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January 21, 2008 5:47 PM   Subscribe

If someone is French Algerian, can they call themselves "Latin?"

Yes, I know the Romans were everywhere... but I always think that nowadays "Latin" refers more to Mexican, Spanish, Italian or Latin American cultures. I could see how people from France might, but I didn't think people on the African continent ever called themselves Latin too. However, I've been told I'm totally wrong. (For that matter, wouldn't the Turks be Latin? There's all sorts of Roman history there...)

Please educate me. Thank you.
posted by miss lynnster to Society & Culture (25 answers total)
It is indeed a scroll, and I am happy to see you. Here's a little string I found while Googling; maybe you can pull on it and ravel the whole sweater:
    "Children born to Roman legionaries during their military service were NOT citizens. it was illegal for legionaries to wed while serving their 20-year tour of duty and, thus, there could be no conubium. Since the mothers of legionaries' children generally were not Roman citizens themselves, in the eyes of Roman law the children simply received the status and nationality of the mother."
Is the French Algerian talking about a centurion in his lineage?
posted by not_on_display at 6:10 PM on January 21, 2008

There's probably a shift between "Latino" and "Latin".
posted by gjc at 6:10 PM on January 21, 2008

I would say that French Algerian is Mediterranean, and Mediterranean and Latin are pretty synonymous in my book.
posted by chelseagirl at 6:11 PM on January 21, 2008

See, I think of Algerians and I think it's over there by Morocco, Nigeria, Libya, Tunisia & Egypt. So I think more Middle Eastern or Mediterranean. I don't think of Latin. He was using it to describe himself in kind of a "this is how we Latins roll" kind of a way. And I was like, "Umm, you're not Latin. Are you?"
posted by miss lynnster at 6:27 PM on January 21, 2008

Disclaimer: Not an expert or scholar, but have dug around in this area. Also, as a Latina, I have dug around in this topic for my own edification. Here is my take on it.

Latina and Latino are separate designations. Latinos are descendants of a Latin bloodline. Latin can be quite specific as a name for those peoples from the region of Latium in the Italian pensinsula; they struggled against a nascent Roman Empire. But probably *because* the Romans overtook the Latins, and of course, conquered far, far beyond that, it broadens to include those who speak Romance languages, which are derived from Latin (the language). Under that definition, I think there is indeed some validity to a French Algerian being Latin. Also, being on the African side of the Mediterranean, I would imagine Latin blood would have made it's way in. But I think it probably comes down to a case-by-case thing, rather than simply French Algerians as a whole being latins.

Latin America is an area in the Americas where people of Latin descent ended up. The way I see it, the Latin in Latin America points to that Latin heritage which goes back thousands of years, pre-Roman civilization.

Nowadays most people think Latin=Latino. I think it's important to keep those two terms separate, as Latinos are a part of a broader Latin heritage.

***In preview, and seeing your follow-up, I think stating that's "how we latins roll" is kind of a stretch. Does this person identify more with the French side of his country's history, perhaps?
posted by DrGirlfriend at 6:31 PM on January 21, 2008

Well, they *can* if they really want to, but my Algerian and French Algerian family would find the "Latin" label silly. I'm really curious to know who told you this was totally wrong -- is there some segment of Algerians who feel accurately described by "Latin"?
posted by ourobouros at 6:31 PM on January 21, 2008

People can call themselves whatever they want. There's no genetic basis for the labels we give to people, it's all a social construct.
posted by acridrabbit at 6:39 PM on January 21, 2008

In French, the word "latin" is often used to describe the cultures whose languages is derived more or less directly from Latin (including French). Thus it refers to culture rather than "genealogy". It applies more directly to populations close to the Mediterranean (a French southerner will be definitively more "Latin" than a Parisian). The term is often used in ways that are quite a stretch. Some people, for example, will claim that Quebecers (at least those of the francophone persuasion) have a "latin temperament". What is meant by that is they are more laid back and easygoing than their compatriots, but it has very little to do with Latin per se. If by French Algerian you mean a "pied noir", i.e. a descendant from the French settlers of Algeria, I guess the claim to latinhood is not far-fatched, but then again subject to strong caveats as to what is meant by "Latin".
posted by bluefrog at 6:42 PM on January 21, 2008

In Europe, there's a big cultural split between Anglo-Saxon cultures and Latin cultures. It's not something that really maps exactly onto what Americans would call "Latin"; it's more the Romance-language countries (stereotype: sensual, present-moment oriented, big on enjoying life) vs. the Germanic-language countries (stereotype: pragmatic, future-oriented, big on working hard).

