Language Policy (2007) 6:225–252 DOI 10.


Ó Springer 2007


(Received 1 March 2006; accepted in revised form 31 December 2006)

ABSTRACT. The paper presents the language policy (arabisation) pursued in Algeria since independence in 1962. The first section of the paper focuses on the recent changes in government language policy (return to Arabic–French bilingualism in schools) and reactions to them following the recommendations made by the National Commission for the Reform of the Educational System in March 2001. The second part gives a historical background to post-independent language-in-education planning. The third section looks at the unplanned developments resulting from the hegemonic nature of linguistic arabisation. The fourth section explores secondary school students’ attitudinal reactions towards Algeria’s linguistic pluralism. Finally, the paper argues that the Algerian leadership’s refusal to recognise linguistic pluralism considered beneficial by the majority of the population represents one of the major obstacles to the nation-building process. KEY WORDS: Algeria, arabisation, bilingualism, English, French, language attitudes, language educational policy, language hegemony, language maintenance, Tamazight ABBREVIATIONS: CNRSE – National Commission for the Reform of the Educational System; FFS – Socialist Forces Front; MCB – Berber Cultural Movement; HCA – High Commission for Berber Affairs

Introduction Algeria’s development history since its independence consists of three main phases each of which has had an impact on language education policies. The first phase is characterised by the colonial legacies amongst which was a network of schools and an educational system dominated by the French language with Arabic growing steadily in importance. The second phase lasted from the late 1960s to the late 1990s and corresponded to the socialist-era central planning economy, called the nationalist transition. The Arabic language was gradually imposed in the educational sector. An extreme


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version of exclusive nationalism inspired by the 19th century European ideal of linguistic convergence marked this era. The third phase began in the early 2000s corresponding to the transition to the free economic market with less assertive arabisation policies. During the third phase, the authorities have encountered hostility to the reform of the schooling system. In fact, the Algerian government has come to admit that education has ‘‘failed’’. Two examples of student achievement will be used here as recent illustrations of this failure. In June 2005, ten classes in the city of Mascara took their final examination at the end of the primary cycle (Sixth Form examination for 11–12 year olds) and not one single pupil succeeded. The second illustration concerns university standards. In mid-November 2005, the Minister of Higher Education declared that 80% of first-year students fail their final exams because of linguistic incompetence. The majority of the student population who enrol in higher education have been schooled through Literary/ Classical Arabic only and are hence weak in French, the language of instruction in scientific disciplines (Allal, 2005: 13; Maı¨ z & Rouadjia, 2005: 13). What is more, the imposition of an exclusively Arabic monolingual schooling system implemented during the nationalist phase is considered to be a major source of its current ‘‘failure’’, of the rise of religious fanaticism, and the civil war that has ravaged Algeria since the early 1990s (Benrabah, 1999a: 154– 160, 2004: 71–73; Byrd, 2003: 78; Coffman, 1992: 147 & 185, 1995). The issue of language education policies in Algeria is a sensitive issue embroiled in passionate politics and, as correctly assessed by Berger (2002: 8), it is ‘‘the most severe problem of Algeria in its present and troubled state’’. This situation sets Algeria apart from the rest of the Arab world and Africa and makes it a particularly instructive example for the fields of language policy and languagein-education planning. The present paper aims to examine Algeria’s language education policies since its independence. It will be organised as follows. The first part will present recent reforms and opposition to their implementation. In the second section, a description of post-independent language-in-education planning will be given with a view to set the background for a better understanding of the current situation. In the third section, it will be argued that the hegemony of linguistic arabisation has led to resistance and to the maintenance of languages that were targeted by arabisation. The fourth part of the paper will explore Algerian secondary-school students’ attitudes

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towards Algeria’s multilingualism. In the final section, it will be argued that the opposition of the Algerian leadership to linguistic pluralism remains the major obstacle to the process of nationbuilding.

Educational System in Crisis: Reforms and Reactions Since the early 2000s, the issue of languages in the educational system has been the subject of considerable debate in Algeria: should schools continue to favour monolingualism in Arabic or should they adopt Arabic–French bilingualism? Arabo-Islamists, who support the policy of arabisation (monolingualism), are opposed to ‘‘Modernists’’ (mainly secular and/or francophone members of the population and the elite) who call for the implementation of Arabic–French bilingualism. The debate reached its climax in 2002 when opponents to bilingual education issued a fatwa against supporters of educational reforms (Abdelhai, 2001: 7) and considered the defenders of bilingualism as the ‘‘enemies of Islam and the Arabic language’’ and the ‘‘supporters of forced Westernisation of Algerians’’*1 (Djamel, 2001: 3). Due to be implemented in September 2001, the reforms were suspended by the Ministry of the Interior on 3 September 2001. This strong opposition came as a reaction to the recommendations made in mid-March 2001 by the National Commission for the Reform of the Educational System (CNRSE in French) set up in May 2000 by the newly elected Head of State, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In March 2001, the CNRSE recommended that French be reintroduced as the first mandatory foreign language in Grade Two (for 6–7 year olds) of the primary cycle instead of starting it in Grade Four (for 8–9 year olds) as had been the case since the late 1970s. The CNRSE also suggested that scientific disciplines be taught in French instead of Arabic in secondary schools (Sebti, 2001). The obvious intended outcomes are bilingualism and biliteracy as ways of improving student achievement. It requires a clear shift from a ‘‘weak’’ bilingual education – French taught as a subject – to a ‘‘strong’’ form of bilingual education which involves students learning content (scientific disciplines) through Arabic and French.
Quotes marked by an asterisk were translated from Arabic or French by the present author.


