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Polarization or Pluralism? Language, Identity, and Attitudes toward American Culture among Algeria’s Youth

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Muslim and Arab identities have long been instrumentalized to forge unifying national and regional identities. The impact of Algeria’s post-colonial Arabization policies that educated people in Standard Arabic (to the exclusion of dialectal Arabic, Berber, or French) on economic cleavages and attitudes has been underexplored. Algeria has been described as polarized, with cultural and religious cleavages between Arabs and Berbers and traditionalists and modernists blamed for the country’s instability. Questions from a 2004 survey of 820 Algerian students allow us to distinguish between maternal language and preference for Standard Arabic or French used in professional settings. We analyze the influence of mother tongue, religiosity, and socioeconomic status on Arabophone or Francophone language orientation and whether there is evidence for the common assumption that Algeria is polarized politically and culturally among the three main language groups. Berber speakers and less religious students are more likely to complete the written survey in French, but socioeconomic status is a more important determinant of language choice. Francophone orientation is associated with more positive attitudes about Western and American culture, suggesting that Arabization has indeed produced a society somewhat polarized between a Francophone elite and a large population of students trained in Standard Arabic who cannot find jobs in the public and private sectors still demanding French skills. The findings point to the utility of using survey research to understand sociolinguistic patterns and including nuanced measures of language distinct from ethnicity and mother tongue in diglossic societies to analyze social cleavages and their relationship to attitudes about politics, culture, and foreign policy. The results also emphasize the need for educational reform, expansion of employment opportunities, and democratization to reduce the potential for conflict among Algerian youth.

Affiliations: 1: a) Portland State University, USA Email: ; 2: b) University of Colorado Denver, USA Email:


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