Friday, January 08, 2016

Party reactions to the officialisation of Tamazight in Algeria

Algeria's political parties are gradually responding to the proposed constitutional text. I've mocked their powerlessness and irrelevance before, but in this case, looking at their reactions gives an interesting guide to what kind of opinions on this matter are accepted today within the Algerian establishment, which, over the past couple of decades, has gradually reached a consensus on the importance of at least claiming to respect Amazigh identity.

The political core of this establishment (as distinct from the shadowy military/security core ultimately controlling it) consists of three parties, all supporting the same president: the flag-waving FLN, which used to be the only party during the socialist period; the more or less ideology-free RND, created to supplement the FLN; and (a distant and opportunistic third) the Islamist HMS/MSP. A wide variety of smaller, more independent officially recognised parties are variously courted or marginalised; the most important of these are the long-standing socialist FFS and the secularist RCD, together dominant in Kabylie; the Islamist Justice Party; and the Trotskyist Workers' Party. Parties without official recognition are excluded and as far as possible silenced. Of the parties previously mentioned, the FFS, RCD, and Workers' Party have included Tamazight on their election posters for decades, while the rest have gradually moved from reflexive opposition (in the name of national unity and the importance of Arabic) to more or less grudging acceptance. Their change of position is primarily a reaction to periodic Kabyle protests ever since 1980, but the Arab Spring also helped, insofar as it made much of the establishment want to put a little more distance between Algeria and the Arab world.

The FLN's secretary-general, Amar Saïdani, patted himself on the back for the amendment, claiming that "The FLN was the first party in government to demand the officialisation of Tamazight". The word "appropriation" comes to mind. The RND's Ahmed Ouyahia had more sociolinguistically interesting things to say (and said them in Kabyle); he's very clear on the idea of creating a standard Tamazight distinct from what people of any one region speak:

Ar ass-a, mazal kull jiha tesseɣṛay Tamaziɣt s elluɣa-s [...] maci s Tmaziɣt a-m hedṛeɣ-d s Teqbaylit. Gma acawi ad yefhem balak xemsin f-elmya. Ma aṭas. Gma si Lhugaṛ kif-kif, balak xemsa u ɛacrin f-elmya. Ilaq ad nexleq lluɣa-yagi n Tmaziɣt.
Up to today, each region still teaches Tamazight in its own language [...] I'm speaking to you in Kabyle, not in Tamazight. A Chaoui brother will understand maybe 50%, at most. A brother from the Hoggar likewise, maybe 25%. We need to create this Tamazight language.
And he backhandedly acknowledges that the task of Tamazight language planning has largely been tackled by people way outside the establishment:
Lḥaja d nniḍen, Ṛṛayes Butefliqa yefka-d liqtiṛaḥ-agi, isaṛeḥ-d d atmaten-is. Ur-d iṛuḥ ara s tkellaxt. A-k neqqaṛ di lluɣa n tmaziɣt, tikerkasin. Tagi- tagi ḥefḍeɣ-tt seg laɛṛuc.
Another thing, President Bouteflika made this suggestion acting frankly with his brothers. He didn't do it as a trick - or, as we say in the Tamazight language, tikerkasin (lies). That (neologism) I learned from the Arouch movement.
The president of the "establishment" Islamist party HMS/MSP, Abderrezak Mokri, responded by urging unity around both languages in the face of a common threat:
The language that's contesting Arabic in its own home is French, and the language that's making Tamazight disappear from its homelands is French. Arabic and Tamazight are sisters that have been living together and nourishing one another for centuries. The language that is dominating administration, and that officials are speaking in in official meetings, is French, and that is the language being mouthed by idle Westernizing misguided people in our country, for speaking between themselves or even with their sons and spouses. By God than whom there is no other god, were it not for Islam, we would be like Benin or Senegal or Cote d'Ivoire, speaking various dialects and able to communicate with one another only through French. The time has come for both languages, Tamazight and Arabic, to ally with one another, as they did in the past, in order to expel colonisation and the language of colonisation from the strongholds of sovereignty that it still occupies.
Abdallah Djaballah, of the more independent Islamist Justice Party, responded less enthusiastically:
[The draft Constitution] added the Tamazight issue, but neglected to address the characters that it should be written in - Arabic or Latin. This omission is deliberate and intended to serve those who call for it to be written in Latin characters. If that happens, then it would be extremely dangerous to the Arabic language, and will in practice empower French, making Tamazight a mere tool to serve the French language. That would be a major breach of the second most important principle governing Algerian society, and would call for a popular referendum.
The FFS, Algeria's oldest serious opposition party, seems not to have commented on the proposal yet, distracted no doubt by the recent death of its widely respected leader, Hocine Ait Ahmed. Its principal officially recognised rival in Kabylie, the RCD, responded with a fine bit of what the French call "langue de bois":
The second point, the officialisation of the Amazigh language, finally consecrates many generations' struggle for a legitimate demand essential for the harmony and credibility of the parameters defining the framework that is to host our common destiny. One cannot speak of reconciliation as long as the first language of North Africa, used by millions of speakers, is ignored by the basic law of the country. Nevertheless, this advance remains to be turned into an effective practice putting the Amazigh dimension, language, culture, and history, back into public life. In this regard, the promulgation of the organic law and the terms in which it is formulated will require citizens' attention.


