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Heritage language maintenance among the berbers of Zrawa (southern Tunisia). An exploratory study

par Mohamed Elhedi Bouhdima
Faculté des Lettres, Arts et Humanités de Manouba, Tunisia - Mastère de recherche en linguistique anglaise 2017

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Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research, and Technology

University of Manouba

Faculty of Letters, Arts, and Humanities, Manouba

Heritage Language Maintenance

among the Berbers of Zrawa

(Southern Tunisia): An Exploratory


Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Master's
Degree in English Linguistics

Student: Mohamed Elhedi Bouhdima Supervisor: Dr. Faiza Derbel




To my mother and father.
To my brothers and sisters.
To my friends.
To all those who love me and believe in me.



I am grateful to my advisor, Dr. Faiza Derbel, for her direction, support, and valuable comments.

I would like to thank all the participants who asked other individuals to take part in the study.

I would like to thank my parents, brothers, and sisters for their endless love, encouragement, and support.

I would like to thank all my friends for their encouragement, support, and belief in me.



The purpose of this study is to investigate the maintenance of Amazigh (Berber) language among the Imazighen (Berbers) of Zrawa, a village in the south-east of Tunisia. The data for the present study were collected during the month of February 2017 using the mixed methods approach. A questionnaire, semi-structured interview, and participant observation were used to collect data. The questionnaire was initially administered to 53 Imazighen from various age groups, various occupations, and both genders. Subsequently, 11 were interviewed after filling out the questionnaire in order to generate in-depth data concerning certain topics included in the questionnaire and to collect data about topics which were not investigated in that questionnaire. The participant observation took place during ten visits to Zrawa, with each visit taking approximately eight hours. The reason behind the use of participant observation was to gather data about the geographic concentration of the Zrawa Amazigh community, including the language used within the community. Results from the study indicate that the factors contributing to AL maintenance in Zrawa are: (a) the geographic concentration of the Amazigh community, (b) the essential role of Amazigh families, (c) Imazighen's positive attitudes towards the Amazigh language, and (d) the perceived close relationship between Amazigh language and identity.


