Algerian Arabic · Books · French · Language · Language learning · Resources · Translation

Nedjma, A literary classic by Algerian author Kateb Yacine to be translated to Algerian Arabic


I’ve been on the lookout for some good written material that I can use to learn Algerian Arabic (or Derdja) for quite some time now. When studying languages, I mostly do so through reading, so when deciding to learn a mostly oral language, it all gets a little more complicated.

While I’m mostly focusing on learning Standard Arabic, or Fusha these days, I have also been looking into some resources for learning the Algerian dialect, and have, for example, been listening to a few Algerian songs while studying their lyrics.

Yesterday, however, I stumbled upon a project that the Algerian pop-artist “El MousTach” has taken the initiative to start: Translating the classic French-language novel “Nedjma” by Algerian author Kateb Yacine into the Algerian Dialect. What a project!

The project is a community effort. MousTach invites everyone who’d like to participate to help translate the book, which is done by the aid of google-docs and a facebook group

You can hear a sample of the translation so far read aloud here: Nedjma b’el Djazairiya

El MousTach speaks about the project in a radio interview below, where he also reads aloud a sample of the work so-far. It’s going to be good!

Translating a full-length novel as a group effort obviously demands quite a bit of editing in order to make word-choices, literal style and dialect match. There is also the question weather the final version should be printed using the Arabic alphabet, the Latin or a mix of Latin and letters. I would personally opt for the Arabic alphabet because I think it will suit the pronunciation of Derdja better.

I’d also love to get my hands on an audio-book once the project is finished, and I strongly encourage MousTach and everyone else participating in the project to provide one.

Publishing what must probably be the most well-known book in Algerian literature in the true Algerian language really seems like an important thing to do. Algeria is a multi-lingual society, where no less than four separate languages play an important role in everyday life. Berber – the language spoken across the country since even before the arrival of Islam, Standard Arabic, used for education and religious purposes, but not spoken as a means of casual communication, French, the language left by the former colonial power and then Derdja, the Arabic dialect that appears to be the only thing that all Algerians have in common. A high command of French and formal Arabic is mostly reserved for the educated elite, whereas everyday Algerians mostly speak Derdja and Berber. This is why the translation of such an important piece of Algerian literature seems so important. It renders Algerian culture accessible to Algerians. What could be more normal?

I sincerely hope that the translation will be a great success and that it will spark an interest and a demand for more translations into Derdja.

While waiting for a publication date, I’ll get my hands on the original version of Kateb Yacine’s Nedjma, which I haven’t read yet. Then, once I get the version in “Djazairiya” I’ll read the two in parallel trying to make sense of the Derdja, hopefully while listening to an audio recording too. I can’t wait! (Check this article for some of my thought about language learning through reading)

Get the original in French from amazon here: Nedjma French

Or in English here: Nedjma English