Given that the French controlled Algeria for so long, I would assume those elements of the culture would exist in that context; given that Algeria is so close to Europe, I'd assume the European definition of Latin would hold; given the complicated geographical and cultural issues at play, I'd be totally fascinated to know what behavior or attitude your friend was describing as Latin -- I'd kind of assume there'd be a split in former French colonies between the "Latin" French culture and the local culture, but I could be totally wrong on that.
posted by occhiblu at 6:43 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think there's a lot to be said, too, about the issue of what people of colonized countries choose to call themselves, and which areas of their varied heritage they identify with more than others.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 6:48 PM on January 21, 2008

Also, it is worth pointing out that Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, while certainly African, played a huge role as part of modern France; their history is very different in this context from Egypt, Libya, and Nigeria.
posted by occhiblu at 6:50 PM on January 21, 2008

I'm really curious to know who told you this was totally wrong...

Well, he did. He's Algerian but he definitely has a bond with France. The phrase came up when he was telling me that his personality is a certain way because he's such a Latin man. When I appeared confused, his response was basically that the Romans were all over Algeria so of course he's Latin. I mean, Spain is just a hop away and I figure he must know his heritage better than I so I was just figured maybe I'm totally wrong. Either way, I'd like to actually understand.

So is France definitely Latin?
posted by miss lynnster at 6:57 PM on January 21, 2008

I'm not clear what you mean by "French Algerian." Do you mean pied-noir? Because although they feel a nostalgic connection with their lost homeland, they are just as French as any other French people, and consider themselves "Latins" because they're French. The Spanish/English concept of "latino" is entirely irrelevant here. When the French talk about "les peuples latins," they include themselves.
posted by languagehat at 6:58 PM on January 21, 2008

Oh, and yes, North Africa was a part of the Roman Empire, so he's correct on the history.
posted by languagehat at 6:59 PM on January 21, 2008

it's laughably wrong but it certainly beats "Harki"
posted by matteo at 7:01 PM on January 21, 2008

Oh, and yes, North Africa was a part of the Roman Empire, so he's correct on the history.

present day England was part of the Roman Empire, too -- so all those Americans WASPs are Latin, as well. One big family indeed! Not to mention that, according to miss lynnster bizarre "Mexican, Spanish, Italian or Latin American cultures" metric, this everyboy-is-Latin thing will make a lot of gardeners and busboys much less hated by Lou Dobbs.
posted by matteo at 7:05 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is tough to answer because the term (and related terms) mean different things in different places. Obviously, "Latino"more specifically refers to those of Hispanic origin in the new world - one wouldn't hear a French or Romanian person referring to oneself like this.

And there are idiomatic expressions like "latin lover," which imply a sort of tall, dark and handsome guy from any exotic but vaguely Euro location. I just read a book which described a Persian fellow that way!

Mediterranean and Latin are in no way synonymous to most schooled people (one could be a subset of the other, but few would refer to a Palestinian, Egyptian, Greek, Turkish or Albanian person as "Latin," and those folks are all "Mediterranean" on some level.)

And most of the countries in Africa that you mention wouldn't be referred to as Latin in any normal way, or "Middle Eastern" (not at all, except by Egypt for its associating problems and connections to countries more properly in the Middle East), but rather "Saharan," I suspect.

It's also worth noting that (citizenship of offspring or not), the people that most go on and on about their Latin ancestry tend to be the Romanians - possibly because they are isolated and have been historically fragmented and overrun by invaders and would like to assert some sort of claim to a grander historical narrative. The fact that they are surrounded by Magyars and Slavs and are distant from Italy (the nearest other "Latin" nation), this is emphasized.

In any case, "Latin" to me seems more full of linguistic associations than anything else. The Latin or Latinate or Romance (pick your fave term) languages are Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Romanian, as well as many smaller ones and offshoots. I suppose any of the speakers of these languages could call themselves "Latin," and they all do (to some extent.)

Those former parts of the Roman Empire where Latinate languages are not spoken are overdoing any connections with the Romans by using the word "Latin." They don't speak Latinate languages, and in most cases, daily culture and social structures aren't any more informed by anything "Latin" than much of the rest of the world.

The Online Etymology dictionary mentions the word refers to "people whose languages descend from Latin." says, as an adjective, that Latin means:

6. denoting or pertaining to those peoples, as the Italians, French, Spanish, Portuguese, etc., using languages derived from Latin, esp. the peoples of Central and South America: a meeting of the Latin republics.
7. of or pertaining to the Latin Church.
8. of or pertaining to Latium, its inhabitants, or their language.
9. of or pertaining to the Latin alphabet.

Dictionaries sometimes miss things (I looked up "appalled" today on and saw that it's defined as "struck with fear, dread, or consternation," whereas the way I hear it used has more to do with "disgust" than those qualities . . . sorry for the digression!), but this seems to me to cover how the word "Latin" truly is used.

I've noticed that Croatians sometimes discuss their "Roman" heritage and many remaining ruins and whatnot, but shy away from using the word "Latin" to describe themselves in any way - and they've got at least as much claim to it (if not more) than the Algerians.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:18 PM on January 21, 2008

So is France definitely Latin?

Yes, there are a people whose language comes from Latin and whose culture narrative stems from the Romans.

