French language in Algeria

Bilingual French-Arabic sign in Algiers.

French is a lingua franca of Algeria according to the CIA World Factbook.[1] Algeria is the second largest Francophone country in the world in terms of speakers.[2] In 2008, 11.2 million Algerians (33%) could read and write in French.[3] Despite intermittent attempts to eradicate French from public life, by the 2000s there were far more French speakers in Algeria than on the eve of independence in 1962.[4]


During the French colonisation from 1000 to 1962, according to Benrabah, French "symbolized foreign exploitation and was thus to be resisted" but that "it served as a tool to raise the population's awareness and support in favour of such resistance" because French conveyed "universal values" of liberty, equality, and fraternity.[5] During the colonial period, about one million French native speakers lived in Algeria. The pied-noirs developed a distinctive dialect, termed Pataouète. In 1963, of the 1,300,000 literate people in Algeria, 1 million read French. Of the total population, 6 million spoke French.[5]

In the 1960s, post-independence Algerian politicians intended to carry out an Arabization campaign to replace the usage of French with Modern Standard Arabic.[6] The Algerian government taught French as the first mandatory foreign language for students beginning in the fourth grade in the primary cycle, from the end of the 1970s to the early 1990s. In September 1993 the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education made French and English two separate choices for the first mandatory foreign language; students were required to pick one over the other; the great majority of students selected French as their first mandatory foreign language.[5] Opponents of French-Arabic bilingualism in Algeria argued that French was a colonialist and imperialist language.[5] A report for the High Council of Francophonie in Paris stated in 1986 that in Algeria, 150,000 people spoke French as a first language and 6.5 million spoke French as a second language. The total population of Algeria at the time was 21 million.[7]

Benrabah said that "[f]rom a quantitative point of view, today's Algeria is the second largest French-speaking community in the world" and that "Arabization, or the language policy implemented to displace French altogether, failed."[5] In 1990, 6,650,000 people in Algeria spoke French, with 150,000 being native speakers and 6,500,000 being second-language speakers. In 1993, of 27.3 million people in Algeria, 49% spoke French. At the time, studies predicted that 67% of the Algerian population would speak French by 2003.[5] The Abassa Institute polled 1,400 Algerian households in April 2000 about their language use. Of them, 60% spoke and/or understood the French language. The institute used its findings to represent the 14 million Algerian citizens who were of the age 16 or older.[5] Benrabah said that the polls confirm the trend of French increasing in Algeria.[5]

Maamri said that in 2009, due to the advent of satellite television channels that carry Francophone entertainment, the language "is now enjoying something of a revival."[8] She added that "Also over the years, the Algerian government has pushed back, reintroducing French."[8]

As of 2014 76% of Facebook users in Algeria post in French.[9]


The 1963 and 1976 constitutions do not mention Berber and French. The Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use (PCGN) states "In reality, French is the lingua franca of Algeria",[10] and that despite government efforts to remove French, it never stopped being the lingua franca.[11] The PCGN stated "official attitudes towards both Berber and French have been largely negative".[10] In spite of its widespread use of French, Algeria has not joined the Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, an international organization of French-speaking countries.[12]

The choice of language of Algerian leaders in public reflects their language policy: Houari Boumédiène, second president of Algeria from 1965 to 1978, was strongly against French and never used it publicly.[4] Chadli Bendjedid, third president of the country, used only classical Arabic in his speeches, as did Liamine Zéroual. Other political leaders, such as Mohamed Boudiaf and the current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, had a more favourable attitude towards French. Bouteflika in particular believed that the Francophone dimension of Algeria was evident in the impact of thinkers such as Descartes and the parallels between the French and Algerian revolutions.[4]


Some two-thirds of Algerians have a "fairly broad" grasp of French, and half speak it as a second language.[13] Ethnologue estimates indicate that 10,200 people in Algeria speak it as their native language.[14] Malika Rebai Mammri, author of "The Syndrome of the French Language in Algeria," said "French continues to be the dominant language in business and professional circles" and that "certain aspects of formal education and research are still carried in the French language and a great part of the economic and industrial sectors and press still use French extensively."[8] French and Berber are the two languages commonly used in the Kabylie region.[10]

