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A Historical Background of the Linguistic Situation in Algeria

CHAMI Abdelkarim
University of Mascara, Algeria.

As far as the study of language change compels our curiosity to think
about the historical mutation beyond the multiple linguistic changes in our
speech. How could we refer to the aspects of meaning that are expressed in
a language, code, or other form of representation ? Logically when we
examine such a phenomenon there are two basic ways of looking at it: as it
exists at some particular moment synchronic study or as it develops and
changes across time diachronic study. We will deal with the diachronic
study of the linguistic situation in Algeria; from the Antiquity to the modern
French colonization. Diachronic linguistics views the historical
development of a language. Thus, on the diachronic axis we can go back
and forth in time, watching the language with all its features change, as
stated by John Lyons:Diachronic (or historical) linguistics studies the development of
language through time: For example, the way in which French and Italian have evolved
from Latin. (Lyons, 1983:14)
1. The Natives of Algeria
Algeria was a place of invasion and a crossroad of civilizations that made
the linguistic plurality reign among its speakers since the Antiquity. The
First inhabitants of Algeria were the Tamazight, that the Greeks and
Romans indicated by the term Numidia .They spoke the Libyc : During the
Neolithic era, the principal elements of the Berber culture were already in place: a Libyc
language, means of communication. (Elimam, 2004: 32). It is mostly an oral
language written in the alphabet of the Phoenician conquerors. According
to Chaker Salem(1980:31), the script that was developed from ancient
Lybico-Berber is certainly of Phoenician origin in its essence and structure. He also
reported that the modern name given by the Tuareg to the Tamazight
alphabet called Tefinagh derived from the root Fnq /Fnqh which
means Punic. Unfortunately, the history of this language is still ambiguous
because of the absence of written elements as Mercier (1888:310) says:
Unfortunately, almost all the past of this Berber language, or, if one wants, Libyc
entirely escapes to us. A few hundreds of inscriptions known as Libyc, which date from
the time of the Numidia kings and, precisely, the Roman domination. They are written
in an alphabet that presents a narrow resemblance with that of the Tuareg.

2. The Roman Conquest

The Roman occupation progressed to full annexation of the indigenous
population, the representation of Romanization , urged the majority of the
Berber people to learn Latin; the dominant language of the Court, Senate
and Assemblyetc. As a result, the old Berber race started to undergo a
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transformation; decreased by the ceaseless wars where it lavished its blood with such an
amount of generosity, it was driven back by Roman colonization and started to be
assimilated or disappeared in the province of Africa or Numidia. But in all Mauritania
and certain mountainous solid masses, like Mounts Ferratus (Large Kabylie), it was
preserved intact. (Mercier, 1888:310). Meanwhile, the people of the
countryside preserved their Libyc language as pure as possible especially
those who lived in the mountains where poverty was the principal
characteristics of the era as Chenini stated: The more people were poor and
marginalized from the country, the more they detested romanization (to become Roman)
and vice-versa.(Cheninis, 1984:173)

2.1. The Roman method of latinization

They established their administrative system everywhere and deeply
transformed the conquered people. They did not impose Latin; they were
aware of the Tamazight language and were organized so that Latin may
become the essential language in the African province. People who were
automatically aspired to the Roman citizenship have to adopt the practices,
the way of life, the religion and language of Rome.
a. It was the language of the financial power: The natives who wanted
to reach higher status learned Latin.
b. The army constituted a powerful means of Latinization; all the forces
were ordered in Latin.
Latin spoken by the civil servants and the soldiers was quiet different
from traditional Latin of the First Century, that of the aristocracy and the
school. Gradually, the conventional language was employed by the Clergy,
the scribes for drafting peoples acts, and for the religious or civil
2.2. Christianity
The Christian church strengthened the position of Latin, thus achieving
through the words of God what the Roman sword had started. The Latin
language influenced more than ever the Berber population because it
represented the language of faith of many of the eminent Roman Christian
scholars who were from a Berber origin, such as, St Augustine who wrote in
Latin and borrowed a Latin name, as was pointed out by Mercier (1888:100)
that in North Africa, the first lands occupied (as Latin colonies), the notable of the
cities received with recognition the right of the city; their children took Roman names,
accepted a Roman education; employment and the honors opened in front of them. The
Roman colonization had lasted only one lapse of time, in spite of their
Legions power they had never succeeded in assimilating the Tamazight
spirit: neither its language, nor its culture. All the components of the
Tamazight culture were maintained to us inviolable, a vision of the original
world, always moderate, austere and preserving; savagely free and rebel
without any foreign domination, a simple language with a so various
accents, speeches so rich in vocabulary and of a plain grammatical structure.
3. The Arabic Conquest

