Date of Degree

5-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Linguistics

Advisor

Cecelia Cutler

Committee Members

Michael Newman

Miki Makihara

Lotfi Sayahi

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures

Keywords

Tunisian Tamazight language, identity, Facebook, counter-erasure, ideology, indigenous language revitalization

Abstract

This dissertation examines the online discourses and semiotic resources employed by the Tunisian Amazigh community in their language and identity revitalization efforts on Facebook in wake of the 2011 Tunisian Revolution. Drawing on insights from discourse-centered online ethnography (Androutsopoulos, 2008), the frameworks of language iconization, fractal recursivity, and erasure (Irvine and Gal, 2000), and the tactics of intersubjectvity proposed by Bucholtz and Hall (2004), I argue that Tunisian Imazighen (sing. Amazigh) use Facebook to challenge hegemonic language ideologies that erase Tamazight. I propose the notion of counter-erasure as an ideological process used by Amazigh activists to contest Arabo-Islamic ideology, pan-Arabism, and Arabicization policies that pushed Tunisian Tamazight to a status of endangerment. Counter-erasure is also a means to reproduce an oppositional-ideological language discourse that corresponds to the hegemonic discourses of linguistic and cultural exclusiveness.

The analysis is based on longitudinal observations of the Facebook accounts of nine Tunisian Amazigh activists collected between 2016 and 2018, and is supplemented by 23 interviews and an online quantitative language survey among Tunisians. The analysis shows how discourse, multimodality, performativity, multilingualism, and multi-orthography are used semiotically to construct Amazigh identity and to assert the legitimacy and vitality of Tamazight. By examining these semiotic practices, this dissertation demonstrates how computer-mediated discourse (CMD) on Facebook provides a space for language ideologies to be disputed, reproduced and reversed - even in the face of very low rates of language proficiency and the endangered status of the language.

The dissertation adds to an existing body of research on the sociolinguistics of digital communication with emphasis on the impact of Facebook interactions on language revitalization (Paricio-Martín & Martínez-Cortés, 2010), language activism (Feliciano-Santos 2011, Davis 2013), identity construction (Georgalou 2015), bi/multilingualism (Androutsopoulos 2008, 2013; Cutler & Røyneland 2018), and minority languages (Jones & Uribe-Jongbloed, 2013). Facebook is shown to be a key factor in the emergence of an indigenous Amazigh discourse in the years since the 2010-2011 Tunisian Revolution. In the process of identity negotiation, Facebook offers huge semiotic potential for triggering ideological shifts in how language and identity are conceived by Tunisians. The dissertation concludes that computer mediated discourse on Facebook can be a catalyst for linguistic and social change in the case of Tunisian Tamazight and beyond.

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