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Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 10:59–78, 2004

Copyright C Taylor & Francis Inc.

ISSN: 1353–7113 print DOI: 10.1080/13537110490450773

Inc. ISSN: 1353–7113 print DOI: 10.1080/13537110490450773 LANGUAGE AND POLITICS IN ALGERIA MOHAMED BENRABAH



Universit´e Stendhal-Grenoble III, Eybens, France

Since independence, Algerian authorities have used a number of ideological pro- cesses to gain political legitimacy. One of these processes is the language policy known as Arabization. The present article shows how this policy aims at provid- ing the regime with political legtimacy, and serves as a means of social control (Arabization/Islamization). We argue that, far from bringing about reconcilia- tion between various groups and between these and the authorities, Arabization has led to serious problems and major conflicts that have undermined both social cohesion and the authority of the regime.

After Algeria won its independence in July 1962, its leaders de- cided to choose “assimilation” as a model of nation-building. This model, which can be traced back to 18th century Liberal revolu- tions, aims at making most community members alike, sharing the same behavior habits and thought patterns. Within this type of integration, citizens are expected to learn and speak the same lan- guage. Monolingualism is considered to be the means by which the people can be most easily united. To make a good their case for this model, its supporters would ask: aren’t the Americans, the Chinese or the French, who have adopted “assimilationist” language poli- cies, among the most securely united nations in the world today? Authorities in Algeria have chosen to adopt the same philosophy for the national language policy best known as “the policy of Ara- bization” or “Arabization” for short. The supporters of this policy believe that this type of nation- building, in which one language plays a major role, can serve to reduce conflicts that come from factors that can roughly be di- vided into two categories. First, because of geographical spread which generates multilingualism, miscommunication is likely to

Address correspondence to Mohamed Benrabah, University of Grenoble III 03, Rue de Ruires, 38320, Eybens, France. E-mail:



M. Benrabah

occur between the people of the same nation. Second, the use of more than one language in a community can create inequal- ity and exclusion among its citizens. A language policy that encourages monolingualism is thus meant to produce national in- tegration both horizontally and vertically. Political and social lead- ers, who prefer this approach, openly put these forward as their objectives and Algerian leaders are no exception. For example, one member of this group, who served the regime for twenty-ve years, described Algerian linguistic and cultural pluralism as divi- sive and as a mixing of elements from ill-assorted cultures, and often contradictory, inherited from periods of decadence and the colonial period.1 In 1973, the then General Secretary of the Min- istry of Education said that Arabization was meant to ll in the gap between those in leadership and the people. 2 In this paper, we show how Arabization has failed as a process of national integration designed to reduce conicts. We argue that because it was almost entirely dictated by political and ideological factors, Arabization has, in fact, exacerbated these conicts. But before dealing with these aspects, it is necessary to consider rst the issue of why language and politics have been wedded in an indissoluble union3 in Algeria, as in many other countries.

Lack of Legitimacy

At the source of the relationship between language and politics in Algeria, there is the question of legitimacy. Bernard Cubertafond quite rightly states: In Algeria, the crisis of legitimacy is profound. It is the essential problem of this country.4 Political leaders, who assumed leadership positions in Algeria in 1962, tried to found a State with- out taking into consideration this state of affairs. This crisis of legitimacy can be traced back to Algerian ancestral attitudes to- wards the central power with which they have almost always been in bad terms. These relations are vitiated by mistrust due to the populations mode of representation of the State. Before the French invasion in 1830, the Turks had controlled Algeria since the 16th century. During the Turkish period, the col- lective consciousness associated the notion of the State with that of the payment of taxes. The Ottoman central power made no ef- fort to integrate within a single community something like 516 or

Language and Politics in Algeria


more tribes that lived in the country. 5 These tribes often had differ- ent languages (or dialects) and cultures. French colonization put an end to this tribal system but did not improve the populations mistrust towards the authorities: the relationship between the ad- ministration and the individual existed in a state of domination- subjectionmaintained by brutal force. Exclusion maintained the populations suspicion towards central power. Even the national movement, the Front de Liberation´ Na- tionale (FLN), which helped free Algeria, has failed to unite the people within a homogeneous national community. Following Eric Hobsbawm, we would argue that, as for other independence move- ments in the Third World, the Algerian FLN was not nationalisthat is, a movement which seeks to bond together those deemed to have common ethnicity, language, culture, historical past, and the rest6 but internationalist. This failure has further weakened the authoritieslegitimacy. In fact, tensions appeared right after the liberation of Algeria between the different constituent parts of the indepen- dence movement (e.g. Kabylie unrest in 1963). What is more, the very nature of Algerian political leadership has exacerbated this crisis of legitimacy. A former political cadre, familiar with the mys- teries of Algerian politics, gives his own account:

In an oligarchy, men of power play an important role, but in Algeria, maybe even more than elsewhere. Thus, they will be very actively involved, because a rigid and powerful authority, detained by a small group, could only but give an extremely heavy weight to individuals. 7

