This post is part of the series I started some time ago; and the idea is, as usual, to lay down some points to trigger a discussion in the comments section. I’ll also add a poll at the end of the post in order to have our readers’ opinion, including those who do not comment 🙂
The topic this time is Algerian dardja (or Algerian Arabic) and how we should regard it. To be more accurate, the question that is asked is “should we or not make dardja a
n official language in Algeria?“
If you look at Wiki’s definitions for language and dialect, you’d be confused as one of the definitions says a language is any human tool used for communication, and a dialect is a variety of a language. As I am not a linguist I’ll just ignore these definitions and concentrate on what, in my opinion, makes dialects different from languages.
A dialect is indeed a variety of a language. And since a language may have many varieties, it is broader than dialects.
Also, one expects people speaking different dialects of the same language to understand each other. This is the case if you consider someone from Oran, Algiers, Djelfa, Bechar, Rabat or Tunis. But I must admit I understand the Egyptians and Syrians only because I had watched some of their movies when I was young. And because I never watched anything from the Gulf I find it very hard to understand those guys from Kuwait and what not. And note that this doesn’t go both ways, I mean Egyptians and Syrians do not understand us Algerians… illa man rahima Rabbouk.
So this point is not always valid especially if you consider Danish and Swedish which are called languages even though their speakers do understand each other most of the time.
I read somewhere that a dialect is an unwritten language, then Tamazight would be a dialect, which I obviously disagree with 🙂 And I guess it is possible to write most of the Arab dialects without big difficulty. And Cantonese, which is considered a dialect next to Mandarin Chinese, can be written too.
I think Max Weinreich was right when he wrote that a language was often a dialect with an army and a navy.
I remember an article I read in the late 80s. It was written by Sheikh Mohamed El Ghazali and its objective was to defend the Arabic fos’ha against those who wanted to replace it by the Egyptian dialect. I don’t remember the article well but I can recall that he referred to those guys as the enemies of Arabic and Islam. He considered those plans dangerous as they aimed at dividing the Arab World and keeping the Arab civilisation in the low position it held (and still holds).
Baaziz Benomar wrote in his book about Ben Badis and Ibrahimi that the former had always used Classical Arabic with his pupils because he wanted them to evolve from using the dardja to using a real language. And we can feel that the author of this book thinks a language is more prestigious than a dialect, an opinion shared by many around the world.
It’s like my Arabic language teacher during high-school years. He never spoke to us in dardja, and after the high-school years we were all able to speak, joke and be serious while using the fos’ha, effortlessly. Unfortunately this is all gone now and I am glad that I can still read and write in Arabic…
So this group is against the use of dardja as it threatens the fos’ha but also the unity of the Arab World. It may even prevent us from understanding Quran (and Islam) correctly – I know what you think. Some do think it’s a way to further increase the French language domination in Algeria.
If you have read my previous posts of this series you’d know that I like opposing the arabophone and francophone intellectuals. It is not just me as they do really oppose on the ground and this will keep on until the next generation when we will have no intellectuals at all…
So the second group, those who want to broaden the use of Algeria’s dardja, are the francophones. Just read El Watan (this newspaper is my reference on what Algeria’s francophone intellectual think 🙂 ) and you’ll see that it’s the defended option whenever this topic is mentioned. Promoting Algerian dardja is like promoting our difference with the other Arab countries. It is like saying hidjab and niqab are not Algerian and women should wear Al hayek and la3djar – I said I know what you think. In these times of the so-called Arabic Spring, this stance could make the consensus as we are told we’re different and Algeria shouldn’t go through the same uprisings 🙂
Anyway, since I said intellectuals will soon be extinct in Algeria, it is useful to look at what average Mo thinks. And here we find out that there are some for and some against but there doesn’t seem to be any ideological background behind their opinions.
