Languages of Morocco


Languages of Morocco

The languages of Morocco are classical Arabic as an official language (it is the "classical" Arabic of the Qur'an, literature and news media), also the country has a distinctive dialect of Arabic known as Moroccan Arabic or Darija. Approximately 15 million Moroccans speak Berber — which exists in Morocco in three different dialects (Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Tamazight) — either as a first language or bilingually with the spoken Arabic dialect. French, which remains Morocco's unofficial third language, is taught universally and still serves as Morocco's primary language of commerce and economics; it is also widely used in education and government. Morocco is a member of La Francophonie. Amazigh (Berber) activists have struggled for half a century for the recognition of their language as the official language of Morocco in the Moroccan constitution. They also demand that this language should be taught in all Moroccan schools and universities.

About 20,000 Moroccans in the northern part of the country speak Spanish. English, while still far behind French and Spanish in terms of the number of speakers, is rapidly becoming the second foreign language of choice among educated youth, after French. As a result of national education reforms entering into force in late 2002, English will be taught in all public schools from the fourth year on.

Arabic

Arabic is Morocco's only official language although it is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, namely Darija that is spoken by the majority of the population (about 70% of the population).

Berber dialects

The exact population of Berber speakers is hard to ascertain, since most North African countries do not record language data in their censuses. The Ethnologue provides a useful academic starting point; however, its bibliographic references are inadequate, and it rates its own accuracy at only B-C for the area. Early colonial censuses may provide better documented figures for some countries; however, these are also very much out of date.

"Few census figures are available; all countries (Algeria and Morocco included) do not count Berber languages. The 1972 Niger census reported Tuareg, with other languages, at 127,000 speakers. Population shifts in location and number, effects of urbanization and education in other languages, etc., make estimates difficult. In 1952 A. Basset (LLB.4) estimated the number of Berberophones at 5,500,000. Between 1968 and 1978 estimates ranged from eight to thirteen million (as reported by Galand, LELB 56, pp. 107, 123-25); Voegelin and Voegelin (1977, p. 297) call eight million a conservative estimate. In 1980, S. Chaker estimated that the Berberophone populations of Kabylie and the three Moroccan groups numbered more than one million each; and that in Algeria, 3,650,000, or one out of five Algerians, speak a Berber language (Chaker 1984, pp. 8-

In 1952, André Basset ("La langue berbère", Handbook of African Languages, Part I, Oxford) estimated that a "small majority" of Morocco's population spoke Berber. The 1960 census estimated that 34% of Moroccans spoke Berber, including bi-, tri-, and quadrilinguals. In 2000, Karl Prasse cited "more than half" in an interview conducted by Brahim Karada at Tawalt.com. According to the Ethnologue (by deduction from its Moroccan Arabic figures), the Berber-speaking population is estimated at 35% (1991 and 1995). However, the figures it gives for individual languages only add up to 7.5 million, or about 28%. Most of these are accounted for by three dialects: Tarifit: 1.5 million (1991) Tachelhit: 3 million (1998) Central Morocco Tamazight: 3 million (1998) This nomenclature is common in linguistic publications, but is significantly complicated by local usage: thus Tachelhit is sub-divided into Tachelhit of the Dra valley, Tasusit (the language of the Souss) and several other (mountain)-dialects. Moreover, linguistic boundaries are blurred, such that certain dialects cannot accurately be described as either Central Morocco Tamazight (spoken in the Central and eastern Atlas area) or Tachelhit.

See also


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