Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Tamazight official in Algeria

Yesterday, Ouyahia made an announcement with momentous implications for Algerian language policy: the revised constitution that they've been working on is to make Tamazight (Berber) official. The section on language policy follows, with proposed revisions in bold (see مشروع تمهيدي لمراجعة الدستور, or in French: Avant projet de révision de la Constitution):
Article 3. Arabic is the national and official language. Arabic remains the official language of the State. A High Commission for the Arabic Language shall be created under the President. The High Commission for the Arabic Language shall be tasked particularly with working for Arabic to flourish and for its use to be generalised in scientific and technological fields, and with encouraging translation into it towards this end.
Article 3b. Tamazight is also a national and official language. The State shall work to promote and develop it in all of its linguistic variety used within the national territory. An Algerian Academy of the Amazigh Language shall be created, placed under the President of the Republic. The Academy shall refer to experts' work and shall be tasked with providing the necessary conditions for the development of Tamazight, with a view towards eventually making its official status concrete. The means of implementation of this article shall be determined by organic law.
Now anyone who's not cynical about the Algerian Constitution hasn't been paying attention. As I recall, Algeria has changed its Constitution more often than it's changed its president since its independence in 1962 - indeed, one of the proposed new changes, term limits, simply reverses a fairly recent change made specifically so the current president (now somewhere near his deathbed) could stay in power longer. And the fact that French is still dominant in much of the government today, decades after Arabic became official, gives some idea of how slow the implementation can be expected to be. The timing of this announcement - in the wake of massive, budget-busting oil price drops - makes it a transparent attempt to curry favour with part of the population without having to actually spend anything on helping them.

Nevertheless, justified cynicism should not blind us to the change this represents. It's not just that Tamazight is now to be official; it's that the idea of making Tamazight official is hardly even controversial any more, including among Arabic speakers. The extent to which this idea has become mainstream is as much a victory for one of the most justifiable demands of the Amazigh movement as the new article itself is.


Anonymous said...

I bet you the regime makes sure to avoid using the Tifinagh alphabet, instead only endorsing the Latin script for fear of being too similar to Morocco. Algeria and her western neighbour should both agree to use the Tifinagh script which has the oldest roots in the region.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

The government has somehow managed to stay more or less officially neutral on the alphabet question despite having been teaching it for over twenty years - textbooks are available in all three scripts. I'm confident that it will continue that for as much longer as it can get away with. But as far as I can see, every Algerian author willing to actually write books of their own completely in Tamazight does so in the Latin script; Arabic is used only for transcribing poetry or proverbs within a largely Arabic-language context (or for Qur'an translation), and Tifinagh is used only for titles and signs. I personally think Latin script was the wrong choice, but it's very clearly been made, and not by the government either.

ths said...

Could you explain how this will work in practice? Is Tamazight a standardized Berber language? Or is it the most common Berber dialect in Algeria? And if so, doesn't it then privilege that dialect over others?

Samir said...

Concerning the script I think pragmatic regional approaches might trump nationwide trends :
- Latin script is prominent in the Tell (Kabylie, Algiers, Tipaza), Tifinagh is not breaking through, it is in fact symbolic (in Greater Kabylie at least).
- while the Aures and the Tuareg areas would favour Tifinagh.
- In some southern oases (Touggourt, Wargla, Tuwat) I think Arabic script would be better for the sake of vulgarisation as Tifinagh might be perceived as strange and hard to learn and Latin is irrelevant as French is clearly "foreign" there.

pep said...

"it's that the idea of making Tamazight official is hardly even controversial any more, including among Arabic speakers."

Yep, that´s the important part, and I wish Lounes Matoub had lived to see this come true.

As for the script, it´s obviously up to Algerian people to decide, but seen from abroad, the latin one makes things easier. That´s how the language is taught in my country, Catalonia

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

ths: I'll post a bit more on that if I have time. The amendment doesn't specify much, but Ouyahia's linked speech indicates that they want to create a standardized Berber language; in practice, I expect it will be Kabyle plus neologisms.

Samir: The basic trouble is that, in the regions where Latin script is not favoured, virtually no one actually seems to be publishing anything in Berber. If they want to be able to influence the official choice of script, they need to start by using their preferred script unofficially.

pep: Lounes Matoub would have been underwhelmed - this doesn't go nearly far enough for him. But Mouloud Mammeri would have felt a moment of satisfaction. As for the Latin script, it makes things easier for those who are already accustomed to writing and reading in some other language written in a Latin script - a category which includes some but by no means all Berber-speakers...

