Monday, December 03, 2018

Language attitudes around Paris: a vignette

As we reached the stop by the supermarket the other day, I told my son in English "Now we're getting off the bus." This caught the attention of an elderly man sitting near us, who, as we got off, told him with a smile in accented English "Hello. You speak English - very good!". Turning to me, he asked "Est-ce qu'il parle français aussi ? [Does he also speak French?]"

I assured him that he does, and my son piped up with "Moi je parle trois langues : français; anglais, et arabe [I speak three languages: French, English, and Arabic]". Not to be outdone, the old man replied "Comme moi ; je parle français, anglais, allemand, arabe, et hébreu. [Like me; I speak French, English, German, Arabic, and Hebrew.]" I was duly impressed, and he continued "J'ai grandi à Oran, et j'ai fait mes études à la Sorbonne. [I grew up in Oran, then studied at the Sorbonne.]"

"Ô, moi aussi je suis algérien [Oh, I'm Algerian too]", I replied.

His response: "Ah, est-ce que vous êtes français ou israélite ? [So are you French, or Jewish?]"

My answer "Ni l'un ni l'autre [Neither one]" seemed to come as a surprise... The conversation ended about there, as we went our separate ways, with him saying " تهلّا في روحك thəḷḷa fi ṛuħək [Take care]".

9 comments:

Tom Dawkes said...

Bravo, Lameen. I have bilingual granddaughters (English and Italian) and I think it's wonderful. Interesting you spoke to your son in English on a bus in Paris.

Your blogs are really interesting: best wishes for your research.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Thank you! It certainly does attract attention, but English is my first language, and I intend to pass it on to my son whether I'm living in the UK or not...

Farhaoui Morad said...

Nice to read.
Does your son speak algerian arabic dialect or classical arabic?
How did he manage to learn while not in living in an arabic speaking envierement?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

My wife speaks to him consistently in Arabic - normally dialect, but Classical during activities. But he wouldn't reply in Arabic until he went on holiday and saw that other people spoke it too...

David Marjanović said...

Maybe that's why I completely forgot the language my name comes from: Yugoslavia was not a great place to visit.

Hatem Elmantawi said...

Consistency is key they say....I only use one dialect of Arabic with our daughters 24/7, social niceties and other faux diplomacy take a back seat. Publicly awkward here in Europe, sure! Child response in (an)other language, yes! But, as indicated above, the acquisition is passive, and it will generally come to fore once the child is placed in a context where/when he/she truly believes that the other children speak only the language that the former has hitherto never actively spoken. Much has been researched and written about this. And whereas no two children are alike, the results 'speak' volumes. A truly magical, surreal process that just might hold a key or two to the ever-elusive dimension of cognition and related fields. May all our children be blessed with good health and a multitude of languages!

Farhaoui Morad said...

@Thanks Lameen for your feedback.

I'm living in Algiers since last september now coming from the east of Algerie , Batna precisely . I notice that a lot of people here are speaking with their kids in French while speaking arabic with each other. My daughter (9 years old) was shocked first when we came here saying that she hates french now when she sees her classmates using it a lot in their daily life while she couldn't. Although she got the best grade in the latest french test, I'm still worried about her in the future. I really don't want to use French speaking with my kids. Top priority for me is arabic, but obviously one needs to learn French to be able to find work and live over here. What do you think the best way to tackle this?
And what's your opinion about this phenomena? Why do adults speak with their kids in french when they know they are going to learn it anyway in school? I'm just afraid is a form of snobisme . it feels spontaneous to me from what I know people around me though.

Etienne said...

Lameen: what Farhaoui Morad describes sounds a lot like what I had pointed out might happen in Algiers: see my April 29 comment here

http://languagehat.com/pronouncing-an-igbo-name/

and your reply.

And in answer to Farhaoui Morad I would say that a huge deal of the problem involves the fact that French isn't just a prestigious language in Algeria itself: knowledge of French is vital for Algerians wishing to emigrate, and the economy of Algeria simply cannot realistically be expected in the foreseeable future to provide adequate employment opportunities to the millions of Algerians who will be entering adulthood (and hence the job market) over the coming years.

As someone who has never been to Algeria and knows little about the Arabic-speaking world it may seem arrogant of me to offer such an explanation (and if I am dead wrong or missing something vital, please, don't be shy to point this out!), but I do know a thing or two about creole-speaking societies, and the problem seems well-nigh identical there: the local prestige of the official language (English, French, whatever...) is only part of the problem: emigration from creole-speaking societies has been going on on such a large scale for so long that everyone raised in such societies takes it for granted that the goal of society in general and the school system especially is to give people the tools to emigrate, and thus the local creole language does not just face the stigma any non-written language faces in a literate society. Unfortunately, even if it were not so stigmatized, it would still be marginalized as something which as at best irrelevant, at worst harmful, to social success. That is to say, in such societies, emigration.

Farhaoui Morad said...

@ Etienne
I've read your comments on the other site.
I can only comment on the situation in Algeria and Algiers. One needs to keep in mind that the only official language is arabic.Although it is possible to live and work without knowing any arabic, still mastering it at some extend is extremely important.
I work in an advertising agency, and our first priority in communication is use arabic (dialect and classical). French comes next if at all. On a daily basis we use arabic to speak , discuss, joke. But expressing ideas would need using a lot of french and sometimes classical arabic for clarity and conducting the right idea. Reports, presentations, correspondences and emails are stricktly done in french.
Probably it's also important to cite that the language of choice is deeply connected to ideology and politics. I hear some suggesting to ban arabic because it's the language of obscurantism and will drag societies into fundamentalism. Let alone the new wave of revisionists claiming to know that we're not arabs hence we should get rid of arabic and just keep french and berber.

I remember in the early days of internet here in Algeria, arabic completly absent. Even computer keyboards sold in didn't have arabic keys. Nowadays the situation is upside down. The first language used on internet is arabic. Most of people I used to chat with in french now are using arabic in arabic letters.
Sorry for the long comment though and thanks for ready.