Also to be found in the B section of my bibliographical notes. I have to thank RK (I know she’d hate me to put her full name, so at least her initials) who is an admin of our group Sociolinguists on Facebook.
Haeri, Niloofar (2002). “Book Review of Owens, J., Ed. (2000). Contributions to the Sociology of Language.” Anthropological linguistics: 299-302.
In the introduction, Owens discusses a number of problems that arise in defining a minority language. Demography=major consideration. Criteria: “self-categorization, common descent, distinctive linguistics, cultural or historical traits relatied to language, social organization of the interaction of language groups in such a fashion that the group becomes placed in a minority position” (p.2), as well as “prestige” which is “measured in terms of institutional support which a language receives, choice of langage in inter-commmunal exchanges, and various other factors” (p.3). Using the opposition “minority” vs “dominant”, Owens compares a number of languages (…) and attemps to find a suitable analytical framework rather than a rigid typology for understanding minority languages situaitons. This particular opposition is illuminating in the case of Classical and vernacular (or “dialectal”) Arabic.Classical Arabic is both a dominant and a minority language. It is dominant because it is the official language of all Arab states -the medium of bureaucracy, education, and writing in general. And it is a minority language because a minortiy is provicient in its use as literacy statistics indicate for all Arab countries (UNDP (2002). The Arab Human Development Report 2002: Creating Opportunities for Future Generations. New York, United Nations Development Programme, Regional Bureau for Arab States.). At the same time, there is no group of Arabs who speak Classical Arabic as a mother tongue; and in this sense, it might be misleading to define the language as a minority language because the term generally implies that it is the mother tongue of a minority group. In all Arab countries, a form of vernacular arabic is the mother tongue of the citizens (e.g. Algerian, Lebanese, Jordanian, Egyptian, and so on). Yet these vernaculars are not “dominant” in that they enjoy little institutional support. Given the demographic and “functional” distribution of Classical and vernacular forms of Arabic, Owens expands the notion of minority language to include cases of “minority languages withought a linguistic minority” (p.4), such as Classical Arabic. Louis Boumans and Dominique Caubet provide a detailed and comparative linguistic analysis of both Algerian-French and Moroccan-Dutch code-switching. Their data are fascinating, particularly the examples based on the perofmances of Algerian comedian Mohamed Fellag, who code-switches between Algerian Arabic, Berber, and French. One major finding of this articule is that both Algerian-French and Moroccan-Dutch code switching show “assymetry” in that “in each, the matrix language is generally provided by Arabic….Dutch and French provinding content words inserted in Arabic matrices”(p. 166). (…)Utz Maas argues that contact between Moroccan Arabic and Berber has been so intense and lengthy (with many bilingual speakers) that many of their structurs are converging to a point where we may be witnessing the emergence of a “new language” (p. 383).(…) different roles played by Arabic in different regions (…) the comparison between Nigeria, Algeria, and other African countries, on the one hand, and Turkey and Iran, on the other, is highly informative. In Nigeria, Arabic is greatly valued because of its links to Islam (…) Nigerians do not seem to desire expanding the role of Arabic into other domains. In Algeria on the other hand, Classical Arabic is at one and the same time the language of religion, a major symbol of the anti-colonial nationalism movment, the official language of the post-colonial state, and a language that is percieved as genealogically related to Algerian Arabic. Hence, while in both cases Classical Arabic is a minority language, there are major differences in its respective roles in the culture and politics of the two countries. In “Arabic as a Tool for Expressing Jewish and Romani Ethnic Identity” Paul Wexler introduces the term “Islamic languages” which he defines as “non-Arabic languages spoken by Muslims” (p. 65)(…). In a footnote, it is explained that the term is “patterned on the term ‘Jewish languages'”. (…) Speakers of Persian, Turkish, Bahasa Indonesian, and so on, do not perceive of their languages as “Islamic” or as attached to any particular religion. Historically, Persian long predates the conquest of Persia by the Muslim armies. (…) In fact one of the central defining characteritics of languages that are mother tongues is that they are not exclusively attached to any particular religion. This can be contrasted with sacred and classical languages that do have direct and primary links to religion.(…)assertion made by Owens (p. 35) that although Cassical Arabic is the language of a holy book, to call Classicval Arabic “holy” or “sacred” is a misrepresentation. As Owens seems to imply, this may be a misrepresentation of early Muslim schoars’ views. In my own (=Niloofar Haeri) fieldwork in Egypt (1987-88, 1995-96, I found that the majority of the people I spoke with did express the view that the language is muqaddasa, sacred. (…)the view is not limited to lower-class or uneducated groups.(…)profound implications for the workings of religion and politics in the Arab world,A number of the language situations discussed (…) concern hightly sensitive and politicized settings (…) Berber in the Maghreb and Arabic in Israel. The article on Arabic as a minority language in Israel offers a wealth of statistical details but fails to provide the reader with an overall picture of the life of Arabic in that country. Rafael Talmon’s article is the most overtly political of all (…) the author expresses his personal view insted of offering an analysis of their relevance. A number of times, it is mentioned that there were outbreaks of “hostility against the Jewish population in Palestine” (pp. 201, 209), . while even in its wars, Israel’s attitude is described as “responsible and well-balanced” (p. 204). Such biases should have been edited out of this article because they do not serve the purpose of the volume.Notwithstanding these disagreements, this volume is a welcome contribution to Arabic studies and to the literature on minority languages.
Series: Contributions to the Sociology of Language [CSL] 83