Today, the idea of the state as an institutional systemis still not well xed in peoples minds. Many Algerians associate it with the men that represent it. Building a state in these conditions be- comes almost impossible especially when those in charge of doing it are not disinterested. They believe they are building a state when they set up a strong central power. This populist way of assimilat- ing power with the state tends to make leaders identify themselves with their people. 8 As soon as the leader identies himself with the people, confusing his own interests with those of the entire popu- lation, he tends to do everything he can to remain in a dominant position and exclude the majority of the population. This mutual negation produces a kind of hatred of the state.9


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Instruments of Legitimacy: Islam and Arabic

Immediately after independence, those that assumed political leadership used various instruments to compensate for their lack of legitimacy. Among these, three ideologies can be mentioned:

(1) socialism, (2) nationalism, and (3) Islam. 10 The search for legitimacy via nationalism and Islam makes the language issue be- come apparent. In a society where the majority of the population is Muslim, Is- lam is legitimizingthis is part of the main characteristics of Arab- Muslim countries. 11 In fact, authoritarian regimes, which are the rule in these communities, can nd their justication in the Koran itself (4th S, v 59): Oh you believers! Obey the prophet and those amongst you who are in position of authority.12 What is more, during the French colonization, Islam was a powerful instrument for resistance. For example, the colonial school was perceived as a means for Algerian children to lose their religion. 13 Consequently, Algerians were led to live in a state of cultural rigidity.14 Contrary to what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, where colonized people looked for ways of acquiring the colonizers’ “secrets,Algerian parents preferred their children to remain illiterate rather than sending them to French schools. The few who did attend these institutions were considered renegadesby the majority of their compatriots. As to nationalism, it imposed itself as a natural tool for gain- ing legitimacy since Algeria had been marked by French coloniza- tion. This fundamental legitimizing instrument has been effec- tive in three areas: 15 (1) a militant diplomacywhich was meant to turn Algeria into a model for the Third World so as to re- inforce the countrys image within and without; (2) a height- ened nationalism through a re-invented history-saga(histoire- epop´ ee´ ”) often entirely fabricated; and (3) the language policy of Arabization. The Algerian authorities could not do without a language pol- icy: Algerians had been demanding a status for their language(s) since the birth of the independence movement in the 1920s. The language issue was part of an element among the constituent parts of Algerian nationalism. In fact, the linguistic claim was in the po- litical agenda of the three founding parties of the movement. For example, in its 1927 program, the rst party for independence

Language and Politics in Algeria


(lEtoile Nord Africaine, lENA) included the demand for grant- ing the Arabic language an ofcial status. 16 This was a reaction to centralized Jacobin French practice, which could not tolerate the presence as a rival of another language with a great tradition.17 So French was imposed as the unique ofcial language in Algeria. Colonial legislators even declared Classical Arabic as a foreign languageby decree (Arretˆ e´ du 8 mars 1938). This very legislation had the effect of reinforcing the status of Arabic as a martyr lan- guage: it served as the language of independence. 18 But Arabic also became a constituent part of Algerian nationalism because of its link with the Koran and Islam. In Algeria, what links together Islam and nationalism is the Arabic language. Indeed, in the post-independence era, the lan- guage that was imposed as the unique national and ofcial lan- guage (Article 3 in all successive constitutions) is Classical Arabic, the liturgical language, the language of the holy book of Mus- lims. This is how one political leader (M.K. Na¨ıt Belkacem), who was a fervent advocate of Arabization, describes this code: The Arabic language and Islam are inseparable. Arabic has a privileged position as it is the language of the Koran and the Prophet, and the common language of all Muslims in the world, language of science, language of culture.19 The impossibility to disassociate language from religion leads Algerian leaders to equate the Arabizationof society with its Islamization.This view is largely held by members of the move- ment whose ideology has served the regime since independence:

the Ulemas, a religio-conservative movement which has become actively involved in the process of Arabization after the military overthrow in June 1965. After this coup detat, the authorities had to work harder to nd instruments of legitimacy. The Ulemas of- fered their help. Since then, they have been granted a third of government positions (ministries). 20 They were in charge of the Ministry of Cult, the Ministry of Information, and, most important of all, the Ministry of Education. These religio-conservative ideo- logues cannot conceive language as a vehicle of an already existing culture. They rather see it as an instrument for imposing another culture. According to an Algerian historian,

[the Ulemasideology rejects] the cultures of the people, the religion of peasants and systematically depreciate dialects that express them. The


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Arabic language is not thought of as a means of transmitting knowledge but as a support for religion which must hold the highest inuence over ideas. The revival of Arabic doesnt only aim at putting it in competition with French but as a barrier erected against foreign inuences.21

For the Ulemas, the Berber, Phoenician, Roman, Vandal, Spanish, Turkish and French past is nothing but a heresy. All the constituent parts of the Algerian cultural and linguistic heritage must give way to a unique dimension, the Arab-Islamic one which is deliberately amplied. For example, the refusal to recognize French language and culture is seen as a way of disposing of the inuences left by the indels.

