Sunday, November 30, 2014

Good prescriptivism?

People tend to enter their first linguistics classes with a vague but strongly felt idea, instilled by English teachers or by society at large, that some ways of speaking are bad, illogical, sloppy, rule-breaking, etc. One of our first tasks is thus to explain to them that, actually, such ways of speaking are just as logical and law-governed as standard English, they're simply obeying a different set of rules. Not infrequently, we follow that up by telling them everything that's wrong with the prescriptive rules of Standard English, based ironically on a very similar set of tropes: they're illogical (stop splitting infinitives because you can't do that in Latin), they're historically inaccurate (don't use singular they even though the King James Bible does), they're incompatible with the rules of modern spoken English (eg "it is I") to the point of confusing them into gross solecisms ("they gave it to John and I"). Unless we're careful, the students end up walking away from all that with the impression that linguists think prescriptivism is bad, full stop. That, however, would be a mistake. As irritating as these problems and misconceptions are, they don't affect the case for having a prescriptive standard language - just the extent of its ambitions and the details of its usage.

Prescriptivism, of course, is all about power: who gets to talk how where, and who gets to say how they should talk. As good libertarians, our first reflex might be to say that this is all unnecessary: let everyone decide for themselves! That has two different problems. The first is that, when people decide for themselves, what they end up with is in fact a set of implicit rules for what's appropriate in which circumstances, and if you want to make life easier for visitors from other cultures, the least you can do is make those rules explicit somewhere. The other is that, in the event of any clashes, it's the more powerful individual that gets to decide, which is a particular problem in the case of public services. You want a driver's license, and you only speak English? Sorry, our local transport officials aren't really comfortable with English, so you'd better brush up on your Russian.

The latter example may sound like fantasy to American or English readers (not so much to the Irish or Welsh), but it's rather close to reality in a lot of the world. If you understand Arabic, have a look at this video of Moncef Marzouki, one of the two current presidential candidates in Tunisia, having a go at his Tunisian interviewer for using too many French words: "Respect the Arabic language! Plutôt, what does plutôt mean? You say plutôt, what's that? My sister in Douz won't understand plutôt. [...] [Interviewer: It's a chance for her to learn...] No, she needn't learn - you learn the language of Tunisians!"

It's populism, of course - but, like a lot of populism, it makes a good point. Why the heck should the average citizen have to speak a foreign language to deal with officials and other elites in his/her own country? (Especially in one as close to monolingual as Tunisia?) In such a situation, if the populace doesn't prescriptively impose their language preferences through concerted action, the bureaucracy will simply impose their own in one-to-one interactions.


David Marjanović said...

(eg "it is I")

Interestingly, even German (which for instance doesn't split infinitives even when it could) doesn't do this – it uses agreement in the other direction: "that am I", "I am it".

to the point of confusing them into gross solecisms ("they gave it to John and I")

This construction, where and is a preposition that governs the nominative, appears to have gone native: at least one person has told me they produce it naturally.

John Cowan said...

Sure it's native. It's found in Shakespeare, which is way before English prescriptivism even existed. In formal terms, English doesn't naturally mark conjuncts for case, and the different status of Him and I went to the store and You went to the store with him and I (the latter is acceptable in higher registers than the former) is sociolinguistic, not linguistic.

David Marjanović said...

OK, now you've blown my mind.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Uh, which construction is found in Shakespeare exactly? And where?

"Him and I" certainly blows my mind. What I would think of as the normal spoken English version, "Me and him went to the store", and the standard written English one, "He and I went to the store", both at least avoid combining a nominative with a so-called accusative. But it does seem to be out there: "There were two T-bar lifts running but Scott needed to learn first, so him and I went to the bunny hill area and I attempted to teach him to snowboard :0)".

Jim said...

"The latter example may sound like fantasy to American or English readers (not so much to the Irish or Welsh), "

Maybe with the English, but the subject is much more complex with regard to Americans. After all only 9% of Americans are of English ancestry (and a certain percentage of these are really of Welsh ancestry.) That's fewer than Americans of Irish ancestry, and there are even more of German ancestry. They language shifted for their own reasons, and in the case of German the history is quite complex.

""Him and I" certainly blows my mind."

It is a hyper-correction, so it's pathetic. "Me and him went to the store." is something you do hear in natural speech. "Him and I" is not. It is pretentious and pathetic.

Benjamin Geer said...