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The linguistic urbanization of Algeria never followed the first Arabic
conquest of the 7th century. The number of the first conquerors was not
sufficient for the immense territory of the old Numidia. The first conquest,
that of the VIIth c. [] hasIslamized the Maghreb without modifying the
ethnography) of the country. (Yves, 1918:97)
Thus, the same fact occurred during the Middle Age at the time of the Hilalian
Invasion ;in fact, the number of the Arabs was relatively considerable and their mixture
with the indigenous race had been favored, in a very particular way, by the anarchy which
divided the Berber and destroyed their forces. Nevertheless the Arabs succeeded in making
them adopt, in many places, their language and their customs. (Mercier, 1888: 25).
If Arabic were the language of the faith and the traditional studies,
Tamazight was the language of the current communication between the
lately converted natives, in particular the kingdom of Ziride (972-1167) and
the kingdom of Hammadite (1015-1152), two vassal states of the Fatimid
Empire before making allegiance to the Abbasid . These Bedouin tribes did
not establish the Arab State in North Africa because their domination
was more linguistic than political. In the areas where they settled, Arabic
was going to become more than one simple language of the faith and the
literary studies. It was going to become an authentic indigenous language
which will be strongly influenced by its interference with the Tamazight
one, indeed, by the Islamic campaign the inhabitants of Maghreb found themselves in
need to a common language, and method of writing. As Arabic was the language of Islam
and the Koran, they started to learn it, their acquiring seems to be very large because lot of
them went to the East during the second century in order to learn, and master the Arabic
language. They started writing in Arabic thanks to the Arab transmitters (Abd El
Al, 1968: 37-38). After the decline of the Hammadite kingdom (1152), the
Tamazight language certainly remained for a long time; the language of the
Almoravides (1050-1147) and Almohades (1147-1269); on the other hand,
it stagnated in the state as primary oral language, in spite of some daring
attempts that make it cross the writing obstacle. These could not go very far
in the context of this period, were the allegiance of the Arabic was going to
become the language of the cultivated elite. The knowledge of Arabic
conferred people a certain social prestige and gave the possibility of access
to some functions of the state. The educated caste was thus bilingual, unlike
the majority of the population which was monolingual, i.e., speaking either
the Tamazight or the dialectical Arabic (an intermediate language mixture
of Arabic and Tamazight).
4. The Spanish Conquest
After the invasion of the Cardinal Ferdinand Xemns in the 13th of
September 1505, the Spanish occupation of Algeria was more military than
social, furthermore, these forces allow certain assimilation with the Arabic
population into a Spanish atmosphere, such as, transforming the principal
mosques of the cities into churches.etc.Ferdinand Xemns made his entry,
congratulated the winners, evacuated the streets from the debris and, the cadavers, he
conserved two churches with the catholic doctrine, founded a hospital for his injuries, []
and appointed an inquisitor. (Gaid, 1991: 27). More than three centuries, were
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enough to influence the Algerian bilingual society (speaking Tamazight and
Dialectal Arabic ) strongly present in the west .(Tlemcen, Sidi Bel Abbes,
Oran.etc) and its effects are nowadays present in our daily speeches (in
addition to the French one), as a result: the European languages have also
marked of their print the Algerian speech, it was, in particular, the case of Spanish in the
west of the country (because of the presence of a strong origin proportion of Spanish
colonists who refuge from the civil wars of 1936; moreover, the town of Oran was occupied
by the Spanish during three centuries. (Taleb Ibrahimi, 2000:65). The migration
of the Spanish workers during the French colonization had also fortified the
melting of this language into the Algerian repertoire since the Spanish
invasion was not just military, but lot of Spanish workers, handicrafts, and soldiers
migrated to the Maghreb influencing the language of the northern inhabitants of Algeria
who introduced in their speech many Spanish words used as part of their language.
(Abd El Al, 1968:22)
5. The Ottoman Conquest
The government of /El DJAZAIR/ under the Beyler-Beys since the
foundation of /LWDJAQ/ of Algeria by Baba Aroudj and Kheir Eddine,
and the Turkish, who are all soldiers, controlled despotically this large kingdom, with
little meadows like the nobles of the Republic of Italy, or as the Knights of Malta
(Langreur de Tassy, 1975:81). Several areas of Tamazight-speakers, in
particular Kabylie, were never penetrated by the Turkish armies ,although
the Turkish language influenced, in the cities, the native language especially
the Dialectal Arabic, the sublime door probably never intended to
Teurquiser (Ghalem, 2000:32) the Algerian people. The Turkish language
did not influence the frequency of use of the Tamazight and the Arabic
languages by the inhabitants, but they remained balanced. All the Beyler-
Beys had worked to extend their territory; they had fought against the
interior insurrections to impose suzerainty. They made of /El
DJAZAIR/ a large capital in the Mediterranean which was composed by:
a. The Central Administration
The central administration consisted of:
*Beyler-Beys:Baba Aroudj and Kheir Eddine.
*The Superior Council composed of four persons: /LWKIl El
*The Divan: It was a political Assembly trained by the meeting of the
entire senior offices of the militia, in which could assist all the soldiers of/L
WDJAQ/; it met four times a week. It was mainly composed of the
Janissaries .The administrative division of the territory was divided into:
**The Baylek of Algiers: Managed directly by the Pasha (Dar El Sultan)
included the Fahs (Beaulieu dAlger and Mitidja.)
** The Baylek of Tetteri: Founded in 1548 in Mda.
** The Baylek of the west: Founded in 1553 in Mazouna then Mascara
(Oran after 1732)
** The Baylek of the east: Founded in 1567 in Constantine.
The following map shows the administrative division of Algeria during
the Ottoman occupation.
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The Administrative division of Algeria during the Ottoman Occupation

