Mettouchi on Berber Languages.

Sabrina A. of Inside North Africa publishes an interview with a scholar of Berber linguistics:

Professor Amina Mettouchi, who holds the Berber Linguistics chair at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, grew up in Azazga, Kabylia until the age of 11 where she left Algeria for France and continued her studies there. She found herself specializing in Berber linguistics, but the path there wasn’t always linear. She started off with math and physics in efforts to become a businesswoman or engineer to please her parent’s wishes, but her true love was for the humanities, so once she graduated from high school she started studying subjects like literature, philosophy, and history. She explains, “My interests then gradually focused on linguistics, and when I started preparing for a Ph.D., my supervisor suggested I work on Berber. I hadn’t thought it was possible at the time, although there were a few doctoral theses on Berber, and some teaching going on. I embraced this opportunity as a way to reconnect with my roots in a way that also allowed me to work on the intricate and mindblowing complexities of the human mind thanks to linguistics. And I haven’t stopped since.” […]

The whole population has to take part in the documentation and preservation of their languages, with linguists acting as consultants and experts on methods and tools. This is why I have started going online, first with the pages on endangered Berber languages on my professional website, then with the Facebook Page Endangered Berber Languages and the Twitter account Langues Berberes en Danger. My aim is first to raise awareness concerning the need to document the Berber languages that are the most threatened, and then to provide methodological help to language activists willing to undertake that mission for their language. My purpose is also to disseminate oral documents where one can hear and see people speaking threatened Berber languages.” Pr. Mettouchi adds that “Unfortunately, such videos are extremely rare,” and the way they are uploaded (without keywords or name of the language or the region in the title for example), “makes it very difficult to trace them online.”

She discusses aspect (“In Kabyle for instance, the same form (e.g. tturarent) can mean ‘they were singing and dancing festively’ (in the past) or ‘they are singing and dancing festively’ now”), language names (“Berber is the term used in the scientific literature on those languages, internationally. Amazigh is fine too as a scientific term but involves a more political perspective. I personally use both, depending on the medium used, and the topic broached”), the diversity of Berber (“This is not only a question of scientific truth, but it is also a trap for Berber languages, to talk about Amazigh as one language because then individual languages die in silence since as long as some speakers of major varieties still speak those varieties, one believes that ‘the language’ is alive and does not involve themselves in documentation and preservation”), and other topics; she has interesting things to say about writing:

For Pr. Mettouchi, the importance of writing is overrated. “It is good to be able to write one’s language, but putting all one’s energies into that, thinking that it is the only way a language can exist and prosper is an illusion, especially in a world that is now more and more digital, and involves images and sounds, more and more. Therefore, I think people should engage more in oral transmission. For instance, whenever it is possible, create kindergartens where children, especially those whose parents do not speak the language anymore, can learn it in a natural way. Not in a Westernized way, with picture books, but naturally, with elders, playing traditional games, including verbal games such as riddles, and listening to folktales, practicing traditional activities etc. Elders should be involved as main teachers for children under the age of 7. After that, children can and will learn how to read in write, in as many alphabets and writing systems as they want, including the various Amazigh scripts. But before reading and writing the language, one needs to speak it and to learn all the wisdom and the values that it conveys, not only through everyday language but also through riddles, folktales, poetry. I think that it is urgent that all over Tamazgha, activists, especially women, create oral tradition kindergartens, where elders, especially women, can pass on the wealth of knowledge they have to young children, in the way transmission used to get done in the old days, through practice. Learning to weave, to make pottery, to cook, to plow, to grow vegetables or palm-trees, to make a fire in the desert, to gather wild herbs, for boys and girls alike, is a wonderful experience through which they can learn their culture and their language together. People often talk about de-colonizing, minds, and cultures, but too often, they don’t realize that the way to decolonization is also through responsible concrete actions like those. They are easy to implement, even in diaspora contexts at a smaller scale, but they are only possible if we think about it in a radically new way, by empowering women, especially older women who still are skilled in traditional activities and language, and by being confident in the value and importance of oral transmission.”

And she says, quite correctly, “Children can learn and speak several languages, it is easy for them, and it is good for them.”


  1. David Marjanović says

    Pr. is French for Prof..

  2. If I understand correctly, a Kabyle child in Algeria is expected in addition to her native Kabyle to learn Algerian Arabic, Standard Arabic, French and possibly some English as well.

    I wonder if there is any time left for learning other subjects in school.

  3. David Marjanović says

    Three foreign languages is not unusual over here, admittedly not all to the same level as the perfect French Algerians speak.

  4. No Algerian Arabic in school – the child is expected to learn that outside, somehow. If you go deep enough into Kabylie, you can find people who learned Standard Arabic and French but never did acquire Algerian Arabic.

  5. As it turns out, she is also a (the?) moderator at ILARA (which for some reason puts me in mind of this ιλαρά), as well as an author at La Encyclopédie Berbère.

  6. ιλαρά

    Huh, ‘measles’ from ἱλᾰρός ‘happy, cheerful,’ a euphemistic name for the disease. Interesting!


  1. […] Hat links to an interview with linguist Amina Mettouchi, a specialist in Berber […]

Speak Your Mind