Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Language anxieties and policies between France and Algeria

I recently finished reading Claude Hagège's Combat pour le français au nom de la diversité des langues et cultures (2006). For any Algerian reader, it's a rather ironic experience to read his strangely familiar-sounding defense of his national language against an unholy alliance of foreign manipulation and unpatriotic elites, cynically claiming to defend minority languages when their real aim is to weaken the national language. The irony is only heightened when you realise that, had the last 150 years gone differently, the author, born to Jewish parents in Tunisia, might have been writing the same book in Arabic (his last name is a transcription of حجّاج "pilgrim"). But when he discusses political history (pp. 190-196), the parallels go beyond the merely rhetorical to get strikingly specific, and one starts to realise just how unoriginal Algerian language policy is.

Anyone who writes about Algerian language policy is obliged to mention the Arabisation laws of 1991 and 1996, stipulating, among other things, that Arabic must be the language of all domestic administrative or corporate correspondence, of all television and conferences, and (by 2000) all university instruction. Fewer of those writers feel obliged to mention the fact that no attempt has ever been made to put these laws into practice, and that they are flagrantly violated on just about every Algerian street every day. None that I've read mention the obvious parallels in recent French history, to which Hagège devotes some attention:

Au termes de [la loi Bas-Lauriol de 1975], l'emploi du français était rendu obligatoire dans les échanges commerciaux, la publicité et les contrats de travail ; une circulaire d'octobre 1982 étendit ces dispositions aux étrangers exportant en France leurs produits, et un décret de mars 1983 imposait aux établissements d'enseignement et de recherche dépendant de l'Etat l'emploi des terminologies créées par les commissions officielles.
[By the terms of the Bas-Lauriol law of 1975, the use of French was made obligatory in commercial exchanges, advertising and employment contracts; a circular of October 1982 extended this to foreigners exporting their products to France, and a decree of March 1983 imposed on State teaching and research institutions the use of the terminologies created by the official committees.]
However, this law rapidly found itself "en voie d'obsolescence par défaut d'application" [on the way to becoming obsolete for lack of being put into practice]. The government responded in 1994 with the Toubon law:
[E]lle étend à de nouveaux domaines la portée de la loi Bas-Lauriol : codes du travail, examens et concours, marques de fabrique, règlements intérieurs des entreprises [...]) Enfin, elle est assortie de sanctions civiles en cas de transgression : cinq mille francs si les contrevenants sont des personnes physiques et vingt-cinq mille francs si ce sont des personnes morales.
[It extends the scope of the Bas-Lauriol law to new domains: labour codes, exams and competitions, trademarks, business-internal regulations... Moreover, it is furnished with civil penalties in case of violation: 5000 francs if the violator is a physical person, 25000 if it is a legal person.]
Part of this law was understandably struck down by the Constitutional Council as a violation of freedom of expression. The rest remained on the books, but, according to Hagège, continued to be openly violated with near-impunity. To make matters worse:
Les ministres du général de Gaulle redoutaient ses colères contre ceux qui, dans l'exercice de leurs fonctions, s'étaient exprimés en anglais. Les ministres d'aujourd'hui n'ont rien à craindre de tel quand, à l'occasion de conférences de presse, de réunions internationales, de discours dans les universités, ils utilisent l'anglais, soit parce qu'ils se piquent de donner une image de modernité, soit parce qu'ils sont convaincus que l'usage du français ne confère plus de prestige.
[General de Gaulle's ministers feared his wrath against anyone who, in a public capacity, expressed himself in English. The ministers of today have nothing to fear when - in press conferences, in international meetings, in speeches at universities - they use English, whether because they pride themselves on presenting an image of modernity or because they are convinced that the use of French is no longer prestigious.]
Substitute "Boumedienne" for "de Gaulle", "French" for "English", and "Arabic" for "French", and this statement could have been a direct quote from any recent Arabophone Algerian publication.

The comparison isn't perfect, of course: the status of Arabic in Algeria is far more precarious than that of French in France by any measure. Nevertheless, the parallels in attitudes, linguistic ideologies, and proposed responses are striking. I suspect that this is part of the problem: solutions that work well for France should not necessarily be expected to work well in Algeria (and observably don't), given the profound differences between the two countries. For one thing, Algeria has much less of a tradition of regarding the state as a basically benevolent force expressing the popular will, which makes state-centric approaches to language policy less likely to be effective. For another, attempts to regulate oral language use can hardly be effective if they fail to take into account the fact of diglossia, which is fundamental for Arabic but barely exists for French.


Moubarik Belkasim said...

France had many languages spoken in its regions until recently: Breton Celtic, Dutch (near Belgium), Catalan and Basque (near Spain) ...etc. The French state eradicated them largely and now they're walking towards complete extinction.

