FOR most countries, language is as simple as ABC. Not Algeria. Its kindergartens are a linguistic morass. The republic’s official language is standard Arabic, but few children grow up speaking it, so they often feel lost on their first day of school. Berber, the tongue of perhaps a quarter of Algerians, was officially recognised last year—but no one can agree on which of its six dialects to teach. Algeria’s French-speaking elite prefer their old masters’ lingo. The education minister, Nouria Benghebrit, advocates the introduction of a fourth language: Darija, which fuses the other three and is the mother tongue of most Algerians. An increasing number of Anglophiles want to wipe the slate clean with English.
The choice goes to the heart of Algeria’s sense of identity. The French banned Arabic at primary school when the country was theirs, dismissing it as a backward language. After independence in 1962, nationalists pushed Arabisation to undo 132 years of French indoctrination….