I'm sure it would be entirely possible for a bureaucrat to speak to an "average citizen" in a style of Arabic that the average citizen wouldn't understand at all. This is what happens in most countries. The notion of a supposedly homogeneous "national language" conceals vast differences due to class and education.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Ben: Of course it's possible - witness the Plain English Movement. In practice, though, that's not how North African bureaucrats obfuscate, at least in speech (in writing is another question.) If and when Arabic ever really becomes dominant in the bureaucracy, that will be the time to start worrying about clear Arabic vs. bureaucratese.

Benjamin Geer said...

Lameen, I'm just sceptical about the idea that it's possible to solve this problem by trying to require some people not to speak in the way that they were raised and taught to speak. Different social classes generally have different ways of speaking, which aren't fully mutually comprehensible, and dominant classes generally mark their social distance from dominated classes by speaking in ways that the latter find incomprehensible or intimidating. As long as people are brought up and taught to speak in different ways, I think it will be difficult to prevent them from doing so. In which case, why not fix the problem by giving everyone an education that teaches them to say "plutôt"?

Petre Norman said...

The nominative for conjunct pronouns, regardless of syntactic position, certainly seems to have been fully integrated for many speakers of British English. I hear it all the time on the BBC, including in very high-register speech.

Btw, do Americans really say "this is s/he" on the telephone? I hear it on TV, and am never sure whether it's meant to be a joke or not.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

In theory, every Tunisian already gets an education that teaches them to recognise "plutôt" (although I don't consider this ideal either - I'd rather have a diversity of foreign languages taught rather than forcing French on everyone.) But the principle remains: a Tunisian citizen should be able to interact with his own country's institutions without needing to know a foreign language. Mastering different class lects can be tough, but not nearly as tough as mastering a second language - and even if every Tunisian were fluent in French, they would still not necessarily be fluent in bureaucratic French.

Benjamin Geer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Benjamin Geer said...

By "foreign language", do you mean foreign to the individual (i.e. a second language) or foreign to the country? If the former, should citizens be able to interact with state institutions in Tamazight or French if they speak them as native languages? If the latter, couldn't Arabic also be considered foreign to Tunisia, since it was imported as a result of the Islamic conquests? Moreover, since native speakers of Tunisian Arabic regularly and spontaneously use words borrowed from French, aren't these words now part of Tunisian Arabic?

Petre Norman said...

"Couldn't Arabic also be considered foreign to Tunisia, since it was imported as a result of the Islamic conquests?"

Didn't the islamic conquest of Tunisia take place nearly 1500 years ago? Isn't this a little like saying English is foreign to England because it has its origins in the languages brought by the Angles, Saxons, Jutes etc. at around the same time?

Benjamin Geer said...

"English is foreign to England": yes, exactly. How long is long enough for a language to be spoken in a place before it can be considered native to that place? 50 years? 100? 500? 1000? Any answer is bound to be arbitrary. Therefore I think it doesn't make sense to say that places have native languages. Individual human beings have native languages.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

As you might gather from my past few years of posts, I am very much in favour of citizens being able to interact with officials in Tamazight in North Africa. That would be effectively impossible to implement on a national scale in Tunisia, since less than 1% of the population speak it, but it could and in my opinion should be implemented in the half-dozen or so villages that have preserved the language. Marzouki is on record as supporting such a policy for Morocco and Mauritania, so I would hope he'd be prepared to support something similar in Tunisia. As for the red herring of Arabic being foreign to Tunisia: what was spoken 1500 years ago, or even 500 years ago, is completely irrelevant to the point of making life easier for the average Tunisian citizen today. You might as well argue against requiring civil servants in Berlin to speak German, or in Dublin to speak English.

French - which has never been the first language of any significant number of citizens, and is not native to the country - is an entirely different issue. In Algeria I have repeatedly encountered officials who insisted on replying to me in French (which I barely spoke at the time) even when repeatedly addressed in Arabic, including at least one in a town where much of the population has minimal French skills - it is not simply a question of throwing in the occasional French word, as in the clip above. For Tunisia, that problem is nicely illustrated by a diplomat's anecdote shared last time I posted on this: "I thought erroneously that I could get away with speaking Arabic. At my first diplomatic reception, a Tunisian lady put that idea to rest: "Monsieur Mack: Nous ne parlons pas l'Arabe. Il n'est pas une langue serieuse."" In principle, it might be possible to oppose this imposition of French while supporting the sort of French loanwords associated mainly with those who like to insist on speaking French to everyone. In practice, they're two sides of the same coin. Certainly some French loanwords are well-established in Tunisian Arabic at this point, but plutôt is evidently not one of them.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Places don't have languages - rock can't talk. But communities always have languages, and often have places. And individuals get their languages from communities. "Tunisia" isn't just a place, or even primarily a place - it's an imagined community, whose primary language is Arabic.

