Saturday, January 20, 2007

Maghreb sociolinguistics

I've just come across a couple of interesting posts on the North African sociolinguistic situation. On Aqoul, Shaheen discusses a topic close to my heart - how the dominance of French hurts the Maghreb's economy and makes new ideas take longer to reach it:
The ubiquity of French not only aggravates the dependence of the Maghreb to France, it impedes the region's ability to develop beyond its traditional (colonial) ties. Worse, it not only serves as an economic chain, it culturally acts like an albatross around their necks: everything, from law to social models is borrowed from France. Considering how inefficient and sterile French models and intellectual production can be today in most fields when compared to their anglo-saxon counterparts, the Maghreb is riding a losing horse. It isolates individual Maghrebis from most scientific and economic literature...
Some of the comments are worth reading as well, and the author links to published online papers (bibliography in a blog post - always a trend worth promoting!)

In a more personal post, "Filjazair" describes Algeria's linguistic "schizophrenia", as it appears to a heritage learner:

I hear, a lot, things like: "Don't bother learning darija, it's not worth it"; "You don't need to learn fusha [formal Arabic], nobody speaks it"; "Our language [Arabic, formal Arabic] is being corrupted - we're still in the age of colonisation!" (this from one student who'd heard that another student had to write her university thesis in French); "Everybody speaks French, that's all you need"; "Everybody speaks darija, that's all you need."


So I'm in a French class with Algerians who already know a lot of French but speak it sloppily, and who feel a need - because of work, because of school, because of future prospects - to get better. This week I start formal Arabic lessons with a tutor downtown. And along the way I'm trying to pick up snippets of darija to use in the street, so as not to have to use too much of the French or Arabic I'm learning, because French marks you as a foreigner (or worse, a snob - an Algerian in contempt of her Algerianness) and because nobody actually speaks the formal Arabic.


John Cowan said...

In the Arabic chapter of The World's Major Languages (ed. Comrie), there's a wonderful story about a tri-cornered discussion in Beirut one day between a Frenchman, a Lebanese, and the author (an American). Each for his own reasons was speaking a different language: respectively Lebanese Arabic (so as not to appear colonialist), French (so as not to appear uncultured), and modern standard Arabic (because he knew it better than either of the other languages). And, he says, they spent the afternoon having a delightful conversation on all sorts of subjects.

valentin said...

Very stimulating post -combined with the two other posts linked to yours.

I am from Greece and I have together with two friends a blog (in Greek) about Greek language and languages in Greece from an antinationalist point of view.

It is really interesting to know that in fact arabisation is limited in many occasions, especially when Spolsky in his 2004 Language Policy seems to agree that "Algeria, which had the srongest French influence [among the north Africa French colonies], Sirles believes, been the most successful [in arabisation]. (p. 134). Sirles is: Craig A. Sirles, 1999, Politics and Arabization: the evolution of post-independence North Africa, International Journal of the Sociology of Language 137, 115-130.

I am following your suggestion for bibliography in blogs :-)

I have also found a nice quote from South African linguist Neville Alexander on the internal reasons why ex-colonial languages still play an important roll in ex-colonies:

[...]in the
post-colonial situation, the linguistic hierarchy built into the colonial
system led to knowledge of the conquerors’ language becoming a vital
component of the ‘cultural capital’ of the neo-colonial elite. It was and
remains their knowledge of English and/or French that sets them apart
from the vast majority of their African compatriots and which keeps
them and their offspring in the privileged middle and upper classes.

from English Unassailable but Unattainable: The Dilemma of Language Policy in South African Education

Anyway, I was wondering what you think would be the best way forward from this complex sociolinguistic situation. It seems that you prefer English instead of French, but, on the whole, which language should be promoted mostly: French (or English), Standard Arabic or darija?

Anonymous said...

the internal reasons why ex-colonial languages still play an important roll in ex-colonies:

Another reason is that they continue to serve as linguae francae within the countries in question, most of which don't have a majority language or an otherwise established lingua franca (Kiswahili being one exception that comes to mind, and Lingala half another).

If I had the power to do so, I'd dissolve all African countries south of the Sahara (except Rwanda and Burundi, and Madagascar if you count that as "Africa") -- POOF! -- and make new ones according to ethnic/linguistic criteria. As the recent history of Europe shows, to give up a nation-state you first need to have one; the Czech Republic and Slovakia had to separate before both were able to join the EU. That would solve a number of problems: party politics -- in most of those countries political parties are simply ethnic groups --, most wars, and the fact that all those people currently need to learn a totally exotic language for just about any public task. Nothing wrong with learning English and French (and more), but there's a difference between learning them as foreign languages at school or being expected to already know them before you can learn to read.

Of course, even if the political will were there, it's not that easy (anymore). For example, Mobutu has had some success in producing patriotism for what is now the More or Less Democratic Republic of Congo, if only by forcibly moving lots of people around the country and thus mixing it through.

bulbul said...

