People often ask, what language is spoken in Morocco. Some people think that Moroccans speak French. Others think that only Arabic is spoken in Morocco. These assumptions are only partly true.
Morocco: A country with several lanquages
The reality is that Morocco is a widely diverse linguistic society where there are several language influences.
This article will discuss the major languages spoken in Morocco and also include some language-learning tips and helpful phrases to help you get by on your next visit to Morocco.
The languages used in Morocco are Darija (Moroccan Arabic), Standard Arabic, French, Amazighiya (Berber languages), Spanish, and English.
The history of language in Morocco, 3000 B. C.
Due to its strategic geographical location, Morocco has been ruled by several world powers over the ages. However, the oldest records reveal that the Amazigh or Berbers were the oldest and earliest inhabitants of Morocco. Their history goes as far back as 3000 BCE.
Whether there were other ethnic groups in Morocco at this time is not known but the only surviving ethnic group today is the Amazigh.
As time went by, the North-west tip of Africa was invaded and occupied by the Phonecians (800 BCE), the Romans (500 CE) and the Byzantine Empire (600 CE). The extent to which these incursions have influenced the language environment of Morocco needs to be investigated further.
The Muslim conquest of North Africa reached Morocco in the 7th century CE. This was the beginning of a major religious, cultural and linguistic transformation that would result in Arabic becoming the dominant linguistic force, not only in Morocco but across the region.
1. Darija (Moroccan Arabic): The everyday’s langauge in Morocco
Moroccan Arabic is different from other language varieties of Arabic for several reasons. Firstly, most Arabic-speaking countries are almost exclusively monolingual countries, meaning that everyone speaks Arabic and it has been like this for centuries.
Morocco, on the other hand, is characterized as a multicultural, multilingual environment, probably the most diverse environment to be found in the greater Arabic-speaking region.
The land of Morocco has been ruled and occupied by different African, Arab, and European powers. Therefore, Moroccan Arabic or Derija also bears traces of the Amazigh languages, Latin, French, and Spanish.
What is the Darija language and where is it spoken
The word Darija in Arabic means ‘common’ and ‘known’ and is used to describe the variety of Arabic that is spoken in Morocco today. Darija is also the name used for other language varieties in the region like Algerian Arabic. However, in this article, the term Darija is used specifically for the Moroccan Darija.
Darija can be regarded as the most used language of Morocco. Since Darija is not a written language, its grammar and structure are not clearly uniform throughout the country. In addition, Darija has little to no official language status in Morocco, despite it being the mother-tongue and lingua franca of the majority of Moroccan people.
Darija is also extremely loved and cherished by Moroccan people, who consider it a unique part of their culture and national identity.
While Arabic, is spoken all over the world, Darija is only spoken by Moroccans. Furthermore, other Arabic speakers have difficulty understanding Moroccan Darija Arabic due to its unique morphology and pronunciation.
Thus, what we loosely refer to as Darija is the combination of mutually intelligible languages or varieties that extend across the length and breadth of Morocco.
The Darija spoken in different regions is characterized by subtle differences in pronunciation and structure. One of the commonly known varieties of Darija in Morocco is the mainstream dialect which dominates major cities such as Casablanca and Rabat. We also find other regional dialects like the ones spoken in Tangier and the one spoken in the Saraha region, called Hassania.
How hard is it to learn Moroccan Darija?
As a non-Arab native English speaker, I find Moroccan Arabic, henceforth Darija, more challenging than Standard Arabic or other common varieties of Arabic.
I will even go a step further and say that it is the most difficult, in my opinion. This is understandable, considering that Morocco is the furthest Arabic-speaking country from the Arabian peninsula.
How long does it take to learn Moroccan Darija?
There is no simple answer to this question. The relative ease of learning a particular language depends on the similarities with your own language, how important the language is for you, and, how much you immerse yourself in the language environment.
One problem that learning Darija poses is that it is almost exclusively a spoken language. Darija is not used in education, the courts, government, or religion. Standard Arabic is the default language for these sectors. So, in order to best learn Darija, one needs to be listening and speaking Darija.
Why should you learn Darija?
We have, thus far, established that Darija is neither the most commonly spoken dialect of Arabic nor the easiest to learn. So why then, should you learn Darija? I have come up with 4 reasons that you should learn Moroccan Darija.
- If you already speak Arabic, French or Spanish then you have already gained a foothold into Darija. You can easily build on your already acquired language skills and with a little effort be able to learn a whole new, unique language.
- If you are a student of Linguistics, a related discipline, or merely interested in language in general, Moroccan Darija is an amazing example of language change and development over time. By learning the magnificently rich attributes of Moroccan Darija you will be able to deepen your understanding of language in general.
- If you intend to travel to Morocco extensively you will benefit immensely from learning Darija. It is the only language that is known across Morocco, with no exception. It is also the language that the people of Morocco proudly and affectionately consider their own.
- Last but not least, if you wish to learn a variety of Arabic that is so wildly unique and distinct from any other form of Arabic, for no other reason than to stand out or show-off among other Arabic speakers or the whole world, go ahead and learn Moroccan Darija.
