A voice with an elusive sound: aphasia, diglossia, and arabophone Algeria in Assia Djebar's The Nouba of the Women of Mount Chenoua
The recent passing of Assia Djebar (1936-2015) raises interest in the legacy of her work. It is well documented that the renowned Algerian author attempted to write in Arabic in the 1970s, but never did. Instead, she made two films in Arabic before returning to writing in French. Film, in fact, is the only medium in which she used Arabic. Why was Arabic for Djebar a language suitable for filmmaking but not for writing novels or short stories? To which extent does it reveal limitations for Arabic as a language of cultural expression in the Maghreb? Articulated around the interrelated notions of aphasia, diglossia, and arabophonie, this article argues that the impossibility of writing in Arabic for Djebar, specifically given the language's binary structure, became essential to her oeuvre. Djebar's case, in turn, clarifies the language dynamics in the Maghreb, and the region's position at the intersections of French, Tamazight, and a broader Arabic-speaking World.