Benjamin Geer said...

As you might gather from my research, I think nations are not imagined communities, but are actually dangerous illusions. Imagined by whom, in whose interests? Who is dominant in this alleged community and who is dominated, and on what grounds? Does replacing French with fusha in official discourse merely mean replacing one kind of domination with another? If the most important thing is to make life easier for the average citizen, why not make the spoken Arabic dialect (as spoken by average citizens) the official written language as well, rather than fusha? Wouldn't this greatly facilitate access to the ability to read, write, and participate in official discourse?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Whatever your perspective on nationalism - and I'm not sure Tunisia is technically a nation anyway - there exists a Tunisian state, which Tunisians are forced to interact with using some language. Insofar as their language preferences differ from those of state employees, they would be well advised to take advantage of the opportunities opened up by democracy to impose their own language preferences.

In theory, there's a lot to be said for making the spoken dialect into the official written language. In practice, for the time being, that's just not on the menu: there is no significant group of people in Tunisia asking for it, and even if there were it would require a language planning effort large enough to give pause. I think it probably will happen eventually by the same route that Egypt is further along: a darja enriched by the lexical resources of fusha but retaining the grammar and basic vocabulary of everyday speech. There is little chance of this happening as long as Arabic, fusha together with darja, is viewed as "not a serious language"; from what I've seen, in North Africa the two rise or sink together. For the moment, the winnable struggle is to extend it to spoken domains hitherto dominated by French (apart from some media/teaching functions, there are no spoken domains dominated by Fusha).

Anyway, your rhetorical questions suggest that you have fairly strong opinions about this, so let me turn the question around: what would you see as a feasible and desirable goal for Tunisian language policy? Do you consider the status quo, needing to master French to be taken seriously, as acceptable? If not, what would you change?

Benjamin Geer said...

I think a good language policy for any state would have to emerge from some kind of broad, inclusive, democratic process, and I don't think I could predict what the result would be. However, I think that debate could be usefully informed by looking at the histories of similar issues in other states and what social science has to say about those issues.

In France, at the time of the revolution of 1789, French was spoken only by elites in Paris, and the rest of the country spoke a large number of local languages that were in many cases mutually unintelligible. Embracing a nationalist language policy, the state spent a hundred years trying to force the population to speak French, which was supposedly the citizens' national language. Schoolchildren in provincial villages were required to speak French in school, and punished for speaking anything else, but as late as the 1880s, they would have been ridiculed by their friends if they spoke French outside the classroom. (One administrator wrote: "There is an interesting parallel between the present colonization of Tunisia and the development work going on in Sologne [in north-central France].") The state finally succeeded when the economic incentives for speaking French (mainly job opportunities in the state bureaucracy) became so strong that parents encouraged their children to speak French at home, and when World War I threw together conscripts from all over the country, with no way to communicate with each other except in French. (This is, at any rate, the argument of Eugen Weber's celebrated study "Peasants into Frenchmen", which I find persuasive.) In fact, those incentives were so strong that the other languages of France were unable to compete, and they all died out.

However, as Bourdieu found in his studies on education and class differences starting in the 1960s, the apparent democratisation of French public education, with the apparently standardised French language as its foundation, did an excellent job of blocking the upward social mobility of working-class children and hindering their participation in politics, because the education system implicitly favors prestigious styles of speaking and writing that are mastered mainly by the dominant classes and are learned mainly at home.

I think there are a few lessons to be learned from this example: (1) A state can get all its citizens to speak one one language, but this is basically a form of (internal) colonisation by elites, which should, as you said, "give pause". (2) To the extent that ordinary people can choose which language to learn or to speak in everyday life, they do so mainly for practical reasons, which take precedence over nationalist ideology or romantic notions of preserving local heritage. (3) Linguistic inequalities are inseparable from class inequalities, and if you try to fix the former problem without fixing the latter one, your efforts will be wasted.

Benjamin Geer said...

I think there would also be interesting lessons to be learned from the example of the Nordic countries, where everyone seems to speak English at an astonishing native-speaker level, while the local languages also seem to be thriving (and are, for example, used a lot in academic publications). Perhaps such a model (universal proficiency in English and/or French plus Arabic) would be an option worth considering for Tunisia.

