Language Conflict in Algeria: From Colonialism to Post-Independence

Author: Mohamed Benrabah

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This is a book about the use of languages as a proxy for conflict. It traces the history of Algeria from colonization by the French in 1830 to the celebration of 50 years of independence in 2012, and examines the linguistic issues that have accompanied this turbulent period. The book begins with an examination of 'language conflict' and related concepts, and then applies them to both the French colonists' language policies and the Arabization campaigns which followed independence. This is followed by an analysis of the rivalry between the English and French languages in independent Algeria. The book concludes with a study of the language choices made by Algerian writers and the complex tensions which arose from these choices among intellectuals in the colonial and post-colonial periods.

Benrabah presents a compelling and meticulously documented analysis which illustrates that language conflict in Algeria has always been a proxy for political conflict, brought about through authoritarian, anti-democratic, 'top-down' language planning that has ignored popular sentiments. True democracy will only be possible in Algeria once language policy is developed through a 'bottom-up' process which embraces the country's diverse ethnic and language groups. A fascinating and enlightening look at issues of global relevance.

Since the colonial era, the politics of language has been one of the most corrosive and divisive issues in Algeria. Mohamed Benrabah's detailed and wide-ranging study addresses each aspect of the question, from everyday language attitudes, through the problems of policy and planning, to education, popular culture, and literature. In providing an essential and enlightening analysis of the problem, he also suggests a forward-looking resolution to Algeria's language conflict, both recognizing the real linguistic issues at stake and exposing the ways in which language and identity have served as proxies for other conflicts, in whose own resolution the acceptance of Algeria's vibrant 'multilinguality' has an essential part to play.

Benrabah has a deep personal involvement with this research. It is both accessible and exciting thanks to new sources and contemporary literary analysis for the more informed reader. His plea for unencumbered linguistic eclecticism and embracing language diversity in Algeria as a way of promoting peaceful social dialogue is compelling and his contribution to such an evolutionary stance is significant at the current juncture in Algerian history.

The Journal of North African Studies, Vol. 19, No. 5, 857–873

By thoroughly analyzing the Frenchification, followed by the de-Frenchification and finally the Arabization of Algeria's educational system, which occurred during an important transition period, Benrabah has advanced our understanding of how language, identity, education, politics, and religion are intertwined in North Africa. Benrabah's use of a blend of sociolinguistics, anthropology, politics, and history is a model for future studies that may investigate other North African regions or sub-Saharan countries.

French Review, 87.3, 2014

The author provides a compelling documented analysis of language conflict in Algeria, tracing the situation from French colonisation in 1830. Language and cultural identities in Algeria are marked by the use of standard Arabic, Algerian Arabic, Berber and French, which makes for complex language policy...Benrabah's book provides a convenient overview of the language situation in Algeria and illustrates the rich potential for further investigation.

Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 2013

Mohamad Benrabah commands an impressive knowledge of the Algerian linguistic and literary scene, and writes in an engaging way while il1ustrating his points with crisp and lively details. In this brilliant book, which sociolinguists and historians will equally appreciate, he offers a panoramic intellectual and political history of modern Algeria.

Journal of French Language Studies, July 2014, Volume 24, Number 2

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.

Prologue: Two cultural wars in 50 years

Chapter 1: Circumnavigating a term: "Language conflict" and related concepts

Chapter 2: Frenchification: Annihilating indigenous languages

Chapter 3: Arabization: At war with diversity

Chapter 4: Geopolitics and language rivalry: French versus English

Chapter 5: Writers and language as a battlefield: "authenticity" versus "hybridity"

Epilogue: The language question as a "lightning rod"

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