John Cowan said...

By God than whom there is no other god, were it not for Islam, we would be like Benin or Senegal or Cote d'Ivoire, speaking various dialects and able to communicate with one another only through French.

No mention of Pakistan, of course.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Pakistan does kind of map onto Algeria in this regard: English=French, Urdu=Arabic, Punjabi=Darja. Not sure what to match with Berber - Sindhi or Baluchi maybe? But, messed-up as Pakistan may be, its language policy is at least less favourable to the colonial language than that of Benin or Senegal or Cote d'Ivoire.

It's odd that he forgot that Senegal is a majority-Muslim country.

David Marjanović said...

"If that happens, then it would be extremely dangerous to the Arabic language, and will in practice empower French, making Tamazight a mere tool to serve the French language."

I don't quite understand the logic behind that. Can you explain it?

Jim said...

"The language that's contesting Arabic in its own home is French,.... "

I bet this was said without the slightest hint of irony.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

I would understand it as reflecting the idea that, if kids end up learning to read their first language in the Latin alphabet, they'll then find it easier to read, and hence to learn, French than Arabic. But the idea that Latin script is a threat to Islam and national identity has a much wider background within Islamist movements - Atatürk has not been forgotten.

Samir said...

Djaballah's point is fallacious, a lot of important languages in the Islamic world are written with an adapted Latin alphabet :

- Turkish
- Azeri (Northern)
- Kurdish (at least for the Kurmanji areas)
- Somali
- Indonesian
- Malay
- Bosnian
- Albanese

I doubt that conservative Anatolian Turks or Somalis are not a devout type of Muslim despite knowing only some basic liturgical Arabic for the Salah. Moreover the Shias, likely to be loathed by him, use at an overwhelming majority the Arabic alphabet.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

The reason Turkish and Kurmanji are written with the Latin alphabet is that Atatürk came in, abolished the Caliphate, and did everything he could to reduce the influence of religion on Turkish culture and politics, including making all previously published books illegible. For Azeri, it's a rather similar story, only involving Lenin and Stalin. The fact that these efforts did not succeed in uprooting Islam - or not completely - should not blind us to the fact that that was part of their intention, and indeed that it had some partial success. But none of this is relevant to Djaballah's claim as stated anyway: he's claiming that it will threaten the status of Arabic vis-à-vis French, not that it will threaten Islam (though he probably thinks it would).

Anonymous said...

Strange…it seems that as far as Arabic is concerned, the rule is to promote the use of colloquial derja with its various dialects, instead of the already existing, already learned and taught Arabic standard language. But…on the other side though, as far as Berber is concerned, the rule is to promote the use of the standard language Tamazight, which doesn’t exist and never existed before, and which has to be created from scratch including the missing alphabets…
I wonder how this double standards way of thinking can make sense to you?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Bintjezeyer: If you can find someone who wants both of those things, then ask them - it should be obvious that neither accurately describes my thinking. As a matter of fact, I think the idea of creating a unified Tamazight is either hopelessly quixotic or just a way to promote one particular dialect while pretending to be promoting all of them. I can't think of any successful standardization effort in history that wasn't based primarily around one particular dialect.

Samir said...

Let's face it, I really think that the kind of Tamazight that would be deemed to be "official" seems to be Kabyle+ neologisms, although Shawiya will be given a higher standard in the Eastern parts of Algeria. But still the standardisation I guess will be based on Kabyle both for demographic, influence and political reasons the very same way that a "standardised" Darija (if that ever happens) would be based upon the Algiers dialect plus adapted fusha vocabulary.

PS : the "Standard Moroccan Tamazight" is also Tachelhit/Southern Atlassian + neologisms.

David Marjanović said...

