal 70 (Spring 2021).
2021
  • Ben Hammouda, Abdelfattah. “Two Tunisian Poems.” Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. World Literature Today (Winter 2020).
2020
  • Douagi, Ali. “The Broken Streetlight.” Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. Banipal 62 (Summer 2018).
2018
  • Makaddam, Lamia. “Three poems.” Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. World Literature Today. May 2018.
2018
  • Jaber, Inaya. “I Have the Right to be a Stranger.” Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. World Literature Today. March–April 2018.
2018
  • Makaddam, Lamia. “Lamia Makaddam: Four Poems.” Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. Banipal 60 (Autumn/Winter 2017).
2017
  • Almullah, Ahmad. (2017). My beautiful life. Translated by Karen McNeil and Miled Faiza. Ottawa: Massa Publishing.
2017
  • Mosbahi, Hassouna. “Searching for Grandmother’s House.” Banipal 49 (Spring 2014). Translated by Karen McNeil.
2014
  • Faiza, Miled. “A Faraway Room” and “Puppets.” Translated by Karen McNeil. Al Jadid Magazine. Vol. 18, no. 67: 2014.
2014
  • Faiza, Miled. "An Interpretation of the House During Our Absence" and "On the Edge of the World." Banipal 39 (Autumn/Winter 2010). Translated by Karen McNeil and Tristin Cranfield.
2010
  • Faiza, Miled. "An Interpretation of Absence" and "Black and White." Translated by Karen McNeil. World Literature Today. May-June 2008.
2008

Translations (English into Arabic)

  • al-Quds, September 15, 2013. "Qasīdatān." Selected poems by Sharon Olds, with Miled Faiza.
2013
  • al-Ghawoon, May 1, 2010, “Sāḥa min ḥalmatayya ḥalībi.” Selected poems by Sharon Olds, with Miled Faiza.
2010
  • al-Ghawoon, November 1, 2009. "Imraˀa tumazziq fustānahā kay tastaṭīʕa al-jarī." Selected poems by Sharon Olds, with Miled Faiza.
2009

Other Translations

  • Music albums, including dedications, prefaces, and song titles for: Marcel Khalife in Oumayma Khalil’s album Sawt (2018); Marcel Khalife in Rami Khalife’s Stories (2016); and Yolla Khalife’s Hawak (2015)
2015, 2016, 2018
  • Interpreted for Marcel Khalife (Harvard University, 2014) and Adonis (Brown University, 2013)
2013, 2014

Grants and Awards

  • Georgetown Graduate School Conference Travel Grant, $500
2022
  • Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics – Best Student Abstract, $300
2022
  • Arabic and Islamic Studies Dept. Travel Grant, Georgetown Univ. $850
2022
  • Georgetown Graduate School Research Grant, $500
2021
  • Georgetown Graduate School Conference Travel Grant, $500
2020
  • Arabic and Islamic Studies Travel Grant, Georgetown Univ. $300
2020
  • British Council Arabic–English Translation Workshop – selected for attendance, all expenses paid – Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
2020
  • Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics – Best Student Abstract, $300
2020
  • American Institute for Maghrib Studies Research Grant, $3,000
2019
  • Arabic and Islamic Studies Travel Grant, Georgetown Univ. $850
2019

Conference Participation

Invited Talks

  • "Keynote address: Tunisian Arabic Corpus: Creating a written corpus of an ‘unwritten’ language," International Symposium on Tunisian and Libyan Arabic Dialects, University of Vienna (Austria), Jul 6, 2015.
2015

Papers

  • “Orthography and standardization in written Tunisian Arabic: A corpus study,” International Association of Arabic Dialectology (AIDA), Granada, Spain, Jun 28–Jul 1, 2022.
2022
  • “Orthographic patterns of written Tunisian Arabic,” Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics (ASAL35), Washington, D.C., Mar 25–27, 2022.
2022
  • “When the leak becomes a flood: Changing diglossia in Tunisia,” Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics (ASAL34), Tucson, Feb 28–Mar 1, 2020.
2019
  • “Mānīsh nfadlak! The use of nominal negation with Tunisian verbs,” Arabic Linguistics Forum (ALiF18), London, Jul 4, 2018.
2018
  • "Fī (‘in’) as a Marker of the Progressive Aspect in Tunisian Arabic: A cognitive approach,” International Symposium on Tunisian and Libyan Arabic Dialects, University of Vienna, Austria, Jul 6–8, 2015.
2015
2013
  • “Tunisian Arabic Corpus: Creating a written corpus of an unwritten language,” (with Miled Faiza), Workshop on Arabic Corpus Linguistics, Lancaster University (WACL), Apr 11–12, 2011.
2011
2011

Posters Presented

  • “Māhūš yiʕāwin ('He’s not helping'): Marked negation and verbal aspect in spoken Arabic,” Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics (ASAL33), Toronto, Apr 5–7, 2018.
2018
  • “Tunisian Arabic Corpus,” Textual Corpora & the Digital Islamic Humanities workshop at Brown University, Oct 17-18, 2014
2014

Panel Participation

  • “Exploiting Mobile Technology and Computational Lexicography to Enhance Arabic Pedagogy,” Karin Ryding (chair), Middle East Studies Association (MESA), Nov 24, 2014.
2014

Department Talks

  • “Python for humanities scholars: A little coding goes a long way,” Arabic and Islamic Studies Graduate Colloquium, Workshop on Digital Humanities, Feb 25, 2022.
2022
  • “Project management for graduate students,” Arabic and Islamic Studies Graduate Colloquium, Nov 19, 2021.
2021
2021
  • “When the leak becomes a flood: Destabilizing diglossia in Tunisia,” Arabic and Islamic Studies Graduate Colloquium, Nov 11, 2019.
2019

Skills

Human Languages

  • English
  • Modern Standard Arabic
  • Tunisian Arabic
  • Egyptian Arabic
  • Levantine Arabic
  • Iraqi Arabic
  • Spanish
  • French
  • German

Programming Languages & Tools

  • Python (programming)
  • Pandas (data analysis)
  • Django (web application development)
  • HTML (web development)
  • CSS (web development)
  • JQuery / Bootstrap (web development)