Why do I write in English? I am not sure honestly. I think it started with the first post. I just wanted everyone to be able to read it. English is after all the language of THE Internet. Maybe a couple of the posts here will be in Arabic or French… who knows.
I find this to be a good occasion to touch on something that I think is a sensitive topic in Tunisia: Language.
In our daily lives, other than in official documents (that can also be found in French), we don’t use literary Arabic. Yet, the Tunisian dialect is not taught in schools and is somehow deemed inferior to literary Arabic. Very few magazines write in “Derja”. And the ones that do are dead awful. Pretty trashy. Picture TMZ…maybe worse.
In television, it’s not any better, we fall between two extremes: On the one hand, you have media that persists on using literary Arabic and refuses to acknowledge that we do not in fact speak literary Arabic. And on the over hand, you have what I like to call “overly French” media.
In our national television for example, you rarely hear Derja. News and all the “serious” programs are in literary Arabic. It doesn’t even sound posh. It’s more like waffle really. If anything, it makes people more detached from politics and all the stuff they should probably care about. The most interesting thing about our national television is the fact that the guests they bring in don’t know how to speak proper Arabic… It’s just ridiculous, funny even, to see them struggle so badly to find their words and finish their sentences. All of this to say that literary Arabic isn’t helping anyone. Not the viewers nor the guests.
In other TV channels though, such as Nessma (which is supposedly a more liberal channel), they go full on Tunisian. The problem though is that they use an “overly French Tunisian”. To be honest, it does make the guests a bit more comfortable on set. No more struggling and “euuuuh”. But the problem lays in the fact that they are so oblivious to people from all around the country who do not feel included in this sort of discussion. Most viewers do not employ such a “frenchy”dialect. Their accents are also rarely represented. We almost never hear accents other than the one from Tunis like the southern accents, or the eastern ones…
The bottom line is: Very few shows and media have a good balance in language between Tunisian/ literary Arabic/ French that allows everyone from all regions to feel included and represented.
Now when it comes to blogging, I feel like at this point, there is no question of using Arabic anymore. It’s sadly very outdated. We gave up on our language long ago. I don’t think it bothers me as much as it should. And I do feel guilty for that.
Some people would question my attachment to my identity and say that I am not proud to be Arab. The truth is, I don’t know if I am an Arab. But maybe, they are right, maybe I focused so much on being an international citizen that I forgot about my identity along the way. But like the good Tunisian that I am, I know whom to blame, and it certainly isn’t me.
I think that my lack of attachment to Arabic comes from the fact that my parents and the society where I grew up didn’t emphasize the importance of language in patriotism or identity. I don’t know if speaking fully Arabic Tunisian (with no French) makes you a better Tunisian. I doubt it honestly. I don’t know if speaking literary Arabic makes you a better Tunisian either. I doubt it even more. However, I do know for a fact that language has a bearing on our identity.
But I find myself conflicted. Should we embrace who we are. Or actively try to change? Why deny that we speak French? Why try to repress that part of our identity and fake that we are such proud Arabs? Maybe being a good Tunisian is just embracing who you are and what you’ve come to be, after all the years of colonization and what have you.
It’s interesting to see that this is not an exclusively Tunisian debate (I don’t know if it’s a debate in the first place since everyone seems too busy with the economy). One of my very good friends from Azerbaijan told me that they have the exact same situation. It turns out that spoken Azerbaijani has a lot of Russian in it and the dialect varies with the region and how conservative the area is. It is also deemed inferior to literary Azerbaijani, that the official media insists on using.
I have recently come across this very interesting article entitled “Mépriser la darija, c’est mépriser le peuple», that I highly recommend.
Some time ago on Tumblr, I also came across a beautiful quote by Yacine Kateb, who said
“Si l’Algérie n’est pas arabe pourquoi l’arabiser? Et si l’Algérie est arabe pourquoi l’arabiser?”
Should we take a stand and try to change things? Actively repress any French words we say here and there? Should the State take it upon itself to restore a fully Arabic Tunisia, that I doubt even existed in the first place? I don’t think so. I feel like embracing who we are is our best bet to heal our schizophrenia.
That being said, I do think that we, as a society should work on our language with a different mindset. I believe that we should change our paradigm and see the question of language from the lens of globalization instead of identity.
Globalization speaks English. Technology speaks English. Internet speaks English. Money speaks English. So why don’t we?
I think the time has come (if it’s not already long overdue), that we join the rest of the world, and finally leave behind the language of Molière. It’s about damn time that we have an online presence other than on Google.fr
I am one of those people who blame France for a lot of things that we have been through, since our independence. I am sick and tired of seeing my country make the same mistakes and blindly follow the footstep of France, be it in our political, economic or social model. I am tired of Tunisia looking north instead of looking West or East. I am exhausted by how slow we are, just because we are copying the copycats.
I think that change is coming and that people have started to realize how “outdated” or rather limiting French is. Right now, we are witnessing some sort of Cold War between French and English. So that’s hopefully a sign that we’re changing slowly but surely.
I am fully aware of the contradiction between letting people speak whatever language they want and pushing towards a more Anglophone Tunisia. But I feel that the first deals with embracing our identity with all its complexity when the second focuses on globalization and our place in the World, which are different things in my opinion. And that distinction allows me to be at peace with this apparent contraction.
One would also notice how ironic it is to liberate ourselves from the yoke of “French” just to subjugate ourselves to “English”.
Well to that I say, if we’re gonna be bitches anyway, we better pick our pimp wisely.