New Linguistic Soundings in Tunisia: Diaspora Returnees and the Political Parameters of Language Use
How can one really get involved in any given society without mastery of its language? This seemingly innocuous question, which refers to modes of political participation, sheds light on the cornerstone of political participation for “Tunisians abroad.” Beyond that, it also highlights their alternative relation to the local Tunisian colloquial/vernacular. While this relationship may at times enhance their status as outsiders, it also enables them to shift the goal posts of national borders. Building on this hypothesis, the paper analyses the uses of language by two groups from the diaspora which have risen to power: the diaspora of exiles and the ‘brain-drain’ diaspora. Regarding the former, exclusive socialization for decades in their country of exile has meant they have adopted new languages and use different variants of the Arabic language, which they learn through encounters with militants and other people, from North Africa to the Middle East. This paper argues that this unprecedented situation renders the old binary opposition between secular Francophones and Islamist Arabic speakers more complex. The brain-drain diaspora represents another facet of the power nexus in Tunisia: many of its elements have since “returned” to take over the current technocratic government, and have also developed a different relationship with language, which has impacted upon both the codes of politics and identity codes in Tunisian society.
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