[lg policy] Language policy in Morocco

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri May 25 10:19:49 EDT 2018

Kenitra – *Many believe that the language situation in Morocco is more of a
conflict than an advantage. Most language conflicts stem from the
unbalanced status allocated to each language in a single country. *

Language conflicts take place, most of the time, in multilingual countries
such as Morocco. Its strategic location at the gateway between Africa,
Europe, and the Middle East has caused Morocco to be influenced by multiple
waves such as the Arabs, Spaniards, Portuguese, and French. Morocco has a
variety of languages spoken within the country.

The first group includes Moroccan Arabic and Tamazight (Berber), which are
held in low esteem by society. The second group includes French and
Standard Arabic, which are the languages of administration and are held in
high esteem by Moroccans. This interaction between languages creates a
realm for competition, which results in a class struggle, as Grandguillaume
puts it (Saib, 2001: 5).
*Language Policy in Morocco*

In regard to the diversity of Moroccan languages, Zouhir argues that the
Moroccan linguistic repertoire includes two groups. The first includes
Moroccan Arabic and Tamazight, which occupies a vulnerable social status in
Morocco. The second category includes French, Standard Arabic, and English.
These languages are used in administration Dawn Marley argues that there
are three languages that enrich Moroccan language repertoire: Tamazight,
Arabic, and French. She thinks that these three languages are the ones that
must be included in any discussion related to language issues (Marley,

Read Also: Tamazight: Combatting “Linguistic Terrorism” in Morocco

Saib analyzes the linguistic situation in Morocco in a more detailed
approach. He refers to the two languages that have native speakers and are
the mother tongues of Moroccans, both inside and outside of Morocco. He
says, “Moroccan Arabic and Berber are the only varieties that are spoken
natively” (Saib, 2001). Other languages, such as Standard Arabic, French,
Spanish, and English, are limited to schools. Boukous thinks that there are
competition and power struggles among languages as well as between the two
groups of language (Zouhir, 2013).

Another thing that Saib mentions is that policy-makers have favored the use
of French against Standard Arabic as the most appropriate language for
instruction in schools (Saib, 2001). To support his argument, Saib claims
that the Royal Commission on the Reform of Education does not include the
use of mother tongues (Tamazight and Moroccan Arabic), and he added that
the policy is still the same today.

Furthermore, Saib unravels some of the paradoxes, utilizing the figures
from the 1994 Census. Saib notices that the Amazigh (Berber) population is
estimated to be 38.64% of the total Moroccan population. If that is added
to the number of Tamazight speakers dwelling in urban cities and outside of
Morocco, it will push the percentage to reach 60%, as estimated by some
Amazigh scholars (Saib, 2001). According to these figures, if correct, one
can only notice that Tamazight is minimized even though the Tamazight
language is a majority language (Ibid). One of the reasons behind
minimizing the Tamazight language, Saib argues, is obviously political:

The ethnocentric pan-Arabist political establishment, which has been
repeating ad nauseum that Morocco is an Arab country and that Moroccans are
Arabs, does not obviously want the Amazigh to know how many they are, hence
their demographic weight, for fear that they may demand a political power
corresponding to it (Saib, 2001:1)

Read Also: Moha Ennaji Presents Anthropological Study of Morocco in ‘The
Olive Tree of Wisdom’

The demographic weight obviously poses a threat to the elite’s ideological
plan. Moreover, Marley thinks that reinstating Arabic was a means of
preserving Morocco’s Arab-Islamic identity, and its epistemological break
with Western ties. (Marley, 2005:1488). She also added that during the
Arabization plan, people thought that it was a good move since they had
never been exposed to foreign languages or Classical Arabic (Ibid).

