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Journal of World Languages

ISSN: 2169-8252 (Print) 2169-8260 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rwol20

Competition between four world languages in


Algeria
Mohamed Benrabah
To cite this article: Mohamed Benrabah (2014) Competition between four world languages in
Algeria, Journal of World Languages, 1:1, 38-59, DOI: 10.1080/21698252.2014.893676
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21698252.2014.893676

Published online: 02 Apr 2014.

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Date: 10 October 2015, At: 03:02

Journal of World Languages, 2014


Vol. 1, No. 1, 3859, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21698252.2014.893676

Competition between four world languages in Algeria


Mohamed Benrabah*

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Grenoble University, Dpartement de lIsre, Saint Martin dHres, France


As a post-colonial society with an almost unique colonial history on the African
continent and in the Arabophone zone, Algeria can serve as a focus on this millenniums rivalry between a few world languages namely Arabic, Chinese, English,
and French. This article highlights the importance of the influence of colonialism in
shaping post-colonial language policy in a multilingual society. It also looks at the role
of elites and the effects of their top-down language implementation on planned and
unplanned developments as related to the position and status of world languages
within a polity. And it reasserts the dominant position of English as a global language
despite the maintenance of the former colonial language, French. From a theoretical
and applied perspective, this article raises questions about what constitutes a world
language, and it shows the importance of some indicators in measuring the international standing of languages in the globalized world.
Keywords: Arabic; Chinese; colonialism; English; French; globalization

1. Introduction
At the turn of the twenty-first century, Algeria became the focus of rivalry between four
languages acknowledged as world languages. These are Arabic, Chinese, English, and
French. The present article looks at how and why each of these languages was introduced
in Algeria. It consists of six parts. The first one outlines the major parameters used by
scholars to study the international standing of languages. In the second section, I present
an overview of some of the definitions given in the literature of the concept of world
language. A historical and sociolinguistic approach is used in the third part to account for
the present-day linguistic situation in Algeria. The following two sections present Arabic
French and FrenchEnglish rivalries. In the final part, I describe the dramatic intrusion of
Chinese into the Algerian linguistic landscape as of the 2000s.

2. Indicators for determining language power


Since the 1970s, several authors have suggested indicators and factors that determine
language power in a community, including the global community. One of the pioneers is
William F. Mackey who had long experience researching bilingualism and language
contact (e.g., Mackey 1973, 1976). Mackey argued that around 100 indicators could be
used to measure the strength of a language and its international standing. To him, the final
choice of parameters depends on the purpose the researcher has in mind the emphasis is
often political, descriptive, or comparative (Mackey 1973, 1415). This is why different
authors from different fields of interest have used different formulas. But when one
considers the various criteria used by sociologists, geolinguists, political scientists,
*Email: Mohamed.Benrabah@u-grenoble3.fr
2014 Taylor & Francis

Journal of World Languages

39

sociolinguists, and so on, to measure language power, one finds that they amount to no
more than a dozen concepts. For example, Mackey selected the following six parameters
(1973, 516; 1976, 203214):

Number of speakers (demographics),


Geographical dispersion (establishment in different regions of the world),
Mobility (tourism),
Economic wealth,
Ideological indicator (religions of universal appeal, political ideologies of the same
type),
Cultural indicator (publishing of books and so on).

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In their 1977 study of the spread of English around the world, Fishman et al. (1977, 105)
used nine indicators:

Military imposition,
Duration of authority,
Linguistic diversity,
Material advantage,
Urbanization,
Economic development,
Educational development,
Religious composition,
Political affiliation.

The political scientist Jean Laponce (1987, 7585) chose five criteria:

Number of speakers,
Scientific culture,
Economic strength,
Standard of living,
Military strength.

The sociologist George Weber (1999, 2228) preferred an index based on six parameters:

Number of primary (L1) speakers,


Number of secondary (L2) speakers,
Number and population of countries using the language,
Number of major fields (science, diplomacy, and so on) using the language
internationally,
Economic power of countries using the language,
Socio-literary prestige.
As for the geolinguist Roland Breton, he opted for three indicators only (2003, 22):
Dispersion over continents,
Number of states with the same language as their (co-)official language,
Number of speakers.

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M. Benrabah

The choices made by these authors from different disciplines show that there is often an
overlapping between selected criteria. Almost all use the variables related to the number
of speakers, economic power, political strength (geographical dispersion), cultural/scientific power, and so on. Finally, in his study of the international standing of the German
language, the sociolinguist Ulrich Ammon made a synthesis of these parameters in the
form of basic indicators, as he calls them (Ammon 1995, 28). Thus, Ammon selected
four parameters (Ammon 1995, 28; 2003, 233246) which I have found very useful when
studying the status of Arabic in the world (Benrabah 2007c, 2009a, 2009b). The first one,
numerical strength, refers to the total number of people who are proficient in the
language studied as L1 or L2 speakers. To explain his choice of this indicator, Ammon
gives two reasons. First, the language of a large community is more likely to become a
world language than that of a small community. Second, a numerically powerful language
has a better chance of being studied as a foreign language than a numerically weak one
because the former provides more opportunities for contacts than the latter (Ammon 2003,
234). The second parameter chosen by Ammon, economic strength, is measured in
terms of the gross national product (GNP) of the languages native speakers worldwide.
Ammon justifies the choice of this indicator as follows: [a]n economically strong
language is attractive to learn because of its business potential; its knowledge opens up
an attractive market (2003, 235).
Political strength is Ammons third indicator. A world language draws its strength
from two sources, even though Ammon deals with only one of them. The first one relates
to the number of countries that have this language as an official or co-official language
(Ammon 2003, 239). A language that is official or co-official in two or more states is
known as a multi-national language. However, languages draw their political strength
not only from a multiplicity of states geographically localized, but also from their
universal dispersion over at least two continents. The second source of a languages
political strength is thus geopolitical power which gives it the status of an inter-continental language (Breton 2003, 72). There are six multinational and intercontinental
languages in the world: Arabic, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and DutchAfrikaans. With the exception of Dutch-Afrikaans, all the other multinational and intercontinental languages favour political coalitions (Laponce 1987, 82) such as the Arab
League for Arabic, the Commonwealth for English, the International Organization of
Francophonia for French, and the Organisation of the Ibero-American States for Spanish.
Ammons fourth parameter comprises various indicators put under the same heading,
and this, Ammon claims, is questionable (2003, 242). However, I decided to keep this
heading to study the international standing of the Arabic language (Benrabah 2009a), for
it allows the use of qualitative measures against the first three parameters which provide
quantitative measurements. According to David Crystal, [w]hy a language becomes a
global language has little to do with the number of people who speak it. It is much more to
do with who those speakers are (2003a, 7). Who those speakers are relates to political
and economic power, and most important of all, cultural strength. Within cultural
power, there is the quality of native (and/or non-native) speakers that can be weighed
by the proportion of native speakers who are literate and capable of generating intellectual resources in the language (Graddol 1997, 59). In addition to the production of
intellectual resources, the quality of native speakers can also be measured against the
Human Development Index (HDI), the number of Nobel Prizes won by native and nonnative writers, and so on. In fact, as shown later in this article, the parameter cultural
strength has proved to be the Arabic languages weakest point.

