From Macro to Micro and vice-versa: Transnationalism in Linguistic Landscapes - French Jews from Sarcelles to Natanya

Eliezer Ben-Rafael, Miriam Ben-Rafael

Eliezer Ben-Rafael (University of Tel-Aviv, Israel) Miriam Ben-Rafael (Alon College)


Israel’s residents know tens of languages but despite this multilingualism, this society has succeeded to make Hebrew a national language practiced by the wide majority. Though, in some groups–Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, Ethiopians or ex-Soviet immigrants –many individuals continue to speak their languages of origin among themselves. These groups are also “transnational diasporas” bound to communities in the outside. Recent French immigrants belong to this category but differ from them at major respects while at the same time, they also illustrate a kind of francophonie that did not exist in Israel before regarding the French language. They indeed tend to show an unprecedented determination in their public use of French, up to making the language a major element in some cities’ linguistic landscape (LL). This French is not an enclave language but appears on LL items together with Hebrew and English (the semi-official language of the country), and eventually Russian or Arabic. Some findings indicate that it is spoken of a French that signals that these people see themselves both here and in France – a kind of concretization of “dual homeness”. This is shown quite precisely by our LL investigation in Natanya where many of these new immigrants concentrate. It reveals the complexity of the relations intertwining between linguistic elements referring to macro-level (Hebrew) national ideologies and policies, and to micro-level (French) collective-identity aspirations of individual actors. In a further step, the researchers went, in France, for a systematic comparison with the linguistic landscape of one of the major concentration of Jews in that country, Sarcelles, from where no few immigrants set out yearly for Israel. We wanted to know if one finds there an equivalent, nay even a symmetrical, intertwining of macro (French) and micro (Hebrew/Jewish) elements of linguistic activity. This two-phase investigation shows that the places present differences that are, as such, of theoretical significance regarding the notion of transnational diaspora and the uses of LL analysis in this respect. Though, and all the differences notwithstanding, findings justify entitling this paper: From Macro to micro, and vice-versa.

Session: Paper session
Linguistic Landscape 1
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 09:00-10:30
room: 07