2. French: The colonial language in Morocco
3. English: The new generation’s language in Morocco
Does anyone speak English in Morocco?
English is becoming more popular in Morocco for many reasons. In major cities like Casablanca and Marrakech, you can find English-medium private schools and language centers. English is also becoming more important in the higher education sector, especially for people who plan to live and work outside Morocco.
At the moment, English has no official status in Morocco and is not prioritized in the public school system.
However, there are currently two ideas about the future role of English in Morocco. The first idea is that English should be incorporated into the schooling system as a third language, after Arabic and French. This is already happening in some sectors of Morocco.
The second, more radical approach is that English, being the number 1 global language and the default language of trade and education across the world, should replace French completely. This idea is supported by evidence that French does not have the scope and international reach of English.
4. Amazighiya: The ‘Berber’ language in Morocco
- Origins: The Berber languages in Morocco date back to 3000 BCE
- Official status: Amazighiya is recognized as an official language in Morocco (even though it is really a family of languages)
The Amazigh family of languages is very interesting historically and linguistically because they are among the oldest languages in Africa.
Today, the Amazigh has spread across North Africa, even as far as Egypt. Still, their stronghold is the Northwest corridor of The Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The largest number of Native Amazigh speakers in the world are still alive and well here.
The different Amazigh Languages in Morocco
There are three main dialects or linguistic varieties of Amazigh in Morocco: Rif or Tarifit, Tachelhit, and Tamazight. Tarifit is spoken in the North, around the region of the Rif Mountains. Tamazight is spoken in the central Atlas region. Tachelhit is spoken in the Sous region.
The Amazigh languages were originally written using the Tifinagh alphabet, but have become commonly written using Arabic and more recently the Latin scripts.
Is it essential for travelers to know a few Tachelhit or Tamazight phrases?
While these languages are still widely spoken in Morocco, they are limited, mostly to the rural populations and informal sectors of society.
The vast majority of Moroccans, both Amazigh and Arab, are fluent in Darija, or Moroccan Arabic. Therefore, it is of little travel benefit to expend extra time and energy learning the Amazigh languages solely for the purpose of communication during travel.
Some basic Tamazight Phrases
I’ve added these phrases below just out of curiosity. Good luck trying to pronounce them!
Do you live here? Is tzdghd datkh?
How are you? Mayt3nid?
4. Standard Arabic: The education’s language in Morocco
For all intents and purposes, Standard Arabic is the official language of Morocco. It is the language of basic and higher education, the courts, religious ceremonies, and business. Standard Arabic has the highest official status in Morocco, according to the constitution. Therefore, it is the default language used in all formal domains.
Can you learn Standard Arabic in Morocco?
Yes, you can totally learn Standard Arabic in Morocco. In fact, going to study standard Arabic in Morocco may be a great ‘2 for the price of 1’ deal. Take a course in standard Arabic in Morocco and you will, in so doing, be able to learn Moroccan Darija for free, while interacting with the locals and traveling through the highs and lows of Morocco.
While Morocco is not as well-known for being a center of learning as it is for being a tourist attraction, there are Arabic learning programs available for language learners. Therefore, since Standard Arabic is the language of education in Morocco, it is just as good a place as any other to learn Arabic, not to mention the amazing food.
Start with these useful Moroccan Darija phrases
My name is Chris Smiti Chris
How are you? Kif dayer?
I’m fine_ Ana labass
I’m from America Ana men Amrika
Thank you Chokran
How much is this? Ch’hal hada?
It is very expensive Ghali bezaf
This is big Hada K’bir
This is small Hada S’ghir
Where is the market? Fin souq?
I’m going to the market A nm’chi l Souq
Moroccan Darija learning resources
Given that Moroccan Darija is not the most spoken or learned language by foreigners, there aren’t that many resources available, Therefore, you should try to get your hands on as many books, and guides that you can. Go to your local bookstore or see what’s available online.
The idea is to use whatever Darija material is available. But if you want a book recommendation, we suggest the Peace Corps Darija Textbook. You can find a pdf version online.
2. Online tutors
There are several online learning platforms that you can use to find native Darija speakers like iTalki and Preply. These sites are good because they offer different tutors at different price ranges and have flexible learning options.
If you are on a tight budget or not ready to pay for tuition then Youtube is a great source of free language lessons. There are several channels offering free Moroccan Darija lessons. My favorite one to learn the Moroccan language is Learn with Tayeb channel.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any good and updated Instagram pages about learning Moroccan Arabic (Darija). But keep an eye on Instagram about upcoming ones.
5. Online books and websites
Lastly, check for Facebook groups, pages or helpful websites that offer valuable learning resources. Learn Arabic, Darija is a great Facebook group that provides support and help to foreigners who want to learn Moroccan Arabic. Also, visit Atlas Cultural Foundation to find other useful e-books.
Morocco is undoubtedly one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse nations in North Africa and the greater region. There are several languages spoken in Morocco including Standard Arabic, French, Darija and Amazigh languages. The indigenous Amazigh languages are given official status, unlike in other neighboring countries.
Finally, Morocco would be a great place to learn Arabic, whether standard-form or Darija and you will certainly have a lot of fun in the process.
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