When you go to a foreign country, you expect to hear a different language that what you’re used to (except if you’re traveling to an English-speaking country, of course).  However, you don’t expect to hear a variety of languages completely melded together.  In Morocco, there is a clear distinction between languages when people talk about languages, but the distinction between each language is not as clear when people talk.

French has had such an impact on the country that a number of words have been directly borrowed and put into the Moroccan dialect, or Darija.  While I am not an accredited linguist, I can tell that some words in Darija have most likely been influenced by French.  For example,  “pain au shklat”, the croissant-type pastries with chocolate in them, is a word most definitely borrowed from the delectable “pain au chocolat” served in French cafes.  Contrast this to the Arabic word for bread, ghobs (pronounced with a gutteral “h” sound at the beginning), and you can definitely see the French influence.  Also, in Modern Standard Arabic, “soda” is translated as “sooda” (in transliteration), whereas in Moroccan Darija, these fizzy drinks are called by the French word for them, “limonade”.  Another example? Yogurt is referred to by the company name “danone” (a French company, I might add) instead of the Modern Standard Arabic, “leben”.  “Leben” in Morocco refers to milk that’s left over after making butter, otherwise known as buttermilk.  Coincidence? I think not!

These words were imparted to Moroccans because they were once a French protectorate and have continued to hold onto their French ties.  Even the parts of the country (North and very South) that were part of the Spanish protectorate have adopted these French words or phrases for certain things.  While I have not spent a significant amount of time in any of the previously Spanish part of Morocco, I know that when I referred to things in their “Frenchified” word to a grocer, he had no trouble figuring out what I was referring to.

Many of the words taken from French have to do with everyday life introduced during the colonial period.  Bus, Taxi, Yogurt, Soda, tasty pastries; each of them can be directly linked to the development that occurred during the French occupation.  As the “ville nouvelle” (new city) parts of town began to be built by the French to help solidify their hold over the administration of the cities and the country as a whole, they brought with them all the comforts of home, so to speak; wide boulevards, cafes, gardens, and buses.  Each of the new things had to be given names, and what better name to use than the one already there in French?

Some Moroccans resent this fact, and openly dislike the use of French in their schools and country’s administration.  Some take this a step further and say that Amazigh (the newly standardized indigenous language) should take the place of, or at least added to, the curricula of the public school system.  While this is definitely a stretch, some believe that the French influence is something the country should forget rather than preserve.  I can understand this feeling of resentment towards the country that stripped their own of its dignity through subjugation, however, the French influence has been so completely integrated into the modern culture.  The school system is French, the second official language of the country is French, and, regardless of age, most people know at least some French.  How can a language that is being recreated with an ancient script, with no native speakers of its standard form, and only a royally created institute, sustain an entire movement against a language that is so completely entrenched in Moroccan society and the global community?  That is the question many proponents of the Amazigh Movement, as the people who put forth these ideas are referred to, are facing right now and will face in the future if they continue on the path of language adoption as their main focus.

However, it’s not just a question for the elites of Morocco, but also for the people.  Language keeps itself alive based on whether or not it is used.  Amazigh, in its standard form, has recently been created from the three main dialects in Morocco:  Tashelhit, Tarafit, and Tamazight.  These three, what I will call, dialects are relatively similar to each other with only slight phonetic changes between the three in some words making them comprehensible from one region to the next, but only if you know how those sounds change.  Overcoming this hurdle is one of the main tasks of the Royal Institute for the Amazigh Culture (IRCAM), and to get their new standardized version of the language into as many hands and minds as possible through the media and education.  How well is this going to work?  Only time will tell.  But the rich history of Morocco’s relationship with languages will undoubtedly linger.