Saturday, August 22, 2015

Teaching in Dardja before colonial rule

In a recent article on RFI, I'm quoted as saying that Darja (Algerian dialectal Arabic) was already used in education before the colonial period. Here's why I said so.

If you talk to anyone who studied at a Qur'ānic school before independence, you'll find they learned their letters by reciting a little ditty in Darja that goes ألف ما ينقط شي، البا نقطة من تحت، التا زوج من فوق... etc. (Alif ma yənqəṭ ši, əlba nŭqṭa mən təħt, ətta zuj mən fuq..., ie: "Alif is not dotted, ba has a dot underneath, ta has two on top...") The same ditty existed in Kabyle: alif u yneqqeḍ ara, ba yiweṯ s wadda, ta snaṯ ufella... . My own aunt learned her letters that way before independence - in a school affiliated with the Association of Muslim Ulama, who today are pressing for a school boycott if dialect is officially introduced as a means of primary instruction... Well, it turns out that this exact ditty is already attested in Franciscus de Dombay's Grammatica linguae mauro-arabicae, a study of the Arabic dialect of northern Morocco published in Vienna in 1800, thirty years before the occupation of Algiers, when European power in North Africa was limited to a handful of ports:

Standard Arabic was, of course, by far the most important language to learn. But it turns out that at least one other language was taught using Darja: Kabyle Berber! In Des noms et des lieux, Mostefa Lacheraf notes:

A propos de ces départs pour les zaouias du Djurdjura [...] je découvris l'existence de poèmes mnémotechniques que ces jeunes gens arabophones des Hauts-Plateaux et du Tell apprenaient par coeur dans le but de se familiariser avec un vocabulaire kabyle fonctionnel, et pédagogiquement bien choisi, qui serait susceptible de les aider à se reconnaître dans leur nouveau milieu. Je regrette de n'en avoir pas gardé un spécimen, mais je me souviens que dans cette poésie pratique, utilitaire, au rhythme bien élevé, en un dialectal correct, figuraient des verbes, substantifs et expressions berbères avec leurs équivalents arabes désignant des objets et des actes essentiels à leur vie courante. (pp. 218-219)
[Through these trips to the zawiyas of the Djurdjura... I discovered the existence of mnemonic poems which these young Arabic speakers of the High Plateau and the Tell learned by heart in order to make themselves familiar with a practical Kabyle vocabulary, pedagogically well chosen, which would help them to find their footing in their new situation. I regret not having kept a specimen, but I remember that this practical, utilitarian poetry, with a good rhythm and in a correct dialectal [Arabic], included Berber verbs, nouns and expressions with their Arabic equivalents, referring to objects and acts essential to their daily life.]

I've written previously about a Classical Arabic poem intended to teach Songhay in a similar context: students coming to study in areas where a different language is spoken. Unfortunately the poems Lacheraf describes have not been published, as far as I know, but the papers of the noted anti-colonial leader Shaykh Aheddad include a Dardja-Kabyle wordlist presumably intended for the same purpose; this is described in Aïssani's 2012 article Le lexique manuscrit Arabe dialectal-Kabyle de la Zawiyya historique de Cheikh Aheddad.

The merits of teaching in Darja are open to debate, as are the motivations of Benghabrit. But to go into a sudden moral panic over Benghabrit's proposal, you need to ignore not only current but also historical practice among Algerian teachers. Anyone who really thinks Darja should be banned from the classroom should push to have that actually happen, not wait until someone admits to it to start protesting - and should acknowledge that doing that would in fact be something new.


PhoeniX said...

Tashelhiyt also knows this alphabet-rhyme. It's somewhere in Van den Boogert's book. Next time I'm at the office I'll post it here.

Moubarik Belkasim said...

In Rif-Berber (northern Morocco) this tradition existed too, in Koranic schools teaching Arabic. It says:

- alif wer ineqqeḍ (aleph is not dotted)

- elba ict s wadday (al-baa one dot below)

- etta tnayen sennej (al-taa two dots above)

- eththa třata sennej (al-thaa three dots above)

In Morocco when France occupied the cities, a writer developed a poem in Moroccan Darija to teach French for the elites:

صْباح الخير هي بوجور ("good morning" is "bonjour")

و كلْمة الدّوام عندهوم توجور (their word for "eternity" is "toujours")

Back to here and now. Why isn't anybody talking about teaching subjects like math and history (and not languages only) in Berber for Berber-speaking kids, in Kabylia, Algiers and Awras regions? This doesn't require any extensive training. The teacher can use the local Berber dialect automatically. A lot of misery in learning math and history and languages can be avoided using the mother tongue.

I think if there is mother tongue-aided education for Berber-speaking kids, it will be an eye-opener for many Algerians who oppose Darija.

Maybe with Berber, this thing will not be met with such hysteria. The Berber cultural and political movements certainly would welcome it immediately.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thanks for the rhymes!

You may find it hard to believe, but I've actually spoken with Kabyle teachers who thought mother tongue education was a great idea - _except_ for maths and sciences, which should naturally be taught in French. Talk about missing the point. Then again, Tizi Ouzou consistently tops the league tables for Bac results in Algeria as it is, so not sure how much people would notice if the situation got even better... Still, it's a good idea in principle.

PhoeniX said...

Here it is, the letters have some pretty exotic abbreviated names in the Tashelhiyt poem. I've taken this from Nico van den Boogert (1997) The Berber Literary Tradition of the Sous. Leiden: NINO. pg. 31.

lif iɣzzif ur ili tanqiṭṭ,
bi ila yat x izddar,
ta tla snat x uflla, [ta and ṯa are grammatically feminine!]
ta tla kraṭṭ x uflla,
ja ila yat x izddar,
ḥa ur ili ḥtta yat,
xa ila yat x uflla,
da ur tt ili
da iɛjmn ila yat x uflla,
ri ur tt ili,
za ila yat x uflla,
ṭi tla afrḍ mišš ur tli tanqiṭṭ, [Also grammatical feminine!]
ḍa ila yat x uflla,
ka ur ila tanqiṭṭ, [ila! Why no negative perfective here?]
la ur tt ili,
mi ur tt ili,
nu ila yat x uflla,
ṣa ur tt ili,
ḍa iɛjmn ila agrḍ,
yili tanqiṭṭ x uflla,
ɛi ur tt ili,
ɣi ila yat x uflla,
fi ila yat x izddar,
qa ila yat x uflla,
si ur tt ili,
ši ila kraṭṭ x uflla,
ha ur tt ili,
waw ur tt ili,
lhmza 'i ur tt ili,
ya ila snat x izddar.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lamine,
Have you ever heard of ملعبة الكفيف الزرهوني Mal'abat al Kafif az-Zarhouni ?

It's a old moroccan epic poem, a goldmine for merinide-era darija waiting to be discovered. You might want to look for it.

الملعبة إبداع مغربي قديم باللسان المغربي الدارج
تتطرق في 500 بيت لفترة من تاريخ الدولة المرينية في عهد أبي الحسن المريني كما تمتاز بكونها تؤشر لبدايات أولية لشعر الملحون.

نص شعري البناء، عامي اللهجة، ملحمي المنحى، سياسي المنزع، تاريخي المضمون، يتسم بالطرافة ويتميز بالأهمية.
إنه أقدم وثيقة تاريخية حول حدث بارز، هذ كيان المغرب الكبير في وقته، ألا وهو "الحركة" التي قام بها السلطان الكبير أبو الحسن المريني، من المغرب الأقصى إلى المغرب الادنى، لتوحيد المغارب في مغرب كبير من أجل الدنيا والدين.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thanks! Looks interesting...