Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"I don't speak Arabic, this is in our Darja"

This little clip, of sociolinguistic as well as non-linguistic interest, has gone viral in the Algerian online world (via Twitter):

The reporter, from Sky News Arabia*, is smoothly unrolling premature platitudes in Standard Arabic - الجزائريون يهنّئون بعضهم بما تحقّق إلى حدّ الآن يقولون "the Algerians are congratulating each other on what has been achieved up to now, saying..." when a somewhat inebriated-looking man pops into the frame (despite his companion's best efforts to stop him) and starts trying to address the camera. She very reasonably pushes him back off camera, then thinks better of it and decides to turn the intrusion into an impromptu vox pop. He says, making absolutely no effort at all to adjust his dialect towards any sort of externally imposed norm (the only word he takes from Standard Arabic is مُقتَنِعين "satisfied", presumably quoting the reporter):

ماكاش منها، ماناش مُقتَنِعين ڨاعيتيك باه تغيّر نحّاو پيو وعاودوا داروا پيو واحد أوخر، يتنحّاو ڨاع! That's baloney, we're not satisfied at all. To change, they took away a pawn and put on a different pawn again - they should all get taken away!

Knowing that her largely Middle Eastern target audience (not to mention her bosses) won't be able to understand this - especially not the French loanword pion, pawn - she tells him, in colloquial Algerian Arabic, to speak "عرْبيّة" (Arabic). He dismisses this with the classic line:

مانعرفش عربية، هاذي هي الدّارجة تاعنا I don't know Arabic, this is our Darja [colloquial].

The contrast being drawn there between "Arabic" and "Darja", striking as it is, should not be overstated. It was obvious from context that she was using "Arabic" to mean Standard Arabic or at least something a bit closer to it, and he ran with that; but in another context, he or any other speaker would use "عرْبيّة" (Arabic) to refer to Darja, as in the old joke about the Egyptian trying to buy stamps at an Algerian post office. (He asks for Standard Arabic "طابع بريدي" and gets nowhere; when the postmaster eventually figures out what he wants, he shouts "قول تامبر، ماتعرفش العربية؟" - "Say timbre - don't you even know Arabic?")

But it's still worth thinking about why this little video has struck such a chord. Part of the answer, I think, is that it resonates so perfectly with a whole set of stereotypes about Darja vs. Fusha [Standard Arabic]. Fusha is for parroting the official line; Darja is for telling it like it is. Fusha is for fluent, well-planned speech; Darja is off-the-cuff and from the heart. Fusha is for upwardly mobile women; Darja, for working-class men. None of these are truths about the world, obviously - you can be every bit as dishonest or premeditated in Darja as in Fusha (ask s'hab el kachir:), and fluent Fusha is no guarantee you won't find yourself hefting bricks for a living. But they are perceptions that emerge naturally from the regimented, restricted contexts in which Fusha is learned and required. If these stereotypes remind you of Glasgow or the East End, that's no coincidence; they emerge naturally in the context of urban diglossia.


Peter Konerding said...

"The contrast being drawn there between "Arabic" and "Darja", striking as it is, should not be overstated." — Thank you for that line! Especially important from a TAFL/TASL perspective in a Maghrebi context (which is mine). What's striking me as well is that the target audience is being confronted with Algerian Darja, even though they won't understand that much (although "يتنحوا" is pretty Fusha as well, isn't it?). The guy wouldn't have interfered the way he did if it had been a France 2 broadcast in French for a French speaking target audience I guess.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

In Algiers, يتنحاوا is pure Darja. And yes, there is that legitimate insistence - we take the trouble to decipher your dialects, you listen up and decipher ours!

Noureddine Chikh said...

يتنحو isn't pure daridja at all; Peter Konerding is right. تنحى means زال وبعد (cf. المعجم الوسيط).
Besides, I personally laught at this video so many times. What also made it funny and viral -i think- are the typically Algerian gestures. (But body expression isn't a sociolinguistic subject)

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

It's pure Darja just like ما or حليب; the fact that it has a root in Fusha doesn't make it any less Darja for me. In a way, it makes it even more Darja - it means that it's been used in Darja for a long time, unlike a word like "pion" which only came in after the colonial period.

Body expression isn't usually studied in sociolinguistics, but the study of gesture does have a place in linguistics; see Gesture for Linguists

Jongseong said...

Sorry to go off topic, but what would the Tunisian Arabic pronunciation be for the name of the Tunisian politician Khemaies Jhinaoui (خميس الجهيناوي), and what would the MSA pronunciation be? Is there assimilation of jh in Tunisian Arabic?

Peter Konerding said...

Thank you for the reply, unfortunately I didn't see it until today. I meant "pretty Fusha" in the sense that "يتنحوا" might also be comprehensible for educated people from other Arabic speaking areas (which doesn't really affect the overall situation, true). Of course it's a hundred percent Darja as well.