In Singapore (where I did a post-doc), there are four official languages (English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil), and the state buraucracy seems to do everything in all four languages. Everyone apparently studies English in school (and proficiency seems to be very high), in addition to "their" language.

Switzerland (where I work) also has four official languages, and my impression is that one can, in general, interact with the bureaucracy in German, French, and Italian, as well as English (not an official language but widely spoken).

Another thing to consider is the use of official interpreters. From what I've seen from living in the UK and Germany, both those countries make a considerable effort to provide free interpreters to help speakers of a wide variety of languages interact with the state bureaucracy.

In Egypt, there is indeed a prestigious form of ammiyya that borrows freely from fusha vocabulary, but it is unfortunately almost never used in serious writing (as opposed to humor or satire). (An interesting exception is Wikipedia Masry.) A large segment of the dominant class is fluent in English, having attended expensive private schools where English is the main language of instruction, and speaks a form of ammiyya that includes so many English words as to be incomprehensible to ordinary Egyptians. This is perhaps the Egyptian version of "plutôt".

John Cowan said...

Uh, which construction is found in Shakespeare exactly? And where?

In The Merchant of Venice (ca. 1597) III:ii, Bassanio says "And since in paying it, it is impossible I should live, all debts are cleared between you and I if I might but see you at my death." It's unclear whether you is accusative or nominative here; historically it was accusative, but nominative you is thriving well before 1600, as a result of a phonological merger with ye in unstressed position; Shakespeare uses both.

Tamazgha said...

Except that Aljazeera-Arabic is NOT the language of Tunisians. Tunisian Darja is the people's language (it's a mix of Arabic words, Berber styles and pronunciation, and some French words). And Berber is the local language in the south of about 100,000 native Tunisians.

The president himself was speaking Tunisian Darja on TV while defending Aljazeera-Arabic and policing people's vocabulary choices!

A state of denial.

Typical Arabist nonsense from a person who says he's democratic and secular. What if the Tunisians don't want to speak Aljazeera-Arabic despite it being in the law? What if Tunisians like their easy intimate pidgin language?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

John: Thanks. How odd!

Tamazgha: It is entirely possible to defend both Darja and Fusha while disapproving of French loanwords. Marzouki's discourse on this point is ambiguous: I've heard him defend traditional Darja at one point and condemn "slang" at the next. But if he can't be clear on the subject, I can. In Tunisia as in Algeria, the main language of the people is and will remain Darja, and the real debate needs to be over the future of Darja. Do we want a massively Frenchified Darja in which even basic words are replaced by French borrowings, that would be unrecognisable to our own grandparents? Or do we want a traditional Darja with the lexical gaps filled from Fusha, that Ibn Khaldun or Emir Abdelkader would have had little trouble understanding? You choose what you like - I'm going for the second option.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Benjamin: Those studies of Bourdieu's sound interesting - any references that you would especially recommend?

Oddly enough, the Nordic countries are one of my favourite models for North African language policy. Just imagine - practically every citizen speaks at least one foreign language to practically native-level fluency, and yet a Finn, for example, can still walk into any government office and get served in Finnish without having to know a word of English! I dream of the day an Algerian can walk into any government office and confidently expect not to be addressed in French.

Free interpreters are a nice idea in principle, but a rather expensive one to put into practice. Gioven their economic situation, I doubt that most Tunisians or Algerians would regard paying for interpreters as the best use of government funds, although in some circumstances they might be worth it.

As for your three points; 1 is pretty uncontroversial at this point I think - at any rate, I'm not arguing with it; 2 is partly true but clearly not universally true, as indicated by the revival of Hebrew and the survival of Finnish. As for 3, class inequalities never have been and never will be "fixed", which complicates the problem of determining the effect of language policy in making the situation better or worse. Do you know of any coparative studies that attempt to separate out the effect of language policy on this?

Benjamin Geer said...

Bourdieu's early work on education, language, and class is summarized in the book "Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture". "Distinction" also deals to some extent with the ways different classes relate to language, especially in the chapter on working-class habitus. His later study, "The State Nobility", gives some striking evidence of how teachers' criteria for marking essays inadvertently favour pupils from bourgeois backgrounds, and how the same criteria are applied to university students as well as professors throughout their academic careers. "Language and Symbolic Power" includes essays on the relationship between "legitimate language" on one hand, and working-class language or "dialect" on the other hand, and discusses examples involving the local dialect in Bourdieu's hometown.

