The 21st Century Dilemma of the Many Languages in Morocco

With 13 various and frequently spoken languages, there is no denying Morocco has a very rich and diversified culture. Among these 13 languages are various playoffs of Arabic and the original Berber tongues, but the main four happen to be French, Spanish, Arabic, and Tamazight (the Berber language). Berber is the original language of the native inhabitants spoken in three different dialects Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight, which is often associated with the rural poor. Today, over 10 million people still speak it, yet the Berbers have fought hard for proper recognition. They have endured a long struggle due to the past “arabization” of Morocco which completely ignored the native roots and privilege of the original inhabitants. In 1965, King Hassan II sought to implement a national homogeneity of the Islam faith and the Arabic language once independent from their European colonial powers. In doing so he banned Tamazight from the educational sector forcing Berber children to drop out, and crippling adults in communication with the Arabic speaking court systems and hospitals. Thankfully, the fight ceased when King Mohammed VI later on granted Berbers the recognition they deserved when in September 2004, the language was permitted to be taught in 300 Moroccan primary schools in its original alphabet. Furthermore, the Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture has been established in addition to Tamazight newspapers and translation of the Koran into Tamazight pushing it to the second national language.

The Berber language however is not the only language in the past that arabization attempted to purge out of Morocco. Moroccan leaders sought to universalize its people in education while moving them past elements associated with their European colonizers. French and Spanish are a result of colonization and are mainly preferred among the middle class and private education. This has put a cleavage between classes because French and Spanish are considered more modern and European, and therefore belong to the elite. It is almost “too good” for the normal Arabic or Berber speaking people. However, French was never successfully denied and still serves today as Morocco’s unofficial third language is used in education and government, and functions primarily at the tertiary level of medicine, agriculture, and technical fields. Surprisingly, a growing new language is on the horizon of pushing French down the authoritative ladder as the language of education in Morocco.
Minister of Higher Education Lahcen Daoudi said the government was moving to boost English in Moroccan universities going so far as to call out the “solution to the country’s education system”. The ultimate goal is to make English so common in higher education that proficiency is needed for obtaining a doctorate. Why choose this new language when Arabic, French, and Tamazight have served every department of the country for so long? Reasons all point to globalization and the growing digital revolution of the internet and usage of smartphones in the 21st century. Arabic unfortunately is falling behind in transforming into a usable and common global language, especially transcribed into texting language. To stay connected with the world politically (for example off-shoring, trade), especially with rich European countries, you must know the universal languages of English and French. The question for Morocco’s future thus will be how they will honor their traditional languages like Arabic and Tamazight while moving towards modernity in the French and English languages? What are the consequences of this shift on Morocco’s citizens, especially the Berbers who have fought for so long for their own recognition? Restructuring the education system and rewriting textbooks yet again may be a pricey endeavor, but it could indeed be the most beneficial action for a more globally-integrated Morocco.

-Kaitlyn Fitzgerald

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