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The authorities and a large part of the population alike have felt the need for educational reforms, which should include, among other things, the reintroduction of French at an early stage. Before he was assassinated in June 1992, President Mohamed Boudiaf described the educational system as ‘‘doomed and unworthy of the Algerian people’’* (Messaoudi & Schemla, 1995: 186). Similarly, prior to his election as Head of State in April 1999, candidate Abdelaziz Bouteflika often repeated in public the expression ‘‘doomed schooling system’’. In 1999, a survey conducted for the central authorities revealed that 75% of Algerians supported the idea of teaching scientific school subjects in French (Djamel, 2001: 3). Many parents believe that Algeria’s public schools ‘‘produce generations of illiterate people who master neither Arabic nor ´ French’’* (Beauge, 2004: 17). Indeed, the educational system in Algeria has been detrimental to quality and open-mindedness (Si Ameur & Sidhoum, 1992: 167). In 1999, President Bouteflika’s first government committed itself to ending its interference with pedagogical matters, to revising school cycles, curricula and textbooks, and to promoting teacher training as means of eradicating Islamist fanaticism fuelled by the Algerian educational system. The State also set itself the task of legalising private schools that existed in a legal vacuum and which provide an Arabic–French bilingual education for pupils who refuse to attend Arabic-only public schools (Martı´ n, 2003: 41). And following the dramatic events of 11 September 2001, the Algerian authorities, like most other Arab-Muslim governments around the world, came under strong pressure from the West to reform educational curricula as part of the Global War on Terror (Karmani, 2005: 262). In addition to post-9/11 developments, two other factors have worked against the maintenance of a monolingual schooling system: first, the demand for economic reforms comes from the pressure exerted by internationalism and the transition to a market economy, second, there are socio-political demands for democratisation and minority linguistic rights (Benrabah, 2005). Hence, educational reforms that aim at bilingual/multilingual education are not simply an educational issue: these are expressions of political ideology, tides of political change and political initiatives (Baker, 2003: 101). An understanding of the undergoing changes and the opposition they generate require a historical perspective on language-in-education planning in Algeria.

language-in-education planning in algeria Post-independent language-in-education policies


One month before independence, the leadership of the Algerian revolutionary movement committed the future State to the policy of linguistic arabisation as follows: ‘‘[The role of the Revolution] is above all [...] to restore to Arabic – the very expression of the cultural values of our country – its dignity and its efficacy as a language of civilisation’’ (Gordon, 1978: 149). In fact, the assimilationist ideology of colonial France, which undervalued Literary/ Classical Arabic, turned this language into the language of libera´ tion (Djite, 1992: 16). This language’s symbolic value was further increased by its link with Islamic culture and religion. ‘‘Islam and the Arabic language were effective forces of resistance against the attempt of the colonial regime to depersonalise Algeria’’ (Gordon, 1966: 137). However, Algeria’s separatist nationalism was religious in form but not content: the motivation was not the establishment of an Islamic theocracy but of democracy even though the motivation for the latter has been obliterated by the military establishment which has repeatedly imposed dictatorial forms of government since the war of liberation (Roberts, 2003: 30). When Algeria gained its independence in July 1962, it was linguistically a pluralistic country. This was the result of its heritage including influences from Berber, Phoenician, Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, Jewish, Moor, Arabic, Spanish, Ottoman and French. Its inhabitants spoke Algerian Arabic and Berber or Tamazight (in several local varieties) and French. The arabisation policy overlooked the country’s linguistic diversity, denied any status to the languages spoken in Algeria and promoted Literary/Classical Arabic developed as the lingua franca of the Arab Middle East (Roberts, 2003: 11). Algeria’s first president, Ahmed Ben Bella, initiated the policy of linguistic arabisation in primary schools and as early as October 1962, he declared that Literary Arabic was to be introduced to the educational system (Grandguillaume, 2004: 27). Arabic teaching became obligatory in all programmes and at all levels during the period 1963–1964 and the amount of time spent on Frenchlanguage teaching decreased gradually (Bennoune, 2000: 228). Hence, French turned out to be ‘‘the first target of arabisation’’ (Lewis, 2004). The following year, Grade One (for 5–6 year olds) of the primary cycle was fully arabised and the amount of time devoted to Arabic-language teaching rose to 10 hours in all other


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levels. Furthermore, religious instruction and civics were added on top of this (Grandguillaume, 2004: 27). However, the government’s ambitious programme faced real difficulties linked with the social changes that accompanied the end of French colonialism. The government was confronted with a massive increase (from 14% to 36.37%) in pupil enrolment in the first cycle and the problem of teaching personnel and their competency. By July 1962, 25,000 educators had left Algeria as a result of the mass exodus of Europeans (Assous, 1985: 105; Bennoune, 2000: 223). The illiteracy rate stood at around 90% (Bennoune, 2000: 12; Heggoy, 1984: 111; Lacheraf, 1978: 313) and the number of Algerians literate in Literary Arabic only was estimated at around 300,000 out of a population of 10 million (Gallagher, 1968: 148; Gordon, 1978: 151). As to the French language, 1 million were able to read it and 6 million spoke it (Gallagher, 1968: 134). In 1962–1963, the authorities hired 10,988 monitors (Assous, 1985: 106) ‘‘whose intellectual horizons [were] at times only slightly less limited than their pupils’’’ (Gallagher, 1968: 138). A year later, 1,000 Egyptians were recruited as Arabic-language instructors. Most of these teachers turned out to be unqualified for teaching and totally ignorant of the Algerian social reality (Sarter & Sefta, 1992: 111–112). Their spoken Egyptian Arabic was incomprehensible to Algerians in general and Tamazight-speaking populations in particular and their traditional pedagogy (learning by rote and class recitation, physical punishment and so on) proved inadequate (Grandguillaume, 2004: 27–28; Wardhaugh, 1987: 189). What is more, the majority of these teachers were members of the Muslim Brotherhood and ‘‘interested more in the ideological indoctrination of the students than in teaching’’ (Saad, 1992: 60). The Egyptian educators proved to be major channels for importing Islamist ideology into Algerian public life (Abu-Haidar, 2000: 161; Mostari, 2004: 38; Roberts, 2003: 12; Thomas, 1999: 27). After the June 1965 military coup led by Colonel Boumediene, arabisation gained momentum under the latter’s presidency (1965– 1978). President Boumediene’s arabisation drive is best illustrated by the following declaration made by his first Minister of Education, Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, during a government session in the 1960s: ‘‘This [arabisation] will not work, but we have to do it...’’* (Grandguillaume, 1995: 18). In September 1967, Taleb Ibrahimi initiated total arabisation of Grade Two in primary schools. But the arabisation of the first two primary grades coupled with the

