Language Conflict in Algeria: From Colonialism to Post-Independence

Language Conflict in Algeria: From Colonialism to Post-Independence

by Mohamed Benrabah


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847699640
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 05/15/2013
Series: Multilingual Matters Series , #154
Pages: 216
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Mohamed Benrabah is Professor of English Linguistics and Sociolinguistics at Université Grenoble 3, France. The author's research interests include applied phonetics/phonology, sociolinguistics, and language management with a particular interest in the Anglophone, Arabophone and Francophone worlds. He has published two books (Langue et Pouvoir en Algérie. Histoire d’un Traumatisme Linguistique, Séguier, 1999; Devenir Langue Dominante Mondiale. Un Défi pour l'Arabe, Librairie Droz, 2009), a monograph, and more than fifty articles in journals and chapters in books.

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Language Conflict in Algeria

From Colonialism to Post-Independence

By Mohamed Benrabah

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2013 Mohamed Benrabah
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84769-966-4


Circumnavigating a Term: 'Language Conflict' and Related Concepts

Language conflict can occur anywhere there is language contact, chiefly in multilingual communities

Peter Nelde (2002: 330)

[C]olonial bilingualism cannot be compared to just any linguistic dualism

Albert Memmi (1974: 107)

[L]anguage planning activity may itself ultimately be the cause of serious problems as well as conflicts

Ernst Hakon Jahr (1993: 1)

[S]trategies of resistance [are] a typical reaction to overt political and linguistic oppression

Rajend Mesthrie et al. (2000: 333)

Several notions and concepts linked to the idea of 'language conflict' are discussed in this chapter. Most of them will serve as reference points later in the book. By way of introducing these terminological terms, examples from around the world have been gathered to illustrate manifestations of language conflict. And emphasis has been placed on issues connected with the linguistic effects of colonialism, and the consequences of decolonization and nation-building.

Language Contact and Domination

One thing that all demonstrations of language conflict have in common is that they have originated in contact situations, chiefly in multilingual communities. A simple definition of language contact can be the use of more than one language in the same place – geographical area or speech community – at the same time. It is interesting to note that not all language contacts produce strife for there are contacts that lack any conflict component. Language conflict arises when people try to carve out a space for their own tongue which expands to other linguistic 'territories'. The metaphorical expression of 'language spread', coined by Robert Cooper, refers to the processes that allow an increase in the number of users and uses of a language (Cooper, 1982: 6). When languages spread to other linguistic 'spaces', they produce 'tension, resentment, and differences of opinion that are characteristic of every competitive social structure' (Nelde, 1997: 289). Conflicts and the bitter argument over linguistic issues that emerge as a result of linguistic rivalry and competition are often called 'language wars'.

The origin of the metaphorical expression 'language war' goes back to the early 20th century. Between 1890 and 1913, a bitter argument took place among the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine. Like the Jews of Eastern Europe and the United States, members of the Yishuv began using Hebrew as a vernacular. Language became thus an essential marker of nationhood, or the mechanisms of we-group-building and the main patterns of national integration. These are forms of inclusion and exclusion in the collective or national identity, and forms of 'Othering' to produce the antithesis of 'We'. In Ottoman Palestine, there was rivalry between Hebrew and two varieties of German considered as 'enemies'. The first 'enemy' was Yiddish, the mother tongue of European Jews. Yiddish offered a plausible alternative as a language of national individuality, and public linguistic fights proved intense. By 1910, the struggle between the two Jewish linguistic forms ended in favour of Hebrew even though strong campaigns against Yiddish continued until 1936. The fight against the second 'enemy' was a quick battle and became known as the Language War. The rival was German, widely accepted as the language of advanced science and learning at the beginning of the 20th century. To spread their language and culture in the Middle East, the Germans created in 1901 a network of schools ranging from kindergarten to teachers' training college known as Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden. They aimed at offsetting the influence of French, another world language supported by the Paris-based Jewish organization Alliance Israëlite Universelle. In 1912, the Hilfsverein began building a technological tertiary institute in Haifa. The board of the institute based in Berlin announced in 1913 that the new institution would use Hebrew as the language of instruction for general subjects and German for science and technology. To justify their choice, the board argued that Hebrew could not handle scientific concepts. The board's ruling angered pro-Hebrew teachers and students from the Hilfsverein who joined strikes and public demonstrations. These actions had a positive effect and the board's decision was revoked (Spolsky, 2009: 186–188; Spolsky & Shohamy, 1999: 185; 2001: 357–358).