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3. The concept of world language


In the literature on world language dominance, authors can be roughly divided into two
separate groups. The first one consists of those who refer to English as the only world
or global language, with no other language deserving this label. For example, Crystal
(1997, 359360; 2003a, 22; 2003b, 106109) and Graddol (2006, 9, 12) belong to this
category. The second group of writers prefer a pluralist approach arguing that there are a
few contenders for the position of world language. Interestingly, most of these scholars
are non-Anglophone, and it will be informative to look at some of their definitions of the
concept of world language. The work of two authors, Salikoko Mufwene and Ulrich
Ammon, will be considered in the remaining part of this section.
Mufwene (2013, 4243) gives the label world language to several ex-colonial
languages, namely English, French, Russian, and Spanish. This label comes from their
role as lingua francas, i.e., languages which extend over several language areas. They are
also spoken as vernaculars by non-native populations ethnically different from the nationality of those languages, and they function as languages of business/trade and scholarship.
But Mufwene does not classify Mandarin Chinese as a world language. He considers it
the worlds foremost major language because of its numerical strength (demographics)
and its limited reach: it is spoken in China and the diaspora only. By contrast, Mufwene
classifies Arabic as a world language owing to its religious/ritual use among the worlds
Muslim community estimated at 1.57 billion (Postel-Vinay 2009, 3). Such classification
of Arabic is of course questionable. The ecclesiastical power of this language overshadows one basic principle of modern linguistics: natural languages are spoken and
speech is primary. Rote learning and reciting Koranic verses for daily prayers does not
necessarily yield spoken proficiency in Arabic (Benrabah, 2009a, 150). In summary,
Mufwene uses three categories to describe languages: major languages like Mandarin
Chinese, world languages like Arabic, and lingua francas like English and French.
However, he does distinguish the status of English from that of French on the grounds that
the formers function as a lingua franca, since World War II, has outdistanced French and
become the foremost or pre-eminent world language. He thus joins the position of
David Crystal and David Graddol, which we have mentioned at the beginning of this
section.
The German scholar Ulrich Ammon has been one of the most prolific writers on the
measurement of the global strength of languages. To account for his pluralist approach,
Ammon (2013) added, in a recent book chapter, a further refinement to his four-label
formula described in the preceding section. He favours the plurality of world languages
on the grounds that a few other languages also have a global reach (Ammon 2013, 101).
Ammon calls this reach globality or internationality. To allow for ranks or
degrees of globality/internationality, he distinguishes language global status from
language global function. The former corresponds to one indicator in his four-label
descriptive formula, namely political strength normally associated with multinational
and intercontinental languages. The latter means language use for global communication which can be international when interlocutors from different nations share the
same (multinational) language as L1 for instance, Spanish in the case of a Spaniard and
a Venezuelan or interlingual when the two sides do not have the same linguistic
background and use the language as an additional language (L2, L3, and so on). Ammon,
then, takes some indicators from his four-label formula (numerical strength, political
strength, economic strength, and cultural strength) to compare English and Spanish. He
argues that the global status of these two languages is more or less the same because of

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M. Benrabah

their similar political strength that is, they are both intercontinental and multinational
languages with established international linguistic coalitions, the Commonwealth with 54
members for English, and the Organisation of the Ibero-American States with 20 States
for Spanish. As for global function, Spanish lags far behind English. To Ammon, this
discrepancy comes from the huge difference in economic strength, a factor which
influences global function.
Nevertheless, Ammon characterizes Spanish as a world language because of its
numerical strength due to its global spread as a foreign/second language. In fact, he
prioritizes the number of non-native speakers, which he calls non-nativeness, to rank the
globality/internationality of languages (Ammon 2013, 12, 104). Related to this is what the
German scholar calls national neutrality in relation to English (Ammon 2013, 117). The
widespread use of this language among people with different linguistic backgrounds led to
its disassociation from the native countries of the centre (e.g., United Kingdom and the
United States). In post-colonial contexts, the idea of national neutrality is best rendered
by the notion of deethnicization, used by Joshua Fishman in connection with the global
spread of English. The term deethnicization means removing cultural and historical
baggage from English as belonging to or reflecting values from its British and American
imperialist fountainheads (Fishman 1977, 118119). As regards the status of English, the
German scholars position is similar to that of Solikoko Mufwene and, by extension, to
that of David Crystal and David Graddol. Despite his call for a pluralist approach, he does
admit that the role of English as a lingua franca makes it distinguishable most
noticeably from other languages, and it gives it a unique position among the worlds
languages (Ammon 2013, 103, 117). To him, [t]here is virtually no descriptive parameter
or indicator for the international or global rank of a language which, if applied to todays
languages world-wide, does not place English at the top (Ammon 2013, 116117).
Finally, Ammon equates his global function criterion with Abram De Swaans
typology based on the latters Theory of World Language System. In De Swaans global
language system (or constellation), the worlds 60007000 [m]utually unintelligible
languages are connected by multilingual speakers [...] not at all in random fashion [...]
[but in] a strongly ordered, hierarchical pattern (De Swaan 2001, 4). He compares this
hierarchy to a chart with reverse tree-structures which can be represented in a pyramid
with four levels. In the lower part of the pyramid, De Swaan puts the vast majority of the
worlds languages (around 6000) which he labels peripheral languages. The next level
up of the chart is occupied by 150200 State (national/official) languages called central
languages. Higher up in the pyramid, 12 languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French,
German, Hindi, Japanese, Malay, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili) occupy the
supercentral position within the global language system. These supercentral languages
are essential for long-distance and international communication, and all of them, except
Swahili, have more than 100 million speakers. At the hub of the world language system,
De Swaan puts English, the hypercentral language which holds together the entire
constellation (De Swaan 2001, 56; 2010, 37; 2013, 57).
In conclusion, I need to make four remarks that should be relevant for the study of
language competition in Algeria. First, what Ammon labels world languages, based on
communicative globality/internationality, corresponds to De Swaans supercentral languages, whose function is for long-distance and international communication. These
languages are: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Malay,
Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili. So, the four languages considered in this
article Arabic, Chinese, English, and French are supercentral and will be referred to
as world languages henceforth. Second English is not only supercentral, but it also