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lower educational quality led many parents to delay the registration of their children until the third year where French remained dominant (Saad, 1992: 61). A survey carried out by the University of Berkeley under the auspices of the Department of Planning showed that 80% of the youth were against the arabisation of university learning (Calvet, 1996: 118). Meanwhile, Taleb Ibrahimi informally allowed Mouloud Mammeri, a Kabylian writer/academic and Berberist militant, to restore the chair of Berber studies at Algiers University banned by Ben Bella’s government in October 1962 (Chaker, 1998: 42; Guenoun, 1999: 30). After a cabinet shake-up in July 1970, Taleb Ibrahimi became Minister of Culture and Information and launched the Cultural Revolution in order to accompany the government’s radical economic and foreign policies (Roberts, 2003: 11). In September 1976, educational reforms were introduced to favour, among other things, linguistic arabisation as a means of increasing the population’s competence in Literary Arabic (Benachenhou, 1992: 210; Bennoune, 2000: 301). Until the 1970s, the educational structure inherited from the colonial period consisted of three levels: primary school (lasting 5 years), middle school (4 years) and secondary school (3 years). Starting from 1976, an experimental schooling system called the Fundamental School was implemented. It consisted of a fusion of primary and middle school grades (nine consecutive years) with all the teaching done in Arabic (except foreign languages) (Assous, 1985: 132–133; Saad, 1992: 65–66). In April 1977, the appointment of Mostefa Lacheraf as Minister of Primary and Secondary Education signalled a pause in the ill-prepared and excessively speedy arabising process. This wellknown writer and thinker favoured gradual arabisation and bilingual education because he believed that French could serve as a ‘‘reference point, a stimulant’’ that would force the Arabic language ‘‘to be on the alert’’* (Berri, 1973: 16). At the end of 1963, he advocated the necessary maintenance of French in the schooling system for as long as it would take to reform Arabic and ‘‘desacralise’’ traditional culture (Gordon, 1966: 192–193). Soon after being appointed Minister, Lacheraf suspended the Fundamental School, dismissed the arabophone personnel in his Ministry, re-instated teacher training in French as well as ‘‘strong’’ forms of bilingualism in primary schools with scientific subjects (math, calculus, biology) taught in French. Lacheraf resigned when President Boumediene died in December 1978. The pro-bilingual elements within the State


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were sidelined by the pro-arabisation lobby (Islamists, conservatives and nationalists). The successor of President Boumediene favoured the latter group during his presidency (1979–1992).

Hegemony and Resistance Mohamed Cherif Kharroubi replaced Mostepha Lacheraf as Minister of Primary and Secondary Education in March 1979. The new Minister, a monolingual arabophone and pan-Arabist Kabylian trained in Syria, was ‘‘detested [by his fellow Kabylians] for his refusal to speak his mother tongue’’ (Roberts, 1980: 121). His first decisions were to resume the policy of total arabisation, implement the Fundamental School systematically and impose compulsory teaching of religious instruction at all levels (Tefiani, 1984: 121–122). The Ministry personnel and course designers were given a free hand in designing Islamist syllabuses and teaching. It did not take them long to turn arabisation into an islamisation process (Benrabah, 1999a: 154–157). French was postponed until Grade Four as the first mandatory foreign language and English as the second mandatory foreign language in Grade Eight. In 1986, foreign languages like German, Italian, Russian and Spanish, known as ‘‘minority languages’’, were simply dropped in Middle Schools (for students aged 12–15). Hence, between 1984 and 1994, university departments offered ‘‘Bachelor’s degrees’’ for beginners in these ‘‘minority languages’’ (Abi Ayad, 1998: 99; Miliani 2000: 18). In the meantime, Algeria’s elites preferred to enrol their children in institutions controlled by the French government. They, thus, indulged in the practice of elite closure (Myers-Scotton, 1993: 149) and promoted arabisation as a strategy to disqualify those less fortunate and minimise competition for their own children, for whom they could ensure the appropriate education needed (in French) for good careers in modern business and technology (Thomas, 1999: 26). This practice was most visible in Algiers where a small number of primary and secondary schools were unofficially bilingual. For example, the former French Lyce´e Descartes was ‘‘nationalised’’ to provide a French education to the children of several members of the political, military and educational elites (Messaoudi & Schemla, 1995: 59). As to the majority of young Algerians, often educated in Arabic only and who had an inadequate command of French (which is needed for career advancement), they enrolled in arabised

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university departments (Islamic Law and Arabic Literature in particular) and became susceptible to Islamist teaching and indoctrination (Coffman, 1992: 147 & 185, 1995; Roberts, 2003: 12; Stone 1993: 52). At the beginning of the 1990s, the pro-arabisation lobby put pressure on the Minister of Education to delay yet again French language teaching in the Fundamental School. The Minister did not satisfy the lobbyists but he put English on the same par as French (Laib, 1993: 7). Starting from September 1993, school-children who accessed Grade Four had to choose between French and English as the first mandatory foreign language (Bennoune, 2000: 303). In other words, not only was French no longer the first compulsory foreign language, but it could also be chosen as the second foreign language in Grade Eight. However, this new language competition ended up favouring French because the number of pupils ´ who chose English was negligible (Queffelec et al., 2002: 38). In universities, 95% of post-graduate courses in sciences and 95% of undergraduate courses in medicine and technical disciplines are taught in French. And the majority of undergraduates in scientific streams prefer to follow lectures given in French (Miliani, 2000: 20). In the 1990s, many independent establishments were illegally created by the associations of parents to offer Arabic–French bilingual education from nursery to secondary levels. In 2003–2004, there were between 380 and 600 such private schools in major towns and cities (Gillet, 2004: 1342; Martı´ n, 2003: 41). The total student population in the private sector was estimated at 80,000 in 2004 (Kourta, 2004: 6). The maintenance of French in Algeria could be interpreted as resistance to the hegemony of arabisation. It has been argued that ‘‘strategies of resistance [are] a typical reaction to overt political and linguistic oppression’’ (Mesthrie et al., 2000: 333). The targets of arabisation were French and the first languages of Algerians (Algerian Arabic and Berber). The survival and spread of both first languages could be described as an illustration of covert and/or overt resistance to the arabisation policy. Opposition to Algeria’s language policy first came from the Berber-speaking minority, the Kabylians. They began with an armed struggle against the central authorities in 1963–1964 under the banner of the newly formed party the Socialist Forces Front (FFS in French). The ideological ´ trends united by the FFS were all opposed to arabisation (Mahe, 2001: 442). The 1963–1964 dramatic turning point announced


