The Darija, the language of the Moroccan people's communication By Zou – Toulshop

The Darija, the language of the Moroccan people's communication By Zouhair El Hairan



Moroccan Arabic or Colloquial Moroccan Arabic, also known as "Darija" (which means dialect), is the variety of the Arabic language spoken in Morocco. For official communications, government and other public or governmental bodies use standard or classical Arabic, as in most countries in which Arabic is the official language.One important element to highlight is the political situation: the Moroccan monarchy, which has formed an alliance with Islam and Arabic language as a "whole", theoretically indivisible (Ferrando, 2001). According to an from the recentMoroccan Constitution (2011): "The Kingdom of Morocco is an Islamic State of full sovereignty, its official language is Arabic, followed by the Amazigh language, and it is a part of the Great Arab Maghreb. Islam is the state religion and the source of law and the State guarantees everyone the freedom of worship".The Arabization, then, in its ethnosociological side pursues the reconstruction of an Arab identity and the recovery of its own system of values, and opposes in a way, the Westernization of the Arab-Islamic culture; in this case, the result in the sociocultural alienation or acculturation and loss of cultural identity (Mouhssine, 1995).According to Pereira (2011), the Moroccan Arabic would be included in the Moroccan-Andalusian of the North African Arabic (or more specifically Western dialect Arabic that makes Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Mauritania), evidently in the Semitic-Arabian branch family.

Native Moroccan Arabic speakers consider "Darija" as an Arabic dialect, rather than a proper language, since "Darija" is not the language of teaching and has less prestige that "the most eloquent Arabic language", the Classical or Standard Arabic, which is the language of the Quran and the Islam. In this sense, the French Arabist William Marçais introduced the term diglossia (in French "diglossie") to describe this peculiar situation. It is the coexistence of two similar languages, one of most prestigious generally used by the government and in formal texts, and other less prestigious, often commonly to be the spoken vernacular language. This vernacular language or "Darija" differs from Standard Arabic in phonetics, vocabulary and syntax. It has been influenced by Amazigh or Berber (especially in pronunciation and grammar), and to a lesser extent by French and Spanish. Moroccan Arabic is the result of the evolution of spoken Arabic in the territory in which current Moroccan country is located, and it comes from the Arabic imported by the Muslim conquerors in the VII century, and other variety of Arabic from conquests led by Bedouin tribes from the Arabian Peninsula (Moustaoui, 2006).

This paper would try to briefly analyse the current socio-linguistic and political situation in Morocco of "Darija" or Moroccan Arabic. The Darija has gained ground lately in some state apparatus and in the minds of some politicians and thinkers. Ahmed Abbadi, former Minister of Islamic Affairs, in 2007 gave a speech in which he called Imams and Mullahs to approach the language of the street to avoid running out of the reality. Politicians have also begun to realize that it is important to speak in a more accessible Arabic to get their electoral message for instance.



History and peculiarities of the "Darija"


It is clear, moreover, that the North African community and the Arab world in general the concepts of "language" and "ethnicity" are closely related. Determining the use of a language as "ethno-cultural indicator" (Fasla, 2004), suggests, as Hagège (1985) stresses that languages are much more than simple communication tools. However, the Darija is evolving rapidly, it is including  more and more French and English terms, especially in technical and computer areas, or replacing old French and Spanish words by their counterparts in Standard Arabic. The Darija can be divided into two groups: the one before the Spanish-French protectorate in Morocco, used mainly by older people in this country, this is an Arabic dialect with Amazigh influence and that can be found in the Andalusian music for instance. The other one is subsequent to the Spanish-French protectorate, after this, Moroccan Arabic began to include verbs and nouns from French and Spanish, something that became a custom by the younger and cultured generation in the cities.

Moroccan Arabic is virtually unintelligible to other Arabic native speakers, but generally mutual intelligible to other dialects of the North African group. Most Moroccans with no school education have great difficulty in understanding Standard Arabic and fail to communicate in this language. Depending on the cultural background and the level of literacy and education, those who prefer to use Classical or Standard Arabic terms instead of the borrowing terms from French or Spanish, while others adopt code changes between French and Moroccan Arabic or Spanish and Moroccan Arabic ("code-mixing or code-switching"). As in many areas of the world, how one speaks and what words or language will use is often an indicator of social class.Moreover, the Moroccan Arabic is virtually incomprehensible to Arabic native speakers of the Middle East; however Moroccans tend to understand "Mashreq" Arabic dialects, in general, due to the influx of series and news belonging to this region. Aunique feature of Moroccan Arabic is that is has not been influenced by Turkish language, since Moroccan territory was never dominated by the Ottoman Empire. Moroccan Arabic is written very rarely at official level, most books and newspapers are written in French or Classical Arabic (with few editions in Spanish), and there is no standard writing system.

