Invisibility and Colonial Afterlives: Irregular Multilingualism in the Linguistic Landscape of Algeria’s M’Zab Valley

Authors: Abderrezak Dourari (Centre for Tamazight (CNPLET), Algiers, Algeria), Robert Blackwood (University of Liverpool, United Kingdom)
Speaker: Abderrezak Dourari, Robert Blackwood
Topic: Linguistic Landscapes 
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


Research into the intersection of multilingualism and heritage, in particular in postcolonial Africa, is highlighly productive, especially when considering the potential for traditionally marginalised ethnic groups to increase and enhance their interaction with their own heritage. Based on data drawn from the five fortified towns of Algeria’s M’Zab valley in the northern Sahara, this paper tests the potential of Linguistic Landscape methodologies to consider how postcolonial social practices have organised this UNESCO World Heritage site into its current visual arrangement. Algeria, once independent from France, embarked on an Arabisation process which continued to prize the French language for higher domains of public life, but which simultaneously peripheralised the country’s significant Amazigh population. The Imazighen, who have enjoyed full citizenship rights, have seen their language (and therefore ethnolinguistic identity) absent from the civic space until a 2016 change to the Constitution. However, within the fortified towns of the M’Zab valley, the Tamazight language is backgrounded and Arabic, French, and English take centre stage in the linguistic arrangement of this heritage site. Taking the towns as texts, and bringing a Linguistic Landscape lens to the meaning-making resources in the M’Zab valley, we consider social and ethnic marginalisation in the ownership, representation, and display of collective memory for wider consumption. We offer readings of the five towns which contribute to the growing body of scholarship which straddles sociolinguistics and memory studies. In particular, we explore how meaning is activated by non-linguistic resources to redress in part the absence of Tamazight (in either transliteration or Tifinagh script) from the visual arrangement of the towns.

Keywords: Algeria, Linguistic Landscape, Tamazight, multilingualism, heritage, memory studies