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Bilingualism And Education vs. Identity

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In the original version of Ferguson’s model, ‘bilingualism’ referred to the coexistence of two unrelated languages within one speech community. In more recent literature, this term is used as a psycholinguistic term referring to a speaker’s proficiency in two or more languages. The existence of two languages for a long period of time sets the scene for the language ideology of the society. Spolsky posits that ‘language ideology’ is language policy with the manager left out, what people think should be done (Spolsky 2004). Where people use a language is important in its maintenance. Thus, there are domains for language such as home, workplace, religious worship places, schools, government offices, etc. It makes sense for language to be sustained repetitively in these domains.

In The Maghreb case, bilingualism refers to the coexistence of Arabic and French (and to some degree of Arabic and Berber/Tamazight). There are distinct patterns of code mixing and borrowing between Arabic and French. The present linguistic situation in the Maghreb is a product of its roots in the colonial period, in which the French language became indissolubly connected with the region. Unlike British colonial policy, the French authorities aimed at the assimilation and integration of the indigenous population. The official point of view was that France did not colonise other countries in order to exploit them, but in order to bring them French civilisation.

Independence and Arabicisation in the Maghreb

During the colonial period, some half-hearted efforts had been made by the colonial administration to introduce bilingual education for Arabic-speaking children, but in the few schools that provided this system Arabic was relegated to the position of an extracurricular curiosity.

After independence, French remained the language of instruction for ‘important’ subjects, such as mathematics and physics. Arabic on the other hand was used in classes on literature and religion.

Syria and French colonisation

Islamic education had a very long history in the region, focusing on rote learning; is a memorization technique based on repetition. Modern education had taken a variety of forms in the Ottoman Empire and often followed the flow of political events. Syria was conquered by France after the World War and a Mandate was declared by the League of Nations. ‘By 1920, the French had moved east from Lebanon and crushed an attempt by a coalition of Syrians under the Arabian Prince Faisal. It cannot be said that the French moved quickly on education though key administrative steps were taken to analyse the situation and allocate funding.” It is likely that alongside the administrators’ French tradition for strongly grasping social situations, there was a great deal of international pressure as well.

Article 6 of the Mandate stressed “respect for the personal status of the various peoples and for their religious interests”. Seeing that religious teachings were embedded into the educational system, this also applies to respecting and keeping the status of the language associated with the religious teachings. Article 8 was similar in the sense that it stated “encourage public instruction, which shall be given through the medium of the native languages in use in the territory”. Alongside were the demands of international education and their parent nations. As Syrian and Lebanese elites grew frustrated by French attempts in regards to education as well, tensions rose that lead to the revolution of 1925. Highly educated Syrians would go on to take up prominent roles in organising the Great Syrian Revolt.

The Ottoman experience had taught the new French rulers that purveyors of dissent tended to be the highly educated, as is the case for Morocco as well. Even prior to the introduction of the French Mandate, elites in the Arab domains had recognised the importance of educational access for political coherence. In both the Maghreb and the Syria-Lebanon case, the French authorities made selective use of their funding as an essential instrument in tying elites via improvised education. “ Direct pensions paid to elite for “political reasons” were used alongside the stipends for educational establishments that were paid through the Instruction Publique.

An example of the method of French language implementation was making sure that there were enough French teachers. In the city of Hama, Instruction Publique decision makers encouraged the funding and refurbishing of the Greek-Orthodox school, singled out because of its language was French. Even schools in the Haran mountains had at least one French teacher per village classroom. Relating back to Article 8 of the Mandate that mentions the encouragement of public institutions, French rulers went against this when they strived for financial promotion of schools in the form of the establishment of “great centres of propaganda” (Robinson, 1959).

In contrast to the Maghreb case, in some ways was more subtle. Education in territories under French Mandate based on religion

For many generations, the territory was governed by the Turks who followed a policy of “divide and rule”. This was done through differentiating between the religious beliefs of the people. Western government interfered under the pretext of protecting the Christian minorities and accentuated the hostility and division among the various religious sects. The Muslim schools usually receive support from an endowment known as wakf, a form of endowment for religious purposes.

The faculty of Medicine includes a medical course and schools of pharmacy, dentistry, and midwifery. Its program is patterned on the official French Government program. The degree granted at the end of the medical course proper is a French State degree permitting the holder to practice the medical profession in France.

“There is an excessive emphasis on foreign language in both the program of the elementary and secondary schools. In Lebanon, half of the elementary school program is taught in French and half in Arabic.” Through this excessive emphasis on foreign language, elementary education is rendered superficial and limited since they are required to solve problems in arithmetic in French, to grasp some of the principles in French – rather than in their native and mother tongue. This is rather even more difficult due to the added task of comprehending them in a foreign language. The ability to speak and read a foreign tongue is taken as the main criterion for judging success in the elementary school period. This becomes even more crucial and essentially required in secondary school in order to perform well in the majority of offered courses. The examinations for the Baccalaureate demand an equal knowledge of two languages and literature – the Arabic and the French. The standards of examinations are intense and extremely demanding. This had rendered the Syrian and Lebanese Baccalaureate diploma rather more difficult to obtain than the French one. Since in France, the equal knowledge on subjects in two languages is not as stressed as it is in these Arab countries.

