A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lameen Souag Surfaces with Four Posts Worth Noting

I've fairly frequently linked (given the infrequency of his posts) to the linguistic posts of Algerian blogger and Berber/Saharan languages linguist Lameen Souag at his Jabal al-Lughat blog, most recently on his post about a Chinese description of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate.

In recent years he's been a little silent, being the sort of person (though I only know him online) who gets distracted from blogging by distracting stuff like writing and defending a doctoral dissertation, getting married, moving from England to France, starting a teaching career, writing books, and so on. Anyway, he seems to be back with a vengeance. Lately he's been posting frequently, and in fact his last four posts all should have relevance to those with an interest in the Maghreb. Links to each with a few comments;

Learn Tamezret Berber with Cartoons. Tamezret is a small Tamazight (Berber)-speaking town in southern Tunisia, and a center of the Amazigh revival in that country. There are now several sites devoted to its local dialect, including one using cartoons.

The Language of Academia: Algeria and France. Despite a quarter century of Arabization in the primary and secondary schools, half the courses in Algerian universities are still taught in French.

Review: La question linguistique en Algérie. Review of a book by Chafia Yamina Benmayouf (also quoted in the above post). She apparently is an unapologetic Francophone, disdainful of Arabization, and equating French with "modernity." Lameen disagrees:
As for her vision of the future, I would consider it close to a worst-case scenario. Her tactical and qualified support for Algerian Arabic does not entail actually using it for anything important; while rather hostile to Standard Arabic as a medium for university education, she takes it for granted that French is appropriate in that context, and indeed is the perfect vehicle for anything related to modernity. But, frankly, I do not want a French-language-mediated "transfer of modernity from the north shore to the south shore of the Mediterranean" (p. 118); I want an Algeria with the self-confidence and self-awareness to learn from a variety of examples and choose its own path, not mechanically follow in France's footsteps. Nor do I believe that relegating "modernity" to a foreign language is likely to help Algeria achieve it!
Nonetheless, I'm glad I read the book. It's fascinating – if sad – to discover that there exists an Algerian intellectual prepared to take a position this extreme in favour specifically of French; I don't believe I've ever met one. Could one find a corresponding phenomenon in France, I wonder – some professor eagerly advocating for more English in the bureaucracy and the universities, and condemning supporters of French as narrow-minded nationalists?
Didn't they kick the French out 51 years ago? But this is still a controversy in Algeria, were many senor officials still aren't that comfortable in literary Arabic.

Ethnologue Update Comments. There's a new version online of the standard Ethnologue reference on world languages, itself a controversial issue at times; Lameen assesses the improvements (and flaws) of their coverage of North African and Saharan languages. including one Mauritanian language, Imeraguen, which apparently may not even exist.

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