Implementation: Language Expropriation

As far as language implementation is concerned, the rst indepen- dent Algerian government (19621965) chose to adopt a central- ized language policy that favors monolingualism even though the population is characterized by multilingualism and multicultural- ism. Its implementation was authoritarian: there was no attempt to reach a consensus on this sensitive issue and there was a total disregard towards the linguistic and cultural make-up of the coun- try. To illustrate this authoritarianism, it is worth mentioning here the authorotiesreaction to a sociolinguistic survey conducted in Algeria. In 1963/1964, the Algerian government hired a team of American sociolinguists (University of Berkeley) to draw up the sociolinguistic prole of the country. As a conclusion to their sur- vey, the researchers recommended the institutionalization of Al- gerian Arabic and Berber as inter-regional languages because they were the most widely used and most consensual. But the Algerian authorities signed a contract with this group of sociolinguists un- der the terms of which the conclusions of their survey of Algeria should never be made public. 22 Kaplan and Baldauf, 23 among oth- ers, consider the sociolinguistic survey as the most sophisticated way of collecting the information necessary for any language plan- ning process. In Algeria, those involved in this process rejected such an approach and preferred to reinforce classic diglossia.24 Charles Ferguson describes classic diglossia as a social context in which two clearly distinguished languages coexist, one High and

Language and Politics in Algeria


one Low. Among his case studies, Ferguson mentions the Arab world with Classical Arabic as High and mother tongues as Low. 25 At the core of the Algerian authoritiesdecisions, there is the impossibility for those in power to separate religion from politics. There is also the very powerful ideologicalstatus of the language of the Koran among Arabs. Note that these language attitudes, which are widespread in the Arab world, are not found in all Islamic countries. For example, non-Arab Muslim countries like Tanzania and Indonesia have adopted language policies that do not neglect the populations mother tongues (or languages of wider communication). 26 In Algeria, the language issue has been further pollutedby pan-Arab nationalism (the Baath movement, which favors the promotion of a centralized language policy and monolingualism in the entire Arab world), religious fundamental- ism, the Arab/Berber conict (which has been a reality since the end of the 1930s), and the deep resentment of intellectual leaders towards French, the language of the ex-colonizers. 27 As a conclusion to the rst part of this paper, we will rely on Robert Coopers accounting scheme for the study of language planning in Algeria. Coopers framework can be summarized as follows: What actors attempt to inuence what behaviors of which people for what ends under what conditions by what means through what decision-making process (decision rules) with what effect.28 The discussion so far provides an answer most of these questions. For Algeria, actorsrefers to the members of a small group of the military and religio-political establishment that has imposed Arabization authoritatively from above (by what means). The decision-making processwas dictated by ideological and political considerations under post-colonial conditionsmarked by military hegemony and lack of legitimacy. In the next section, we shall attempt to deal with the remaining part of Coopers questions:

[actors] inuence what behaviors of which people for what ends with what effect.

Implementation: Language-in-Education Planning

In the following section, our theoretical orientation assumes that schools function as major socializing agents that can reect and (re)produce the dominant social order or the order that


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the dominant group(s) aim(s) to set up. Language-in-education planning29 or acquisition planning30 is one aspect of language implementation. [It] is often seen as the most potent resource for bringing about language change.31 Through schools, one can in- troduce language changes among large groups of children. Such changes can affect the larger community and increase the popu- lation for whom the language policy is designed. In Algeria, the educational system was the rst institution to be Arabized. This be- came a priority for the religio-conservatives when they were offered the Ministry of Education in July 1965. Arabization was put in place in two steps. During the rst three years (19621965), which were marked by uncertainty and difculties, the authorities did not get involved in any systematic implementation of this language policy. However, even though it did not have the necessary human nor the material means to do so, the government decided to introduce Arabic in the curriculum:

seven hours a week in 1962 and ten hours in 1964. To compensate for a serious shortage of teachers, one thousand Egyptians were hired, even though most of them had not had any training in teaching. The majority of these recruits had one thing in common:

they were members of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is how Islamic fundamentalism was rst introduced in Algeria at a large scale. 32 In fact, systematic Arabization or Arabization at all costbe- gan with the military coup in 1965. The newly appointed Minister of Education, described by an Algerian political observer as in- telligent and learned, a magnicent product of bilingualism,33 declared during a government session: This [Arabization] will

34 The Ministers words reveal

not work, but we have to do it

the authoritiesneed for legitimacy and social control. In Novem- ber 1965, that very Minister asked the question: What kind of man do we want to train (in schools)?35 In a report drawn up in August 1966, he writes: National Education is, in some respects, like a business rm which needs to plan its production according to its forecasts/perspectives mapped out not only for a few years, but for almost a generation.36 He also writes: the school is the silent revolution.37 In his book, he even goes as far as quoting T.S. Eliots denition of the word culture: Culture is something that needs to be developed. It is not in mans power to build a tree. All he can do is plant it, take care of it and wait until it grows little by little.38

