Marzouki warns that the language used in Facebook postings and private stations, with its undigested French loans or even phrases, freedom from prescriptive grammar, and Latin transcriptions, is a foretaste of what future Arabic may look like if we're not careful. The solution, in his view, is a Society for the Defense of the Arabic Language in Tunisia - but "will the authorities license this, when most of the parties are using dialect in their political advertising" and the state used a slogan in dialect ('وقيت باش تقيّد') to advertise the elections? If we're not careful our children may end up speaking "a language like Creole, dominant in the islands of the Caribbean and the Pacific - a strange mixture of European and African languages" and a Tunisian will need an interpreter to talk to a Yemeni (many might already!) He blasts the station-owning promoters of code-mixing as "Westernised counter-revolutionary forces who dread Islamists' and Arabists' victory and support Westernisation and separation from the Arabo-Islamic world through a narrow isolationism."
So far so familiar, you may well say. I'm not impressed with his rather authoritarian desire to restrict what language private broadcasts can use - he specifically states that he wants laws on broadcasting requiring "the exclusive use of Fusha and refined Darja" and "banning this Creole language - we don't think that the BBC would allow pub talk, or French TV teen slang." (He's definitely wrong there!) I was also surprised by the way he seems to set up dialectal Arabic as the enemy of Standard Arabic (Fusha), when in fact Fusha has stayed alive only through dialectal Arabic speakers' attachment to it; but he later clarifies that his opposition is to the use of dialect in inappropriate contexts and not to the dialect itself, which he deems worthy of "preservation and development".
He has some good proposals on language policy too, though. We need more translation into Arabic, more digitisation of Arabic books, and more use of Arabic in science; "no community has flourished in the language of another" (absolutely right, but how to pay for these?) The single-foreign-language policy that makes the Maghrib Francophone and the Mashriq Anglophone needs to be replaced by a policy of teaching different foreign languages to different pupils (this I agree with 100%, although again the cost of training is a formidable obstacle), including those of Asia and even Africa. He also takes a progressive line on minority languages, calling it "obligatory" for the state to support languages like Berber in Algeria and Morocco or Pulaar in Mauritania, and even teach them to Arabic speakers - although he doesn't have anything to say on what's left of Berber in Tunisia... And despite my reservations about the heavy-handedness of his prescriptivism, I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to summarise the opposing position; he devotes a lot of the article to answering potential challenges to his positions:
- Isn't linguistic cross-fertilisation a longstanding phenomenon? Have our people ever spoken an unmixed language? Isn't it natural for languages to change and develop? Doesn't our dialect contain hundreds of French and Italian words anyway? (He doesn't really try to answer these.)
- Couldn't Arabic develop into multiple literary languages just as Latin did? (But we see the opposite: more and more people are using Arabic thanks to broadcasting, education, and Islam, and the dialects are now getting closer to the standard language. "As long as the Qur'an remains, Arabic will continue to develop and to accumulate around it dialects close to it, like planets circling around the sun.")
- Doesn't this position discriminate against the less-educated in favour of an elite? Shouldn't the revolution restore the freedom to speak the language of the masses? (Arabic was discriminated against under the dictatorship, being excluded from administration, higher education, and research; and talk of "the dialect" camouflages discrimination against regional ones. "What we hear in broadcasting is not the dialect of the northwest or the south (which are nearly Fusha) but the dialect of a few posh neighbourhoods in the capital who count it as a mark of backwardness to utter a sentence without stuffing it with French expressions, even when out of place. Franco-Arabic is the language of some bourgeois, Westernised sections who despise the public and call them 'beggars'." - Needless to say, this is a tu quoque reply: while more or less correct, it doesn't really address the question.)