Friday, September 27, 2013

Minkaohan - a Chinese word Algerians need

I read a fascinating and depressing article recently (The Strangers) - in which a linguist plays a lead role - about the worsening situation in Xinjiang. The author makes comparisons to Algeria at one point, but not for the following, which will surely strike a chord in anyone familiar with North African educational policy:
"Among the Uighur, however, the policy has created two distinct groups: the minkaohan, minorities educated in Mandarin, and the minkaomin, educated in their own language. Minkaomin education is not taken seriously by non-Uighur employers, and not speaking Mandarin shuts minkaomin graduates out of jobs. In turn, they often resent minkaohan students as opportunistic and unfaithful to their own heritage."
There seems to be a fair amount of scholarship on this issue, judging from a quick skim. The minkaohan have been analysed as a "hybrid identity", sometimes feeling a "sense of shame regarding their ethnic background" and often seen by their minkaomin peers as irreligious or potentially disloyal - but, of course, ambitious parents who want their children to be middle-class often see minkaohan education as the only way forward. Chinese is required for university, although 82% of Uyghur adults can't read Chinese, and students often have difficulty adjusting to the Chinese-speaking world of the university.

Sounds like a remarkably effective way to exacerbate social tensions, right? The irony is that, in North Africa, both governments and employers expanded or even created a very similar system after independence!

It hasn't escaped the Chinese government's notice that this is problematic, so they're addressing the problem by cutting way down on Uyghur teaching, in the hope of eventually making everyone "minkaohan": "'bilingual' classes in many areas have already developed from using Mandarin to teach math, physics, and chemistry to the new model of using Mandarin for all classes except for mother-tongue [language arts] classes." North Africa hasn't quite reached that second stage for Arabic, I'm glad to say - although that's actually the best it's ever managed for Berber - but that "solution" does have some proponents.

It's often been noted that Chinese has contributed surprisingly few loans to English. I think I'd nominate "minkaomin" and "minkaohan" for borrowing: they have no commonly used English equivalent, and are relevant to describing post-colonial situations in many countries.


James Palmer said...

Any recommendations for further reading on language in Algeria? I only really know the French/revolutionary period.

(PS - this is the author of THE STRANGERS)

David Marjanović said...

The -han part refers specifically to Chinese, though.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

James: The question is politicised enough that any summary you can find is likely to be biased in one direction or another, but I assume you have some experience in correcting for that. I can't think of any that I would recommend wholeheartedly, but two that come to mind from more or less opposite perspectives are:
- Benrabah, Mohamed. 2007. "The Language Planning Situation in Algeria". In ed. Robert Kaplan and Richard Baldauf, Language Planning and Policy in Africa, Vol. 2.
- Gafaïti, Hafid. 2002. "The Monotheism of the Other: Language and De/Construction of National Identity in Postcolonial Algeria". In ed. Anne-Emmanuelle Berger, Algeria in Others' Languages.

If I have the time, I might try and put together a summary here on this blog later.

David: That needn't be an obstacle; consider "laconic", "serendipitous", "spartan", "italic".

David Marjanović said...

Good point.

Anonymous said...

OT: Xinjiang was the home of the Tocharians, speakers of a IE language.

amrane Algeria said...

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