Table of Contents

Dedication i

Acknowledgements ii

Abstract iii

Table of Contents iv

List of Figures viii

List of Abbreviations ix

Chapter One: Introduction 1

1.0. Introduction 1

1.1. Background to the study 1

1.2. Context of the study 4

1.3. Rationale and objectives of the study 8

1.4. Significance of the study 8

1.5. Design of the study 9

1.6. Overview of the study 9

Chapter Two: Literature Review... 11

2.0. Introduction 11

2.1. The Importance of Language Maintenance 11

2.2. Language maintenance research 12

2.3. Factors contributing to LM 15

2.3.1. Geographic concentration of speakers 15

2.3.2. Family . 16

2.3.3. Language attitudes of speakers 18

2.3.4. Aspects of the language-identity relationship... 20

2.3.5. Government policy 22

2.3.6. Education 23


2.3.7. Religion 24

2.3.8. Media 24

2.3.9. Socio-cultural organizations 25

2.3.10. Urban-rural nature of setting... 26

2.4. Factors facilitating LS 27

2.4.1. Family . 27

2.4.2. Prestige 28

2.4.3. Length of residence 29

2.4.4. Access . 29

2.4.5. Employment 29

2.4.6. Migration 31

2.4.7. Government policy 31

2.4.8. Media .. 32

2.4.9. Education 32

2.5. Conclusion 33

Chapter Three: Methodology 35

3.0. Introduction 35

3.1. The methodological approach for the study 35

3.2. Description of participants 36

3.2.1. Sampling methods 37

3.2.2. Characteristics of the participants 38

3.3. Description of data collection instruments 38

3.3.1. Participant observation 38

3.3.2. The questionnaire 38

3.3.3. The semi-structured interview 39

vi Question type 39 Question topics 39

3.4. Data collection procedures 40

3.4.1. The participant observation 40

3.4.2. The questionnaire 40

3.4.3. The semi-structured interview 40

3.5. Data analysis techniques 41

3.5.1. Analysis of qualitative data 41

3.5.2. Analysis of quantitative data 42

3.6. Conclusion 42

Chapter Four: Results and Discussion 43

4.0. Introduction 43

4.1. Role of the geographic concentration of Zrawa Amazigh community 43

4.2. Role of Zrawa Amazigh families 49

4.3. Role of positive attitudes towards AL 57

4.4. Role of the perceived link between Amazigh language and identity 63

4.5. Conclusion 67

Chapter Five: Conclusion 69

5.0. Introduction 69

5.1. Summary of major findings 69

5.1.1. Role of the geographic concentration of Zrawa Amazigh community 69

5.1.2. Role of Zrawa Amazigh families 69

5.1.3. Role of positive attitudes towards AL 69

5.1.4. Role of the perceived link between Amazigh language and identity... 70

5.2. Implications for the study 70

5.3. Contributions of the study 71


5.4. Limitations of the study 71

5.5. Recommendations for further research 72

References 73

Appendices 81

Appendix A. The English version of the questionnaire 81

Appendix B. The Arabic version of the questionnaire 83

Appendix C. General characteristics of male participants 85

Appendix D. General characteristics of female participants 86

Appendix E. The interview questions 87

Appendix F. Details about the interviews 88

Appendix G. Transcription symbols 89

Appendix H. A translated transcript of the interview with Mr. Alaa 90

Appendix I. Map of the Amazigh-speech zones in Tunisia based on Pencheon (1968) 94

Appendix J. Map of the Amazigh-speech zones in Tunisia based on Maamouri (1983) 95

Appendix K. Location of Zrawa in Gabes (Tunisia) 96


List of Figures

Figure 4. 1: Map of (New) Zrawa 43

Figure 4. 2: Results of statement 7 on speech accommodation 47

Figure 4. 3: Results of statements 1, 2, 3, and 4 on language attitudes 58

Figure 4. 4: Results of statements 4 and 5 on the link between Amazigh language and

identity 63
Figure 4. 5: Results of question 3 about the link between Amazigh language and

identity 66


List of Abbreviations

AL: Amazigh Language HL: Heritage Language LM: Language Maintenance LS: Language Shift

TA: Tunisian Arabic


Chapter One: Introduction

1.0. Introduction

This chapter is an introduction to the study. It starts by presenting the background, the setting and the rationale of the study. It also highlights the significance of the study. Besides, it describes the design of the study. The chapter ends by providing an overview of the study. 1.1. Background to the Study

Maamouri (1983a, pp. 11-19) states that the linguistic situation of post-colonial Tunisia is complex and argues that six languages are currently used in Tunisia: French, French-Arabic, and four varieties of Arabic: (a) Classical Arabic, which is the «only pure form of the language» (p. 15); (b) Modern Standard Arabic, which is less formal than Classical Arabic;

(c) Tunisian Arabic; and (d) Educated Arabic, which is «a form of `simplified Modern Standard Arabic (arabiya mubassata) and a form of `elevated' Tunisian Arabic (darija muhathaba) or both at the same time» (p.17). French is used in education whereas French- Arabic is used by students in settings other than the classroom and by government officials, members of the professions, and other administrators, in informal situations. As to Classical Arabic, it is used in Qur'an recitations, prayers, religious sermons and talk, and literary creation and criticism. Modern Standard Arabic is used in mass media, political speeches, modern plays, novels, literary magazines and lecture, and primary and secondary schools. As for Educated Arabic, it is mainly spoken by educated Tunisians and used in politics. Tunisian Arabic (TA) is the dominant language in the country. It is less formal than Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic.

As to the Amazigh language (AL), Maamouri (1983a, p. 14) states that it is a marginalized minority language in Tunisia. This implies that it has a number of characteristics. Indeed, Simpson (2001, pp. 579-580) lists 13 characteristics of a minority language. In this context, I will mention only four which, I think, are the most relevant to the plight of AL in Tunisia.



First, a minority language lives in the shadow of a culturally predominant language. Actually, it can be concluded from the use of Arabic in almost all settings that AL lives in the shadow of Arabic. Second, a minority language is not used in formal settings such as administration, education, and mass media; but rather, confined to such domains as the home. As mentioned above, Arabic, but not AL, is used in key domains such as education, politics, mass media, and religion. However, as Maamouri (1983a, p. 14) states, in the Tunisian Amazigh villages, AL is the only language used within Amazigh families. Third, bilingualism is common among the speakers of a minority language. At least, this is the case of the Amazigh-speaking inhabitants of Zrawa, the focus of the actual study (see sections 1.2 and 4.1). Finally, a minority language may have no standardized form. As Ennaji (2005, p. 73) acknowledges, AL is neither standardized nor codified. In a nutshell, AL is neither the majority nor the official language of Tunisia. Indeed, as aforementioned, TA is the dominant language whereas the official language, as Maamouri (1983b, p. 147) acknowledges, is Modern Standard Arabic.