Position of French vs. English in regards to Arabic in Lebanon

Until today, French-language schools or schools that follow the French curriculum still dominate over schools teaching mainly in English or following the British or American curricula. However, French is losing ground since English is considered more globally useful language than both Arabic and French. Many schools offer good instruction in Arabic, English, and French, and trilingual competence is valued. The educational system in Lebanon is thus in most ways dominated by schools in which the main language of instruction is not Arabic, or schools that follow non-Lebanese curricula. Many Lebanese pupils then are encouraged to follow two intense curricula.

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Position of French vs. English in regards to Arabic in Morocco

Due to the nature of which French is tied to the Maghreb both culturally and economically, the people are more at ease with utilizing French than English. Although English is used more and more in the global sense, French has not lost its magnitude in importance in countries like Algeria and Morocco. The education of the population also explains why these countries at large still are considered Francophone.

Curricula for History and its tie to Identity

School choice is related to class, religious affiliation, and language preferences. The school landscape is quite complex, ranging from very expensive non-religious international English-medium schools to French government-supported schools, to foreign schools with a non-Lebanese Christian element, and Lebanese schools run by religious establishments of all kinds. The wealthy class often cuts across religious affiliation, and the reverse is generally true for the poor. In an educational system as such, students typically socialize with ones from a similar background.

During an educational conference in 2013, a principal from a well-known Islamic educational philanthropic voiced concern over how various Lebanese groups viewed each other (Oruc, 2019). She claimed that Lebanese diversity was not regarded as an asset in education or in society. This reflects the identity factor in the country, where many see the French language as belonging to their culture, and others completely reject that and demand the revival of only Arabic.

Language attitudes

The civil war in Lebanon has rearranged the linguistic market, especially in the media. One of its effects may be a greater public presence of dialect Arabic.

The linguistic situation in North Africa has changed. During the colonial period, only a very small proportion of the people received an education in a school system which was based entirely on French. As a result, this elite became bilingual in French and in the vernacular, and in some cases, depending on the situation at home and the degree of schooling, French even became their dominant language.

Versteegh offers more insight into the post-colonial bilingual society and their view on the bilingual situation of the region. Bentahila’s 1983 study delved into a study of the attitudes towards both Standard Arabic and French. He observed that French was generally regarded more favorably than Arabic, provided that it was of “high quality”. Ones that spoke French and the French people overall were perceived as sophisticated and educated, whereas the North Africans who spoke their native tongue were rated higher on elements such as sociability and friendliness. I think that this comes with the association of a mother tongue to a feeling of closeness to home and the identity of home.

Polyglotism vs Bilingualism

A multilingual person is a person who learned his languages due to some objective external reasons (family, work, etc.). For example, he or she was raised by parents who are native speakers of different languages. Or, he or she moved to a different country for work or study reasons, and had to learn the language of that country. Or, he or she was born and lives in a country where the official language differs from his or her mother tongue. In other words, a multilingual person learns languages out of necessity. This fundamentally applies to the linguistic scene in Morocco, where majority of the multilingual Moroccans utilize their language skills in order to succeed in their education and careers later on. Due to the importance of French in society nowadays, it is nested in system with Arabic as well.

A polyglot learns his languages out of his love of languages, interest in different cultures, or intellectual curiosity. In other words, his or her knowledge of languages is not necessitated by external reasons. A polyglot may apply his knowledge of languages to earning an episodic income or even may choose a career in language teaching or become a translator, interpreter, researcher, etc., but those money-earning activities are mere consequences of his or her initial interest in languages. The polyglot Lebanese sees French and Arabic as true components of a unique Lebanese identity and cherishes both.

Polyglotism is usually not a common phenomenon to occur in a given society. It arises from peaceful or violent outside political intervention, bringing with it a new language that is eventually used by the common people (Baladi, 2018). Due to the melange of different languages in Lebanon, in addition to the incredibly globalized and cosmopolitan world we live in, one can imagine the magnitude of the “identity crisis” taking place today in this Middle Eastern country. Between its Arab heritage and unquestionable openness to Western influence, the Lebanese are torn between Western and Oriental identification. The discourse revolving around whether to embrace multiculturalism and Western traditions (when it comes to culture and language) or to celebrate Pan-Arabism and solely identify with Arab culture is heavily rotated between people.

Difference between how the French approached ingraining the language

  • In morocco – economically and through education
  • In Lebanon – helped a lot through religion

The French were adamant to further their influence in Mount Lebanon due to their favorable relationship with the Maronites, giving them greater power in the Levant as well as the opportunity to spread their language and culture overseas (Baladi, 2018).

Missionary education not only led to greater Western influence in Lebanon, but also to positive relations and mutual understanding between the Lebanese, the French and the British in terms of language, culture, religion and ideals. These schools were viewed very favorably by the Lebanese and eventually came to dominate the educational sphere in metropolitan Lebanon, notably in the capital Beirut (Baladi, 2018).

In partnership with Lebanese Arabic, bilingualism developed at all levels of society from educational to governmental institutions. Although many remained monolingual or preferred another language to French for their bilingualism, Arabic-French bilingualism was by far the most prevalent in 20th century Lebanon. This form of bilingualism grew to be extremely ingrained in the lives of the Lebanese; it is so prevalent that “it surprises neither the one who talks nor his or her interlocutor.” (Baladi, 2018)

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Bilingualism And Education vs. Identity. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from
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