There is a proven correlation between national political unity and linguistic unity (and between that and religious unity... etc). A country with one main spoken-and-written language is much less likely to fragmentize than a country with two or more competing languages, especially if the geo-areas of those competing languages are relatively large are nicely divided along workable future political borders (like in Iraq or Belgium).

Linguistic diversity can lead to political fragmentations and separatism as soon as socio-economic / religious problems arise (Iraq, Turkey, Belgium ...). But when there is total equality (religious, economic, linguistic) and economic prosperity, the will for separatism disappears (Switzerland, Finland, New Zealand ...) or weakens a lot (Canada).

Governments like Algeria, Morocco, France and Turkey that applied grinding and unifying single-language policies that targeted non-government languages were motivated by preserving national unity and central power + the usual hatred or contempt towards weaker or minority languages + human selfishness (one always prefers for his own language to live and rule and for other languages to die or get out of the way).

In the case of Morocco and Algeria many Islamist Berber-speaking politicians and "pseudo-intellectuals" actually were motivated by Islam / political Islam to eradicate Berber and Arabize the society - so they just replaced ethnic/linguistic selfishness with religious selfishness. Many Islamists in Morocco to this day express their support for Arabization and are hostile to Berber through all kinds of double talk like when they express their "concern" about "the Zionist Christian plot to divide the country using the Berber language".

The correlation will always be there between "one united language" and "one united country". But who wants to give up their language for the sake of political unity?! No one. I won't. So let's get rid of stupidity and arrogance and treat all contending languages equally as national and official languages with equal financing and education: Berber, Darija, Arabic. We can choose total equality (and solve the problem) or we can become the current Yogoslavia.

David Marjanović said...

But when there is total equality (religious, economic, linguistic) and economic prosperity, the will for separatism disappears (Switzerland, Finland, New Zealand ...)

Switzerland is not a monolith when it comes to religion; it even had a civil war of Protestants against Catholics in the 19th century.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

I agree that no one should have to abandon Berber for the sake of Arabic; I'd much rather see the country supporting both languages. Nevertheless, the fact remains that people sometimes do decide they want to give up their languages for the sake of political unity, or religious unity, or just to be cool... After all, that's what most North Africans' ancestors already did. In fact, probably most people worldwide have ancestors at some remove who did that.

Moubarik Belkasim said...

Hi David Marjanović

I did't mean that Switzerland or Europe were paradises since forever. We all know about the religious mega-wars of Europe. I am talking about now. They solved the problem through the golden priciple of equality. Full linguistic, religious and economic equality doesn't leave a room for any war or separatism. Catalonia wants to secede because of the lack of equality. The Catalan language is not official in Madrid, so Catalan people feel Madrid is a foreign city like Paris. Let alone that they feel their tax money goes to somewhere else in Spain (this latter reason is also valid for the Flemish people of Belgium).

Hi Dr. Souag

I agree. Even in my social and family environment I see some people abandoning Berber and speaking Darija with their kids (even though both parents would speak Berber fluently with other wider-family members). It's because the State and the religion. The State tells the people through the media and education every day that French, Arabic and Darija are the good and cool languages, the rest is not good and not cool. So people follow, in order to increase career and life prospects for themselves and their kids. As for religion, Islam has a single "official" language that leaves no room for any other. I wrote an article in Arabic about this here: http://www.hespress.com/writers/273954.html

Unknown said...

Hi my friend,

You may or may not remember inviting me to "report back" on my experience as a European speaker of Moroccan Darja visiting Algeria for the first time. In any case, since you have no obvious rubric, I may as well crash in here as anywhere.

Even though I went to Oran in the last week of Ramadan, and the heat was accablante for me, I had a good time there. My little nephew took it upon himself to teach me "good" Arabic, which seemed to involve more arithmetic than I was prepared for, but despite the rigolades of his sisters, he was a good little teacher, and I'm grateful to him.

My boyfriend's brother and his family mostly speak Algerian Darja (probably with more than usual French thrown in, for our benefit). Polite as they are, they all complimented me on my "arabic", except my little arabic-teacher, who didn't hesitate to point out that "tu pâle bizarre, touai". My severest critic, but I love him most, the little bastard.

P.S. Mon boyfriend a directement posé la question: "est-ce que mon boyfriend parle avec un accent Marocain?", et ils ont répondu, non, non, pas du tout, ce qui veut dire, oui, bien sûr. Même nous les européens ne sommes pas bêtes à ce point là

David Marjanović said...

Let alone that they feel their tax money goes to somewhere else in Spain (this latter reason is also valid for the Flemish people of Belgium).

Yes, that's clearly the biggest factor today in both cases.