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future and repetitive unrest in the Kabylian region. The hasty policy of arabisation and its acceleration with Mostefa Lacheraf’s replacement by a ‘‘token’’ Kabylian kindled rioting in Kabylia (Tabory & Tabory, 1987: 76). After the authorities cancelled Mouloud Mammeri’s lecture on ancient Tamazight poetry which was to be held at the University of Tizi Ouzou in March 1980, a series of riots were sparked and various demonstrations were organised in the spring of 1980. These had been preceded by a number of repressive measures against the Berber language and culture. The Circle of Berber Studies at Algiers University was abolished and its Berberist leaders arrested in January 1971; the chair of Berber studies at Algiers University was abolished in 1973; possession of the Berber alphabet and dictionaries was made a criminal offence (Guenoun, 1999: 32–33; Sadi, 1991: 29–30). The frustration of the local population reached its climax with the censorship of Mammeri’s lecture. The 1980 convulsions, known as the Berber Spring, turned out to be the first major destabilisation of the regime and announced the 1988 October uprisings which led to the end of the single-party ‘‘socialist’’ system and to political liberalisation. Prior to the Berber Spring, Berberophones had adopted a form of passive resistance expressed in language use. Tamazight-speaking parents banned the use of Arabic by their children at home (Kahlouche, 2004: 106) and resistance spilled over into the streets of Algiers where Berberophones deliberately spoke French or Tamazight in cafes, restaurants, hotels and certain administrative sectors (Harbi, 1980: 32). After 1980, under the ideological guidance of the Berber Cultural Movement (MCB in French), Berberophones demanded political liberalisation as a way to guarantee their linguistic and cultural rights within a democratic Algeria (Maddy-Weitzman, 2001: 38). They also called for the official recognition of Algerian Arabic and Tamazight and refused the arabisation of the educational system because of its ‘‘de-Frenchifying’’ objectives and its ´ inability to transmit democratic and secular ideals (Mahe, 2001: 471). Following the political liberalisation of post-October 1988, two Departments of Berber Language and Culture were created, one at the University of Tizi Ouzou in January 1990 and the other at the University of Bejaia in October 1991 (Chaker, 1998: 150; Kahlouche 2000: 158; Tigziri 2002: 61). Between September 1994 and April 1995, the MCB organised general strikes and paralysed the entire educational sector in Kabylia. Consequently,

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the government decreed the creation of an administrative structure, the High Commission for Berber Affairs (HCA in French) to be attached to the president’s office (Cherrad-Benchefra & Derradji, 2004: 166). The objectives of the HCA were to rehabilitate the Berber culture and introduce the Tamazight language in education and the media (Maddy-Weitzman, 2001: 39). There was also a promise for a future recognition of Berber. Seven years later (April 2002) following uprisings in spring 2001, President Bouteflika’s government institutionalised it as a national (though not official) language. The teaching of Tamazight organised by the HCA was marked by a great deal of haste and improvisation because the Berber language lacked an official status and proper planning institutions (Kahlouche, 2000: 161–162, Tigziri, 2002: 64). The situation changed after it became a national language. Since September 2003 and the beginning of the implementation of parts of the recommendations made by the CNRSE, Tamazight has been taught as a subject in Middle Schools nationally (Benrabah, 2005). A year later, French was finally introduced as the first mandatory foreign language in Grade Two of the primary cycle with 3 hours a week and English as the second mandatory foreign language in Grade Six. The authorities also recruited 1,500 French teachers to meet the demand for French language teaching (Cherfaoui, 2004: 2). But the reintroduction of French as a medium of instruction for scientific disciplines in secondary education is not on the agenda yet because of the pressure exerted from the pro-arabisation quarters. However, the government has made a major move against this lobby. Since September 2005, the Ministry of Education has discontinued the Islamic/religious courses in the secondary cycle and their respective exams in the Baccalaureate (Aı¨ t Ouarabi, 2005: 1 & 3). In August 2003, Article 6 of Ruling No. 03-09 legalised private schools which provided ‘‘strong’’ forms of bilingual education and which had so far existed in a legal vacuum (Nassima, 2003). It is within this context of change that the present author decided to measure language attitudes among secondary school students in Algeria.

Language Attitudes: ‘‘French for Action, Arabic for Prayer and Poetry’’ Arabisation in Algeria had to be implemented with great care because of the many obstacles that lay ahead of it. In the 1960s,


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two prominent Algerian intellectuals expressed their anxiety concerning possible negative outcomes. As early as November/ December 1963, Mostefa Lacheraf disparaged the first implementation of arabisation that had then been embarked upon. He warned against Arabic school manuals which were so full of abstract words that they might awaken a dislike for Arabic among Algerian students and encourage them to prefer French (Gordon, 1966: 192– 193). A few years later, another Algerian scholar, Abdallah Mazouni, published an extensive piece of work on the language issue in Algeria in which he posited that rapid arabisation might prove, among other things, harmful to the Arabic language itself, might be regressive and could alienate students because the language was difficult and the teaching tools were inadequate. In particular, he warned against the persistence of the myth that maintained Arabic as the language for prayers and poetry and French for action, development and modernity (Mazouni, 1969: 38 & 185). Young Algerians’ attitudinal reactions towards bilingualism and multilingualism were intended to assess, among other things, Lacheraf’s and Mazouni’s predictions. In April–May 2004, a written direct questionnaire was filled in by Algerian secondary school students. It is important to emphasise here the difficulties associated with the use of direct questionnaires for the study of language attitudes (attention focused on the issue to be probed), and a fortiori of a self-administered written test battery. The aim of the study was not about language but about attitudes towards various languages that are in competition in Algeria. What is more, a questionnaire remains a practical and economic way for collecting attitudinal reactions. The questionnaire was designed to solicit information from students in three cities located in the west of Algeria. The test-battery consisted of 5 parts. In the first 2, respondents had to select one among 10 alternatives, each containing 1 or a combination of 2, 3 or 4 languages. The third section presented a series of 30 statements each expressing a particular opinion about the 4 languages of Algeria: Algerian Arabic, Literary/Classical Arabic, French and Tamazight (or Berber). The subjects were asked to select the language they felt corresponded to each statement. In the fourth part (Likert attitude scale), respondents indicated strength of agreement or disagreement with a series of 25 statements on a 5-point range. The final section of the questionnaire sought to solicit demographic data.

