Dr. Shushan Karapetian, Institute Deputy Director, just concluded the fourth semester of teaching Armenian heritage courses at USC. Every semester, the concept of heritage has been framed from a different angle, but of course it always comes back to identity.

This semester was no exception. The lens of examination was the situation of the Armenian language in a diasporic context. Dr. Karapetian had the most diverse cohort of students –  from parents born in the US to arriving four years ago from Armenia, from households with mixed-heritage to students who were proficient and literate in both standards of modern Armenian, and those who didn’t know the difference between Eastern and Western Armenian and had to use codes like the Hayastantsi version vs. the Beyrutahay version. You get the point.

Dr. Karapetian and her students explored questions like: What do we mean by diaspora? Is there a capital D Armenian diaspora or is the Armenian experience a collage of many overlapping diasporas? Why do we feel so much anxiety and judgment both for not speaking Armenian and for speaking Armenian? Why do we compartmentalize our languages, using Armenian for everyday casual talk, familial love, church, the past and English for friends, romantic love, academia, the abstract world, and the future? What is the difference between preserving vs. cultivating Armenian and why does it matter? And of course, what is the connection between language and identity? 

Two hours was the allotment for their final course meeting for this semester; the students stayed for six. Topics included: borrowed words and attitudes about language purism; heritage language tattoos; native speakers’ perceptions of heritage speakers; talking about body parts in Armenian; the legacy of terms like աղբար and տեղացի; the likelihood of giving your child an Armenian name; cursing in Armenian; how to engage students in Armenian day schools, and so much more…

What remains after the end of each semester? This: “Thanks so much for a great semester. Your class was my favorite I’ve taken at USC. I learned so much about the Armenian identity and language in the context of our community as well as myself. I left your class feeling proud and secure about my Armenian heritage.” 

They’re leaving with a sense of ownership. Talk about job satisfaction.

The courses are MDA 330 and 333 – in case you know someone who would want to sign up.