I woke up this morning struck with the, finally lucid, realisation that attempting to learn Derja or Kabyle for a Francophone zmigré over 18 is pointless. In a country where you would be justified to think the last thing needed is another French speaker, it turns out that irrationality, economics, and the neighbourhood's geopolitics will largely forgive you, if not encourage you, to simply come settle, and remain, on the strength of that ability alone: speaking French.
When do we need to learn a language, or rather, when does a language become necessary to learn? The earliest evidence of language writing found so far shows it is economics that motivated writing, not the dire need to record love songs, although that came later. Economics is probably the preponderant factor that decides and motivates learning a language, and ultimately keeping up with it. Learning a language for the love of it, like setting poems in clay or stone, comes after. But the economics of panegyrics should not escape us.
Since everything in Algeria works pretty much in the negation of how everything works elsewhere, plus it slants, the question as regards language learning shouldn't be: when does it become necessary to learn Derja, Kabyle, Tachaouit, or Tamasheq. We should ask: are they necessary to function here outside of a working world whose full attention is turned north, towards the centre of the universe, Paris?
Many economic migrants like me, but much more in tune with what the country will indulge, already worked out that coming into Algeria via the gap colonisation has left open, entering DZ reality via the French language is much more profitable than slowing the machine, and time-warping into the seemingly distorted world that Algerians' tongues unveil. Tongues here are found at their most active in the streets and who wants to spend much time there? Most of us are happy to sip coffee on the streets but that's as far as most northern economic immigrants are willing to go, even to snear at hittists. No, the chnawa economic immigrant wants to have a blast here, who could blame our race for that, and you don't have a blast in Algerian streets, not even in a metaphor. The real world, the world of pay cheques, even from beyond DZ borders, shows that it is with French one has better prospects, the best posts are those where the requirements for recruitment are to lack skills, carry a EU/USA passport and speak French.
So, what am I doing attempting to learn economically unprofitable languages at such an advanced age where brain activity responds much better to a bank balance stimuli than sentimentally seeking knowledge?
There are as many secondary motivations than there are human beings I guess. For an economic immigrant from the #firstworld, coming to a place like Algeria initially means moving over to a better financial situation. That's the motivation to come. The motivation to stay is a fabulously better financial situation, as in the fabulous of fables, the sort of opportunities you'd never get elsewhere. After that comes the wishywashy motives: reconnecting with one's heritage, chilling in oases like spas, mulling over God's eccentricities sitting on dunes watching the sun go down, or is it it the sun go up...
My secondary motives for learning Derja and Kabyle, rooted in the whims of childhood and in teenageromantics, are slowly moving into third place. My frustration, reflected in my interlocutors' eyes – or is it their amusement at my frustration that shows – is too strong. A certain sentimentality over “origins” which led me to conceive that communicating in Derja or Kabyle is vital to figure out where I live, and where I'll end up living, has subsided. To be unfair: most (of us) are busy living the past in the present and vice versing it. Past that, no one can predict the future in Algeria, not even super mega pro specialists who have successfully turned the issuing of sociopolitical prophecies into paid employment. Chawafas everywhere.
In a year and a half, only two people have voicefully ordered me (a kind of encouragement here) to hang in there and not speak like the Tchichi: a Taxieur in Bab El Oued and my gran. Two unlikely allies who've never met whose advice I am about to bin. The door to the seemingly distorted world isn't the one marked language because the seemingly distorted world has no doors.