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occupies the hypercentral position in the world language system. The different models
and terminologies described so far all agree on one undeniable fact: English holds a
unique position in the linguistic constellation, both in terms of status and function.
Third in addition to numerical strength, political strength, and cultural strength, the
parameter economic strength plays a major role in enhancing the global function of
languages, particularly in the economically integrated globalized world which encourages
people to learn these languages. Fourth the role of deethnicization (national neutrality)
is twofold. On the one hand, it is related to the number of L2 speakers (non-nativeness)
which can have a snowball effect: the more people learn a neutral idiom as an additional
language, the more learners are attracted by it. On the other hand, it can affect the decline
or maintenance of ex-colonial languages in the post-colonial era.
4. Present-day linguistic situation in Algeria: historical and sociolinguistic
approach
Algeria is a multilingual country and this linguistic situation comes from its complex
history. The natives of Northern Africa in general and Algeria in particular are the
Berbers. From Antiquity to the end of French colonial rule in 1962, the original populations were generally unsuccessful as rulers of their own lands and hence allowed several
foreign groups to dominate the region. When they submitted to civilizations from without,
the Berbers of the interior, who were by far the most numerous, kept to themselves and
remained monolingual in Berber. In the few urban centres located along the coast all of
foreign origin bilingualism and multilingualism became the norm (Djit 1992, 16;
Elimam 2004, 300301; Morsly 1996, 77).
Several invaders more or less shaped the sociocultural history of Algeria, as well as its
sociolinguistic profile. Berbers came under the yoke of the Phoenicians who imposed their
Carthaginian rule for about seven centuries, subsequently Romans for about six centuries,
the Vandals and the Romanized Byzantines for about a century each. The Islamo-AraboBerbers dominated the region for about four centuries, the Turks for about three centuries,
and the French, who brought Turkish domination to an end, for more than a century and a
quarter. Spaniards occupied enclaves along the Mediterranean coast intermittently
between 1505 and 1792. One of the consequences of this long history of mixing peoples
was language contact and its by-product, multilingualism BerberPunic, BerberPunic
Latin, BerberArabic, BerberArabicSpanishTurkish, BerberArabicFrench, and
so on.
Amongst the above-mentioned conquering groups, two left a deep impact on Algerias
linguistic profile the Arabs and the French. In the seventh century, the Byzantines were
defeated by the Arabs who came from the east to spread Islam. North Africans gradually
converted to Islam and by the twelfth century the majority had become orthodox Sunni
Moslems. As for language, there was something peculiar in the introduction of Arabic in
North Africa. Right from the beginning of the Arab invasion, the Arabic language came to
be strongly associated with Islam in North Africa (Gellner 1973, 19). So, [t]he Berbers
admitted the superiority of Arabic over their own language, probably because of this link
between Arabic and religion, and maybe also because of the respect they felt for the
written forms which their own language did not possess (Bentahila 1983, 2). The Arabic
language spread progressively, and more and more Berbers abandoned their mother
tongue to become Arabophones (Ageron 1993, 766767; Julien 1994, 341366). The
adoption of the conquerors language by the losing side led to diglossia. The high form
known as Classical or Literary Arabic remained the common liturgical language for all

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M. Benrabah

Muslims. The low form developed into different North African varieties. Arabic and
Berber belong to the same language family, the Afro-Asiatic group of languages, and they
have a predisposition to take in features from the other. However, this mutual influence
shows results similar to those reported in treatments of contact situations born out of
conquest and large-scale language shift (Lutz 2009, 229). As a substratum language faced
with unequal contacts between conquering and conquered populations, Berber had little
lexical effect on Arabic (the superstratum). Nevertheless, it exerted far-reaching structural
influence on the latters phonology, morphology, and syntax. Hence, the North African
Arabic varieties in general and the Algerian ones in particular can be described as
Berberized Arabic (Benali-Mohamed 2003, 208; Chafik 1999, 64, 78, 120, 142;
Chtatou 1997, 104).
As regards language maintenance following the Arab conquest, despite the high
prestige associated with Arabic, this language did not displace Berber completely.
Thirteen centuries after the Arab invasion, and on the eve of French occupation in
1830, about 50% of Algerians were still monolingual in Berber. At the time, the tribal
system prevailed: out of a total of 516 tribes, there were 206 under Turkish rule, 200
independent and 86 semi-independent tribal chiefs. The population, estimated at three
million, was mainly rural, with only 5% to 6% living in urban centres. As regards literacy,
between 40% and 50% could read and write Arabic (Gordon 1978, 151; Harbi 1994, 226;
Nouschi 1986, 197; Quefflec et al. 2002, 23; Valensi 1969, 20, 29).
Modern Algeria was born in 1830 when colonial France brought the European and the
indigenous Arabo-Berber worlds into violent contact. Between 1830 and 1962, the French
implemented a methodical policy of deracination and deculturization. To realize their
civilizing mission, they imposed an assimilationist policy of total Frenchification on
millions of recalcitrant Algerians (Gallagher 1968, 132133). The colonizers, who were
under the influence of nineteenth-century language attitudes, strongly believed in the
superiority of their language and culture. Thus, they targeted the native tongues and made
native elites believe they had no history or civilization. As part of this indoctrination,
colonialists used negative terms like dialect, patois, and so on, to debase the
languages of Algerians. For example, in 1886, the geographer Onsime Reclus described
Arabic and Berber as sharing a passion for terrible guttural sounds which resemble
vomiting (Reclus 1886, 680). Moreover, in the euphoria of the centenary of Algerias
conquest by France, William Marais, a colonial academic and dialectologist, predicted
the death of all indigenous languages, Berber, dialectal, and Literary Arabic. To him,
Berber had no future because it had no writing system, and there was no doubt about the
future disappearance of dialectal Arabic because of its extensive borrowings from French.
He disqualified Literary Arabic on the grounds that it was a dominated language, not
unified linguistically because of its incurable diglossia, and unfit for the modern world
(Marais 1931, 22, 26, 39; Messaoudi 2012, 285). Marais Whorfian belief that the
French language would better instruct Algerian Muslims in the way of modernity would
be internalized by the future elites of independent Algeria.
Among the Algerians painful experiences with the French occupation is the dramatic
retreat of Berber. The displacement of this language is one of the consequences of colonial
violence and scorched-earth reprisals following Algerian resistance to the invasion of their
country. The French armys brutal methods of pacification lasted almost half a century
(Horne 1987, 30; Ruedy 1992, 50). At the time, French parliamentarians contemplated the
possibility of having an Algeria without Algerians. They publicly called for a war of
extermination similar to the one suffered by Indians in North America. Around 1872, the
native population had diminished by one million, and the result of this ethnic cleansing

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Table 1. Devolution of the Berber-speaking community (18301966) as percentage of total


population of Algeria (Sources: Chaker 1998, 13; Kateb 2005, 95; Valensi 1969, 29).
1830