If I had the power to do so, I'd dissolve all African countries south of the Sahara
I know this just reeks of colonialism redux, but by Jove, count me in.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Valentin: interesting comment. I've written before about what my ideal language policy would be like (North African Language Policy). At home, I would expand the range of situations (spoken and written) where Algerian dialect can be used - starting with basic media like educational documentaries, politicians' speeches and news reporting and expanding from there - while continuing to teach Classical Arabic as a fundamental part of an Algerian education. I would also teach less French and more English as a foreign language, and attempt to reduce the role that both play in public life, and increase the availability of technical and specialist books in Arabic, ideally to the point that command of French in Algeria is like command of, say, Arabic in France: a useful skill, but definitely not an indispensable one.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Bulbul, David: tempting idea, but I dunno. Somalia, Rwanda, and Lesotho haven't been conspicuously more successful than Mali or Ghana or Gabon, and if you tried the Wilsonian one ethnic group - one state ideal in a place like Chad, you'd end up with 200 countries the size of a postage stamp. The boundaries could be improved - and local lingua francas, like Lingala or Swahili, could be used more - but monoethnic states is not really an option for a lot of Africa.

valentin said...

Your post "North African language policy" really gives some important signpost for language policy in Maghreb.

Some remarks.

First of all, needless to say maybe, all the arguments against darija or standard Arabic have been told against the Greek dhimotiki, the language actually spoken by the people, including that it is "corrupted" because of the foreign words, that it a "simplified form" of Ancient Greek, that esthetically it is not elegant, it can't be used for literature or in science or in politics and so on. Of course, today, 30 years after dhimotiki is the sole language in Greece for all purposes, nobody dares to make any such claims (though Ancient Greek is still a main subject in Greek education).

Another point I would like to stress is that this radical change in language policy in Greece came as a part of a more general political change in the country. Dhimotiki became the official language in 1976, after the fall of the 1967-1974 dictatorship, a fall which was the beginning of a whole new period for the country. In fact, it was then that Greece became a Western European style democracy with reforms including abolition of monarchy, legalising the Communist Party, ending the political influence of the army, establishing a (limited though) welfare state and making dhimotiki the official language. So, important changes in language policy are possible as part of wider political changes in a country.

I would like also to ask you one or two things, if I am not consuming your time and if I am not taking advantage of your good will.

The one is about how standard Arabic is perceived. As I understood, few people actually speak the language. Is it also perceived also as something artificial, as a language with no native speakers, a language actually intentionally constructed? Because that was the case with katharevousa ("purified" Greek, the opposite of dhimotiki).

One last thing: is there any difference between darija and darja?

I would like to stress that your blog is really interesting, a window to the Arab world, and it provides both important information and stimulus for further reading. I am particularly interested in Arabic sociolinguistics as Arabic (like Greek) is one of the typical examples of diglossia

Anonymous said...

if you tried the Wilsonian one ethnic group - one state ideal in a place like Chad, you'd end up with 200 countries the size of a postage stamp.

The size of a postage stamp, or the size of Estonia...?

Anonymous said...

I would not mind seeing French eliminated from Algeria at all levels, especially educationally. It is fast becoming one of the less important languages in the world and it constrains Algerians to outdated cultural trends. Every Arab I meet, be they Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi, or Saudi thinks Algerians speak French and not Arabic. It will be imposible to go to the days before the Invasion, and probably not really desirable (at least they got rid of slavery), but it would nice for Algeria to come into its own and develop its own place in the world, one in which France is as distant a memory as Rome or Carthage. I don't think Algeria should just import fusha though, I think some standard of the Berber languages and Algerian Arabic should be devised over time. I am not convinced that using Egyptian or Saudis to teach Algerians how to be Algerian is the right way to go about it. I will always say down with Arabization though, and up with Algerianization.

Great posting Lameen!

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

David: Estonia's done well for itself, true, but there are quite a few ethnic groups in Chad whose territory's size is more San Marino than Estonia. Then there are cases where ethnic groups are distributed not so much by territory as by profession - where would the Bozo homeland be, for example?

Valentin: there's no difference between darja and darija (different pronunciations of the same word.) As for standard Arabic, yes and no. It would be a substantial exaggeration to describe it as artificial; it's essentially a careful replication of the spoken Bedouin Arabic of 1300 years ago with a bunch of technical terms added, usually in a manner respecting the structure of the language. But it is artificial in that speaking it simply does not come naturally to any but the best educated; rarely do you come across an Algerian who can reliably insert case endings while speaking, and it's routine to find people who know a technical term in French immediately but have to think hard to come up with the classical Arabic equivalent. Certainly it has no native speakers, except (supposedly) occasionally the son of a particularly zealous teacher.