Language and Politics in Algeria


One can nd in these quotations the discourse that is charac- teristic of totalitarian regimes: the need to transform the governed and dominated by creating a new manand a new society.For example, the newly appointed Minister of Education, who uses the expressions a new Algerianand a new Algeria,talks about the necessary emergence of a new generation that needs to learn to think in Arabic.39 Other religio-conservatives prefer the new school to Arabize thinking rstor aim at an Arabization of minds and hearts before that of languages.40 Following the military coup, course and school manual de- signers embarked on this process of arabizing minds and hearts.The rst step consists in disposing of French as a language of in- struction. Gradually, it is replaced by Classical Arabic. For example, since 1980, children start French as a subject when they enter the Fourth Grade [quatri`eme annee´ fondamentale]. This is the case in urban centers but not all over the country. When a French teaching post is freed inland, for example, the local educational authorities often refuse to appoint a new teacher. This more or less vindic- tive practice does not take into account the fact that most elds of study at the university (particularly those in sciences) are taught in French. Before considering the content of manuals designed for Read- ing and History, it is worth mentioning at this point that Arabiza- tion has been accompanied by the adoption of traditional teach- ing methods, rigid Pavlovianpedagogical techniques that stress obedience, memorization and repetition. 41 The instructions for teachers that accompany the books for Reading for primary schools contain the following:

The program will consist in correcting and organizing the linguis- tic expressions that children bring from their homes.” “The program starts with the childs language and his previous acquisitions with a view to correcting them.” “The school contribution only serves as a substitute for correcting the childrens expressions.” “To bowdlerize and correct the expressions that were acquired by children before entering school.42

The authors of these instructions use a language of denigra- tion: the childs mother tongue is constantly described as a small


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language,a dialect,” “faulty,” “defective,” “unorganized,” “unso- phisticated,etc. Most of this discourse gives the impression that Algerian speakers are disabled linguistically and culturally and need some kind of rehabilitation.Another series of ministe- rial Instructions on Reading, Conversation, Religious education, Koran, Writing, Arithmetic,published in 1971 by a government institution called IPN (Institut National Pedagogique´ ”), clearly states: Our job will be twofold. We will correct through the child the language of his family. As the child is under the inuence of his family, he will inuence it in turn.43 This kind of disassocia- tion of child and family was considered by one FLN party cadre as a solution to the problemof the Berber language. He stated that in Algeria, the problem of the Berber language will be solved when the children will not be able to understand their parents and vice versa.44 These instructions aim at producing gagged children (enfants ba¨ıllonnes´ ”) by refusing them any spontaneous language and by stripping them of their cultural heritage. In the books designed for Reading for the very young, women have an unenviable status and position. Pictures and texts do not encourage equality or understanding between the sexes. For ex- ample, in the book designed for 8 to 9-year-olds (Third Grade or Troisi`eme Annee´ Fondamentale), we can nd, among other things, a poem accompanied by a picture with a young female kneeling down in a pool of water and busy doing the washing. The poem, which is devoted to female submissiveness and obedience, reads:

Every day, I help my mother with the house work/From morning to evening I do what she needs/I never go and play before I have helped my mother/Oh mother! I am a dutiful daughter and attentive to what I am told/And all you ask of me, I do it quickly and without delay/Bestow blessings on me, I will be obedient and submissive.

How are cultural elements presented to children in primary reading textbooks? For example, in a study published in 1991, S. Redoune compares the contents of two Reading manuals (one in French and one in Arabic) designed for the 11 to 12-year-olds (Sixth Form). He examines the way the same cultural elements are presented in the two books. The author analyzes the atti- tudes towards (a) Nature, (b) technology, and (c) the dichotomy Arab-Islamic vs. universal values. In the book in Arabic, nature is presented in idyllic and romantic terms. It is an object of

Language and Politics in Algeria


contemplation and admiration. No hint is made of its exploitation and transformation. In the book in French, however, the authorspresentation is, according to Redouane, more realistic and prag- matic. In order to survive, man tries to dominate nature and to exploit it. He then comes into conict with it.45 The messages conveyed by the two books are in total opposition. As an illustra- tion, the author compares two stories appearing in each manual and dealing with a child abandoned in nature. In the French text, the child manages to vanquish nature and control it. In the Arabic text, the child, completely subdued, discovers God. As to the world of technology, the Arabic text introduces instruments such as the telephone as magical objects and does not try to show how they work, nor does it attempt to give a brief history of its discovery, an approach that encourages children to remain passive consumers rather than as active producers of their own technology. In the book in French, the approach is totally different: the child is given instructions to understand the various technical processes. As far as the Arab-Islamic vs. universal values dichotomy is concerned, the book in Arabic describes the Arab-Islamic world in the single light of its prestigious past. The vastness of its territory and the numerical importance of its population are emphasized. Nowhere in this idyllic presentation can one nd any mention of the under- development of this world and its political, economic and cultural dependence, as well as interstate conicts. This idealized picture is given to the child so as to guarantee his sense of belonging to the Arab world and his adherence to its unication. In the French book, besides texts about Asia and Africa, most of the chapters ignore the Arab-Islamic dimension and try to introduce the child to the Algerian national cultural heritage so as to develop a sense of national identity and belonging. The teaching of history in the Sixth Grade was the rst to be Arabized both in form and content. Starting from September 1966, history was henceforth taught in Classical Arabic. This is how a former cadre of the Algerian Ministry of Education describes the Arabization of content: for that particular year [1966], school children tackled history starting not from Antiquity but from the beginnings of Islam. These measures were symbolic of the new direction taken by the educational policy.46 Arabization has served as a process for eliminating the school childrens historical conscience, self-esteem and national pride.


