Wednesday, 18 June 2014

I and Us in Algerian Derja






You might have noticed that in the Algerian language, to conjugate a verb in the first person singular (in the present-future), you prefix it with noon : nften, nro7, n'bghi. This noon is also found in the conjugation of the first person plural verb (in the present-future), with the addition of the plural marker waw: nb'dlo, ntlaqaw, n7ebbo
 
noon is part of what makes "us" and "I". “We”, in Algerian, is grammatically built on part of the identity of "I". “We” is a continuation of “I” grammatically speaking. "I"s are linked by their plurality, the waw plural marker says as much. "We" is a plurality (waw) based on singularities (noon).  In Algerian, “we” is a group of individuals (I) linked by their singular state (noon). "We" is a group tied by their individualities - their differences, not by their similarities.

waw is also used elsewhere in grammar: it expresses the conjunction “and”. It connects.

Let's play a little and look at the construction of "we + verb" again. Could it be that "we + verb" is actually built on the concept of I-and-plural (where I is noon, and waw reveals both a group, a plural, and connects this interruption).
 
Derrida once said he could only reconcile himself with a "we" made of interruptions. J’appelleraisun « nous » disons acceptable un « nous » fait d’interruptions, un« nous » où ceux qui disent « nous » savent que ce sont dessingularités qui entretiennent entre elles un rapport interrompu.” (“I would call a “we” let us say, acceptable, an “us” made of interruptions, an “us” where those who say “we” know that they are singularities who maintain between themselves an interrupted connection”). 

This interruption is found in the Algerian Arabic parsing of a we in action. In Algerian, “I” has not melted into "us", it has not disappeared into the group. It is visible as the presence of noon shows. “We” in the Algerian language is a plural made of interruptions, a set of I's that gather.

But you and I have a question now because we can't help thinking of Arabic grammar. However little of Classical and modern Arabic we know, we are aware that in MSA and in Classical Arabic, the first person plural conjugation is built on noon (naf3al), but the first person singular conjugation is built on alif (asa'al). In Classical Arabic, I and We are separate constructions as far as grammar goes. In Algerian, they are not entirely separate, "I" and "We" are tied by their common prefix. "I" and "we" are bound.

And so, can I exist from the group? Have I ever existed away from us, in the Algerian language?

When I speak to an an Algerian "I" in Algeria, she or he often tells me that she or he feels weighed down by us (les us et les coutumes), by tradition and of wanting to follow it in part while attempting to break away from it in part.
 
One way to break away from "we", is by using another language, or by moving abroad.  Is it because "I" needs another language's conjugation and set of pronouns to break the morphological link?  

In Algerian society, as wide and varied as it is, can individuality exist away from the hold of the group, the “us”?  Grammar would say yes.  Individuality already exists, as we have seen above. Now, much depends on how individuality is defined. Individuality is not a state in which one is unbound, responsibilities come with freedom and that's a link (a waw). Individuality means to be visible, and for this visibility to be accepted and acceptable within and without the group.  I, in Algerian Derja's verbal conjugation, am visible in us, and equally, we are a group made of individualities and singularities, this group does not melt nor break.  In Algerian grammar, the group meets the singular, and let's it be. 

Is this grammatical reality reflected in Algerian society at large? I don't know.

I only know that grammar shows me one possibility: if ours is a system equally balanced between the visibility (the freedom) of the individual, and on these individuals' collective responsibility to a plural group, then the blue print and template for an open, plural and solid society is on our tongues. "We" are a set of interruptions. Like a great life-giving pulse.  


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