1860

1910

1954

1966

50%

36.7%

29.4%

20.1%

18.6%

was linguistic genocide (Brower 2012, 61; Kateb 2012, 83). As shown in Table 1, the
Berber-speaking community fell from about 50% in 1830 to 18.6% when the French
ended their occupation.
At the time of independence in July 1962, the necessary initial conditions for the current
competition of world languages in Algeria were already in place. Two major aspects seem
to me of paramount importance here. First, there was the presence of multilingualism which
often generates contact situations and language rivalry. Todays geographical distribution of
languages was more or less the same as it was back in 1962, even though the population
was less than a third of what it is today, and the status of the indigenous languages was
different because of their precarious position. There are three main language groups in
present-day Algeria: Arabophones, Berberophones, and Francophones. The Arabic-speaking community constitutes approximately 7075% of the total population. Berberophones
represent 2530% and live in communities scattered all over the country. As for the
Francophones, who are often (ArabicFrench or BerberFrench) bilinguals, they use
French as an additional language and live mainly in the towns and cities of the urban
strip that lines the Mediterranean Sea in the north. This is a colonial legacy: after the
conquest of Algeria, the vast majority of European colonizers settled in this fertile area
(Chaker 1998, 16; CIA 2013; Maddy-Weitzman 2001, 23, 37; Sirles 1999, 119120).
As mentioned earlier, Arabic is marked by a diglossic situation. Literary Arabic, the
high form, is acquired through learning in educational institutions scattered around the
country. After independence, the government institutionalized this Arabic variety as the
sole national and official language of the country. Its spread among the population has
been spectacular since 1962 as a result of the authorities political and ideological
commitment to de-Frenchify Algeria via the policy of Arabization, and also because of
the substantial increase in literacy and related aspects, such as population growth
(Benrabah 2013, 7274). The dialectal form of Arabic consists of two main varieties:
Algerian Spoken Arabic used by populations in the north of the country, and Algerian
Saharan Spoken Arabic in the south, in the Sahara desert. Berber consists of four major
languages: Tamashek is the language of the Tuaregs of the Sahara; the Mozabites and
Shawia speak Mzab and Shawia, respectively; Kabyles, who represent about twothirds of the Berberophone population, call their mother tongue Kabyle or Takbaylit.
However, other small isolated Berber-speaking communities are scattered around the
country, the most important being Chenoua spoken in the Chenoua mountain region
west of Algiers. Finally, in the aftermath of independence, the different Berber varieties,
dialectal Arabic and French were the target of Arabization. The aim was to replace them
by Literary Arabic. In reaction to this assimilationist policy, Kabyles, who had distinguished themselves by their minority views against the mainstream ideology, rebelled
against the central authorities in April 1980 and demanded the recognition of their
language and culture. Kabyle unrest was to be rekindled nearly every decade, until
April 2002 when the government declared Berber a national (but not official) language
(Benrabah, forthcoming; El Aissati 1993, 92; Lewis, et al., 2013; Maddy-Weitzman
2001, 37).

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M. Benrabah

The second aspect that is necessary for understanding language rivalry in Algeria
concerns Algerian language attitudes at the moment of independence in 1962. The violent
contact with the French/European world deeply affected Algerian society. Within a
relatively short period of time (132 years), French occupation had made a profound
impact on Algerias cultural and linguistic profile. The influence was so deep that
Algerian society was never the same again. By 1962, colonial France had dismantled
the tribal structure completely. There were 10 million Algerians, a quarter of whom lived
in towns, and less than one million non-Moslems who left the country. The illiteracy rate
stood at around 90% with only 5.5% (around 300,000) of the population literate in
Literary Arabic only. As for competence in French, one million could read it and six
million spoke it. Finally, the Berber-speaking population amounted to 18.6% in 1966
(Bennoune 2000, 12; Gordon 1978, 151; Heggoy 1984, 111; Lacheraf 1978, 313). The
aggressive French occupation was so traumatic and Algerias alienation so great that her
elites felt insecure and uncertain regarding their identity. The Algerian intelligentsia
experienced a crisis of confidence as colonials with an inferior status, with their languages
being debased and stigmatized as dialects, and so on. In an interview recorded by
sociologist David Gordon in 1963, a leading Algerian poet/writer set the tone for future
developments. In ten to fifteen years, he said, Arabic will have replaced French
completely and English will be on its way to replacing French as a second language.
French is a clear and beautiful language, [...] but it holds too many bitter memories for us
(Gordon 1966, 113). In this quote, the writer foresaw the competition between three world
languages: between Arabic and French, and between French and English. These different
rivalries are considered in turn in the remaining parts of this article. The final section deals
with the intrusion of a newcomer, the Chinese language.
5. Arabic versus French
The universalization of education in independent Algeria led to a dramatic increase in the
student population. In 1962, the literacy rate was very low and the populations thirst for
education and knowledge was real. So, the tremendous hope generated by the liberation
of the country led to a substantial rise in student enrolment. For example, in December
1962, the government made public the following figures: 600,000 children of school age
were enrolled in primary school, representing an increase of 80% on the preceding years
figure, and with 48,000 students in secondary schools, there were far more registrations
than in 1961. Subsequently, the number of enrolments in primary and secondary schools
rose from 3.9 million in 1979 to 7.8 million in 2003, and reached 8.2 million in September
2011. As a result of this, the literacy rate went up from around 10% in 1962 to 52% in
1990, and rose to 70% at the beginning of the millennium. So today the majority is
presumably literate in Literary Arabic (Bennoune 2000, 225; CIA 2013; Gordon
1966, 196).
From a quantitative point of view, the results of linguistic Arabization have been
spectacular. Although French dominated the media, education, government, and administration in the colonial era, the use of this language has diminished in a number of higher
domains since independence. Thus, the functions allocated to institutional Arabic have
expanded. In addition to the Ministry of Education where de-Frenchification is almost
complete, the shift to Arabic is either complete or almost complete in the Justice Ministry,
the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the registry offices in town halls. In the educational
sector, Literary Arabic is the exclusive medium of instruction in primary and secondary
schools and in the humanities at the university level (Benrabah 2007b, 100). However,