Moreover, Moroccan Arabic is grammatically much simpler than Classical Arabic. It is speculated that some words from the Spanish were introduced in the Darija by the Moors who communicated in Andalusian Arabic. Other influences come as the result of the Spanish protectorate in Morocco, which took place in the north, in the Sahara and in the region of Sidi Ifni. Moreover, some terms are unique to the Darija. In general, Moroccan Arabic is one of the most developed and innovative (in the sense of "less conservative") of all Arabic dialects. Recently, however, and due to the influence of the media, as well as the desire of many Moroccans for the revitalization of an Arab identity, Darija is incorporating terms of Classical Arabic. The Darija evolves very quickly, if we check the Colin dictionary, many words, expressions and idioms between 1921 and 1977 are now obsolete.

Although Morocco is a natural location for Classical Arabic, due to geographical and historical reasons, such as French and Spanish that have evolved from the Vulgar Latin, Moroccan Arabic can evolve to a recognized language. While Moroccan Arabic is the mother tongue of about 20 million people (and about 35 million in number of speakers) is rarely used in written texts. This may explain the high rates of illiteracy in Morocco, various sources indicate to be between 35 per cent and 55 per cent of the total population[1]. This situation is not unique in Morocco, but also happens in all Arabic-speaking countries. In this sense, the French Arabist Marçais introduced the term diglossia to describe this peculiar situation. It is the coexistence of two similar languages, one of most prestigious generally used by the government and in formal texts, and other less prestigious, often commonly be the spoken vernacular as stated. You could also talk about a situation of semi-bilingualism between Darija and Classical Arabic, where all the language skills or competences (oral and written comprehension, speaking and writing) are not entirely controlled. It would be, from a descriptive point of view, more suitable to speak about a situation of multiglossia or pluriglossia, because we are even talking about many variants in a given dialect and another; that would be the purpose of the speaker or a number of unconscious determinants that makes him or her to ascend or descend in the level gradually in the continuum of the availablelinguistic varieties or registers. Another appropriate term can be espectroglosia, however the notion diglossia and its application is still acceptable (Bakalla, 1983).As per a study of Al-Katany(1997), the Arabic speakers do not conceive the situation of diglossia as a problem that need to be solved, so all the attempts to solve this situation do not respond to the perception of the speakers and they are doomed to failure. This reality makes very difficult to make official or to naturalize the Darija and other dialects in the countries in which Classical Arabic is the official language. However, in the case of the Moroccan dialect there is a bigger consciousness that of the linguistic local particularity.



Current Socio-Political Situation of the Darija in Morocco


In terms of artistic expression in this language, there is poetry in Moroccan Arabic, known as the Malhoun. In the "years of lead" in Morocco, the 70s, the biggest expression of authoritarianism in Morocco, a legendary group Nass El-Ghiwane wrote beautiful and allusive lyrics in Darija, that had a good recognition even in other Maghreb countries. Another interesting wave is the development of an original rap music that explores new ways to use the language. At present there are at least three newspapers in Moroccan Arabic, its objective is to provide information to people with low education level. There is a weekly magazine, written in a sort of standard Moroccan Arabic, called "Khbar Bladna" (News of our Country).Another consequence of the local linguistic particularities of some dialects is that they are in a process of neutralization due to the presence and importance of the dialects of some prestige, in general those that come from the major cities that usually play the role of the linguistic coiné or lingua franca. For example, in the Moroccan dialect of Casablanca's city, which is from a Bedouin origin, is starting to operate as a vehicle of superregional expression in other parts of Morocco (Ferrando, 2001). This is not very welcome by other parts of the country, as it is perceived an attempt to impose more centralization and to enforce a standard Darija that does not have consensus among most of Moroccans.

In 2009 the role and situation of Darija was discussed in the public sphere, usually a debate that liberates great passions and emotions. While some thinkers define it as the "true national language", others (and most of them) see it as a threat to the "Arabic and Islamic identity of Morocco". Abbas El Fassi, former General Secretary of the Istiqlal party (a nationalist party), said at the time: "There is now a conspiracy to harm the union of Arab countries, encouraging each country to use its own dialect". In fact, the studies of a group of Western dialectologists that started at the end of the XX century on Arabic dialects are not very good received by the Arabic purists' thinkers who see them as a threat to the unity of the Arab World, or hided post-colonialist intentions that pursue to weaken the cohesion of the Arab World.However, some Moroccans do not understand more or less 50 per cent of what is written in the newspapers or what is explained on television in Classical Arabic, this is a worrying reality. Kamal Lahlou, president of the Moroccan "La Gazette", said that it's important for him to use the Darija to reach the audience. The use of Moroccan Arabic refers us to specific cultural codes, properly and genuinely Moroccan; to say the word "harrag" in Darija is much more expressive and intense (and even more commonly used) than to say "illegal immigrant". Moreover, Classical or Standard Arabic is a language that is not commonly used for oral communication by Moroccans, except teachers, politicians and journalists who use it in their professional contexts.