I'd be interested to know whether the frequency of English loanwords in Scandinavian languages is greater than the frequency of French loanwords in Tunisian darja. I suspect that the extensive use of loanwords is a natural and universal result of multilingualism.

"a massively Frenchified Darja in which even basic words are replaced by French borrowings, that would be unrecognisable to our own grandparents": that sounds like what happened to English after the Norman conquest. Is English a worse language as a result? On the contrary, I think it's been enriched by the massive influx of French words.

As far as I understand, the revival of Hebrew was engineered by nationalist intellectuals, not by "ordinary people", and those intellectuals met with a great deal of opposition from the actual ordinary people whose language practices they were trying to change, much like the Parisian elites who imposed French on the population of France. Nationalist intellectuals have had a major influence on language policies all over the world since the 19th century. While their policies have no doubt had some useful effects, I think they have mostly benefited the sorts of elites that those nationalist intellectuals have belonged to.

Economic inequalities are indeed very hard to fix, but if the language barriers faced by dominated classes are indeed rooted in class distinction itself, it seems pointless to try to use language policy to remove those barriers. As long as legitimate language is modelled on some sort of bourgeois language (whether that's bourgeois French, darja, or anything else), the bourgeoisie will always be be able to make new and more subtle barriers to exclude working-class imitators. Unfortunately I don't know of any research that addresses this question, but I'd be very interested to see some.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

"I suspect that the extensive use of loanwords is a natural and universal result of multilingualism."

Actually, no - it depends on speakers' attitudes towards the use of loanwords. For example, Marianne Mithun has pointed out that in the Native American languages of the SE US you find substantial structural convergence confirming direct testimonies that multilingualism was widespread, but you find virtually no loanwords, appparently due to a general cultural disapproval of their use. Something similar applies in the Vaupes River area, if I recall rightly. As I think anthropologists like to put it, speakers have agency. As for Scandinavia, I don't have the stats, but my impression is that English loanwords are way rarer than French loans in Algerian (not sure about Tunisian) - as you'd expect, since, power imbalances notwithstanding, Scandinavia has never been colonised by an English-speaking nation.

"Is English a worse language as a result?"

England has had almost as millennium to recover from the Norman Conquest, and to build up a literary and scientific heritage that by now far surpasses anything the Anglo-Saxons had built. It's easy to view the loss of what came before with equanimity now. How do you think it felt in, say, 1128? I'm under no illusion that loanwords reduce a language's expressive power or something. But a massive influx of loanwords certainly does disrupt communication across the generations - Icelanders can read the sagas in the original, but we can't read Beowulf. Moreover, this particular influx at least is just one aspect of a much broader cultural transformation, and it so happens that I'm rather attached to a lot of the people and traditions that this transformation marginalises. Resisting loanwords is one way to symbolically affirm that we do not have to turn ourselves into cheap imitations of France or of our own elites.

Hebrew revitalisation was certainly founded by nationalist intellectuals, but they couldn't have gotten far without support from a remarkable number of more or less ordinary people volunteering to jump through their hoops. More generally, people sometimes choose to maintain a language even when it offers minimal practical benefits (depending on how you define that very slippery word "practical", of course). Religious communities offer some conspicuous examples - why is Pennsylvania Dutch still around?

The interesting thing about North Africa is that the language of the bourgeoisie is very clearly not Fusha. That's no doubt a major reason for the size of the gap between language planners' aspirations and local reality.

Benjamin Geer said...

That's interesting about loanwords, thanks for correcting me. Yes, speakers have agency, but they also experience pressure to conform to legitimate language, which is defined by elites. That pressure often comes in the form of economic incentives (one must speak "properly" in order to get a job), or simply through the fact that people have little choice but to send their children to schools where instruction takes place in the legitimate language. If legitimate language is deliberately shaped according to nationalist (or other) criteria of linguistic purity, as it often is, it's not surprising to find ordinary people (eventually) rejecting loanwords as well. No doubt this had a lot to do with the willingness of some ordinary people to "volunteer" to go along with the revival of Hebrew. But many resisted for as long as they could, and there were "language wars" between the proponents of Hebrew, Yiddish, German, and other languages in Palestine.

