Several factors have been responsible for the complexity reflected in today’s linguistic situation in Algeria, some being historical, others political and still others socio-cultural. It is undeniable that, as a consequence of the diverse events that the country has gone through, the Algerian society has acquired a distinctive identity whose particular dynamic intra-and inter-lingual variation can clearly be attested in the way(s) people speak in comparison with the two countries, morocco and Tunisia (these latter are said to have lived through quite similar episodes, but for more shorter periods).
Indeed, colonised for more than 130 years (1830-1962), Algeria was considered by the French government as a province of France which never be autonomous and separated from the « metro pole ». The impact of the French language and its culture was so powerful that it started to reflect in many Algerians’ speech and soon led ton sort of dual identity. The influence resulted in the usual linguistic phenomena that occur when two or more languages get in contact: the use of bilingualism and consequent code-switching, code mixing and borrowing pervading the mother tongue in addition to the well-established phenomenon of diglossia.
Arabic and French co-existent in Algeria led to some kind of bilingualism, results from a double aspiration: maintenance of the mother tongue; one of the symbols of the Algerian socio-cultural personality, with Arabic and Berber as components of this identity that he Algerian wish to preserve, and openness to the world of modernity and technology through the French language. Indeed French is ‘strongly implanted at the lexical level’ as bouhadiba (1998:1-2) says.
That is, a great number of French borrowing, both adapted and non-adapted, can be frequently attested in everyday speech, particularly in urban areas where French got hold more firmly than in rural ones. As a matter of fact, the Algerian society has been deeply influenced by French that we virtually cannot hear a conversation without at least a few French lexical items or expressions.
These two aforementioned aspects, bilingualism and diglossia, characterize the linguistic situation in Algeria by a rich multiplicity and a real dynamics that the Algerian should know how to take advantage of in today’s context of globalization and wider communication by knitting closer relations with the western world, particularly with France and others French-speaking countries because of the socio-historical events that the country has gone through, in addition of course to its relationship ith the Arab world. it is worth mentioning at this point that English is gaining ground in Algeria as a world language associated with advanced technology and scientific research, international economy and trade, and is thus increasingly favoured by the young in secondary schools and at the university.
But whatever we may say about the importance of English as a world wild language, by virtue of the role that French has played in the socio-historical making contemporary Algeria, and by its being regarded as a colonial inheritance, it will always remain deeply ingrained, as it were, in the society’s linguistic practices alongside the other constituents of the Algerian sociolinguistic profile. The French language acquired high prestige among the population as it was associated with modernism and development, science and technology.
It had become so strongly anchored as such in people‘s, minds that it was considered the language of success and progress. Meanwhile, Arabic was seen as the language of religion and ancient literature, and had lost much of people in general, and the politico-administrative functions that the authorities wanted to ascribe to it as the language of the nation. the use of French was especially attested among young educated people when they talked about topics related to scientific, medical, technical, juridical or philosophical fields.
Indeed, the two languages were in permanent contact above all in towns and large urban centres where bilingualism had settled down progressively, for, in addition to the fact that a number of older generation people had been educated in the « French school », and consequently used French in their professions, an increasing number of younger people were becoming bilinguals (at least as far as schooling was concerned).
One linguistic phenomenon concerns the co-existence, in the Algerian community and throughout the Arab world on the whole, of two sets of varieties of the same language, regarded by members of a diglossic speech community as two discrete codes each fulfilling a clearly distinct range of social functions in different sets of circumstances, though some interference between the two may occur in certain contexts. This sociolinguistic phenomenon, in which an obvious form-function mapping is at work and in which the status of each variety is overtly recognized in the community, has been referred to diglossia.
As already indicated, what makes the Algerian language situation so complex is its characterization at the societal level by at least two overlapping linguistic phenomena, diglossia and bilingualism, though at the individual level the degree of proficiency or competence in one or the other, or in both practices, largely depends on socio-cultural factors such as level of education, socio-economic background, age, and perhaps most importantly motivation and attitudes towards the two standards.
In any case, it is a plain fact that all Algerians, even illiterate people, use and/or understand at least a few words and expressions from MSA and French in everyday speech interactions, to the extent that the community as a whole may be regarded both as diglossia and bilingual. This dual characterization is, of course, to be considered along the two extremes of a linguistic proficiency continuum, for, both linguistic, it is believed, as regarded as relative concepts, all the more so as neither of the two languages is acquired as a native language.