Khalid: fusha isn't an import any more than Darja is. It's been the principal language of literacy in Algeria for over a millennium, though the vocabulary has been significantly affected by Middle Eastern trends this century. At independence, Algeria had a massive shortage of qualified teachers, in any language - less than 10% of the population was even literate. Egyptians and Palestinians and others (not so much Saudis) helped fill that gap; they have long since been replaced by Algerians, of course, but at that time they fulfilled an essential function. Fusha is not our native language; but knowing Fusha is, and should be, at least as important a part of being a cultured Algerian as being able to read and comprehend Shakespeare is to being a cultured Englishman.

Anonymous said...

Then there are cases where ethnic groups are distributed not so much by territory as by profession -

Man, am I stupid. I forgot the usual state of affairs -- the Bosnia phenomenon, or rather the Transylvanian phenomenon of trilingual villages. No, I don't have any solution for that.

as being able to read and comprehend Shakespeare is to being a cultured Englishman.

Well, there are people who can use thou and thee and the verb ending -st correctly, but... not many.

BTW, have a look here to see what "reading Shakespeare in the original" means.

Anonymous said...

The subject of the Algerian (or North African) sociolinguistic situation -- Darja vs. Modern Standard Arabic and French -- is recurrent.

Lameen, you clearly have a strong preference for MSA. So when it comes to analyzing the situation, you tend to use an oversimplified 'model'.

Before being linguistic, the problem is cultural.

In 1962, the algerian political leaders decided that Algeria was an Arab country. As a consequence, they applied an extremely repressive policy against the Berber culture and dialects.

It was not a wise choice at all.

Morroco, Algeria and Tunisia can be considered as one country. As an Algerian, wherever I travel in the world (Europe, America or the Middle-East), I always immediately feel a strong link to Morrocans and Tunisians. This special relationship does not exist with 'other Arabs' from the Middle-East.

So the first step is to have the courage to declare that we are not Arabs but Maghariba.

What is an Arab? A person who speaks Arabic? Are the Mexicans and the Venezuelans Spanish? Are the Americans British?

The Arabs are the populations of the Arabian peninsula. That's all.

What languages do the Maghariba speak? North African varieties of Arabic (Darja?) and Berber. No Magharibi (except maybe some particularly alienated members of the upper classes) is a native speaker of French or MSA.

So the only way out of the linguistic 'chaos' is to accept our Maghribi identity and value it with all its components.

We are not French; we are not Arabs; we are Maghariba. No sensible person can deny this fact.

And please, do not bring forth the argument of Islam. The 'Arabs' are a minority in the Moslem world. Nobody have ever accused the Turks, Iranians, Indonesians, etc., of being against Islam because they have not adopted Arabic as their official language.

Islam has nothing to do with Arabic.

It is when they go to school that the Magharibi kids discover MSA for the first time. For them, it is a foreign language. At home and in the street, when they play, they speak either 'Darja' (i.e. one of the Magharibi dialects of Arabic) or 'Berber' (i.e. one of the dialects of Berber -- thachalhith, tharifith, thaqvaylith, thachawith, etc.)

The total arabisation of the primary and secondary stages of the educational system in Algeria started more than 25 years ago. However, those who want Algeria to be an Arab country still regret that French has a priviliged position in the country. Has the arabisation succeeded? Has it failed?

Another aspect of the problem that you tend to neglect is the proximity of Europe. After being Maghariba, we are also Werstern Mediterraneans. Our neighbours are the Spanish, the French and the Italians. Not the Saoudis, nor the Syrians...

This is also a component of our identity that we have to accept.

Like it or not, religion will have to play a minor role in the future, if we want to build a better world. The concept of 'Kuffar' must be definitly put aside and we have to consider our neighbours from the other side of the Mediterranean as potential partners without any reference to religion.

You tend to consider the Algerians who look to the North rather than the East as 'alienated' and not 'true' Algerians. This is trying to force the reality to comply with your 'model' (Algeria = an Arab country).

The world is changing from day to day, and new cultural models are emerging. I personally think that those who tried to 'sell' the concept of the 'Arab Nation' have completely and irreversibly failed. Look at the 'Arab' countries. What a mess!

So let's restart everything from scratch: we are not Arabs; we are not French; we are Maghariba (and Western Mediterraneans). Let's feel proud of our Maghribi culture(s)! Let's rediscover the beauty of our dialects, be it from Bab-EL-Oued, Tlemcen,Tizi-Ouzou, Casablanca or Tunis. Let's dig everywhere in search of our roots. From Rabat to Tunis, let's write poetry and novels in Darja and Berber. As a linguist, you can play a major role in helping write the grammar of Darja and Berber in order to teach them to our kids. And I bet that in less than 30 years, French and MSA will be no more than foreign languages that help us (just like English) to communicate with other places in the world.

Let's believe in our Maghribi identity and everything will be easier.