Visiting Assistant Professor, Anthropology Pomona College
Based on research taking place in northern Marseille, this paper delves into differences among groups of people who identify as French Muslims, looking in particular at how these groups themselves formulate such differences. One of these groups of people has founded a private Islamic secondary school that is currently being evaluated for whether it can become part of l’Éducation Nationale. This would mean that the French Ministry of Education would pay teachers’ salaries and that a good portion, though not all, of the school’s curriculum would be synced to that of secular schools. Within this context, I examine how standard language ideologies and practices – regarding French as well as Arabic – have become one of the semiotic means via which this community imagines itself as both Muslim and French. A key part of this, furthermore, will be to discuss how people in this orthodox (or Sunni) community draw upon these standard language ideologies and practices to formulate themselves as a faith-based community very different: from both, white French people; but also, significantly, second and third-generation French individuals with Muslim heritage who speak less standard forms of French and Arabic (e.g., Marseillais French, Algerian Arabic, syncretic youth registers of French). Orthodox community members iconically depict the latter group of French Muslims as “faulty” speakers of these languages, and also “lapsed” Muslims.