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47

French is still the key language for studies in scientific disciplines in Higher Education.
As a result, we have domain loss that is, there is penetration of Arabic by the excolonial language. And elites have been an agent for this development.
As from the countrys independence, most members of the Algerian establishment
associated Arabization with Islamization and Francophonia with secularization (Ruedy
1992). Furthermore, soon after Frances defeat, the authorities embarked on systematic
Arabization without adequate means (lack of qualified teachers, manuals, and so on).
They ignored warnings by prominent Algerian intellectuals who expressed their anxiety
concerning possible negative outcomes. For example, in 1969, Algerian scholar Abdallah
Mazouni published an extensive piece of work on the language issue in Algeria. He
posited that rapid Arabization might prove, among other things, harmful to the Arabic
language itself, it 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). In fact, future
developments confirmed Mazounis predictions. In 2004, I conducted a survey among
1051 senior high school students from three urban centres with different population size:
Oran, a large town; Sada, a medium city; Ghazaouet, a small town. Eighty-two per cent
said they felt close to God in Literary Arabic and 80% described the latter as the
language of religious and moral values. In contrast, 91.5% said the French language
allows openness to the world and 85.7% described it as the language of science and
technology (Benrabah 2007a, 238239).
There is another feature that characterizes Algerias elites and this goes back to their
indoctrination by colonial France. Many Algerians trained by the French could not
acknowledge the fact that there are alternative and equally valuable kinds of civilizations
other than that [...] of France (Gordon 1962, 4). This is not specific to Algerians. For
example, Habib Bourguiba, the first Head of State in post-independent Tunisia, described
quite well the extent to which colonizers indoctrinated colonials in North Africa.
Throughout his life, Bourguiba expressed doubt whether any foreigner can consider
himself educated unless he can speak French fluently (Battenburg 1996, 7). However,
because of the deeply rooted influence of French culture in colonial Algeria which was
totally integrated to France Tunisia was a protectorate Algerians were the most French
enculturated of the three peoples of North Africa. So, the Algerian intelligentsias belief in
the superiority of French language and culture transpire in their behaviour as public
servants and bureaucrats, and/or as parents mindful of their offsprings future material
well-being.
The Algerian administration has its origins in the final years of the Algerian War of
Independence, which lasted from 1954 to 1962. When Charles De Gaulle came to power
in May 1958 in the midst of the War he introduced an ambitious Five-Year Plan to
develop industrialization and give Algeria an economic solution to its turmoil (Horne
1987, 340341). Training was also provided to 100,000 Algerian cadres, who were to
become the backbone of the administration of independent Algeria. As civil servants, they
became the forces of institutional inertia that would block attempts to transform the
colonial legacy by introducing, among other things, Arabic as a working language in
the administrative system (Grandguillaume 1983, 105). Incidentally, the establishment of
socialism following Algerias independence led to a highly centralized distributive socioeconomic system typical of rentier States (Benrabah 2007b, 35). The rentist and
administered polity proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Algerian bureaucrats.
The imposition of political authoritarianism also reinforced their power. Following

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48

M. Benrabah

independence, the FLN, which was established in 1954 as part of the struggle for
independence, became the dominant political party and the arm of a single-party system.
The other issue related to Algerias elites is their promotion of Arabization and their
own behaviour. Policy-makers implemented this language policy for the majority, but they
prevented their own children from attending schools that catered for the masses. To
minimize competition for their own children in good careers in modern business and
technology which need French, political and military leaders used, after independence,
French educational institutions established in Algeria and controlled by France. In the
eyes of the majority of Algerians, this phenomenon of elite closure (Myers-Scotton
1993, 149), which creates and/or maintains social differentiation and inequalities, undermines the credibility of those who promote Arabization and the new identity of Arabic
(Benrabah 2007d, 206208).
In the end, Algerian society does not use Arabic to the full. Domain loss for Arabic
has created a situation whereby language functions and registers occur in a sort of
complimentary distribution: Arabic is used for spiritual needs and represents cultural
power, while French symbolizes worldly needs and economic power. But the penetration
of Arabic by an ex-colonial language is not typical of North Africa in general and Algeria
in particular. In the Arab Middle East, domain loss turns to the advantage of another excolonial language, English. This undoubtedly affects the status of Arabic as a world
language. There are real obstacles which prevent it from rising to this position. In previous
work, I used Ulrich Ammons four-label formula described earlier in the article to study
the international standing of Arabic (Benrabah 2007c, 2009a, 2009b). The latter has its
strengths and weaknesses, especially when compared with Spanish, a language with more
or less similar power.
Arabic and Spanish have roughly the same numerical and political strengths. In the
field of demolinguistics, different sources give different counts and estimates for the major
languages of the world. This variation shows the difficulty of evaluating the number of
speakers in global terms. Reasons for this are varied: lack of census data, the absence of
an acceptable definition of the notion of native speaker, the difficulty of defining
macro languages like Arabic and Chinese, the different methods of integrating native
and non-native speakers in statistics, and so on. For example, according to Ethnologue:
Languages of the World, Spanish has 322.3 million speakers worldwide, and Arabic (in all
its varieties) only 206 million (Gordon 2005, 185, 548). But in Microsoft Encarta (2006),
we find the numbers reversed: Arabic is said to have 422 million speakers and Spanish
only 322 million. When the statistics of both sources are amalgamated, the number of
speakers for each language is estimated to be around 300 million. As regards their
political strength, Arabic and Spanish are multinational and intercontinental languages,
and they both have a linguistic coalition: the Arab League with 22 states for the former,
and the Organisation of the Ibero-American States with 20 nations for the latter. The
major differences between these two languages come from their economic and cultural
power. The traditional measure of the influence of economic power on the size of
languages is the relative growth of the GNP of countries with the same language. In
2005, the GNP of Arabic-speaking countries stood at 1056.49 billion US dollars, and that
of Spanish-speaking nations at 2622.91 billion US dollars (Students of the World 2005).
Beyond economic power, we must also consider cultural strength which is, in truth, the
Arabic languages weakness, its Achilles heel.
It was argued in the first section that in order to boost the international standing of a
language, the quality of its speakers is far more important than its demolinguistics. The
quality of speakers can be expressed in the production of intellectual resources in the

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49

language concerned. Creativity requires the presence of favourable conditions to generate


the quality of life necessary for increasing the cultural size of a language. The absence of
these conditions in the Arab world encourages the international emigration of its highly
qualified population. The Arab brain drain mainly towards the West and to the countries
of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) seriously
undermines the knowledge (intellectual) capital of Arabic-speaking nations. According
to the 2002 report of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Surveys of
highly qualified Arabs living abroad indicate that their principal reasons for leaving relate
to the absence of a positive societal environment and facilities that would allow them to
play their role in the knowledge system and in the development of their countries (UNDP
2002, 144, emphasis added). In its report compiled in 2003, the UNDP highlights three
deficits afflicting the Arab world: freedom, womens rights and knowledge (UNDP 2003,
1). Let us briefly consider knowledge to illustrate the poor cultural strength of the Arabicspeaking regions.
The knowledge system consists of two main components, knowledge acquisition
and knowledge production. For reasons of space, only the former component will be
considered here. Disseminating knowledge in a society can take different routes, translation being one of them. In the Arab world, this mode of knowledge diffusion is in a
chaotic situation and reveals the deep crisis of the knowledge capital in the Arabophone
zone. In its 2003 report, the UNDP summarizes this situation as follows:
In terms of quantity, [. . .], the number of books translated in the Arab world is one fifth of the
number translated in Greece. The aggregate total of translated books from the Al Mamoon
era [9th Century] to the present day amounts to 10,000 books equivalent to what Spain
translated in a single year. (UNDP 2003, 67).

