The Linguist

The Linguist 55,1

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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14 The Linguist Vol/55 No/1 2016 FEATURES As language issues continue to dominate Algerian politics, Assia Rolls looks at the impact of colonisation, subsequent Arabisation, and ongoing linguistic tensions A lgeria has endured a tougher and longer assault on its language and culture than any other Arab state. The French army marched into Algiers in July 1830, and decisions made by France about Algeria's language, culture and educational policies over the following decades have undeniably left their mark on its socio-cultural fabric. While Algerian politicians and intellectuals are engaged today in the country's recovery, the language issue still dominates Algerian politics. 1 When Algeria was annexed to France in 1848, French was imposed as its official language. In 1858, the Muslim population was bound by the Assimilation Law, which demanded a total adherence to French language and cultural values, in defiance of their history, geography, religion, customs and language. Although assimilation was extolled in France as a means of ensuring the success of the mission civilisatrice of indigenous people in 'need' of development, Alexis de Tocqueville noted, in 1847, its harsh reality: "We have cut down the number of charities, let schools fall into ruin, closed the colleges. Around us the lights have gone out, the recruitment of men of religion and men of the law has ceased. We have, in other words, made Muslim society far more miserable, disorganised and barbarous than ever it was before it knew us." 2 The imposition of the infamous Code de l'indigénat in 1881 brought further debasing penalties, including imprisonment without trial. The French system of justice had superseded the Muslim judicial system, and the lands that supported education were confiscated. In the 1930s, the teaching of Arabic was suppressed, and it was formally decreed a foreign language in 1938. If the situation was bad for Arabic, education and literacy in French were not much better. In 1830, literacy in Arabic had been 40-50%; 3 by 1962, literacy levels had dropped to just 10%. 4 The determination to strip the Muslim population of their rights, including those of self-expression in the language of their religion, served to unite national resistance under the famous slogan 'Algeria is our country, Arabic our language and Islam our religion'. This became a symbol of defiance for all Algerians, be they Arabs or Berbers. It aimed to remind France of the glorious past of the Arabs, whose language is the language of the Quran and connects them with the other colonised Arab countries. The nationalist movement declared war against France in 1954 and the country was liberated in 1962. Arabisation The unifying slogan was just as pertinent to the reconstruction of Algeria. The strategy was to Arabise the country in order to restore its identity. How could a free Algeria operate in the language of the oppressor? However, by the time the French left, the language of the country's administration, and judicial and school systems, was French – a language in which only a restricted number of Algerians were educated. Faced with an ailing economy and an acute shortage of teachers of Arabic, the first president of Algeria acknowledged, in 1965, that Arabisation was an arduous task, which needed to consider bilingualism in, at least, the early stages of implementation. But what exactly does 'Arabisation' mean in the context of Algeria? The vast majority of the indigenous population spoke dialectal Arabic, which has no written form. Berger remarked that, as such, it "was denied any legitimacy and therefore any ability to become the – or a – national language". 5 What was put forward as the national language instead was literary Arabic, which was seen, by much of the population, as a foreign language. Furthermore, the continued call for Arabisation was perceived, in postcolonial Algeria, as a threat to the languages of the ethnic minorities. Berger argues that it is the arduousness of dealing with 'linguistic decolonization' that explains, in part, Algeria's troubles over language. 6 Benrabah emphasises that: "Algeria's elites adopted the policy of Arabisation in order to An Algerian identity COLONIAL POWER Detail of Ernest Francis Vacherot's painting, 'Arrival of Marshal Randon in Algiers in 1857', portraying the arrival of the French military leader, who was Governor of Algeria at the time

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