Decolonisation, authenticity and the Other: Talking in and about Englishes in Algeria

Camille Sylvie Jacob*, Leonald Kazibwe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract

In July 2019, in the midst of ongoing political protests, the Algerian Minister of Higher Education suggested in a speech that the use of English should be ‘consolidated’ in universities, and that French, the current medium of instruction in the most prestigious disciplines, ‘led nowhere’. His declarations re-ignited debates over the place, functions and meanings attached to various languages in Algeria. They echoed wider global debates of “French” being in competition with “English”, especially in former French colonies in Africa, and claims of English as the “universal language” and “language of science”, offering opportunities for social mobility, economic development, and democratisation. The increasing visibility of English in the political and education landscapes across African countries labelled as “Francophone”, encompassing situations as diverse as Morocco, Rwanda and Cameroon, has often been analysed as the result of the promises of a language that is “decolonised” and linked to globalisation and human capital. In Algeria as in other countries, discourses sometimes appear contradictory, with English touted as both the means for national liberation from French neo-colonialism, and as creating trilingual illiterates, as something crucial for the national interest but irrelevant to people's lives, as opening opportunities to all but only affordable by some. Throughout my fieldwork, participants talked about English as being simultaneously neutral and against French (the former colonial language), everywhere and nowhere, the path to (re)claiming an authentic national and self-identity and a mark of Otherness. In this chapter I argue that these contradictory discourses need to be taken into account as they allow us to understand how narratives of resistance and mobility at the national and individual level are being relocalised into English. Relocalising entails questioning the very tenet that English has been adapted (which still starts from the assumption that it had a core or point of origin) and posits instead that existing sociolinguistic practices have a new name (Pennycook, 2010). Following Yarimar Bonilla's approach to participants as co-theorists (2015), I suggest that these contradictions can be explored, not by selecting a “truer” overarching narrative but by taking participants' explanatory frameworks seriously. I therefore argue that explaining the interactions between discourses and practices around English and their entanglements within existing social structures and political forces requires accounting for the complex ways in which “English” and Englishes are used to index decolonisation, authenticity, and Otherness.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMapping World Anglophone Studies
Subtitle of host publicationEnglish in a World of Strangers
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 2021

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