One way of highlighting the mediocre state of translation into Arabic is to compare its
performance with other world languages which have a linguistic coalition that is
English, French, Spanish and/or belong to the supercentral category described above
that is Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Japanese, Malay, Portuguese, Russian,
Spanish, Swahili. Also, it will be informative to consider the Arabic languages performance with that of a small language like Hebrew which is official in only one country,
Israel, and with a population estimated at around 7.7 million in July 2013 (CIA 2013).
Table 2 below shows the number of books translated into the top 50 languages between
1979 and 2012 languages with a linguistic coalition are in bold and in italics, and
supercentral languages are in italics only. These statistics show that three out of the four
languages with a linguistic coalition are among the top four languages. Arabic stands at
position 29 with 12,700 books translated, with Hebrew close on its heels ranked 32 with
10,965 translated books. As for the other supercentral languages, Arabic comes far behind
8 out of 10 idioms presented in this table statistics for Malay and Swahili are not
provided. The only language it has outdistanced is Hindi which holds position 43 with
3535 translated books. One should note Indias paradox: as an emerging global power
with a major (supercentral) language it favours English over Hindi to establish its world
economic leadership (Graddol 2006, 20).

6. Rivalry between French and English


By the end of the 1990s, Algeria became statistically the second largest French-speaking
community in the world after France. This happened in the midst of major social changes

50

M. Benrabah

Table 2.

Translation for Top 50 target languages (19792012) (Source: UNESCO 2012).

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Rank Language Number Rank


1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

German
French
Spanish
English
Japanese
Dutch
Russian
Portuguese
Polish
Swedish
Czech
Danish
Chinese
Italian
Hungarian
Finnish
Norwegian

301880
239968
228492
156001
130638
111267
100699
78838
76697
71206
68919
64864
63113
59914
55214
48311
35158

18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34

Language
Greek, Modern
Korean
Bulgarian
Serbian
Estonian
Romanian
Croatian
Slovak
Slovenian
Catalan
Lithuanian
Arabic
Turkish
Farsi
Hebrew
Norwegian, Bokml
Serbo-Croatian (to
1992)

Number Rank
30457
28167
27457
23731
20508
20468
19727
19644
18692
17972
15389
12700
11908
11105
10965
9944
8273

35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50

Language

Number

Latvian
Albanian
Icelandic
Ukrainian
Indonesian
Macedonian
Basque
Moldavian
Hindi
Welsh
Armenian
Uzbek
Kazakh
Gallegan
Georgian
Belarusian

8151
6720
6536
4604
4440
3914
3902
3739
3535
3186
2807
2781
2465
2357
2189
1919

which influenced the language situation in the post-independence era. The population rose
from 10 million in 1962 to 25.6 million in 1990, to 30.5 million in 1998, and an estimated
38.9 million in July 2013. In the early 1990s, 70% of the population was aged 30 and
under, and this figure fell to around 63% in the late 2000s. The percentage of the total
population living in urban areas also increased substantially: from 25% to 30% in 1962, it
moved to 50% in 1987, and around 73% in 2011. As mentioned earlier, literacy rose
substantially from around 10% in 1962 to 52% in 1990, and 72.6% today, with the
majority being proficient in institutional Arabic (Bennoune 2000, 225; CIA 2013;
Quefflec et al. 2002, 118). In addition to that, the end of the single-party system after
the widespread unrest of October 1988 led to (moderate) political liberalization, a
moderately diversified market economy and the expansion of telecommunications
media. So, the monolingual policy of Arabization turned out to be an anachronism in
the modern globalized world in general, and the new Algeria in particular. Arabization
as a totalizing language policy failed and, in the early 2000s, the authorities openly
declared that it was time for bilingual education (Benrabah 2007b, 29).
This outcome frustrated the expectations of those who had believed in the future
displacement of French, among other things. The prediction made in 1963 by the Algerian
poet/writer quoted above was startlingly wrong. Not only was he completely mistaken
about the replacement of French by Arabic in all domains of use, he also mistakenly
believed that English would be a substitute for French as an additional language. As
described in the third section of this article, language policies for de-Frenchifying and
Arabizing Algeria were implemented after independence. From the end of the 1970s to the
early 1990s, French was taught as a subject and as the first mandatory foreign language,
starting from the fourth grade in the primary cycle. English was the second foreign
language, introduced in Middle School (eighth grade). Under the influence of the proArabization lobby which comprised Islamists, conservatives and nationalists, the Ministry
of Primary and Secondary Education introduced English in primary school as a competitor
to French in September 1993. Thus, the pupils who accessed Grade Four (89 year olds)

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Journal of World Languages

51

had to choose between French and English as the first mandatory foreign language
(Bennoune 2000, 303; Benrabah 2007d, 194). Unexpectedly, the competition between
the two European languages turned in favour of French. Between 1993 and 1997, out of
two million school-children in Grade Four, the total number of those who chose English
was insignificant between 0.33% and 1.28% (Miliani 2000, 23; Quefflec et al.
2002, 38).
Several aspects of Algerias linguistic situation combined to thwart the plans of those
who introduced English as a competitor to French in primary education. One of them is a
form of protest against a top-down move that ignored popular sentiments. In fact,
language policies related to Arabization have been authoritarian and anti-democratic
ever since their implementation after independence. The authorities did not take into
account Berber and dialectal Arabic as the peoples first languages. They instead imposed
Literary/institutional Arabic as the mother tongue of the population expecting, thus, the
supersession of the former idioms. The result is that the vernaculars in their different
forms have remained the major means of expression in daily life, social interaction,
popular culture, and so on. And Algeria would illustrate yet again the strategies of
resistance adopted at grassroots level as a typical reaction to political and linguistic
oppression. Furthermore, ordinary people viewed the introduction of English in elementary schools as another plan adopted by their leaders to deny them the right to access
modernity via the language of economic power. They considered the durable mechanism of elite closure as an expression of this language expropriation.
The other reason why English failed to supersede French can be found in the multilingual orientation of the population. Unlike their elites, the majority of Algerians do not
consider English and French as rivals. To them, their leaders misrepresentation of
EnglishFrench competition is in fact a pseudo rivalry. Corroborating evidence is
provided by the 2004 survey with senior high school students described in the section
on ArabicFrench rivalry. To compare attitudes towards English and French, I gave this
item: When I choose English, this does not mean that I reject French. Out of a total of
1051 responses, 76.4% agreed or completely agreed with this statement (Benrabah 2007b,
122). Nevertheless, by maintaining the ex-colonial language, these young students, who
represent the future in Algeria, are not completely blinded by French to the point of
ignoring the current status of English in the world. In another activity, respondents were
asked to give the best choice of language or languages to live well in Algeria and abroad.
Students were offered 10 options ranging from one choice (e.g., Arabic only, English
only, and so on), two (e.g., Arabic and Berber, Arabic and French, and so on), three
(Arabic, English and French), and four (e.g., Arabic, English, French and Berber). In
all, 58.6% preferred the trilingual combination Arabic, English and French. It should be
noted that informants rejected monolingualism in any form, and they did not accept all
bilingual/multilingual options. For example, the ArabicFrench bilingual choice comes in
second position with 15.5%, far behind the option chosen by the majority (Benrabah
2007b, 121).
Algerian youths awareness of the unique global position of English has increased
significantly since the 2004 survey. To measure their perception of todays global language system, 204 advanced (Master) students from three language departments in the
University of Mascara (west of Algeria) answered a written questionnaire in April 2013.
The following question was presented in Arabic and French: Out of the following 10
languages, what is the language you consider the WORLD language today? (ONE choice
only). The 10 language options were presented in French alphabetical order with their
Arabic translation as follows: German, English, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French, Hindi,

52

M. Benrabah

Table 3.