"The success in revitalizing Hebrew as a spoken language in Palestine can largely be attributed to the relentless efforts of a determined group of teachers who placed spoken Hebrew at the very center of the modern Jewish educational curriculum.";idno=11879367.2011.008

Religious communities have their own pressures to conform (linguistically and in many other ways), and conforming can indeed be a practical response to those pressures, because it gives you access to the social capital that circulates in the community. In such situations, apostates, heretics, and other nonconformists can be completely ostracised (even by their own families), losing all their accumulated social capital and having to leave the community entirely. That's quite an incentive to fit in.

"How do you think it felt in, say, 1128?"

This question reminds me of George Saliba's theory about the effect of language policy in the early Islamic empire on the development of Islamic science. He found that after Arabic became the official language of the state bureaucracy, a lot of non-Arabic-speaking officials lost their jobs. However, in many cases, the sons of those officials ended up getting the jobs that their fathers had formerly held. In order to compete for those jobs, the sons had not only learned Arabic, they had also acquired more advanced scientific knowledge than their fathers or their fathers' replacements had.

My great-grandparents arrived as immigrants in the US, speaking no English. They learned English as a second language, their children grew up bilingual, and their grandchildren grew up as monolingual English speakers. I've never heard anyone in my family express any displeasure or regrets about this, and I have no reason to think it caused any economic difficulties. I think this is a very common immigrant experience.

"a massive influx of loanwords certainly does disrupt communication across the generations"

I rather think that most grandparents would have trouble understanding the way their grandchildren talk to other children. Yet children understand how to talk to their grandparents in order to be understood. For example, I live in Germany, so my daughter is growing up speaking German as a native language. She talks to her American grandmother in English, to her French grandmother in French, and to me in a mixture of English and French, which is fine. Fortunately, no one has taught her that mixing languages is bad. But she knows that her grandparents won't understand that mixture, so she doesn't use it with them.

"I'm rather attached to a lot of the people and traditions that this transformation marginalises"

Are monolingual people really marginalised because some other people are bilingual and like to mix languages? Or are they marginalised because some of those bilinguals refuse to speak the language of the monolinguals, even though they can?

Petre Norman said...

"Hebrew revitalisation"

What does that actually mean? Didn't they just cobble together a whole "new" language, based on elements of Ashkenazi and Sephardi, with some innovative syntax (from English??).

Not at all my field, so feel free to shoot me down.

Benjamin Geer said...

Petre Norman: it's not my field either, but what I've heard from native speakers is that, roughly speaking, modern Hebrew combines vocabulary based on Biblical Hebrew roots with syntax and phonology borrowed from Yiddish and other European languages. That makes it an example of language mixing, much like the French-influenced Tunisian darja that we've been discussing here.

Peter Norman said...

Modern Irish springs more readily to mind than Darja as a comparison.

Tamazgha said...

Dr. Souag, about your scenarios for the development of Darja, why have only two options (French influx or Foṣḥaa-Arabic Influx)?

Why not advocate free evolution and grounds-up education and letting the people and the writers develop Darja?

Why not be open to Berber influx of words as well? Darja is heavily influenced by Berber phonology and sounds more like Berber than like Arabic. Plus there are hundreds of Berber words in Darja. In fact, Darja is Darja because of Berber. A natural evolution.

Your preference of injecting Arabic words into Darja to cover modern or abstract concepts implies an institutionalized engineering and control of the language à la French Academy, which requires for Darja to be recognized as an independent "language", national or official.

Most Darja native speakers have a hyper-aggressive refusal to recognize it as a language independently from Arabic, because they see this as a backstab to Arabic and Islam. The more religious (Islamic) people are the more anti-Darja and anti-Berber they are.

So no recognition means institutionalization and education go out of the window, and standardization goes too. Back to square one: Darja continues in limbo land and might evolve in any direction, probably importing French words as French is the English of Tunisia and North Africa, and as youngsters and media people use French words just to show they are modern and cool.

The Berber language in Morocco and Algeria escaped this religious siege and got recognized by the states only because it's too different from Arabic in everything.

The Darjas of the Berber world have the curse of being lexically too close to Arabic and this makes them eternal slave-languages to Arabic in the eyes of the faithful Muslim masses.

petre said...

Benjamin, since this is neither of our fields, I'm fascinated to know what yours is. Mine was Balkan linguistics, which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

Benjamin Geer said...

Petre, I'm no longer sure what my field is, but you can have a look at my CV and publications and judge for yourself:

Peter Norman said...

Interesting, Benjamin.
Apparently you're one of those strange people who are actually interested in what people do, not just how they talk. WELL out of my field, but hats off!