I would understand it as reflecting the idea that, if kids end up learning to read their first language in the Latin alphabet, they'll then find it easier to read, and hence to learn, French than Arabic.

Ah. That makes sense if he ignores how different French is, as a language, from anything else spoken in Algeria.

Moubarik Belkasim said...

Congratulations Dr. Souag for the 10-year mark of your blog.
I enjoyed reading this topic and the comments.

First, I think the Latin alphabet is the best chance for the Berber language to breathe in both Morocco and Algeria. Tifinagh is a mirage, and it failed in Morocco and had become a big farce, without any exaggeration. See my article in Arabic on the ludicrous mistakes made by the "Moroccan Royal Institute of Berber Culture" in their farce of a translation of the Moroccan constitution into Berber with Tifinagh:

Second, if the Berber language were to be taught across Algeria in the Latin alphabet like it is being taught in Kabylian schools, what's wrong with the Algerians being able, thanks to that, to learn French say faster or easier, or feel some connection with French or European languages? Is Algeria better off having connections with the Middle East where all the terrorism and backwardness come from? Won't the Algerians also be able to acquire English or Italian faster thanks to that?

The Idea is of course rediculous. Using roughly the same Latin alphabet doesn't really give you any advantage or motivation in learning a totally different language. We don't see Germans getting any more motivated to learn French than Egyptians.

Third, if the argument is that Algeria should uproot the language of the French occupation, why does the Berber language have to pay the price by giving up the Latin alphabet? Why don't those Islamists and others put their energy into replacing French with English for example to get rid of this French bloody and indeed criminal legacy?

I personally wish for French and Spanish to disappear from Morocco and Algeria for 200 years just to give us some room to clear our heads. English is a neutral and logical alternative for higher scientific education.

But the Islamists will fight (American) English too because North Africa's youth will get hooked on MTV-like media and Hollywood's godless language use and Reality-TV wild travesties like never before, since the English language barrier that currently is shielding most Algerians and Moroccans from a lot of US culture streams will fall by teaching English instead of French.

The Islamists are not against French really, they fear the spread of Christianity and/or secularity. They see the European languages and the Latin alphabet as representing and carrying Christianity and secularity. Islamists are today against French and Berber written in the Latin script. I guarantee to you that tomorrow they will be against English or German, if the 2 languages were to have some dominance or influence in Algeria or Morocco.

If France was an Islamic state and had invaded Algeria in 1830 and Morocco in 1907 under the pretext of say spreading Islam and had committed that exact number of massacres and mass murders in Morocco and Algeria, the Islamists of Morocco and Algeria would now be praising Islamic France and the French language just like they're praising the Umayyads, the Almohads and the Ottomans, don't you think?

John Cowan said...

Lameen, my point was that a massively Islamic population has not protected Pakistan against being a country in which people have to speak an imperial/colonial language (which describes both Urdu and English, as neither is really native there) in order to communicate widely with their fellow citizens.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

John: I see. Some Berber activists would describe Arabic as an colonial language, if it comes to that, but for people like Mokri only European colonialism is of concern. And, to be fair, Urdu may not be a native language of Pakistan, but it's not a colonial one either; imperial, yes, in a sense, but the empire in question had become thoroughly local, notwithstanding its distant roots in Central Asia. However, the important fact is that Arabic is not the language of wider communication in Pakistan any more than in Senegal, despite it being a Muslim country. Mokri is unconsciously assuming that Islam implies Arabic, as Algerians all too often do.

Moubarik: If France had been an Islamic state, the only Islamists in Algeria would be the kind of people who today join the RCD. Actually existing Islamism in Algeria is inextricably linked to the struggle for cultural independence from France, and without that motivation it would lose most of its energy.

Anonymous said...

A question that might belong elsewhere, but nevertheless: Are the Ibadi speakers of Amazigh 'dialects' across North Africa using markedly different Amazigh from non-Ibadi Amazigh speakers in the same locale or area ? Is their a current situation that can be seen as analogous to the formerly well-established Christian and/or Jewish Arabic vis-a-vis Moslem Arabic in Baghdad in the 1st half of the 20th century (assuming that both sides of the Moslem schism there use the 'same' Arabic). ? And, if such a 'division' exists, is it simply accepted by all parties as 'normal' or 'divisive' (or something else), especially in light of recent Ghardaia events, for example ?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Anon: No, not at all - but the only town where Ibadi and non-Ibadi locals both speak Berber is Ouargla, and there they're both massively outnumbered by Arabic speakers anyway. There are reported to be some minor differences between the Berber of Ibadis and non-Ibadis in Ouargla, but nothing very exciting.