Algerian advanced students awareness of todays global language system.


Department

Languages

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English
Arabic
Chinese
French
Spanish
German
Total

Arabic

English

French

Total

61
5

65

62
1
1
4
1

188
6
2
5
2
1
204

1
1
67

1
1
68

69

Japanese, Portuguese, and Russian. These come from De Swaans supercentral languages
Malay and Swahili were not included. In their 204 responses, students chose six
languages which are in the first column of Table 3. Out of the total number of responses,
188 chose English that is over 92% and only 16 chose some other language. So,
English outdistances the other five languages by a very large margin.
Two comments can be made on the students perception of the global importance of
English. First, despite the students awareness of the unique position of English in the
global language system, language proficiency in this language in Algeria remains low
compared with other Arabic-speaking nations. In April 2012, the global research organization Euromonitor International compiled a custom report for the British Council. It is a
quantitative study of the mastery of English in eight nations of the Middle East and North
Africa (MENA). The research organization gives the following percentages of people with
a good command of spoken English in each MENA country: 45% for Jordan, 40% for
Lebanon, 35% for Egypt and Iraq, 1015% for Tunisia, 14% for Morocco, 9% for Yemen,
and 7% for Algeria (Euromonitor International 2012). Thus, it is Algeria which has the
lowest number of proficient speakers of English. Following these results and considering
the Algerian economic system, I formulated, in a recent publication, a hypothesis explaining the possible displacement of French by English as a result of economic changes in the
country (Benrabah 2013, 121123). Algerias economy depends largely on oil and gas
in 2011, fossil fuels generated roughly 60% of budget revenues, 30% of GDP, and over
95% of export earnings (CIA 2013). It also remains dominated by the State, a legacy of its
socialist post-independence development model. As I said earlier, there was an opening to
the market economy in the 1990s, when the country was bankrupt and the IMF imposed a
structural adjustment programme to encourage a transition to a market economy.
Following the high rise of international oil prices in the early 2000s, the State resorted
once again to its old centralized socioeconomic system typical of rentier States. Thus, it
reinforced its control of the economic sector with the help of an inert bureaucracy which
normally supports the maintenance of French. I therefore hypothesized that the maintenance of the old socialist statist economic structure and the refusal to open completely
Algerias economy to the world market protect the French language against the challenge
of English, its most serious rival today. Consequently, the more Algerias economy is
integrated into the global capitalist system, the more English will spread in this country.
The second comment, related to the above, concerns the future of French in Algeria.
In fact, the preservation of the French language in the North African former colony of
France does not necessarily guarantee its presence in the long run, especially with English
kept as a standby. In Benrabah (2007b, 117), I argued that were French to decline in

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Journal of World Languages

53

Algeria, it is English and not Arabic which would replace it as the language of economic
power. There are at least five signs that indicate where the Algerian language situation is
heading. First, systematic Arabization has produced large-scale monolingualism in
Arabic, particularly in less populated urban centres as well as in rural and Saharan
regions. Second, elite closure allows only a minority of speakers from the dominant
classes in large cities to acquire a strong form of bilingualism with (ArabicFrench,
BerberFrench) balanced bilinguals. The third sign was reported by Euromonitor
International in its 2012 custom report: with the small population in the South, there is
significant interest in learning English and reluctance towards French is apparent (2012,
5960). Fourth, recently, the governments abandonment of its four-decade long policy of
top-down language implementation has generated more demand from the grass roots of
Algerian society for multilingualism with English holding a prominent position as an
additional language. For example, in the recent past, Departments of English in several
Algerian universities attracted far more student enrolments than French Departments. The
results presented in Table 3 above seem to corroborate this situation. The fifth sign takes
into account post-colonial developments and the issue of national neutrality or deethnicization which has repercussions for the two rival languages, English and French. In
contrast to English, French remains irredeemably tainted by its colonial history, and this
plays a major role in countries like Algeria where people still have not forgotten the
excesses of their ex-colonial masters. For example, when in the 1980s and 1990s, the proArabization lobby demanded that English should replace French in primary schools, they
justified their choice on the grounds that the former was the language of scientific
knowledge (HCF 1999, 28), and that the latter was in essence imperialist and colonialist (Goumeziane 1994, 258). The second justification illustrates its authors amnesia as
regards the colonial past of the United Kingdom. Also, it shows that English has been
deethnicized but not French, a language which has not rid itself of its colonial provenance.
Despite major changes in the post-colonial demographic, urban and economic structures, the memory of colonization was still very much alive in Algeria at the beginning of
the millennium. In the 2004 survey discussed earlier, high school students associated
French with modernity and openness to the world, but also with colonization. When
asked to choose among the four languages of Algeria the one they associated most with a
painful past, 53% chose French, around 21% dialectal Arabic, over 15% Berber, and
around 11% Literary Arabic. These findings are confirmed by responses to one statement
in the Likert scale activity. With the statement I associate French with colonization, over
47% agreed or agreed completely, against 35.5% who disagreed or disagreed completely.
As for undecided informants, their number was quite high: 17.4% had no opinion. From a
statistical point of view, age and gender variables were not significant. However, the
difference in the size of cities was significant (see Table 4). The larger the city the fewer
informants associated French with a painful past (colonialism), and vice versa. The results
here indicate that the French colonial era is an enduring memory in less populated towns
and cities, where the largest part of Algerias urban population lives. In these areas, where
extended families with a rural or recently urbanized background tend to live together,

Table 4.

Association of French with painful past and size of town.

Statement
Language associated with a painful past

Large town

Medium town

Small town

p<

43.0%

54.4%

59.1%

.000

54

M. Benrabah

resentment of French is easily transferred from one generation to the next (Benrabah
2007d, 202203; 2013, 100103).