In addition, the Darija has always been the language of communication of the Moroccan people, which is sociolinguistic evidence in my point of view. Today, its use in the fields of the creation makes us to ask ourselves a key question: what are us? Identity is the key word. Within Classical Arabic purists, to talk about Darija is direct attack on the union of the Arab countries, who in the political and economic sphere are more disjointed than anything else. It is about to debate and discuss a topic, mostly taboo, and the question of the different influences that shape the plural identity of Moroccans. A word like "koummir" (a loaf of bread) comes from the Spanish verb "comer", "belarej" (stork) comes from the Greek "pelagros", while words such as "sarout" (keys) and "lal·la" (lady or teacher) are completely Amazigh.

For purists, the challenge is enormous, it is about discussing the unity of the "Umma" (the Muslim nation) and one of the strongest features of identity, it follows that not all Moroccans are Muslim or they do not identify with Islam as a feature of national identity. Whenever a debate on this issue opens, purists put on the table the same arguments. With a poor academic rigor, they claim that Moroccan Arabic is not a language, simply because it is not written, it is a language "zanqaouia" (street language or slung) and that does not create. Is Darija a language? An interesting answer comes from the historian Pierre Vermeren noting that French and Spanish languages ​​are full as they have been unleashing from Latin over the centuries. In addition, the defence of Darija not mean an attack on Classical Arabic; on the contrary, it has to ensure the learning of the latest, which we consider to be of huge eloquence and subtle beauty.

Why then, in this case, do not think that the Moroccan dialect or the Algerian dialect would end up evolving into a language by itself? Moreover, it is not at all certain that the Darija is not written because every time there was a need of it becomes written. There are writings that belong to the XI century where the Moroccan dialect of that time was written up and it is currently written when we send themselves mails or text messages for example. It is also unfair to tag Darija as a street language, since in all languages there are two levels or registers: the everyday and the literary one, the familiar and the formal one. It is then to approach this issue in a partial, academic and scientific manner.

The Darija has gained ground lately in some state apparatus and in the minds of some politicians. Ahmed Abbadi, at the time director of the Moroccan Ministry of Islamic Affairs in 2007, gave a speech in which he called imams and mullahs to approach the language of the street to avoid running out of reality. Politicians have also begun to realize that it is important to speak in a more accessible Arabic to get the electoral message for example. Even thoughin the Moroccan parliament, they tend to generally speak a mixture between Classical Arabic and Darija.

However, Classical Arabic is still an excellent excuse or argument for purists to escape the debate. Suddenly, and without performing an identity claim (as in the case of the Amazigh language) Darija's defenders see a good opportunity to integrate Moroccan Arabic in the school. When a child starts learning Classical Arabic, he faces a foreign language that he does not understand. According to education specialists, accompany learning Classical Arabic with what children already know from the Moroccan dialect would help them to step forward two or three years. This is already done in Amazigh-speaking regions in teaching Amazigh, and this experience was already been tested in an American program to combat illiteracy.





Language or dialect, literary or familiar, the Darija eventually prevails due to its simplicity and effectiveness. The question is, where will be able to reach this Darija? It is clearly not easily decrypted when written in a whole text or in a newspaper because it has not been studied. Redouan Erramdani, TelQuel Moroccan magazine journalist said that you have to let time pass and see what will happen. When Algerian signer Cheb Khaled sings in the heart of Sidi Bernoussi district in Casablanca, Moroccans are the only Arabs to be able to decode these words in Algerian dialect. Moroccan musicians Latifa Raafat or Abdelhadi Belkhayat also receive the same reactions in Algeria. These singers share a deep commitment to a local dialect that they manage skilfully and this goes beyond any border. Even if is a bit different, the Tunisian dialect is still widely accessible to most Moroccans and Algerians. Interestingly, it is in these three countries where the issue of recognition of the local dialect is gaining importance recently.

Moroccan Arabic is then the vernacular and majority language in daily use for communication in Morocco; in recent years it has begun to have a major rise and recognition in everyday life and culture. The varieties of Casablanca (and as well the capital, Rabat) are prevailing in  theMoroccan society through the media, which could allow the standardization of Darija in the future, each time more students and professionals are studying it. The socio-linguistic reality in Morocco is a complex and sometimes contradictory reality that continues to change and evolve within the current Moroccan society.

I should also add that in the case of Amazigh or Berber, currently it is considered a full-fledged and official language in Morocco and in 2002 the Amazigh Culture Royal Institute (IRCAM) was created. Besides writing was adopted in Tifinagh alphabet instead of the Arabic alphabet and since 2008, a public chain diffuses into Amazigh, the eighth channel. These data are encouraging in order to naturalize and to include the teaching of Darija in the Moroccan education system, as a conclusion it is the language that unifies and identifies all Moroccans and the first step to make it official, which would result in the empowerment and democratization of most of the population.The naturalization of the Darija, however, challenges specifically the acceptance that the Moroccan identity is also steeped by Western culture (mainly France and Spain), which is also part of the Moroccan identity in definitive.






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[1]According to sources from Intermon Ocfam, Negocio Marruecos and the Autonomous University of Madrid;;;

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