▸Language diversity, pluricentricity, and iconisation in North Africa and its diaspora

Keynote by Prof. Dr Hab. Mena B. LAFKIOUI (École des hautes études en sciences sociales – CNRS/LIER-FYT, France)


The present paper addresses how the Amazigh languages (aka Berber languages, Afroasiatic phylum) form an essential aspect of the Amazigh group identity, constructed in opposition to state hegemony, whether in North Africa or in the diaspora. Regardless of the geographical, ethnic, social, historical, and political diversity of the Imazighen (i.e., peoples of Amazigh descent) and their claim, their recent unified ideological movement has engendered the appearance of a fresh postcolonial native ethnic group, the pan-Amazigh or simply the Amazigh, which is supported by a novel trans-national pan-Amazigh collective identity, widely promoted by means of the new media. Pan-Amazigh and local Amazigh identities do not usually enter into competition with each other; they rather empower each other. Pan-Amazigh identity provides the local identities with a powerful ideological instrument against hegemonic forces, i.e., Western social and economic domination and Arab-Islamic cultural domination. Local Amazigh identities, instead, endow this huge virtual apparatus which is pan-Amazighness with cultural and historical content, of importance for its social and political legitimation. Much of the Amazigh claim is sustained by Tamazight (i.e., the Amazigh language family) and its ancient and indigenous writing system Tifinagh, which functions as symbolic markers – icons – of the Amazigh group identity (Lafkioui 2013, 2022a, 2022b).

Furthermore, I will demonstrate that the safeguarding and renewal of the Amazigh languages (i.e., Tamazight) is associated with multilingualism, wherein various pluricentric languages such as Arabic, French, and Spanish play a pivotal role in North Africa. These latter languages, together with so many others in the various diasporic contexts wherein the Amazigh-speaking people live (e.g., Dutch, German, English), not only form competing sociolinguistic resources within their multilingual language repertoires, but also offer certain metalinguistic tools enabling the renewal of the various writing systems of the Amazigh languages, their grammars, dictionaries, and even their literary canons (Lafkioui 2002a, 2022b). Interestingly, the pluricentricity of Tamazight is millennia old, as it has been the official language of various rules in the history of North Africa, even though its current postcolonial nation-states officially regard Tamazight as “one” language with no literacy tradition and no dominant status. Since the recent officialization of Tamazight in Morocco and in Algeria, the respective governments of these countries and their various stakeholders are trying to develop new language systems for Tamazight through drastic language planning and standardization measures in accordance with local political agendas, which often have little in common with the sociocultural, political, and economic needs of the Imazighen. Even the writing systems that are officially being developed in these two countries do not correspond. A Tifinagh-based system has been adopted in Morocco, although various other non-official systems are used concurrently, whereas a Latin-based notation has officially been approved in Algeria.       

In addition, I will deal with how the Internet as an instrument of globalisation allows North African interactants to complete functions of their linguistic resources (relating to pluricentric languages) trans-locally and, accordingly, how it repositions these functions in the interactive (substantial and cognitive) space (Lafkioui 2008, Lafkioui 2011, Lafkioui 2013). I will also discuss from a user-based interactionist perspective the particular relationship between linguistic diversity, language representations, and ethnic identity in the context of migration. Light will be shed on the nature and function(s) of multilingualism in the interethnic cultural creations of youngsters with North African roots and on the way they jointly create language and cultural norms and accommodations (Lafkioui 2019, 2021). Accordingly, these multilingual speech practices instantiate what is called “vernacular globalisation” (Appadurai 1996: 10; Blommaert 2010: 75). Therefore, language is not only a way of performing culture but is fundamentally performative of culture. It is part of the interactive activities composing both traditional and contemporary culture, which is dialogically and constantly contextualised and recontextualised as soon as one interacts.


Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity At Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Blommaert, Jan. 2010. The Sociolinguistics of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lafkioui Mena B., 2008 – Reconstructing Orality on Amazigh Websites, in Lafkioui Mena B & Merolla Daniela (eds.), Oralité et nouvelles dimensions de l’oralité. Intersections théoriques et comparaisons des matériaux dans les études africaines, Paris, Publications Langues O’, 111-125.

Lafkioui Mena B., 2011 – Interactions digitales et construction identitaire sur les sites Web berbères, Études et Documents Berbères, 29-30 : 233-253.

Lafkioui Mena B., 2013 – Multilingualism, Multimodality, and Identity Construction on French-Based Amazigh (Berber) Websites, Revue Française de Linguistique Appliquée, 18/2 : 135-151.

Lafkioui Mena B. 2019. Le français face à la « super-diversité » dans la ville métropole de Gand. In: F. Gadet (ed.), Les Métropoles francophones européennes, Paris: Garnier,

Lafkioui Mena B. 2021. Codeswitching and artistic performance among multilingual minorities in Flanders, Belgian Journal of Linguistics, 35 (1), Special “Issue Current Perspectives in Codeswitching”, E. Vanden Wyngaerd, R. Enghels, M. B. Lafkioui and M. Steffens (eds.), 34-50.

Lafkioui Mena B. 2022a. Tamazight. Taal, macht en identiteit. ZemZem – Tijdschrift over het Midden-Oosten, Noord-Afrika en islam, 1: 81-89.

Lafkioui Mena B. 2022b. Tamazight. A multi-millennial journey of a language family and its cultural practices. Paper presented at the International Conference Las lenguas y las literaturas de Africa del Norte. Una aprocximacion desde la filologia y la antropologia. 26-29/04/2022, Instituto de investigaciones y de senderos filológico – Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

Prof. Dr Mena B. Lafkioui is both Full Professor (Directeur d’études) at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris, where she holds the Chair of Amazigh linguistics, and Research Director (Directeur de recherche) at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique – LIER-FYT (UMR8065). Her research interests and projects involve linguistics, sociolinguistics, geolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, and everything concerning North Africa and the Amazigh languages and cultures. Her scientific record shows long and extended experience in the supervision of interdisciplinary research over a broad range of topics, as well as successful international research cooperation. She has a longstanding and international teaching record covering various fields of humanities. Her numerous publications include the Atlas linguistique des variétés berbères du Rif (Köppe, 2007), which is a milestone in geolinguistics and the first linguistic Atlas of Rif Tamazight. Recognition of her scientific excellence and her founding and reshaping scientific contributions to Tamazight languages and cultures is also reflected in the numerous prestigious international scientific grants and invitations she has received worldwide. It is also reflected in her election as Academician of the highly esteemed Accademia Ambrosiana (Milan), where she is founding member of Classe di Studi africani of and its section Tamazight. Another notable academic distinction that bears witness to the outstanding quality of her scientific and collective leadership is her election as Academician of the Academia Europaea, one of the most prominent scientific institutions in the world.

For CV and publication list, see: https://menablafkioui.wordpress.com/