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Part of this has resulted from the falsication of history. In the history book designed for the Eighth Gradethe only book which deals with Medieval Algeriathe Arab conquerors are constantly called Muslimsand presented as the liberatorsof the native inhabitants, the Berbers. Berbers, described as Maghrebansand being colonized, then, by the Byzantines, were liberatedby the Arabs. Children are also taught that Berbers completely lost their identity and fused into Islam. Nowhere can we nd any reference to slavery or war treasures collected by force from the native Berbers by the conquering Arabs. Moreover, designers of the manual for the Eighth Grade show their beatitude towards the populations of the Middle East, a beati- tude that is clearly found in secondary schools History manuals. In his research study, Hassan Remaoun 47 discovered that 75 percent of the contents of these books deal with the history of the Mid- dle East. Five centuries of the Roman presence in Algeria (e.g., archeological traces) are absent from these manuals. The absence of these relics from Algerias pre-Islamic past reinforces and main- tains a kind of collective amnesia. One should note here, that such a misrepresentation of historical facts under the inuence of Arab-Islamic ideology can even lead some foreign observers with a supercial understanding of Algerias modern history to be wide off the mark. 48 Selective amnesia is further enhanced by attacks on school- childrens psychological integrity. In this respect, the Fifth Grade history manual designed for 8- to 9-year-olds is striking. In this book entirely devoted to the Algerian war of liberation (19541962), one discovers that school children are confronted with the crude reality of war and its atrocities. The book is meant to cultivate the principle of violence as a means for founding a nation. It contains several authentic pictures which show populations being humiliated by the French army, corpses, and mutilated bodies of young children. What is more, the national educational institutions even embark on a panegyric of violence that is gloried. For example, on 1 and 2 June 1997 (on the eve of the celebration of the International Day of Children,) children who sat for the entrance examination for Sixth Grade had the following dictation:

This country is dear to us and will remain invulnerable as long as its coura- geous combatants will defend it. This is the destiny of the sons of Algeria,

Language and Politics in Algeria


as long as everyone will respond to the roll call with determination. Be a faithful combatant who does not fear death and who faces the enemiesbullets by offering his chest, shouting in the name of God, the Merciful, Allah Akbar. Dear children, why live in fear? Sooner or later you will die (death is inevitable). The Homeland is ours, its honor is ours. 49

Effects of Language Planning in Algeria

What are the effects of language-in-education planning in Algeria? Let us rst consider cognitive and psycholinguistic con- sequences. An Algerian researcher studied the production of narratives among two groups of school-children: a group of 5 to 6-year-olds (age when they rst enter school) and another of 9-year-olds. The results prove that 5 and 6-year-olds could pro- duce, in an oral examination, non-deviantand correctlan- guage, a text the length of which corresponds to the age of the child. The quantity of sentences far exceeds the content set in his school manual.50 The results for the creative work with the group of 9-year-olds show that, after three or four years at school, childrens linguistic competence becomes fossilized. Among the rst non-Algerians to sound the alarm, we can mention John P. Entelis, an American political scientist who lived in Algeria in the late 1970s. In a paper published in 1981, he warned against the mediocre and incomplete nature of much of the educational process [if it] continues unchecked.He feared that a “‘thirdgeneration of disillusioned and economically un- absorbablecounter-elites, as described by Waterbury and Zartman for Morocco, would emerge.51 A decade earlier, J. Waterbury and W. I. Zartman had written the following about Morocco:

The fact that these [third generation counter-elites] often tend to be

semi-educated, traditionalist school-leavers, trained only in Arabic and more hostile than frustrated in their feelings toward modernization,

suggest that their reaction will be neo-traditionalist,

and Qadhate. It will be one of cynical radicals, suspicious of any

, intolerant, impatient, and embittered over being excluded

Islamic, populist,


from the public benets that private [and public] corruption make appear inexhaustible. 52

Let us consider two more eld work studies that show how Arabization in Algeria has failed as a linguistic process but has