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7. Chinese, a newcomer in the Algerian linguistic landscape


The introduction of the Chinese language in one of the North African bastions of
Arabophonia and Francophonia reveals the power of economic strength as a strong
parameter for measuring and predicting the rise of major languages in a new and
globalized world. Being a buzzword of the moment, the term globalization changes
its meaning depending on the discipline of those involved with its study cultural studies,
sociology, economics, international relations, political theory, art, and linguistics (Eriksen
2007, ix). Whatever else globalization is, Raume and Pinto wrote, it involves a vast
increase in the amount and intensity of interaction amongst peoples all around the globe
including contact between speakers of different languages (2012, 38). So, new linguistic
and cultural patterns emerge as a result of a more integrated and interconnected world
economy. This favours well-established dominant languages like English, or rising ones
like Chinese. Today, China is at the centre of the new globalized economy, and the
processes of globalization support its economic development and the rise of its influence
in the globe, including that of the Chinese language. The presence of the latter in Algeria
seems to corroborate these developments.
Chinas increasing economic influence in the modern world transpires in its evolving
status as Algerias imports partner since the beginning of the millennium. The data in
Table 5 shows that China was not ranked among the top six partners of Algeria in 2001.
Five years later, it stood at sixth position, then it moved to the second place in 2011. In
December 2012, the French media reported that France was (about to be) superseded by
China as Algerias first imports partner, a position held by the ex-colonial power since
Algerian independence in 1962 (At-Aoudia 2012, 53; Lamriben 2013, 8; Maussion 2012,
3). Expectedly, the former colonial power was displaced by China in the fall of 2013.
ChineseFrench rivalry for economic supremacy in Algeria can be found in the
Algerian linguistic landscape. Unknown in the 1980s and 1990s, Chinese writing became
quite common as of the 2000s, especially on construction sites. For example, the two
pictures in Figure 1 show the English acronym CSCEC (China State ConstructionEngineering Corporation) of a Chinese company accompanied by its equivalent in
Chinese script. Far more interesting are the two images presented in Figure 2. Both
photographs were taken in June 2010 on the construction site of a motorway built by a
Chinese company in the outskirts of the city of Tlemcen, in the west of the country. In the
foreground (picture on the left), we have a public road sign written in the countrys only
official language, Arabic, and in French, a tolerated language but the language of
Table 5.
Rank
1
2
3
4
5
6

Algerias top six imports partners in this millennium (CIA 2001, 2006, 2011).
2001
France
Italy
Germany
Spain
USA
Turkey

2006
30%
9%
7%
6%
5%
5%

France
Italy
Germany
Spain
USA
China

2011
30.3%
8.2%
6.5%
5.4%
5.2%
5.1%

France
China
Italy
Spain
Germany
Turkey

19.7%
11.72%
10.19%
8.13%
5.77%
5.05%

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Journal of World Languages

55

Figure 1. Construction site of a Chinese company, CSCEC (China State Construction-Engineering


Corporation).

Figure 2.

Visible newcomer: rivalry between Chinese and English, two languages of business.

economic power. The billboard in the image on the right does not even contain Arabic.
There is some truth in Fishman et al.s claim when writing: one has more incentive to
learn the language of ones customers than of ones suppliers (1977, 106). However, in
the case of Algeria, the Chinese learn their customers language of economic power, not
that of their cultural power. In fact, the placard shows the countrys languages of business,
Chinese and French. Symbolically, Chinese dominates French: it is positioned at the top in
a more prominent red colour, and not only is French at the bottom in light blue, it is also
presented in a faulty written form the apostrophe coming after each of the two ls is
followed by a space.
The presence of Chinese in Algerias linguistic landscape does not seem to produce a
craze for learning Chinese as in neighbouring countries, Morocco and Tunisia. Very
helpful in understanding the rising demand for learning Chinese in Morocco is the
paper published by the Moroccan magazine Tel Quel and reproduced by the Algerian
daily Le Quotidien dOran on 2 May 2013. The global network of Confucius Institutes
consists of more than 400 centres in 108 countries and regions (Gosset 2013). And 30

56

M. Benrabah

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Confucius Institutes have been established in 26 countries in Africa since 2005. There are
two in Morocco, the first one founded by the University of Rabat in 2009, and the second
by University Hassan II Casablanca in January 2013. In parallel, the Faculty of Letters of
University Mohammed V in Rabat created in 2012 the Department of Chinese Language
and Culture for students to do a Bachelor of Arts (Tel Quel 2013, 18). A similar situation
prevails in Tunisia: the first Institute established in Sfax was to be followed by another
one in El Menzah in 2012 (Hajbi 2012). By contrast, Algeria lags far behind, for no
Institute has been established on Algerian soil as yet. On 16 July 2013, I had a telephone
conversation with the Cultural Attach of the Chinese Embassy in Algiers. He told me
that the Algerian government had refused the introduction of Confucius Institutes in
Algeria. This seems a repeat of the authorities inability to enhance English language
proficiency in the country. Once again, its inert bureaucracy is probably intent on
obstructing the way to Chinese, another rising and serious rival to the ex-colonial
language, French.

8. Conclusion
In this article, language rivalry in Algeria serves as a focus on the situation faced by many
states caught between a post-colonial transition that requires language unification against
a multilingual background, on the one hand, and the demands of a globalized world with
several world languages in circulation, on the other. The source of the conflict in Algeria
is threefold: first, there are tensions between local languages, with one of them having an
international status (Literary Arabic) and which is imposed by authoritarian means and
top-down planning; second, Arabic is also in conflict with the ex-colonial language,
French, which endures thanks to elites indoctrinated by colonial France, to a statist and
rentist state, and its arm the inert bureaucracy (as we have seen, the future of this excolonial language remains uncertain, especially with English standing on the sidelines.);
and third, the authorities attempt to use the latter as a substitute for French caused the
struggle between these two European languages. By way of conclusion, we can point out
that there are some indications that the future supersession of French by English might
occur. English is the most serious rival at the moment even though a rising language like
Chinese has recently appeared in Algerias linguistic landscape. Lessons from the
Algerian experience may be useful for better defining the term world language, and
for understanding the complex interaction between native tongues and major languages in
post-colonial and globalized contexts.

Notes on contributor
Mohamed Benrabah is Professor of English Linguistics and Sociolinguistics. He was educated at
Oran University (Algeria) and University College London (UK) where he got his PhD in linguistics
in 1987. In 19781994, he was Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at the English Department at Oran
University. The author settled in France in October 1994. He has published three books (Langue et
Pouvoir en Algrie. Histoire dun Traumatisme Linguistique, Paris: Sguier, 1999; Devenir Langue
Dominante Mondiale. Un Dfi pour lArabe, Geneva-Paris: Librairie Droz, 2009; Language Conflict
in Algeria. From Colonialism to Post-Independence, Bristol: Multilingual Matters), a monograph,
and more than 50 articles in journals and chapters in books as well as ephemeral pieces in popular
publications in Algeria and France. Benrabahs research interests include applied phonetics/phonology, sociolinguistics, and language management with a particular interest in the Anglophone,
Arabophone, and Francophone worlds.

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