The patterns of language use in bilingual/diglossic communities are far from being comparable to those attested in bilingual societies where the two co-existing languages are standards, like French and English, acquired as mother tongue by certain categories of the population, learned at school and spoken fluently according to the group’s social class or to the formality of the situation.
Therefore, if an important issue in the study of bilingualism lies in accounting for bilingual’s choice of one language or other in conscious or unconscious manner, the situation in Algeria speech communities is rendered much more problematical, but extremely interesting at the same time, by the existence side by side of two linguistic phenomena involving a wider range of code choices characterized by two standards, the H variety and French, in contact with bewildering number of lower status varieties.
The past few decades have witnessed a growing interest in the study of phenomena resulting from contacts between languages, and many scholars have considered such dynamic phenomena from different theoretical perspectives ( e. g. Poplack 1980; Myers-Scotton 1993a, 1933b; Muysken 2000). It must be remembered, however, that the growth of sociolinguistics itself owes much to earlier exploration into the field related to the co-existence of two or more languages or language varieties ( e. labov and Herzog 1968; Trudgil 1986…). obviously, studies of how different types of speakers behave linguistically in mixed language settings and how languages develop in such circumstances had to be considered for better understanding of language structure and variation in relation to social parameters, and for a proposal of a more inclusive linguistic theory.
Today’s linguistic situation in Algeria offers an extremely rich field of research into languge contact phenomena, which are reflected in the interference between Arabic and French, in particular, but also between language varieties illustrated in the High/Low diglossic relationship, on the one hand, and dialectical variation, on the other.
Indeed, in addition to the use of a seemingly unlimited number of loanwords, above all French ones, many Algerian speakers constantly, and perhaps often spontaneously, switch from one language and/or language variety to the other in different contexts and for different purposes; these are also often mixed up in a natural manner in everyday speech, a behaviour that makes Algerian Arabic a very peculiar way of interacting, particularly to the ears of Arabic-speaking monolinguals (Egyptians or Syrians, fro instance) and to those of the French.
Indeed, as contact with the French increased over time into mid-20th century and many people had to learn more the foreign language which actually had become the language of education administration and all other public institutions, the loan-words used AA sounded much more like the original realisations. Today, educated people and the young usually avoid older loan words by producing the foreign lexemes in their original forms because of their awareness of their provenance and their better knowledge of French.
Colonialism and migration movements, for instance, have led, respectively; to the adoption of the colonizer’s language in many countries besides that or those of the nation, and to the necessity of learning the host language by minorities settled in western countries, in particular. The Algerian society is a good example that illustrates the two cases: it is indeed characterized by overall societal bilingualism as a result of long-term French occupation which imposed its language in all public institutions for at least a whole century.
The other consequence is that a great number of Algerian workers emigrated to France before and after independence and, to settle there, they had to learn at least some basic French to be able to communicate with their employers; their children were of course bound to learn French for the purpose of education, and many from the following generations had to acquire it as a first language, and have lost, as it were, their original mother ongue, or at most retained some of it, mixed French for very few restricted uses at home. In some context, speakers’ repertoires comprise more than one language and many people acquire the ability to switch from one code to another in various domains or situations; and according to certain circumstances, rules of interaction, topic and addressee, they manipulate the available codes in a spontaneous way to convey the message.
Interestingly enough, while merging languages is regarded as inappropriate by monolingual standard norms, it is quite common that, in addition to their choice of one code or other according to a number of conditions, bilinguals mix the two languages in the same stretch of speech and even in the same utterance, respecting however, a number of linguistic rule constraints. hese ways of using different types of switching. As a matter of fact, these may be considered, as already mentioned, in terms of a continuum ranging from lexical borrowing to ‘true’ code switching with different amounts of code-mixing in-between. Therefore, because of the different degrees in bilinguality and exposure to French, not all Algerian speakers are equally proficient in switching codes.
Production of switches to French and their comprehension make up a kind of learned verbal behaviour among relatively skilled bilinguals, and are thus proportional to their competence in the language, but also related to their motivation for code-switching. By contrast, and on another level, many people easily become bi-dialectal or even multidialectal as a result of the quasi-natural phenomenon of speech accommodation, particularly in big cities where there are permanent contacts between people from different regions.