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succeeded as a political and ideological process. In 1989/1990, James Michael Coffman, a PhD student from Stanford University, carried out a qualitative and quantitative study at the university campus in the capital, Algiers. The academic year Coffman did his eldwork (1989/1990) is particularly important: it coincided with the rst promotion of entirely arabized students being admitted to higher education. In his dissertation, J.M. Coffman compares the linguistic competence and attitudes of this group of students with those of older bilingual students. His results show that the freshers were much weaker in French, without being competent in Arabic.53 According to the author,

[Arabization] has produced secondary graduates with no mastery of bodies

of knowledge and very weak critical and analytical skills.

provided students leaving the Arabized secondary system in Algeria appears to be both more Arab-Islamic than the previous system, and more limited in its breadth and depth.54

] the tool kit

In his concluding chapter, the American eldworker states that studying in Arabic has grounded students in a different cognitive and symbolic order of thinking.55 He further adds:

This rise in Islamization accompanying the shift in language competence and preference needs to be explained, for it is not simply the result of a change in the socio-economic, geographical, or ethnic groups entering the university. The high correlation between Arabization and Islamization persists across all groups. 56

The Islamic orientation of childrens instruction has pro- duced a whole generation of school-leavers and students who value religious beliefs and Islam more than the Arabic language. This is conrmed by another eldwork study conducted by an Algerian historian, in the early 1990s. He used a questionnaire with a closed choice presented to 1629 pupils their A levels while preparing - nal examination (Terminale). The results for two questions are worth noting here. The questions are: (1) In which eld would you like the school to teach you more things?(2) What are the values that you most adhere to?The results 57 (see Table 1) show that Islam fares the highest while the Arabic language the lowest:

Language and Politics in Algeria


TABLE 1. PupilsAttitudes Toward Their Preferred Field of Study and the Values They Adhered To

Question 1

Question 2

Preferred eld


Values adhered to


Islam as religion & civilization” “Meaning of life” “Current affairs” “Work techniques” “History of Algeria


Religion Family Honor Work Equality Honesty & integrity Nationalism School Language















To sum up: let us come back to the remaining components of Coopers framework: [what actors] inuence what behaviors of which people for what ends with what effects.It is clear now that, through the educational system, the Algerian authoritiesintent in the rst place was to modify the behaviors of the majority of the population (what behaviors of which people). However, they took the precaution to keeping their own offspring away from the pub- lic schools that are attended by the general population. As in the rest of Africa, the politics of language in Algeria is characterized by elite closure.58 It is a language strategy where the dominant groups children are sent to bilingual (French/Arabic) or mono- lingual (French-only) schools while those of the vast majority have no other choice but to attend Arabic-only schools. One of the main goals of Arabization (what ends) is the need for the actorsto control the populations behaviors. As to its effects,the preceding section leads us to the following conclusion:

if Islam as a religion is not to blame, its manipulation via such a type of language-in-education planning with a denite Islamic orienta- tion could but lead to the emergence of new generations of school leavers with radical Islamic views. According to many scholars, 59 the process of Arabizing the minds and heartshas resulted in a greater Islamization of the Algerian society. It is certainly a case of identity planningcarried out through language planning.60 Another consequence of Arabization that cannot be ignored is its failure to reduce conicts that impede national integration. One can only agree with E.H. Jahr when he asserts that language


M. Benrabah

planning activity may itself be the cause of serious problems as well as major conicts.61 The ideological and political decision- making process and the refusal to acknowledge the sociolinguistic reality of the country have produced a language policy that has exacerbated existing conicts and created new ones. Algeria is now a highly segmented community in which Arabophonesare opposed to Francophones,Arabic-speaking to Berber-speaking Algerians, democratswho yearn for secularism, equality between the sexes and individual freedom to fundamentalistswho reject these values as non-Islamic, and so on and so forth. These tensions within the Algerian society have led to a kind of culturalcivil war with dramatic results: many French-speaking intellectuals in particular were assassinated in the 1990s, and many female French teachers were slaughtered sometimes in their very classrooms in front of their pupils. As to the long-lasting lack of legitimacy of the state, it has gained almost nothing. Up to the late 1970s, the Algerian regime had seemed to be unstoppable, even invincible, and its language policy unshakeable. A policy secured by a totalitarian regime that imposed a concrete screed over the country. The rst major crack that appeared in this screed came from the resistance to Arabiza- tion from one part of the population. In the spring of 1980, the authorities prohibited an almost insignicantcultural event: the Algerian writer Mouloud Maameri was to give a conference on old Berber poetryat the university campus of Tizi Ouzou, the administrative center of Kabylia, a Berber-speaking area. The pop- ulations reaction was unparalleled in post-independent Algerian history: the entire Kabylian region went into civil disobedience. This Berber unrest triggered a series of other outbreaks of vio- lence all over the country which has shaken the regime to its foun- dations. It has never managed to get over it since. Hence, far from providing the Algerian authorities with the necessary legitimacy for its permanence, Arabization, used for political and ideological purposes with a total disregard for the sociolinguistic reality of the country, has generated conicts that undermine and weaken it.