(From Amrouche, 1955:45)

b. The Social Situation

Between the towns and the countryside especially in the Villas structure
and their fabulous gardens. The Algerian society was divided into six groups
according to their ethnic belonging:
** Turkish: The high class (people having a Turkish origin)
** Koul-Oughlis: Turkish children, from the Algerian (native or
Moorish) women, they are between the high and the middle class.

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** The Moors: (Arabo-Berber) also called /El HEDER/ they
represented the middle class.
** The Barrania /BERANIYA/: The non-native of the country, they
travelled from one town to another in order to work, they are between the
middle class and low class.
** The Blacks of the south: They were slaves, they constituted the lower
** The Jewish: They did not have any particular statue.
The social, economic, administrative and military changes have had a
great influence on the daily speech of the Algerian population in spite of the
Turkish minority, indeed the social structure of the town reflected the ethnic diversity.
The Turkish bringing an important cultural mixture in addition to the one that existed
before (Rebaidia, 1980:81). The Turkish language was the official language,
written in the Arabic alphabet its effects were more distinguishable in the
military, music, and food.etc. sectors where many words (borrowings)
were introduced .In fact, the coming of the population had brought to the djaks of
north Africa , from the Anatolian Mountains, another kind, more solid, of Turkish
language. (Ibidem)
These borrowings have modified the linguistic variety in Algeria, as was
mentioned by Sad Allah(1998:149) The Ottoman had influenced the social and
economic life of Algeria, the first influence was the linking of the Algerian society to the
Eastern one. They brought new kinds of civilized instruments to Algeria among them
food, clothes drinks, names, traditionsetc. On the other hand, they dominated in
architecture of the mosques and the graves, the military buildings and art, such as, music,
writing, navy language...etc. Such changes could not happen without an
influence on the linguistic level by which the Ottoman presence during three
centuries, without upsetting the linguistic landscape of the country, influenced the urban
varieties primarily (Algiers, Bejaia, Mda and Tlemcen) which borrowed a considerable
number of Turkish terms in the various fields of the everyday life (food, clothing, names of
trades) of which some became patronyms . (Ghalem, 2000:45) The existence of
some mercenaries, slaves and the nature of the Turkish population in
Algeria (military, privateers and pirates) introduced a language specialized
for the sailors in the coast called Lingua Franca: It is a mixture of Turkish,
Italian, Spanish and Maltan. However, the spread of the Turkish language in
country had decreased the use of this languages as Seidouni and Bou
Abidi(1984:114) stated it clearly, The language of the coast known as Franca is a
mixture of provincial varieties, Greek, Arabic dialect, Italian, Spanish and Maltan, but
the Algerian society and the coastal towns were transformed in the eighteen and beginning
of nineteen centuries to a homogenous society in its language, genre of culture, and
Meanwhile, the Arabic language continued its progression thanks to a
mixing of the population which is called nowadays the Arabo-Berber or
Berbero-Arabs and to the traditional teaching Koranic School such as