It appears that not being the official or majority language of the country gives AL the aspect of a heritage language. As Cummins (2001) asserts, «in a general sense, the term heritage languages refers to languages other than the official or majority languages of a country» (p.619). Explaining the meaning of the term «heritage languages», Cummins (200,

p. 619) states that it is meant to acknowledge that these languages constitute important aspects of the heritage of individual children and communities and are worthy of financial support and recognition by the wider society. This may be relevant to AL. Indeed, Ennaji (2005, p. 74) states that AL is a basic component of Moroccan and North African culture. Ennaji (2005, p. 76) also states that AL is one of the oldest African languages in the sense that it is the mother tongue of the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa. In a similar vein, Maamouri (1983a, p. 14) acknowledges that AL is the indigenous language of Tunisia.

Taking together the suggestion that AL is a heritage is a heritage, the acknowledgement that AL is the indigenous language of Tunisia, and the fact that the languages spoken by Amerindians, who are the indigenous people of the United States of America, are identified by Fishman (2001, pp. 83-83) as indigenous heritage language leads to the deduction that AL is an indigenous heritage language. Finally, it is worth noting that heritage languages have been referred to using different terms. As Cummins (2001, p. 619) states, the terms «ancestral», «ethnic», «immigrant», «international», «minority», «non-official», «third» (after English and French), «world», «community languages», and «mother tongue teaching» have all been used in different times and in different countries to refer to heritage languages.

Returning to the plight of AL in Tunisia, the regression of this language has been due to a number of factors. As Maamouri (1983a, p.14) states, AL has gradually regressed due to the rapid development of the educational system and the general spread of modern mass media. For Pencheon (1983, pp. 31-32), the regression of AL in Tunisia is attributed to the following factors. First, the geographic dispersal of Amazigh villages and their being surrounded by Arabic-speaking communities have fostered the use of Arabic in interaction with the outside world, including commerce and other transactions. Second, the lack of employment opportunities in the Amazigh villages forces men to migrate to cities where Arabic is the dominant language, leaving behind their families. Living in such urban areas influences the status of AL in the sense that these men end up preferring the use of Arabic in all circumstances which allow its. Third, the liberation of women in the aftermath of the independence has given all Amazigh girls access to education in Arabic. This has resulted in the disappearance of monolingualism among these girls. Finally, there is a lack of solidarity between Amazigh villages such as between Douiret and Chenini and between Tamazret and Taoujout despite their geographical proximity.



The regression of AL in Tunisia is indicated by the decrease in the number of Amazigh villages from 12 in 1968 (see Appendix I) to nine in 1983 (see Appendix J). Indeed, Pencheon (1968) identifies 12 villages where Amazigh is still spoken. Specifically, in Sened, Sakkiet, and Majoura, east of Gafsa, only the elderly people can speak the language. In contrast, Tamazret, Taoujout, and Zrawa, west of Matmata, are still entirely Amazighophone. Moreover, in Djerba only Guellala is still completely Amazighophone whereas one third of Ajim and less than half of Sedouikech are Amazighophone and some 200 or 300 people in El-Mai seem to speak Amazigh. In Tataouine, Douiret and Chenini are still entirely Amazighophone. However, Maamouri (1983a, p. 14) asserts that AL is geographically confined to the villages of Zrawa, Tamazret, Taoujout, Guellala, Ajim, Sedouikech, El-Mai, Chenini, and Douiret. Maamouri (1983a, p. 14) also asserts that traces of AL have completely disappeared from the area of Sened, Majoura, and Sakkiet and reports that AL is occasionally spoken in Tunis and other big cities by the doughnut vendors (ftayriyya), central market porters, and newspaper vendors who had come from different Amazigh villages in search for work. According to a more recent publication (Gabsi, 2003), the Tunisian areas where AL is still spoken today are: Douiret, Chenini, Zrawa, Tamazret, and Taoujout, Guellala, Ajim, Sedouikech, and El-Mai.

As has been just mentioned, Amazigh is still spoken today in many villages such as Zrawa, the focus of this study. The use of AL in Zrawa raises interest in investigating what factors have contributed to AL maintenance. The following section provides details about the village itself and its inhabitants.

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