Although introduced to bring the colonial cultural legacies to an end, Arabization has led to the emergence of a new type of

Language and Politics in Algeria


alienation for the Algerian individual, on the one hand, and pro- voked a deep crisis within the Algerian society, on the other. For the last two decades at least, Algerian and foreign observers have pointed out that time had come for a serious evaluation of Algerian language policy and planning. However, the current socio-political system remains the major obstacle to such a process. Within this system, language planning is authoritarian and characterized by a top-downapproach. 62 One can seriously question whether such planning has ever existed as many politicians (and others who propose language plans) go about planning as if it could and should be done only on the basis of their intuitive feelings, that is, in terms of [a] language planning model [which begins with] the policy decisions.63 This is partly the reason why language and poli- tics in Algeria are wedded in an indissoluble union.One possible way out is to give priority to a global societal project grounded on an ideology that favors pluralism in general and multilingualism in particular. 64 In other words, to allow Algeria to head towards linguistic democracy,one prerequisite would be to embark on a real language plaining process based on methodology and so- ciolinguistic surveys, an approach that would reect bottom-up planning.


1. Taleb Ibrahimi, A., De la decolonisation´ a` la revolution´ culturelle (19621972), (Alger: SNED, 1981), 63.

2. Berri, Y., Algerie:´ la revolution´ en arabe,Jeune Afrique, N 639 (7th April 1973), 1418.

3. Weinstein, B., The Civic Tongue. Political Consequences of Language Choices (New York & London: Longman, 1983), 155.

4. Cubertafond, B., LAlgerie´ contemporaine (Paris: PUF Que sais-Je?,1995),


5. Harbi, M., LAlgerie´ et son destin. Croyants ou citoyens (Alger: Medias´ Associes,´ 1994), 226.

6. Hobsbawm, E.J., Nations and Nationalism since 1780. Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 179.

7. Hasan, Algerie,´ histoire dun naufrage (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1996), 10.

8. Addi, H., LImpasse du populisme. LAlgerie:´ collectivite´ politique et Etat en construc- tion (Alger: ENAL, 1990), 10.

9. Boukhobza, M., Octobre 88: evolution´


ou rupture? (Alger: Editions Bouch`ene,

1991), 2128.


M. Benrabah


Grandguillaume, G., Language and legitimacy in the Maghrib, in Language Pol- icy and Political Development, ed. B. Weinstein (Norwood, New Jersey: Ablex,



Quoted in Cubertafond, LAlgerie´ contemporaine, 106.


Heggoy, A.A., Colonial education in Algeria: assimilation and reaction, in Education and the Colonial Experience, eds. P.G. Altbach and G. Kelly (New Brunswick, N.J.:

Transaction Books, 1984), 97116.


Djeghloul, A., Huit etudes´ sur lAlgerie´ (Alger: ENAL, 1986).


Cubertafond, LAlgerie´ contemporaine, 109.


Stora, B., Histoire de lAlgerie´ coloniale (18301954), (Paris: Editions La Decouverte,´ 1994), 119120.


Fishman, J.A. Sociolinguistics and the language problems of the developing countries, in Language Problems of Developing Nations, eds. J.A. Fishman, C.A. ferguson, and J. Das Gupta (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1968), 9.


Benrabah, M., Langue et pouvoir en Algerie.´ Histoire dun traumatisme linguistique (Paris: Editions Seguier,´ 1999), 5859.


Rouadjia, A., Les Fr`eres et la mosquee.´ Enquˆete sur le mouvement islamiste en Algerie´ (Alger: Editions Bouch`ene, 1991), 111.


El-Kenz, A., Algerie,´ les deux paradigmes,Revue du monde musulman et de la Mediterran´ ee´ , Vols. 6869 (1994), 8384.


Harbi, M., La Guerre commence en Algerie´ (Bruxelles: Editions Complexes, 1984), 117118.


Elimam, A., Le Maghribi, langue trois fois millenaire.´ Explorations en linguistique maghrebine´ (Alger: Edition ANEP, 1997), 158.


Kaplan, R.B., and Baldauf, R.B., Jr., Language Planning from Practice to Theory (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd, 1997), 102118.


Fasold, R., The Sociolinguistics of Society (Oxford: Basil Blackwell: 1984), 54.


Ferguson, C., Diglossia,Word, Vol. 15 (1959), 325340.


Whiteley, W., Swahili, the Rise of a National Language (London: Methuen, 1969); Labrousse, P., Reforme´ et discours sur la reforme:´ le cas indonesion,´ in La Reforme´ des langues, vol. 2, eds. I. Fodor & C. Hag`ege (Hambourg: Buske Verlag, 1983).


Calvet, L.J., Les Politiques linguistiques (Paris: PUF Que Sais-Je?,1996), 120.


Cooper, R.L., Language Planning and Social Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 98.


Kaplan and Baldauf, Language Planning from Practice to Theory.


Cooper, R.L., Language Planning and Social Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).


Kaplan and Baldauf, Language Planning from Practice to Theory, 122.