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Zaouias and Mederssa:Zaouias, gave teachings from the secondary to higher
schools, learners stayed there ten years during which the following matters were taught:
reading of the Koran, recitation, theology and comments on religion.(Chitour, 1999:
54). Finally, according to some authors, the preservation and the influence
of the Arabic language was distinguished in the countryside during the
Ottoman period. In the same time some areas were obliged to use Arabic words than
their mother tongue, for this we may say that the arabization of the majority of the
Algerian countryside was not during the Islamic Hillalian era but was due to other
factors, we may not explain, in the end of the Hafside, the Zianide and all the Ottoman
6. The French Conquest
In one of his books (Taleb Ibrahimi, 2000: 66) says about the French
language that it was the only language among the other languages which lasted and
influenced the users. It has gained a particular statue in the Algerian society. The French
language which was imposed on the Algerian by fire and blood, constituted a fundamental
element in the French policy of depriving people from their identity and the deculturation.
During approximately the first years of the colonization, France had two
major objectives: first, wipe out the Arabic language then, introduce the
French culture into the indigenous society as had declared the general
commandant of the expeditionary corps the Duke Rovigo: On the one hand
to replace Arabic by French; on the other hand, to alter indirectly the culture by an
insidious and systematic alienation of the spiritual places of knowledge because the great
majority of the mosques gave also the teaching of Arabic and, for some, the scientific
knowledge of the epoch. (Chitour, 1999:84).The history of French in Algeria
began with the colonization in July 1830, when they judged the propagation
of their language as the most effective means to make [their] progress and domination
in this country. (Turin, 1983:40). However, the Algerians hardly appreciated
the teaching suggested by the new government, fearing an operation of
evangelization; they thought that the new kind of teaching, closely linked to
the new religion, could not preserve the statue of the Holy Koran.
Consequently they preferred their Zaouias and Mederssas, which produced
until 1830, between great number of thought reading and writing. As a
result of the indigenous boycott, the education establishments were all
attached to mosques or seats of brotherhood, financed by committees or
individuals, but never by the colonizers as they had proposed.
Later, the traditional schools disappeared, they were transformed into
French schools where the French language was monopolizing as was stated
in the testify of the inhabitants of Bejaia to the French administrator who
said: The natives of Bougie asked to see me, and I received them. They did not speak
to me neither about sequesters which strikes their proprieties, nor of their deep misery.
Restore us our mosques they said, give us a decent school. [] I was deeply affected.
(Turin, 1971:39). From 1830 to 1880, the French had introduced Arabic
schools where both Arabic and French were taught simultaneously to some

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of the French and Algerian children, indeed on what concerns the public
instruction, we established in the centers of population French-Arabic primary schools.
French and Arabic were simultaneously taught. The headmaster is French assisted by a
Muslim master.(Ibidem). However, after 1880, the French administration
closed all these schools and changed them into French ones. The families
regarded this act as a result of their right to education and a clear attack to
their religion. They stopped sending their children to the colonial schools,
as a consequence the instruction declined. Nevertheless, it is worth noting
the gradual awakening that was done to the Arabic language in this sense
that there were many other ways in which religious studies and goals promoted language
study. (Crystal, 1985:45)
French became the official language of the colonial Algeria, Arabic
became as a foreign language since 1938, whereas, the rate of illiteracy
reached 90% with the Independence in 1962. In addition, certain Algerian
acquired a competence in French as was declared by Ben Bella we think as
Arabs, but we speak French (in Heggoy, 1984:115). The Algerians spoke
French in schools, with the colonizer, but still used their dialectal Arabic at
home and with friends. In spite of all the methods of deculturation, Arabic
preserved its prestige as a language of the Holly Koran. However, for the
first time since the antiquity, the Tamazight language was influenced by the
new foreign language. The French language penetrated the mountains and
did what the Roman Legionary failed in.
This paper helped us to gain an insight into the Algerian linguistic
development from a simple oral Tamazight language to more official
standard languages that became the mother tongue of the inhabitants even
if they do not belong to the same ethnic groups. What remains to be known
in this respect is that the construction of dialectal Arabic was more than
what has been covered in this research, our dialect is more complicated, a
brief historical bird eye view cannot satisfy our curiosity.
In English
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In Arabic
, ," ", .1
194 ,1980,
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372,1984,, ,
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246,1984, , ,
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432 ,1961 , , ,
Magazines and Periodical
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