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Respondents were selected on the grounds of age, gender, education (school grade), field of study (sciences or humanities) and residence (size of urban centre). A total of 1,051 informants filled out the questionnaire but not all respondents answered all questions: for example, one statement received the lowest number of responses (1,006) while another got the highest number of responses (1,043). As far as gender is concerned, 42.5% were male and 57.5% female. They were all aged between 14 and 20 and the majority (55.6%) were 17–18 years old. All attended secondary schools: 50.6% were senior pupils in the final year, at the end of which they sit for the Baccalaureate exam, and 49.3% in the second form 2 years before the Baccalaureate. There were 51.2% in scientific disciplines and 48.8% in the humanities. Three major towns were chosen on the basis of population size and accessibility, Oran (1 million inhabitants), Saı¨ da (200,000) and Ghazaouet (40,000). The distribution of informants was as follows: 34.3% Oran, 20.8% Saı¨ da and 44.8% Ghazaouet. The rationale behind choosing secondary school pupils was threefold. First, they were preferred to university students in university language Departments who had already made their choice. Second, the age-group of our sample is representative of the Algerian population in general: within present-day Algeria’s age structure, those under 30 represent 62.7% (Riols, 2004: 50–51), and 40% of the population is of school-age (Martı´ n, 2003: 53). Hence, this age-group determines the future. Finally, the choice of secondary-school students was also motivated by the following quote:
secondary schools in post-colonial societies are generally a significant site for exploring how language use and attitudes about language are nuanced by broader issues of identity as teenagers, in the throes of negotiating their identities, must do so in an environment where language policies in the schools supplant their natal language (White, 2002: 17)

Table 1 presents the pupils’ language preferences (1 – ‘‘Language that I like most’’, 2 – ‘‘I like to learn/study in’’). The results show that Lacheraf’s fears were not groundless. For both statements, the French language disqualifies Literary Arabic: out of 1,035 responses, 44.4% preferred French, 36.0% Literary Arabic, 17.3% Algerian Arabic and 2.2% Tamazight. Most of the results shown in Table 2 tend to support the claims made by Mazouni. Traits related to ‘‘sacredness’’, ‘‘beauty’’ and so on, are usually associated with Literary Arabic. 82% chose Literary Arabic for Statement 1 (‘‘I feel close to God in’’) and this is confirmed by an equivalent high


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TABLE 1 Language preferences. Algerian Arabic Literary Arabic French Tamazight Total

Statement Resp. % Resp. % Resp. % Resp. % Resp. (1) Language that 179 17.3 373 36.0 460 44.4 23 2.2 1,035 I like most (2) I like to learn/study in 60 5.8 391 37.6 575 55.3 14 1.3 1,040

percentage (80%) for Statement 2 (‘‘The language of religious and moral values’’). Moreover, of a total of 1,035 respondents, 75% chose Literary Arabic as ‘‘the richest language’’ (Statement 3). As to the fourth statement which concerns ‘‘authenticity’’ (‘‘The language that allows me to understand the past’’), Literary Arabic has the highest score (51.6%). However, the distinction was not as clear-cut as for the preceding statements: out of 1,027 respondents, 33.8% preferred Algerian Arabic as the language that allows them to understand the past. For the trait ‘‘language of culture’’ (Statement 5),

TABLE 2 Religious values, aesthetics and grammatical difficulty. Algerian Arabic Literary Arabic French Tamazight Total

Statements Resp. % Resp. % Resp. % Resp. % Resp. (1) I feel close to 159 15.3 850 82.0 20 1.9 8 0.8 1,037 God in 126 12.4 844 80.0 33 3.2 14 1.4 1,017 (2) The language of religious and moral values (3) The richest 66 6.4 776 75.0 185 17.9 8 0.8 1,035 language (4) The language that 347 33.8 530 51.6 124 12.1 26 2.5 1,027 allows me understand the past (5) The language 70 6.8 550 53.7 388 37.9 17 1.7 1,025 of culture (6) Most beautiful 125 12.0 471 45.2 432 41.4 15 1.4 1,043 language (7) Language with the 42 4.1 620 60.4 252 24.5 113 11.0 1,027 most difficult grammar

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Literary Arabic obtains almost the same score (53.7%) as for Statement 4 (51.6%). French comes second with 37.9%. With Statement 6 (‘‘Most beautiful language’’), the percentages for Literary Arabic and French are more or less equal: 45.2% and 41.4% respectively. The ‘‘most beautiful’’ languages and ‘‘languages of culture’’ are the two languages of literacy valued by the educational system. This is probably the reason why Literary Arabic and French scored the highest for Statement 7 (‘‘The language with the most difficult grammar’’). With 1,027 respondents, 60.4% chose Literary Arabic, 24.5% French, 11% Tamazight and 4.1% Algerian Arabic. These results confirm Mazouni’s claim about the difficulty of learning Literary Arabic. In fact, in April 2000, participants to the National Conference on the Teaching of Arabic declared: ‘‘after 9 years in basic education, pupils still do not master Arabic ´ properly’’* (Liberte, 2000: 24). This was recently confirmed (January 2006) by the Minister of Education who regretted the fact that pupils did not master the Arabic language (Amir, 2006: 4). Traits pertaining to the language of action, development, utility, liberation, modernity and so on (Table 3) are associated with French. For Statement 1 (‘‘Language which allows openness to the world’’), French stands out with 91.5% and Literary Arabic comes in second position with only 6.6%. As to ‘‘the language of science
TABLE 3 Language as capital and vehicle of modernity. Algerian Arabic Literary Arabic French Tamazight Total