Boudjedra, R., Le FIS de la haine (Paris: denoel,¨ 1994).


Hasan, Algerie,´ histoire dun naufrage, 180.


Grandguillaume, G., Comment a-t-on pu en arriver l`a?,Esprit, N 208, (janvier 1995), 18.


Taleb Ibrahimi, De la decolonisation´ , 72.


Taleb Ibrahimi, De la decolonisation´ , 101.


Taleb Ibrahimi, De la decolonisation´ , 76.


Taleb Ibrahimi, De la decolonisation´ , 66.

Language and Politics in Algeria


39. Taleb Ibrahimi, A., De la decolonisation´ , 98.

40. Rakibi, A. (1975/1982), Arabiser la pensee´ dabord, in Culture algerienne´ dans les textes, ed. J. Dejeux´ (Alger: OPU-Publisud, 1982), 137.

41. Boudalia-Greffou, M., LEcole algerienne´ de Ibn Badis a` Pavlov (Alger: Editions Laphomic, 1989); Grandguillaume, G., Etre algerien´ chez soi et hors de soi,Cahiers intersignes, N 10, (printemps 1995), 7988.

42. Greffou, M., LEcole algerienne´ , 3335.

43. Greffou, M., LEcole algerienne´ , 36.

44. Saadi, N., FIS: trafc de culture,in Tel´ erama´ hors-serie:´ Algerie,´ la culture face a` la terreur (mars 1995), 23.

45. Redouane, S., A propos des manuels de lecture de 6`eme annee´ fondamen- tale,Alger Republicain´ (25th November 1991), 9.

46. Haouati, Y. Trente ans d’´education,Le Monde de leducation´ , N 223 (fevrier´ 1995), 56.

47. Remaoun, H., Sur lenseignement de lhistoire en Algerie´ ou la crise identi- taire a` travers (et par) l’´ecole,Naqd: Revue detudes´ et de critiques sociales, N 5 (avril-aoutˆ 1993), 5764.

48. See, for example, Souaiaia, M., Language, education and politics in the Maghreb,Language Culture and Curriculum, Vol. 3 (1990), 109123.

49. Published in LHumanite´ (5th June 1997), p. 18.

50. Ghettas, C., LEnfant algerien´ et lapprentissage de la langue arabe a` l’´ecole fondamentale. Essai danalyse des competences´ narrative et textuelle de lenfant algerien´ entre cinq et neuf ans. (Th`ese de Doctorat en linguistique et didactique des langues. Universite´ Stendhal-Grenoble 3, 1995), 324.

51. Entelis, J.P., Elite political culture and socialization in Algeria: tensions and discontinuities,Middle East Journal, Vol. 25 (1981), 208.

52. Quoted in Entelis, Elite political culture

53. Coffman, J.M., Arabization and Islamization in the Algerian University (Unpub- lished Ph.D thesis, Stanford University, 1992), 146147.

54. Coffman, Arabization and Islamization, 147.

55. Coffman, Arabization and Islamization, 185.

56. Coffman, Arabization and Islamization, 185.

57. Remaoun, H., Ecole, histoire et enjeux institutionnels dans lAlgerie´ independante,´ ” Les Temps modernes, N 580 (janvier/fevrier´ 1995), 7374.

58. Myers-Scotton, C., Elite closure as a powerful language strategy: the African

case,International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Vol. 103 (1993), 149



Harbi, La Guerre com-

mence en Algerie´ ; Rouadjia, Les Fr`eres et la mosquee´ ; Coffman, Arabization and Islamization ; Benrabah, M., Larabisation des ames,ˆ ” in Linguistique et anthro- pologie, ed. F. Laroussi (Rouen: Presses Universitaires de Rouen, 1996), 1330; Dourari, A., Malaises linguistiques et identitaires en Algerie,´ ” Anadi. Revue

detudes´ amazighes, N 2 (Juin 1999); Benrabah, Langue et pouvoir en Algerie´ .

59. See, among others, Entelis, Elite political culture


60. Pool, J., Language planning and identity planning,International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Vol. 20 (1979), 521.

61. Jahr, E.H., ed., Language Conict and Language Planning (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1993), 1.


M. Benrabah


Kaplan, R.B., Language planning vs. planning language,in Language, Learn- ing and Community, eds. C.H. Candlin and T.F. McNamara (Sydney: NCELTR, 1989), 193203.


Kaplan and Baldauf, Language Planning from Practice to Theory, 118.


Benrabah, M., An Algerian paradox: Arabization and the French language,in Shifting Frontiers of France and Francophonie, eds. Y. Rocheron & C. Rolfe (Bern: Peter Lang, 2004), 58.

Mohamed Benrabah is Professor of English Linguistics and Sociolinguis- tics at Universite´ Stendhal-Grenoble III. He taught at the University of Oran (Algeria) for 16 years before moving to France in 1994. His publi- cations are concerned mainly with foreign-language learing/teaching and sociolinguistics.