In reference to some other posts, the colonial history of France was markedly different from that of Britain, since peoples colonized by the French were considered "French" in ways those colonized by the British weren't considered "British." I've always seen it as the a situation where the French consider any Francophone to be French, while the British do not extend this same consideration to those who are Anglophones. In any case, a French-speaking Senegalese probably sees himself more as "French" than a Gambian would see himself as "British," despite the fact that the only real difference is in the colonial powers who held each territory - the locality of those involved is essentially the same. Your average educated Algerian may see him- or herself as "French" in a way that seems odd to Brits or Americans. But, unless he is a native French speaker, he's not really correct. And to count Algerians (in general) as a Latin people is really wrong.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 7:28 PM on January 21, 2008

The International Herald Tribune talks a fair amount (or at least did, when I was reading it regularly) about this split. An example:

A common German perception, both in official circles and among the general public, is that the European Union is split between profligate Latins and provident Northerners — and while France may now just qualify as provident, the other Latins do not.

The French, because they have a reputation for being almost overly rational and precise, tend to sit at the border of "Latin" (I assume the geography reinforces this), but I've always heard them included in this category. (I don't know if I came up with this or read it somewhere, but I tend to think of it as the split between "wine countries" and "beer countries." The wine countries are Latin countries.)
posted by occhiblu at 7:29 PM on January 21, 2008

More examples:

The [European] Commission is made up of members from 15 member countries — ranging from prim Scandinavians to more lax or more flexible Latins — with very different views of what constitutes ethical behavior.

Renaults are often a little short in lower cushion support, a corollary of their being designed more for short-legged Latins than lanky northern Europeans.

This is only one of Europe's ancient but still active boundaries. The EU's current West European members are still divided between north and south along the frontier of the Roman Empire. The Latin countries of the former empire tend to be Catholic, protectionist, interventionist and authoritarian. The Germanic barbarians to the Empire's north have historically leant towards Protestantism, free trade and concern for individual rights. (Migration and colonial patterns subsequently extended this line westward across the Atlantic, where it settled on the Rio Grande). Now, as Germany and other Northern countries look to the East, Europe's Latins are seeking to reconstitute the empire by forging new links with the former Roman provinces in North Africa and the Middle East.
posted by occhiblu at 7:41 PM on January 21, 2008

I've perhaps heard of Mediterranean Frenchmen considering themselves to be "Latin?" Frenchmen in general, not so much. That said, is he playing on the "Latin lover" stereotype? 'Cause that's pretty much just mainland European-ese for "tall, dark and handsome" with a side dish of "mad, bad, and dangerous to know." (Apologies to Byron, who is also not Latin.)
posted by desuetude at 8:21 PM on January 21, 2008

France, Spain, Italy, etc are commonly refered to as Latin. Algeria has a lot of people of French heritage living there. If he is french-algerian, he would certainly be referred to in Europe as Latin.
posted by markovich at 9:12 PM on January 21, 2008

That said, is he playing on the "Latin lover" stereotype?
Well yeah, duh, he was definitely hitting on me when he was saying it. And I wasn't buying it, so it became a conversation. And then I started to wonder if maybe I'm unclear on really who's Latin & who isn't. I do think I was getting it confused with the whole Latin lover thing, which I usually think of as being from Spain or Italy or something.

posted by miss lynnster at 9:43 PM on January 21, 2008

I found some scholarly attention to Louis Bertrand that may help. [Google Books search] In the early 20th century there were three competing national myths for the French Algerians. One was explicitly colonist, that Algeria was a kind of New France. Another was a slightly more modern approach which saw the Berbers and the Europeans as forming a kind of melting pot of a common culture, neither French nor Muslim. The third was Bertrand's, of a "Latin Algeria", which he saw as arising from the natural geography and intermigration of Algeria, France, Spain, and Italy. (Many 19th century immigrants came from the latter two countries, not just France.)

So I would say that there's a fair chance that your friend has always considered his cultural heritage to be Latin. Especially after the pieds noirs quit Algeria, they had to invent an expansive justification for themselves. For those remaining, Latin may be a more convenient cultural bucket to inhabit than French, Spanish, or Italian separately.

So, this is something that actually is specific to Algeria, and not just to Francophone countries generally or Mediterranean countries generally.
posted by dhartung at 9:45 PM on January 21, 2008

My ex was Yugoslavian (actually from Montenegro) and it was typical for many of his friends to be ashamed of their cultural heritage, fearful of being ridiculed for coming from somewhere that most Americans have never heard of or know nothing about.

So they lied when picking up women by saying they were Italian, which was more socially acceptable in the eyes of most Americans. I think this guy was doing that thing, being ashamed of his background and defensively arguing with you.

There was, however, Apuleius, the Latin Algerian, "an utterly Romanized Berber".

Algeria was taken over by the Roman Republic in 200 BC but it's unlikely this or any person could trace his/her ancestors back 2200 years (without the genome project).

Could he think that the Moors lived in Spain and if he's a Moor he must also be Latin (ie Spanish)? Nah, he was saying Latin because it sounded like Latin lover and more romantic.
posted by nickyskye at 10:21 PM on January 21, 2008

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