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Writing ‘Shelha’ in New Media: Emergent Non-Arabic Literacy in Southwestern Algeria

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Chapter Summary

Southwestern Algeria is a multilingual region, in which the primary language of literacy is overwhelmingly, and has long been, Standard Arabic. The dominant spoken language of southwestern Algeria is Maghrebi Arabic; Hassaniya Arabic is also widely spoken around Tindouf. All of these non-Arabic languages (with the partial exception of Tamasheq) are indifferently termed šelha 'Shelha'. The use of Shelha online can be observed on a number of public forums, sites where the readers need not necessarily know the writer. While the phonological system of regional Berber and Songhay languages overlaps substantially with Arabic, a number of phonemes have no clear Standard Arabic counterpart, forcing the adoption of orthographic strategies not taught in school. The corpus examined suggests that 'Ajami' writing is a natural side effect of Arabic literacy, which can show significant homogeneity across individuals and languages without the practice itself ever having been institutionally taught.

Keywords: 'Ajami' writing; non-Arabic literacy; orthographic strategies; Shelha; Southwestern Algeria



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