Interethnic language conflicts are by far the most common types of linguistic competition. Rivalry between Yiddish and Hebrew mentioned above is an example of this. And the struggle between German and French in the Palestine of the early 20th century shows how nations in pursuit of geopolitical supremacy can produce antagonisms. But tensions can also occur within an individual who masters more than one language, a case described as inter-lingual conflict. The complex problem associated with bilinguals concerns the question of identity crisis. While many bilingual people do not have any problem with identity, others find it a problematic issue, especially in contexts of domination (Nelde, 2002: 329–330; Wei, 2006: 11).

Moving back to language spread, its ultimate goal in totalizing forms of dominance is linguistic supremacy to wipe out other languages and cultures. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the usual type of organized language conflict rose from the contact between different linguistic groups with unequal socio-political status. The dominant language group controlled the important institutions in the major social, political and economic spheres. Within this environment, the primary cause of language conflict came from the dominant group's attempt to exclude members of the dominated community from social elevation in the political and economic sectors. And wars of words were ignited by dominant and dominated groups alike. For example, linguistic rivalry in the history of the United States was initiated by the ruling classes and in colonized societies by colonials.

The US never established an official language or a language academy, and since its independence from England, linguistic disputation has recurred regularly with periods of tolerance punctuated by periods of restrictive orientation. Intolerance towards non-Anglophone tongues occurred when an increase in immigration accelerated language diversity. Linguistic pluralism became in this way a salient public issue with the attendant legal protection of English and the restriction of other tongues. Anti-immigrant politics took the form of policies to 'Anglicize' and to 'Americanize' the immigrant. As a result of this, linguistic polarization and the politics of language became just as visceral as issues of race or religion. In truth, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) feared for their dominant position and the loss of political control over key institutions in the country. At times of uncertainty, WASPs sought 'wedge issues' to exploit for partisan purposes. They used the language question as a 'lightning rod' for political attacks from their opponents who addressed the actual underlying causes of the conflict, that is, social and political problems (Crawford, 2000: 1; 2001; Dicker, 1996: 47).

The expression 'linguistic war', often used synonymously with linguistic imperialism, has traditionally referred to the international dominance of languages in conjunction with imperial domination. Historically, conquerors in empires and colonies have imposed their own language on subjugated populations to eliminate a diversity of indigenous cultures and tongues. Linguists call this type of language destruction 'linguicide' or 'language death' – an extreme form of linguicide is 'linguistic genocide' committed through military force or educational systems. The result is language substitution: a tongue ceases to be spoken when it is no longer transmitted from one generation to another, and this creates a disruption in intergenerational transmission. Language death happens either because the speakers of the language die out naturally or are made to disappear, or because its speakers gradually adopt another distinct language, leaving no speakers of the original tongue. One way or the other, languages die from loss of speakers.

Central to linguistic imperialism as a frame of analysis is the notion of linguicism, that is, 'ideologies, structures, and practices which are used to legitimate, effectuate, and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources [...] between groups which are defined on the basis of language' (Phillipson, 1992: 47). As a concept, linguicism captures the phenomenon of hierarchizing languages and marginalizing speakers of minorized languages, in similar ways to racism and sexism. The establishment of unjust and violent structures in societies in general and colonized communities in particular generates the necessary conditions for linguistic oppression and conflict. In the past, colonial ideologies justified linguistic violence in the name of language and ethnic superiority. So, colonizers forced individuals to acquire the dominant alien language and denied them the right to maintain their native tongue(s) in prestigious functions (e.g. education). What is more, the colonizer's monolingualism and accent were allocated much higher prestige than the colonized's linguistic forms, be they his native tongues or his accented or non-accented ways of using the colonial language. Colonialism imposed this unequal relationship between languages wherein dominated speakers and languages were stigmatized as 'primitive' subjects using 'dialects', mere 'patois' and so on, and dominant speakers and their language glorified. This is typical of what Donaldo Macedo and Lilia Bartolomé have called 'colonial bilingualism' (Macedo & Lilia Bartolomé, 1999: 38). Albert Memmi, who described the colonial situation in North Africa in the 1950s, defined colonial bilingualism as follows:

the colonized's mother tongue, that which is sustained by his feelings, emotions and dreams, that in which his tenderness and wonder are expressed, thus that which holds the greatest emotional impact, is precisely the one which is the least valued. It has no stature in the country or in the concert of peoples. If he wants to obtain a job, make a place for himself, exist in the community and the world, he must first bow to the language of his masters. In the linguistic conflict within the colonized, his mother tongue is that which is crushed. He himself sets about discarding this infirm language, hiding it from the sight of strangers. In short, colonial bilingualism is neither a purely bilingual situation in which an indigenous tongue coexists with a purist's language (both belonging to the same world of feeling), nor a simple polyglot richness benefiting from an extra but relatively neuter alphabet; it is a linguistic drama. (Memmi, 1974: 107–108)

The concept of linguistic imperialism has been extended to describe cases where one language dominates other idioms within a community, especially in decolonized countries (Phillipson & Skutnabb-Kangas, 1994: 2223). In recent years, theorists in Applied Linguistics and Critical Sociolinguistics, and particularly Critical World Englishes working in the global spread of English, have offered astute insights into the field of language competition. In the early 1990s, Robert Phillipson introduced the concepts of linguistic imperialism and linguicism to account for the expansion of English around the world. Phillipson defined (English) linguistic imperialism as a set of practices through which the hegemony of the ex-colonial language 'is asserted and maintained by the establishment and continuous reconstitution of structural and cultural inequalities between English and other languages' (Phillipson, 1992: 47). He explored language dominance in the context of the relationships between the Centre and Periphery, a division of the world based on Johan Galtung's cultural imperialism theory (1971). According to Galtung, the Centre, or the technologically advanced societies of the West, is always dominating the Periphery by keeping less developed communities in subordinate status. When members of the Periphery choose education in the 'centre' (ex-colonial) language or promote it in their country, they become themselves internal colonialists and agents of linguicism.

In ex-colonized states, members of the power elite set up the necessary conditions for a language to become dominant. To do so, they often reproduce their colonial master's ideologies acquired during colonization to create and/or maintain a hierarchical relationship between the different languages of their country. They thus recycle old colonial practices to minorize local tongues because of their alleged difficulties in serving beyond the limits of their community, particularly in the complex modern fields of science and technology. By contrast, the dominant language is sanctified as the language of civilization (Portuguese, and Spanish, and French, and English and to a lesser extent German in colonial times), the language of modernity and technological progress (English more recently), the language of God and (pan-)national unity (Arabic in much Arabist-fundamentalist discourse). In sum, officialized discourses usually wrapped in nationalistic justification – in the name of national and cultural loyalty – use a linguicist terminology based on stigmatization and minorization to dominate the minds and lives of the speakers of subordinate languages. Dominated speakers internalize these ideologies in a pervasive and deep-rooted manner. Governmental institutions such as the educational system transmit mainstream ideologies and attendant sociolinguistic stereotypes. To Phillipson, language teaching in schools is one of the most powerful linguicist tools: 'Linguicism occurs [...] if priority is given in teacher training, curriculum development, and school timetables to one language' (Phillipson, 1992: 47). What is more, just as in colonial times, schools function as 'language killers'.

