Where's West Africa?

Damien Hall D.Hall at KENT.AC.UK
Sun Oct 23 15:03:52 UTC 2011

In a discussion of the meaning of 'Africa(n)', it's maybe worth noting that the French make a distinction that other Western European countries and cultures don't, as far as I know.  In popular culture, often:

- even though the Maghreb is on the African continent, people from the Maghreb are not _Africains_ but _Maghrébins_. (Possibly Egyptians are also referred to as _Maghrébins_, though Egypt isn't in the Maghreb, strictly speaking: it includes Mauritania, Morocco, (Western Sahara,) Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, according to Wikipedia)

- only people from the African continent South of the Maghreb are 'Africains'.

The distinction probably applies to the names of the places too, but I don't hear them used as much as I hear the ethnonyms used, so can't say.  Racially, possibly it's a separation between Africans of countries with some Arab heritage, on the one hand, and other Africans, on the other.  It must have its roots in the French colonial past, though it isn't as simple as saying that French former colonies are 'maghrébin' and other countries are 'africain', as the French colonies of course extended into West and Central Africa.

By this reasoning, Michele Bachmann would have been right to say that Libya was not in Africa:  it is in the Maghreb.  I'm not suggesting or denying that that was what she meant, but this conception of Africa is one thing that could make you say something like that.



Damien Hall

University of Kent (UK / Royaume-Uni)
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, 'Towards a New Linguistic Atlas of France'
Projet de recherche: 'Vers un Nouvel Atlas Linguistique de la France'

English Language and Linguistics, School of European Culture and Languages
Section de Langue et Linguistique Anglaises, Faculté de la Culture et des Langues Européennes

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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