Statements Resp. % Resp. % Resp. % Resp. % Resp. (1) Language which 15 1.5 68 6.6 944 91.5 5 0.5 1,032 allows openness to the world (2) Language of science 19 1.8 121 11.7 887 85.7 8 0.8 1,035 and technology 34 3.3 214 20.8 763 74.1 18 1.7 1,029 (3) My parents would be ready to invest money so that I can learn or ameliorate my (4) Most useful language 33 3.2 392 38.1 597 58.1 6 0.6 1,028 for studies (5) Most modern language 35 3.4 94 9.1 849 82.1 56 5.4 1,034 (6) I say ‘‘I love you’’ to 250 24.5 153 15 599 58.6 20 2 1,022 my lover in


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and technology’’ (Statement 2), 85.7% of respondents preferred French and 11.7% Literary Arabic. Out of 1,029 informants, almost three quarters (74.1%) admitted that ‘‘[their] parents would be ready to invest money so that [they] can learn or ameliorate’’ their French (Statement 3). 20.8% chose Literary Arabic. The results obtained for Statements 2 and 3 confirm the Algerian government’s poll carried out in 1999 and mentioned above. The two most ‘‘useful’’ languages for studies (Statement 4: ‘‘Most useful language for studies’’) are French with 58.1% and Literary Arabic with 38.1%. Note again that the languages valued in education tend to score the highest. These results also highlight an Algerian paradox: French comes well ahead despite language policies targeting it. It stands out as the ‘‘most modern language’’ (Statement 5) with 82.1% of the responses. As to the results obtained for Statement 6 (‘‘I say ‘I love you’ to my lover in’’), it seems that courting for young Algerians involves the greatest use of French (58.6%) with Algerian Arabic coming second (24.5%), Literary Arabic third (15%) and Tamazight fourth (2%). The results for Statement 6 confirm Benmesbah’s claim that French is the language for courting in Algeria (2003: 13). In fact, the use of French in contexts of courting is considered more ‘‘liberating’’: taboos which cannot be communicated in the majority’s first language are transgressed by French which marks impersonality and socio-psychological distance (Bentahila, 1983: 65; Caubet, 2004: 16). However, it should also be pointed out that around one quarter of the sample preferred Algerian Arabic for transgressing taboos. Hence, it seems that Algerian Arabic meets more and more Arabophones’ demands for both ‘‘authenticity’’ and ‘‘modernity’’ (Benrabah, 2005). When the results shown in Tables 1–3 are correlated with gender, differences are statistically significant for both items in Table 1 and four items in Tables 2 and 3 (see Table 4). For Statement 1 (‘‘Language that I like most’’), gender differences are significant for 3 languages (p < 0.000). For Statement 2 (‘‘I like to learn/study in’’), differences are significant for Literary Arabic and French (p < 0.050). In their responses to Statement 3 (‘‘My parents would be ready to invest money so that I can learn or ameliorate my’’) and 4 (‘‘Most beautiful language’’), male informants favour Literary Arabic over French, while females prefer French. The results for the present study suggest a high degree of ‘‘overt prestige’’ in French as a marker of status. ‘‘Covert prestige’’ in Arabic (both Literary and Algerian) corresponds to markers of national and/or

language-in-education planning in algeria
TABLE 4 Language attitudes and gender difference. Statements Algerian Arabic Literary Arabic French Tamazight p


M%F%M%F%M%F%M%F% (1) Language that 16.6 8.6 I like most (2) I like to 6.4 5.1 learn/study in 4.2 2.2 (3) My parents would be ready to invest money so that I can learn or ameliorate my (4) Most beautiful 16.6 8.6 language (5) Most modern 5.7 1.7 language 32.5 34.7 (6) The language that allows me understand the past 47.3 43.4 34.8 46.5 1.4 41.2 34.9 50.6 59.0 1.8 24.5 18.1 69.2 78.2 2.1 1.5 1.0 1.5 <0.000 <0.050 <0.011

47.3 43.4 34.8 46.5 1.4 10.3 8.2 79.8 83.7 4.1

1.5 6.5 1.5

<0.000 <0.001 <0.019

49.3 53.4 14.3 10.3 3.9

local within-group solidarity. In fact, the significant difference shown between male and female informants’ choices for Statement 4 (‘‘Most beautiful language’’) can also be linked to perceptions of ‘‘masculinity’’: 16.6% of the male respondents chose Algerian Arabic as the most beautiful language while only 8.6% of females did so. With Statement 5 (‘‘Most modern language’’), the informants’ attitude is unambiguous: most of them (79.8% of males and 83.7% of females) are certain that the ‘‘most modern language’’ is French, with female informants scoring significantly higher than male informants. As far as Statement 6 is concerned (‘‘The language that allows me understand the past’’), it is females who favour Algerian Arabic or Literary Arabic more than males. This seems to reflect a belief in women’s role as ‘‘guardians of tradition’’ in pre-industrial societies (Benrabah, 1999b). The first and fourth parts of the questionnaire were designed to measure, among other things, Algerian students’ attitudes towards bilingualism/multilingualism. The Likert scale attitudinal measurements show that most of the respondents value both speaking several languages and Algeria’s multilingualism quite highly (see Table 5). Moreover, these results support the issue discussed

TABLE 5 Attitudes towards bilingualism/multilingualism. 1 Agree 2 Agree 4 Disagree


Statement 3 Neither agree nor disagree 4.8% (50) 7.7% (81) 9.8% (103) 10% (105) 9.9 (103) 4.7% (49) 8.3% (87) 4.7 (49) 5% (53) 4.1% (43)

5 Disagree

55.8% (586) 48.3% (508) 40.2% (423) 28.6% (301) 40.5 (423) 41.3% (434) 41.9 (437) 41.6% (437) 34.3% (361)

31.8% (334)

1.7% (18) 3.9% (41) 3% (32) 9.2% (97) 3.1 (32)

8.5 (89) 6.2% (65) 7.3% (76)

19.3 (201)

17.5 (182) 10.6% (111)

32.8 (342) 18.7% (195)