Saib states that the sociolinguistic situation of both Tamazight and
Moroccan Arabic is inherently motivated by ideological and political
intentions (Saib, 2001:4). Marley, following in the footsteps of Saib,
argues that “A powerful motivation behind the policy is the pursuit and
maintenance of power: the ‘élite’ promote Arabization from virtuous
ideological motives, but in the knowledge that French continues to be
necessary for social and professional success” (Marley, 2005: 1489). Saib
asserts that specialists in the field, who take into consideration
sociolinguists’ findings and literature, are the ones who should carry on
language policy and planning (Saib, 2001).
*Language Conflict in Morocco*

The language situation in Morocco can be seen as ‘simplex’; it is simple
but complex at the same time. On one level, foreigners see multilingualism
in Morocco as richness. On the other level, theorists like Saib see it as
complex and unfair. When Arabization was first established by the
Istiqlal-led first national government (1955-1956), it was based on purely
political and ideological intentions (Saib, 2001). The sociolinguistic
status assigned to Tamazight and Moroccan Arabic during independence was
the work of the pro-Arabization “nationalist” elite, who chose the language
that suited their agenda (Ibid).

“They have been subjected to a consciously planned process of minorization
and excluded from the school domain” (Saib, 2001:4).

Read Also: Why the English Language Is Vital for the Future of Morocco

Saib says that Tamazight and Moroccan Arabic were regarded as vernaculars
that are considered stigmatized forms of speaking used in casual settings
(Ibid). Marley argues that Tamazight language and culture are held in low
esteem, and are regarded as “synonymous with inferiority and ignorance”
(Marley, 2005).

Boukous says that an analysis of the sociolinguistic situation in North
Africa reveals the hierarchy and classification of languages according to
various ecological factors, such as the economy, politics, the marketplace,
and technology (Boukous, 2008:35).

When Morocco gained independence in 1956, several reforms took place in its
linguistic policies. For Morocco to break with Western influence, it
declared Classical Arabic as the official language of the country alongside
the Arabization policy (Zouhir, 2013: 274). The purpose of Arabization was
to bring the country together, but it did not respect the multilingual
voices that inhabit Morocco (Zouhir, 2013: 274). Morocco implemented the
same strategy that the French adopted during their colonization in Morocco.

“During the French occupation for 44 years from 1912 to 1956, French was
imposed and instituted as the main language of instruction at all levels of
education, and Arabic as a foreign language” (Redouane, 2016: 19).

In fact, back in 1930, the French used Tamazight dialects and the Arabic
vernaculars, through the “Dahir berbère” (Berber Decree), to help divide
the country in order to rule more widely (Redouane, 2016: 19). After the
failure of Arabization, Grandguillaume saw “Arabization as a class
struggle” (Saib, 2001). Tamazight speakers started voicing their rights; it
was time for a reform that could actually deliver solid results.

Read Also: Six Things Students of Arabic Should Know before Starting Their
Language Journey

Years have passed searching for the absolute solution for the linguistic
catastrophe Morocco has suffered. The Charter for Educational Reform,
created in 2000, calls for a drastic linguistic change. Article 110 in the
Charter states, “Morocco will now be adopting a ‘clear, coherent and
constant language policy within education’. This policy has three major
thrusts: ‘the reinforcement and improvement of Arabic teaching’,
‘diversification of languages for teaching science and technology’ and an
‘openness to Tamazight’” (Marley, 2005: 1489).

Openness towards Tamazight is a huge jump towards inclusion. Although many
might not see this step as being enough, at least it represents movement
toward change and an admission that not all Moroccans are Arabs. As
Berdouzi suggests (2000: 26), if the Charter delivers what it promised,
young Moroccans will excel in Standard Arabic, as well as use it
appropriately in different domains, and they will also excel in at least
two foreign languages, which they will use in several contexts (Marley,
2005: 1490).

Morocco has adopted many reforms in the past. Although these decisions by
previous policy-makers were somewhat poor, they tried to adapt and form a
linguistically-united Morocco. Regardless of their agendas and intentions,
the changes and reforms that have occurred in Morocco are solid steps
toward changing what went wrong and preventing it from happening in the
future. Challenges will always present themselves. For example, Tamazight
is limited to the elementary level and Standard Arabic is supposed to be
used in higher education.

Moreover, the Charter suggested that Morocco has opened up to foreign
languages without specifying what languages. This leaves the foreign
languages in a state of rivalry. However, this does not mean change stops
here or that it will take place overnight. This process of recreating
policies and correcting the mistakes of the past is a healthy one. Morocco
has to learn from its mistakes and evolve toward a better future.

*The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not
necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial views.*

*© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be
published, rewritten or redistributed without permission.*


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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