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Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Research Centre for Historical Studies (CHS)

CHS workshop 'Colonialism, Language, Identification' with Dr Kaoutar Ghilani (Cambridge University) and Dr Sarah Irving (Staffordshire University)

When:Th 11-04-2024 15:45 - 18:00
Where:Room 1312.0019, Harmonie building

Workshop ‘Colonialism, Language, identification’
Open to Research MA students, PhD candidates, and ICOG (associate) members


Dr Karène Sanchez-Summerer: Introduction on Language(s) and (settler) colonialism

Dr Kaoutar Ghilani (Cambridge University): 'Failing the Nation? The Rise and Fall of Arabisation in Morocco'

The combination of multilingualism and diglossia in a postcolonial context has made language one of the most recurring polemical topics in the Maghreb’s public sphere since the independence of Morocco and Tunisia in 1956 and Algeria in 1962. As decolonisation carried dreams of modernity and progress, postcolonial language policy was viewed as the vehicle of a cultural renaissance.

A major element of Maghrebi states’ decolonial nation-building was Arabisation, the policy replacing French with Standard Arabic in the public space after independence. Once a largely consensual – or at least not contested – policy, Arabisation has nevertheless grown increasingly controversial, especially in education, as claims of its ‘failure’ poured from across the political spectrum.

While the discourse bracketing Arabisation with ‘failure’ has entrenched itself in the public sphere, no formal evaluation of the policy has been ever conducted. In 2019, the Moroccan Ministry of Education reverted to French in the teaching of scientific subjects. How has the discourse on the ‘failure’ of Arabisation become dominant in Morocco and what implications does it have for nation-building?

I argue that the discourse on the ‘failure’ of Arabisation is an ideal object of study through which to approach post-colonial nation-building in Morocco where conceptions of the future and aspirations for modernity and cultural renaissance have been entangled with illiteracy, neoliberalism, neo-colonialism, and the global market of political ideologies.

This talk will give an overview of the political history of the discourse on the ‘failure’ of Arabisation. Through an excavation of language entrepreneurs’ discourses from the late nineteenth until the early twenty-first century in Morocco, the talk will show how the concepts of race, religion, modernity, civilisation, and nation interacted to first shape the idea of Arabisation and then the discourse on its failure.

Dr Sarah Irving (Staffordshire University): '"Every Jewish visitor": language politics, archaeological display and and cultural contestation in Mandate Palestine'

When the British mandatory administration in interwar Palestine committed itself to a system of three official languages – English, Arabic and Hebrew – it was making a promise that would prove logistically difficult to keep. Producing official materials in all three tongues demanded a translation effort that the colonial state was unwilling to properly resource.

This proved particularly difficult to manage in public settings where the presence or absence of translated texts was especially noticeable. One such example was the Palestine Archaeological Museum, whose labels and guides were the subject of a targeted campaign by Hebrew language advocates who demanded that all museum literature was made available in comprehensive translations and asserted this as a legal right under the provisions by which Britain ruled Palestine.

This paper uses surviving letters from the Hebrew campaign and internal documents from the museum and the Department of Antiquities to highlight the complex dynamics of language politics, which was influenced not just by ideology and nationalism, but also by the inadequacies of British rule.

Hebrew campaigners and museum officials are located within the febrile language politics of the mandatory period and issues of multilingualism, translation and identity within a setting where history and archaeology already made for an environment of cultural contestation.

Final discussion: ‘Language(s) and Settler colonialism/ Postcolonialism- missing gaps’