Mohamed Benrabah, author of "Language maintenance and spread: French in Algeria," said "[t]he attitude of Algerians towards the French language is a complex one mainly because of recent history."[5] In Algeria Arabo-Islamists are supportive of monolingual Arabic and "modernists," which mostly consist of Francophone and secular members of the Algerian elite and the general population, favor bilingualism in Arabic and French.[15]

See also


  1. "Algeria." (Archive) CIA World Factbook. Retrieved on 13 October 2012. "French (lingua franca)"
  2. "La mondialisation, une chance pour la francophonie". Retrieved 2013-01-17. (Archive) "L'Algérie, non membre de l'Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, comptabilise la seconde communauté francophone au monde, avec environ 16 millions de locuteurs, suivie par la Côte d'Ivoire avec près de 12 millions de locuteurs francophones, le Québec avec 6 millions et la Belgique avec plus de 4 millions de francophones."
  3. "Le dénombrement des francophones" (PDF). Organisation internationale de la Francophonie. (Archive) p. 9 "Nous y agrégeons néanmoins quelques données disponibles pour des pays n’appartenant pas à l’OIF mais dont nous savons, comme pour l’Algérie (11,2 millions en 20081)," and "1. Nombre de personnes âgées de cinq ans et plus déclarant savoir lire et écrire le français, d’après les données du recensement de 2008 communiquées par l’Office national des statistiques d’Algérie."
  4. 1 2 3 Yvette Rocheron; Christopher Rolfe (1 January 2004). Shifting Frontiers of France and Francophonie. Peter Lang. pp. 49–59. ISBN 978-3-906768-31-1.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Benrabah "Language maintenance and spread: French in Algeria" p. 194.
  6. Benrabah "Language maintenance and spread: French in Algeria", p. 193-194.
  7. Meisler, Stanley. "Seduction Still Works : French--a Language in Decline." Los Angeles Times. March 1, 1986. Retrieved on May 18, 2013.
  8. 1 2 3 Maamri, Malika Rebai. "The Syndrome of the French Language in Algeria." (Archive) International Journal of Arts and Sciences. 3(3): 77 - 89 (2009) CD-ROM. ISSN 1944-6934 p. 10 of 13
  9. "Citizen Engagement and Public Services in the Arab World: The Potential of Social Media" (6th Edition). Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government. June 2014. p. 31 Retrieved on June 28, 2016.
  10. 1 2 3 "ALGERIA Language & Toponymy How politically driven language policies have impeded toponymic progress." (Archive) Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use. p. 2. Retrieved on 12 March 2013. "Yet Arabic is rarely heard in Kabylie, where Berber and French are spoken"
  11. "ALGERIA Language & Toponymy How politically driven language policies have impeded toponymic progress." (Archive) Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use. p. 7. Retrieved on 12 March 2013.
  12. Cohn, Martin Regg. "Algeria's other 'civil war' - on the French language." Toronto Star. July 29, 1997. Insight p. A11. Available on LexisNexis.
  13. Leclerc, Jacques (2009-04-05). "Algérie: Situation géographique et démolinguistique". L'aménagement linguistique dans le monde. Université Laval. Retrieved 2010-01-08. "Mais tous les arabophones d'Algérie parlent l'arabe dialectal ou l'arabe dit algérien (ou ses diverses variétés) pour communiquer entre eux. Autrement dit, à l'oral, c'est l'arabe algérien qui sert de langue véhiculaire, mais à l'écrit, c'est l'arabe classique."
  14. "Algeria". Ethnologue. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  15. Benrabah, Mohamed (1 March 2007). "Language-in-Education Planning in Algeria: Historical Development and Current Issues". Language Policy. 6 (2): 227. doi:10.1007/s10993-007-9046-7.
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