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Attrition and maintenance of the Berber language in Tunisia
journal contributionposted on 2011-01-01, 00:00 authored by Zouhir GabsiZouhir Gabsi
In this article, I examine the situation of Tunisian Berber from a linguistic and sociolinguistic perspective. The prolonged institutional marginalization of this language, the lack to date of a comprehensive documentation, and the passive attitude of the speakers themselves are contributing factors to its current decline. Present predictions as to its immediate extinction are alarming. However, conclusions drawn in other studies are not adequately supported and evidence from data recently collected in southern Tunisia partially refutes the claim that the decline of Tunisian Berber is irreversible. Even though attrition is evident in borrowing en masse from Arabic, grammatical evidence shows little structural change. After many years of neglect, efforts to document fully the remaining vernaculars are a positive step towards the revival of this variety of Berber. In this article I have three goals. First, to give an assessment of the problems and the challenges facing Tunisian Berber. Second, to describe the extent of attrition of this language based on field-collected data and, third, to suggest some directions for future studies of Tunisian Berber and strategies to stimulate its revival. Complete oral narratives, the first to be published, will be appended to the text in order to allow the linguistic community access to materials in its language.