Dardja and French
You may have heard of one of those WikiLeaks cables where Algerians were referred to as trilingual illiterates. I won’t go through the discussion of whether it’s true or false. Suffice to say that it’s neither…
What is true is that Algerian dardja has been “invaded” by French. I mentioned this point here when I talked about Kabyle, but the case of Algerian dardja is no better. Today some words, including prepositions and conjunctions, are always said in French. “Parce que” or rather “paske” can be heard even on Algerian TV A3 which is, as I said here, more an Arab channel than an Algerian one.
In his famous book, Bencheneb wrote that only a few Turkish words made it into Algerian dardja, and even less expressions. French has definitely had a bigger impact, especially in the recent years, perhaps an effect of globalization. This is true for the coastal and bigger cities but is less valid when you head to the South.
I do like our dardja and like to use it but I hate the fact I feel it’s just broken French when I hear it.
Algerians study (in) classical Arabic but one must agree that they do not master the language. Most of them are unable to speak it fluently, and while they could read it (newspapers and books), many are unable to write it properly without making huge efforts. It is even more serious when the older generation is considered. These neither read nor speak Arabic; many of them do not even understand it when it is used on Algerian television.
Algerian television (meaning the political Pouvoir) seems to have made some concessions as you can hear the dardja now in some programs. It is widely used on the newly created El Djazairia TV and a bit less on Ennahar TV and Echourouk TV. Some newspapers (sports ones) seem to use it too but the biggest dailies do still write in Modern Standard Arabic. So we are still far away from Tunisian Nessma TV (which scarcely uses classical Arabic). Some years ago a Moroccan magazine (Nichane) was created and was written in dardja; it seems it has disappeared in 2010. Egyptian and Lebanese TV channels do use their dialects most of the time, even when presenting the news for some, but one doesn’t necessarily feel it as these dialects have less non-Arab words in them.
So if one wants Algerian dardja to become a language, without speaking of making it official, there is prior work to do. It must first get rid of all the unnecessary French words in it.
Also, it must have more vocabulary so that it could be used effectively. I am one who doesn’t mix too much French when speaking in dardja. But when a discussion becomes sharper, I usually switch to French (this time keeping the prepositions in Arabic) or English. Having dardja used on TV and in the newspapers would help. Usage in state administrations, such as justice courts, would be a must too. I prefer our ministers to speak in dardja rather than French, but again this seems to be a generation issue which will disappear along with the Tab Jnanhoum.
And what about art?! Songs are already in dardja for most of them. Algerian theatre is a leading vector of using dardja even if it’s what they call the third language, a cleaner dardja which has been invented to make the plays understandable by both Algerians and other Arabs. Perhaps this third language is the solution. Remains literature…
A last question is which dardja to use? Tamazight has been made official but we still speak our Tamazight dialects: I speak Kabyle, others Chaoui, Chenoui, Mzabi, Targui, etc. If dardja becomes a language then only one of the dialects would be promoted and the rest would become varieties of the “new” language, i.e. remain dialects. So which of the dialect of Algiers, Oran, Constantine, Djelfa, Setif, Annaba, Jijel, etc. would be used and what to do to make the disqualified ones disappear?
I just said that I do like Algerian dardja, more that of Centre/Eastern Algeria than that of the West or the South 🙂 so I am not among those who call for its suppression. But I don’t think it must become a language. Classical Arabic is such a wonderful language and I believe the media, intellectual and arts’ role is to help the people improve their skills (including the language) rather than lowering the standard by using dardja. This of course means Classical Arabic, or rather Modern Standard Arabic, must be used on a wider range. It must be better taught in schools and people need to be capable of using it naturally. We are staying in the middle of the way, Classical Arabic is like a foreign language as only a few use it fluently, and dardja is too “shabby” to be considered a language.
However, there are three words, typically Algerian, which I would love to have introduced into Classical Arabic. “Balak”, which was mentioned in the first video above, and “madabik” and “3afssa”. 🙂
I cannot end this long post without mentioning Algerian Lamine Souag, the author of the excellent Jabal Al-Lughat blog, and his new blog on the origins of Algerian dardja.
And as promised, here is the poll so let us know what you think.