Languages Of Morocco: Incredible Diversity And Rich History

Morocco is a place of great linguistic diversity.

In one conversation people often switch between three or four languages, one of which existed long before Greeks or Romans paid a visit to Morocco's Mediterranean coast.

These main languages in Morocco are Moroccan Arabic, Berber, French, and Spanish.

Morocco is the modern, vibrant economic powerhouse of North Africa, so English is also very important for education and business.

The rich historical heritage of this unique nation is reflected in its array of languages.

Moroccan Arabic

The form of Arabic spoken in Morocco is shared by the greatest number of Moroccan speakers and is one of the country's two official languages.

Many speakers also use standard Arabic for writing, official addresses, and worship.

This makes the Moroccan form of Arabic an anomaly, as its speakers can generally understand other dialects, but speakers of Arabic from even neighboring Algeria do not understand Moroccans.

There is some debate as to whether Moroccan Arabic, or darija is actually an Arabic dialect, but it shares enough characteristics with other Arabic dialects to sustain that it is.

This language represents the effects of centuries of commerce and conflict within Morocco.

Arabic arrived in Morocco late in the eighth century and conquered the Romans who controlled the territory. While Arab rule did not last long, the language stayed on as a legacy of the conflict.

Within the Moroccan dialect of Arabic there are three geographical variations.

These represent the North, East, and West of the country. In each of the variants, the influence of European or indigenous languages dominant in the region causes a curious mixture of languages.

Code-switching is very common among darija speakers, with some French, Spanish, or indigenous words completely replacing Arabic equivalents.

Differences in Grammar and Pronunciation

Darija principally gives other Arabic speakers such problems because of pronunciation differences.

Short vowels are deleted between consonants, giving the Arabic spoken in Morocco a quicker, clicky rhythm.

Most words also receive a spoken prefix that sounds like a hummed "m," causing further confusion.

The Moroccan dialect also has some grammatical differences, including changes to possessive and demonstrative pronouns.

There are also differences in how to express "there is" and "there are" in comparison with standard Arabic. Question words also change, in addition to the numbers 2 and 9.

Even some of the present tense verbs change. All of these differences make darija challenging for speakers of standard Arabic.

The Berber Language

The Berbers are a North African ethnic group that has lived in Morocco, Algeria and neighboring countries for at least 10,000 years.

The name is derived from the Greek for "barbarian," so the language and ethnic group are often referred to as Tamazight.

While previously considered to be a derivation of Arabic, it is now known to be its own separate language.

In Morocco there are two distinct Tamazight languages. Tarifit is spoken in northern Morocco, with Tachelhit spoken in central Morocco.

Its use is especially prevalent in more isolated areas such as the Atlas mountains.

As a written language it modern times, Latin and Arabic spelling is used in Morocco. It is recognized as an official language and can often be found alongside Arabic and French in official signage or communication.

Tamazight has its own grammatical peculiarities, as well as similarities to well known European languages. For example, nouns have two cases.

One is unmarked when it is the subject of a clause. The other case changes as a transitive verb's subject or a prepositional object.

Like many languages, nouns also have gender markings with the masculine unmarked and the feminine marked by the prefix t-.

In Morocco between 60-80% of the population speaks one of the two Tamazight languages, usually in addition to French or Arabic. In terms of the total population, this accounts for over 7 million speakers.

A similar percentage of the population speaks the language in Algeria.

Other nations that contain populations of Tamazight speakers include Tunisia, and Libya, in addition to other Middle Eastern, European, and African nations with immigrant populations of mainly Moroccan or Algerian origin.

European Languages

Languages in Morocco are heavily influenced by two key colonial groups; the French and Spanish. The French invasion and control of Morocco lasted from 1907 until independence in 1956.

The Spanish influence also lasted approximately the same time, from 1912 until 1956.

During this time both of these languages established strong foothold Morocco that continues into the present time.

The French protectorate in Morocco was much larger than the Spanish protectorate of the same time, and the linguistic influence was too.

The French used their language as a tool of colonization.

They mandated its use in the educational system, government, and media.

Once Morocco gained its independence in 1956, the country maintained its international business and political ties through the use of French as a de facto official language.

More than 30% of the population maintains fluency in French into the present day.

Moroccan French speakers usually learn the language as part of their educational process. Its role as an important skill for business, travel and international status serves to maintain the dynamism of the language Morocco.

Smaller portions of Morocco fell under the Spanish protectorate.

As the closest European neighbor in North Africa, Morocco maintains very close ties to Spain and its language. While not nearly as widespread as the usage of French, Spanish is widely spoken in the north, especially among returning migrant communities.

Much of this influence continues because of the existence of Spanish territories with land borders to Morocco. It may seem an anomaly in the 21st century, but these territories continue to influence Moroccan culture.

In fact, many people living near the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla learn Spanish long before French.

Its influence even spreads into media and the educational system in the north of the country.

Other Languages

In 2002 the Moroccan government instituted educational reforms that favored English teaching in schools.

Many areas of science and business are now conducted at least partially in English, and the popularity of this language continues to grow throughout the educational and business structures of the country.

Its use as an internationally shared language for commerce points towards an increase in popularity as Morocco gains power as a reliable trading partner for Europe, the Americas, and Asian countries.

Some older forms of Arabic are also spoken by isolated groups throughout the country, including Hassaniyya and Judeo-Moroccan Arabic.

While two other indigenous dialects, Ghomara and Senhaja de Srair, are now extinct, they indicate the linguistic and cultural richness that Morocco's combination of commerce and geography holds.

Morocco is one of the strongest monarchies in the world today.

Languages in Morocco reflect a history of conflict, invasion, and a proud indigenous population that refused to be conquered for centuries.

Today the reliance on European and Arabic languages for cultural and business ties coexists with the largest population of Tamazight speakers.

This makes Morocco one of the most unique nations on the globe linguistically, at the same time as it continues to build an ever-stronger presence on the global business scene.


Ready to learn to speak Moroccan Arabic?

Head over to “Moroccan Arabic – Unit 1” to kick start your Darija learning.

Or pick any other Moroccan Arabic material you are interested in for the moment.

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