21.9 (228) 57.2% (597)

mohamed benrabah

(1) Today, it is an advantage to speak several languages. (2) The existence of several languages is a wealth for Algeria. (3) Arabic–French bilingualism is an advantage when living in Algeria. (4) I am for bilingualism in Algeria. (5) Being bilingual in Arabic and French is an advantage and allows one to live and prosper in Algeria. (6) Literary Arabic is necessary for finding a job in Algeria. (7) I think Tamazight should be recognised as national and official language

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earlier: monolingualism in Literary Arabic alone does not ensure social mobility, which is considered possible mainly through the mastery of Arabic–French bilingualism. However, the data collected with the first part of the test battery show that the situation is far more complex and a number of interesting observations can be drawn from Table 6. Informants remain resolutely opposed to monolingualism in any one of the competing languages in Algeria even though they do not necessarily support all types of bilingual choices. For example, there are low percentages for choices, which involve Tamazight. Three main reasons could explain the rejection of the Berber language: (1) respondents come from an exclusively Arabic-speaking region with very limited contact with Tamazight (the cities of Oran, Saı¨ da and Ghazaouet are located in the western part of Algeria), (2) the common trend in diglossic communities in general and in the Arab world in particular that views ‘‘Low’’ varieties negatively, (3) the hostility generated by the authorities’ propaganda that describes the rebellious Kabylian community as ‘‘anti-Algerian’’ and ‘‘separatist’’. The results in most tasks of the questionnaire tend to give credence to the third hypothesis. Indeed, responses presented in Table 7 suggest that the young secondary school students held strongly negative attitudes towards the Berber language and had little respect for it even though all of them lived in non Tamazight-speaking areas with no linguistic competence in this language. Almost three
TABLE 6 Best choice of language(s) for social advancement. Question: Out of the following 10 possibilities, what is the best choice of language(s) that could allow you to live and prosper in Algeria and elsewhere? Choices (1) English only (2) Arabic only (3) French only (4) Tamazight only (5) Arabic and Tamazight (6) Arabic and French (7) French and Tamazight (8) Arabic and English (9) Arabic, English and French (10) Arabic, English, French and Tamazight % (out of 1,036) 2.9 4.4 2.8 0.2 0.5 15.5 0.1 3.9 58.6 11.1


mohamed benrabah
TABLE 7 Attitudes towards Tamazight.


Algerian Arabic Fre. %

Literary Arabic Fre. % 95 84


Tamazight Fre. %

Total Fre.

Fre. %

(1) The language that 58 I like the least 153 (2) Language that is incapable of progress and evolution (3) Most difficult language 46 (4) The least ‘‘pure’’ 378 language and the most ‘‘mixed’’

5.7 15.2

9.4 105 8.3 38

10.4 753 3.8 731

74.5 1,011 72.7 1,006

4.5 198 36.7 49

19.2 4.8

86 25

8.4 699 2.4 577

67.9 1,029 56.1 1,029

quarters admitted that Tamazight was ‘‘The language [they] like the least’’ (Statement 1) and considered it ‘‘incapable of progress and evolution’’ (Statement 2). Tamazight was also perceived as ‘‘the most difficult language’’ (67.9% for Statement 3). Lack of respect for it is reflected in the responses given to Statement 4 which concerned purism: 56.1% considered the Berber language to be ‘‘The ‘least pure’ language and most ‘mixed’’’ – note also that 36.7% described Algerian Arabic as the most ‘‘impure’’ language. Moreover, the informants’ strong opposition to Berber is clearly expressed in tasks, which required them to agree or disagree with the recognition of Tamazight as an official language (see Statement 7 in Table 5). Out of a total of 1,032 responses, 18.7% (195 answers) disagreed and 57.2% (597) disagreed completely with the statement. In other words, 792 informants out of 1,032 rejected the official recognition of Tamazight. No wonder Algeria’s Berberist leadership rejects the government’s choice of a referendum on the question. The other results in Table 6 show that the combination of Arabic and French with one or two other languages emerged as the most interesting pattern (15.5% and 11.1% for choices 6 and 10 respectively). The majority preferred the choice, which involved Arabic, English and French (58.6%). It was shown above that the introduction of English as a competitor to French in the primary cycle failed in the 1990s. This failure is also illustrated here in the results obtained for choice 8 in Table 6: only 3.9% preferred the

language-in-education planning in algeria


choice ‘‘Arabic and English’’. In fact, respondents seem to reject policies that seek to displace French in favour of English. The young people surveyed value ‘‘additive’’ rather than ‘‘subtractive’’ language policies and favour multilingualism.

One step forward two steps back Algerians’ experience with language policy in education grossly corresponds to two major periods. The first one was characterised by widespread bilingualism in French and Literary/Classical Arabic and produced a socio-linguistic competence frequently expressed by Maghrebins/Algerians who attended these schools back in the 1960s and 1970s. Openness towards linguistic plurality is illustrated in lecturers’ and/or students’ use of code-switching as a strategy to get their points across. According to Sultana (1999: 32):
Anybody who has interacted with Maghrebin scholars knows the extent to which this code-switching is not only frequent, but almost instinctive, producing an effortless and seamless flow of language that is comprehensible and acceptable within the academic community.

The second period produced monolingualism in Literary Arabic for the majority of the population, and French–Arabic bilingualism for the children of those in power. It has led to a worrying situation: every year, cohorts of semi-literate graduates (known as ‘‘bilingual illiterates’’) with low language proficiency and educational achievement (Azzouz, 1998: 52; Benaı¨ ssa, 1998: 91; Coffman, 1992: 146–147; Miliani, 2000: 20) are denied participation in the society. Their training has been prejudiced by the obligation of learning scientific subjects in Literary Arabic. It has produced generations of outcasts unequipped to face the modern economy ´ (Beauge, 2004: 17). In mid-November 2005, the Minister of Higher Education publicly admitted that Algerian university graduates could not be integrated into Algeria’s economic market (Allal, 2005: 13; Maı¨ z & Rouadjia, 2005: 13). These dissatisfied graduates constitute an important and potentially turbulent element of the society. Moreover, they could become ‘‘a demographic bomb’’ (Riols, 2004: 50) if they were to migrate massively to neighbouring Europe and reinforce international Islamist terrorism (Byrd, 2003: 78). The recent government’s educational reforms, with the reintroduction of Arabic–French bilingualism (at least on paper), reflect the authorities’ (and the international community’s) awareness of


