After my first day at the Center for Cross Cultural Learning, I had only two words written in my notebook: Linguistic Schizophrenia.
If you listen in on the average Moroccan’s conversation, you are likely to hear a odd mix of languages spoken: Moroccan Arabic (also known as Darija), French, Berber (which actually is a mix of THREE different languages), and maybe a hint of English. If you’re lucky, there may even be some Fus’ha (Modern Standard Arabic) tossed in there, or Spanish if you are in the north.
It’s enough to send a person spinning.
So, which one is right? Which one predominates, should be used first? The problem is that Moroccans themselves don’t even know.
Let’s break it down. The truly native languages are those of Berber decent, recently modernized into one tongue. But Arabic has it’s influence through the nation’s religion (the Koran is in Arabic, Fus’ha to be specific, which most of the mideast uses). Morocco uses it’s own, very specific dialect of Arabic known as Darija. The French colonized Morocco for 44 years, and have a heavy influence on Moroccan culture as colonizers always do. If you want to go to a good school, you speak French. If you want to buy a house or sign a contract, you speak French. If you want to get a good job, you speak French. (If you’re like me, and you want to get by without more Arabic, which is HARD, you speak French) English has been tossed in for universal use, and Spanish by Morocco’s neighbor to the north.
It is easily understandable why and how this country has grown a little confused as to what to call it’s true tongue.
Many Moroccans are ridiculously multilingual. My friend Abby’s host sister is a spry 17, yet fluent in not only Darija, but French, German, and English. She can probably understand, if not also speak Fus’ha. My own host brother is 15 speaking both Darija and French fluently, and equipped with decent English. It is beyond impressive considering I myself can barely get my mind around English. This kind of situation is very common, and often even expected. A booming tourism industry requires English, while schooling delivers French.
More importantly, why does this even matter?
Well, young Moroccans can only expend so much brain power. So much attention to languages creates less of a focus on other subjects that create a progressive population- math, chemistry, history, you name it. Morocco (in true form, also know as Maroc, or Al Maghreb depending on who is speaking) has one of the largest worldwide rates of illiteracy- but hey they are very impressive linguistically. Only time will tell what this linguistic schizophrenia will deliver for the next generation.
On the other end, language, and choosing one to focus on, has a huge importance in defining a culture. Language helps to determine the values a culture has (aka a lean toward English would show a big drive for globalization, or toward Berber for its traditional roots). It also helps to drive its business sector, as well as tourism.
While Darija, followed by French are currently used for official purposes by the government, the new push is toward Arabic and Berber, expelling Morocco’s French influence.
I for one, plan on walking away speaking a little of everything.
Ila al-liqa, or “until next time”, my curious-minded friends,