Samir said...

Lameen : Alpahetization lessons in Tamazight (actually Kabyle and maybe Tashawit) across Algeria are focusing on Latin script (Mammeri's alphabet). This means that Latin is gaining the upper ground. Also Tifinagh was chosen by Morocco and for some controversial reasons it might disfavour its use at an official level in Algeria (I might be speculative here however).

However, regarding the true impact of the officialisation, I will wait until the implementation of an organic law otherwise it is only symbolic like it is in Morocco (5 years afterwards and nothing seems to appear).

PhoeniX said...

"I personally think Latin script was the wrong choice, but it's very clearly been made, and not by the government either"

What would be your choice then? Arabic of Tifinagh?

I like Arabic script for Tashelhiyt, but most Tashelhiyt speakers seem to prefer the Latin script these days. Nevertheless, the 'old orthography' used for medieval Tashelhiyt was really good for the language, and with some standardization/modernization would work well even for modern Tashelhiyt. Moreover there is actually some historical tradition of writing that language in the Arabic script, which might make not seem as historically 'foreign' as it might be without the tradition (I don't know if that makes any difference, except on a sentimental level from a linguist interested in the linguistic history of Tashelhiyt).

I'd imagine orthographically Arabic script would present equally little issues for Taqbaylit, just like Tashelhiyt the question presents itself what to do with labialization. But I supposed using a ḍamma for that should be enough. It doesn't seem like a big deal to not express that fully all the time.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Samir: Indeed, until we know how and when - and whether - it gets implemented, it remains merely symbolic.

Phoenix: I prefer Arabic - it's much better suited to the language than Latin, not just in requiring fewer non-mainstream characters, but also in making it easy to leave out schwa. But it's already too late for that in Algeria, I think. As for labialization, it's not expressed in the most popular Latin standard today anyway,

Moubarik Belkasim said...

The Algerian officialization of the Berber language is a copycat of the failed Moroccan model. In 2011, Morocco was intending to put Berber and Arabic in the same sentence in the constitution as 2 equally official languages, but the Islamists (the eternal "admirers" of the Berber language) intervened at the last minute and made sure Berber is degraded into a second-class official language through a word trick that positioned Berber as a secondary official language without using the word "secondary" (Read the 5th Article of Morocco's comstitution and you'll understand). The Algerians caught this Moroccan disease: non-equality of languages. This crooked Algerian officialization is going to create more problems and endless quarrels in the near future just like what's happening in Morocco now.

There should have been total equality between Berber and Arabic, instead they chose playing word games "Arabic is THE official language" and "Berber is AN official language". Shameless caste-mentality. Berber in both new Moroccan and new Algerian constitutions is a second-class official language. I don't know which is worse; non-recognition or humiliating and crooked recognition.

Tifinagh is a total failure in Morocco. The Algerians should stay the course using the only script that gave and will continue to give the Berber language a fighting chance and some room to breathe: the Latin alphabet.

Don't get romanticized with Tifinagh. It's a mirage and it's useless. What counts is the language use and functionality not the font. Only people who actually write Berber actually can understand this.

One more thing, deciding over which script to use in teaching and writing Berber nationally in Algeria is not for the Algerian people to decide, because the Algerian people (like the Moroccan people) are illiterate in Berber and can't write a single Berber sentence or paragraph with any script accurately enough. It's for the Algerian Berber language academics to decide. Would anyone let an illiterate decide about their kid's education?

Zoubir Dendane said...

Tamazight in Algeria is at last making its way to 'officialization', a victory for Berber speakers. However a huge lot of work remains to be done for an eventual homogenization and/or standardization of ONE variety that would represent all Berber-speaking communities. Such a process will have to include the selection of the aptest variety to function as a standard to be taught at school... But this can only be realized if the other steps are undertaken, in particular a codification that Berber academic institutions would agree on. As for the written form, my view is that the most suitable script is Arabic! Most, if not all, Berber speech sounds can be represented by Arabic letters, and even its diacritics can be used to represent Berber vowels. The two languages have a lot in common, haven"t they? They both belong to the big Hamito-Semitic family of languages and they have cognates in common. So, why Latin script?