mohamed benrabah

this serious situation. But attempts to reform the system are being thwarted by strong internal opposition. In Algeria, elites view linguistic pluralism with suspicion, if not outright hostility. Their hesitation to abandon the policy of arabisation is in stark contrast to neighbouring countries’ practices. In 2000, Moroccans produced the Charter for Educational Reform which, among other things, aimed at encouraging more openness to the languages that had been targeted by arabisation (French and Tamazight). What is more, the term arabisation itself was not mentioned in the Charter because it has become negatively connoted (Marley, 2004: 31). In Algeria, recent developments show that the government has started back-pedalling on its engagements towards educational reforms and bilingual education. In the fall of 2005, the Minister of Higher Education admitted that the European Union had suspended its aid to Algerian universities because the government was dragging its heels over reforming the educational system (Allal, 2005: 13). Furthermore, in November 2005, legislation was passed by Parliament forbidding the use of languages other than Arabic as the medium of instruction in private schools, which had provided scientific disciplines in French for 10 years (Moali, 2005). School heads who do not abide by the rule will have to face imprisonment (Maı¨ z & Rouadjia, 2005: 13). And in May 2006, the Ministry of Education took the decision to move the teaching of French from Grade Two to Grade Three, starting from September 2006 (Benrabah, 2006: 70). There is even greater indecision over how to tackle the Berberophones’ linguistic demands. The authorities have made some concessions but the major obstacle to granting broad linguistic rights to Kabylians remains the government’s refusal to accept Berber as an official language. The most recent developments show how the situation is fraught with tension and difficulty. In September 1999, President Bouteflika declared that ‘‘Tamazight would never be consecrated in law as an Algerian official language and if it were to be a national language, it is up to the entire Algerian people to decide by referendum’’*. In 2002, he made Berber a national language without resorting to a plebiscite. Yet, in March 2004, he described Tamazight as ‘‘a factor of division in national unity’’ (Lewis, 2004). More recently, the talks between the Aruch (Kabylia’s representatives) and President Bouteflika’s government have seemed more promising. In August 2005, after several rounds of talks, the Prime Minister and the Aruch agreed on making the Berber language

language-in-education planning in algeria


official without a referendum (Djilali, 2005: 2). But in September 2005, President Bouteflika took everyone by surprise when he publicly disagreed with his Prime Minister. He said:
Arabic will remain the only official language of Algeria. No country in the world has two official languages and it will never be the case in Algeria where the only official language, recognised by the Constitution, is Arabic. I cannot accept things that work against Algeria’s interests* (Benchabane, 2005).

In response to the president’s U-turn, the Aruch made public the following statement
[We] consider that the arguments used by the Head of State to deny Tamazight the right to be an official language are complete nonsense and full of untruths. There are many states with several official languages: South Africa, with its eleven languages, is the most enlightening example* (Benchabane, 2005).

The foregoing arguments and counter-arguments readily show the difficulty for Algerians to move decisively from the ‘‘one language–one nation’’ ideology of language policy and national identity (arabisation) to a multilingual language policy which promotes ethnic and linguistic pluralism (algerianisation) as resources for nation-building. Algeria’s promoters of linguistic convergence have failed in their endeavours for at least four reasons. First, planners overlooked both the full complexity of the country’s socio-linguistic profile as well as the population’s feelings about the different languages in competition within the country. Second, arising out of this is the presence of a sort of minority nationalism among the Berber-speaking population, which prevents nation-building as a viable strategy. The language issue has been divisive ever since Algeria obtained its independence. Third, planners systematically opposed Literary Arabic to French (or French to English) thus creating a context of rivalry between them even though the two languages are complementary. In fact, four decades of arabisation have led to a situation where each language in Algeria occupies a set of functions, which are more or less complementary. For the majority of Algerians (1) their first languages, Algerian Arabic and/ or Tamazight, allow them to draw their sense of national belonging (identity), (2) Literary/Classical Arabic is associated with AraboIslamic values (religion), and (3) French, and English in some specific domains, represent economic power (Benrabah, 2005). Fourth, arabisation as an exclusionary (monolingual) educational policy does not promote social justice because the majority of Algeria’s youth are excluded from the socio-economic activities of


mohamed benrabah

the country. The denial of French-medium instruction contributes to perpetuating the linguistic gulf that separates the bilingual elite from the vast majority who are literate or semi-literate in Literary Arabic only. Hence, the policy of arabisation was implemented by an authoritarian regime that was and still is allergic to pluralism (be it political, cultural or linguistic). When the Algerian government yields to the pro-arabisation lobby and favours restrictive language policies to forge national consensus and reconciliation, it seeks to impose the preferences of one subgroup onto everybody. Their claims are neither morally legitimate nor rationally convincing. They are simply expressions of a non-democratic system: ‘‘Arabisation has become one more prop of an authoritarian regime that refuses to engage in much-needed economic and political reforms.’’ (Lewis, 2004) The liberal-democratic tradition favours the set of values, which enhance individual freedom, promote civic equality and social justice, and/or strengthen democracy (Kymlicka & Patten, 2003: 7). To implement these values in Algeria, the authorities need to move in the direction of reforms, which support linguistic pluralism and abandon the policy of arabisation.

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mohamed benrabah

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Mohamed Benrabah is Professor of English Linguistics and Sociolinguistics at the ‘UFR Etudes Anglophones’, Stendhal-Grenoble III University (France). His research focuses on applied phonetics/ phonology, sociolinguistics, and language policy, language planning and language-in-education planning with a particular interest in the Maghreb and the francophone world. His publications include a contribution to Les Violences en Alge´rie (Paris: Editions Odile Jacob, 1998), and a book Langue et Pouvoir en Alge´rie. Histoire d’un ´ Traumatisme Linguistique (Paris: Editions Seguier, 1999). He is the author of the recent monograph The Language Planning Situation in Algeria (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2005). Address for cor´ respondence: UFR d’Etudes Anglophones, Universite Stendhal Grenoble III, Domaine Universitaire 1180 avenue Centrale, B.P. 25, 38040, Grenoble cedex 9, France. E-mail:

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