A sociolinguistic perspective on Arabisation and language use in Algeria
The Algerian National Constitution stipulates that Classical Arabic is the only official language of the nation, which is supposedly used by all members of the speech community. French is regarded as a foreign language and is taught starting from the fourth year of the primary level. The Algerian diglossic situation is characterized by the use of Classical Arabic and French as high varieties used in formal and public domains, and colloquial dialects, namely Algerian Arabic and Berber, as low varieties for informal and intimate situations. In public domains, Classical Arabic is present virtually everywhere and used (especially at the written level) in varying degrees. In some domains, such as education or the physical environment, Classical Arabic dominates; in other domains such as the economy, Classical Arabic is used in parallel with French. This linguistic reality is primarily the outcome of many years of intensive campaigns of Arabisation and major political and even financial decisions, beginning right after independence, aimed at promoting the status of Classical Arabic and giving to Algeria its Arabo-Muslim identity.
The present paper examines the process and outcomes of Arabisation and its effects on language use, providing a brief historical sketch of the Arabisation process in various domains, including its application in public life, notably in administration, the physical environment and education. The Arabisation process has touched practically all spheres of public life previously characterized by the sole use of the French language. Also discussed is the impact of Arabisation on language use at the institutional and individual levels. The impact of Arabisation has been significant in some domains, namely education and the physical environment, but less evident in others, such as in university studies, especially in scientific and medical departments, where French remains the main medium of instruction and communication. The paper also encompasses a brief survey of the linguistic rights of Berbers under the Arabisation process, and at the same time it also attempts to address the issue of the Arabisation process in relation to other concepts, notably Islam and Islamism; ‘Arabisation’ does not mean ‘Islamisation.’ Finally, the results of the Arabisation campaigns are analyzed and critiqued. Arabisation has faced many criticisms, among them paucity of human and financial means, as well as the lack of a coherent strategy of implementation in which the political and sociolinguistic realities of the Algerian speech community are taken into consideration.
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