Linguistic Consequences of Colonialism: Ireland, a Case Study

By way of an extended illustration of the problems of linguistic competition and colonialism, I shall consider in this section language conflicts in Anglophone regions, more precisely, in colonial and postcolonial Ireland. In fact, Irish history is more or less similar to that of Algeria and can be instructive to understand the linguistic problems of the latter country. An examination of the politics of language in the British Empire shows two distinct tendencies, depending on whether one considers the first wave of European colonialism or the second. The first wave began in the early 15th century with the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta in northern Morocco, the creation of colonies in India and other Asian countries, and the conquest of the Americas. The second wave started in the 19th century when the annexation of overseas territories through military and economic dominance turned into direct control and lasted until the end of colonialism, after World War II (WWII).

The conquest of Ireland by the Tudor Dynasty in the 16th and 17th centuries corresponds to the first wave of European colonization. The British governed their Irish colony through an assimilatory policy applied in permanently incorporated territories ('direct rule'). Colonizers viewed the maintenance of the Irish language, culture and religion (Catholic Church) as a barrier to cultural and political assimilation (Anglicization). Colonial policies and ideologies used to Anglicize Ireland were a classic. They had the sort of arrogance characteristic of conquering powers: although racially there was no difference between the Irish and the English, colonial ethnologists used racial theory to connect the natives of Ireland with non-White races for the purpose of seeing them as savages worth civilizing. As for language and education, in the early 17th century, an English aristocrat wanted his children 'bred in England and abroad in the world, and not to have their youth infected with the leaven of Ireland' (Foster, 1989: 14). The English conquerors imposed their mother tongue on subjugated Irishmen to eradicate local languages, customs, thinking and values.

By comparison, during the second colonial wave, English linguistic practices showed less assertive assimilatory purposes, especially in education which formed the basis of language policy. Late 18th and early 19th-centuries England reluctantly expanded its overseas territorial possessions because of practical considerations: it sought to expand trade and not territory that could prove difficult and expensive to administer. England prioritized 'indirect rule' to encourage local forms of control and institutions as a way of enforcing colonial government policy. In the areas of culture and education, the English respected local customs and traditions, and they encouraged vernacular languages as subjects and instructional media in schools (Bulliet et al., 2009: 615; Ferguson, 2006: 1; Galbraith, 1963: 4, 64; Tsabedze, 1994: 7–10).


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix

Prologue: Two Cultural Wars in 50 Years xi

1 Circumnavigating a Term: 'Language Conflict' and Related Concepts 1

Language Contact and Domination 1

Linguistic Consequences of Colonialism: Ireland, a Case Study 6

Language Planning and Conflict 10

Resistance and Peace Sociolinguistics 16

2 Frenchification: Annihilating Indigenous Languages 21

Pre-Colonial Period 22

Local Languages and Cultures under Siege 25

'Instruct to Conquer' 31

Language Superiority 35

Rejection of Cultural Subordination 41

The Legacy 47

3 Arabization: At War with Diversity 51

Cautious Implementation 52

Politicizing Language 57

Ever More Radical Measures 59

Oppositional Identities 66

Planned and Unplanned Developments 72

The Anachronism of Arabization: Multiple Voices and Hybridity 75

Conclusion 86

4 Geopolitics and Language Rivalry: French versus English 87

Empires and Languages in Competition 88

Language without a Political Past 90

Top-down Intervention: Unsuccessful Penetration of English 93

Maintenance of French, Uncertain Future 98

Recycling Old Colonial Ideologies 106

The Possibility of Alternative Voices 114

Future Prospects 119

Conclusion 123

5 Writers and Language as a Battlefield: 'Authenticity' versus 'Hybridity' 126

Colonials Write Back 127

Some Effects of Colonial Bilingualism 131

Hybridity and Long-Term Prospects 135

'Silence Will Slowly Become His Empire' 139

The Triumph of Unanism and 'Authenticity' 142

Creativity and Resistance 146

Writing in Troubled Times 151

Conclusion 155

Epilogue: The Language Question As a 'Lightning Rod' 157

Language and Politics Wedded in an Indissoluble Union 158

Cultural Marginalization Breeds Radicalism 160

Language and Identity as Distractors 163

What Can We Do? 167

References 171

Index 186

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