Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Juni 2004

6.1. Standardvariationen und Sprachauffassungen in verschiedenen Sprachkulturen | Standard Variations and Conceptions of Language in Various Language Cultures
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Rudolf Muhr (Universität Graz)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Official and unofficial attitudes towards 'own' and 'other' languages in Morocco

Dawn Marley (University of Surrey, UK)



This paper will examine attitudes towards languages in contact in Morocco, an Arabic-speaking country where French, the ex-colonial language, continues to play an important role. I will look firstly at the official discourse concerning the role and status of the different languages in contact (Standard Arabic, dialectal Arabic, Berber and French), and then discuss the findings of a sociolinguistic survey among language teachers and learners in a Moroccan town. The paper will analyse differences between people's attitudes and official discourse. It will become clear that ordinary Moroccans, whilst attached to Arabic, are equally attached to French, and that it is their dialect, rather than Standard Arabic (the 'national language'), which best expresses their identity.


1. Introduction

This paper examines attitudes towards the question of language and identity in Morocco, a multilingual country. For centuries Arabic, not an indigenous language in North Africa, was adopted as the language of the various ruling dynasties, and came to be viewed as the language of Moroccan identity (Benjelloun, 2002: 99). After independence from France in 1956 Arabic was adopted as the only official language of the state, despite the linguistic diversity which had always existed. The concepts of 'own' and 'other' languages are, in this context, ambiguous, and can have different meanings for different people. Although the constitution is rather vague, referring to the national language as 'Arabic', the language promoted since independence is actually MSA (Modern Standard Arabic). Meanwhile, the vernaculars of Morocco are either a variety of Moroccan Dialectal Arabic, or a variety of the indigenous languages, known as Berber, or Tamazight. In this paper I will examine 'official' attitudes, as expressed in the language policy adopted by government, and 'unofficial' attitudes, as expressed in a sociolinguistic study conducted among language teachers and learners in the Moroccan town of Khouribga.

Before examining these attitudes, I will look briefly at the different languages in contact in Morocco, assessing in each case the relationship between the language and national identity.


2. Moroccan languages in contact

Due to its location at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Middle East, Morocco has been open to many linguistic and cultural influences, and for centuries has been characterized by both bilingualism and diglossia. There are thus a number of languages which could be seen as belonging in some way to Morocco, in particular the group of languages known collectively as Berber, or Tamazight, Arabic, French and Spanish. Each of these will now be briefly discussed.

2.1. Berber

Many would say that Berber is the true language of Moroccan identity, since it appears to be the indigenous language of the country and indeed of the whole region. The term actually refers to a continuum of Hamito-Semitic languages, not all mutually intelligible, but all related. In recent years, the term Berber is often replaced by Tamazight, the generic term used by the modern cultural movement which campaigns for cultural and linguistic rights for speakers of these languages. There is evidence of Tamazight in North Africa some 5000 years ago (Boukous, 1995b: 18), but the script, Tifinagh, was never known or used in Morocco, and so these languages have never been codified or used in a written form. This fact, together with the prestige of Arabic as the language of Divine Revelation, helps to explain why Tamazight became the L language next to Arabic, following the Arab invasion of the seventh century. The Berber people (Imazighen) apparently embraced Islam and identified with Arabo-Islamic culture, to the extent that 'the North African folk vision of the world is articulated entirely from within Islam' (Gellner, 1972: 12) and Moroccans, even when they speak Tamazight as their first language, tend to think of themselves as Arabs. This fact, coupled with the fact that Tamazight is not codified, and has become increasingly marginalised, has prevented it from being perceived as a language of national identity. Nevertheless, Tamazight is still spoken today in certain areas, particularly in the mountainous areas of the Rif and Atlas, although even there Arabic-Tamazight bilingualism has tended to become the norm. Today Tamazight is estimated to be the mother tongue of around 40% of the population, particularly in the three areas where speakers are concentrated, but also among the diaspora in major Moroccan cities (Boukous, 1995a:11, 12). During the twentieth century Tamazight declined sharply, in common with other minority languages around the world, seen as the language of backward peasants and marginalised in modern society. However, the Amazigh cultural movement, documented in Ziri (2000), Kratochwil (1999), Marley (2002), is gaining strength nationally and internationally, contributing to a possible halt to the decline of these languages. These movements tend to appeal to a regional Tamazight identity, however, rather than a national Moroccan identity.

2.2. Arabic

As mentioned already, Arabic was first introduced to Morocco by the Arabs who invaded in the name of Islam in the seventh century. Since the Berbers accepted Islam relatively quickly, they also accepted Arabic as the language of Divine Revelation, and the fact that it existed in written form made it suitable for 'H' functions such as administration, legislation and education. Arabic has, therefore, been a language of prestige for centuries, but it is necessary to point out that there are many varieties of Arabic, not all prestigious. 'Arabic' covers a continuum, from Koranic and Classical Arabic, through MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) to regional dialects. MSA, the standardised written variety used throughout the Arab world today for education and the media, is closely related to the prestigious Classical language, and is therefore also highly respected. Moroccan Dialectal Arabic, on the other hand, has little prestige, being widely regarded as a highly deviant form of 'real' Arabic. Like Tamazight, Dialectal Arabic is not standardized and does not have a written form. It also has a diglossic relationship with MSA, fitting Ferguson's original (1959) definition, with MSA as the 'H' language, used for religion, education and official written functions, and Moroccan Dialectal Arabic as the 'L' language, used for informal everyday communication. Some linguists also claim that a new 'intermediary' form of Arabic is emerging, used mainly by educated speakers in formal or semi-formal settings, particularly on radio and television (see Boukous, 1995b: 35, Sayah, 2002: 413, Ennaji, 1995: 110). The relationship between Arabic and national identity then is long-standing, with the standard language having been the language of the ruling class for centuries, but the Moroccan dialect despised, especially by its speakers, as not even a real language. Pride in a Muslim and Arab identity is expressed through the standard language, not through the dialect.

2.3. Spanish

Although proudly part of the Arabo-Islamic world since the seventh century, Morocco is of course far nearer to Europe than the Middle East, and European languages - Spanish, Portuguese, French and even English - have also had a large degree of influence in the country. The relationship between Spain and Morocco has been particularly interesting, since for centuries (eighth to fifteenth) much of Spain was under Arab rule, and the Spanish language is heavily influenced by Arabic. In later centuries, the Spanish occupied parts of Morocco, and there are still two Spanish enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, on the Mediterranean coast, and Spanish continues to be relatively widely spoken in the Northern part of the country. However, since Independence in 1956, use of Spanish has been in constant decline, due to its absence in the unified state education system (Benzakour, Gaadi, Queffélec, 2000: 71-72). At the same time, recent improvements in political and economic relations with Spain and the Spanish speaking world, may have led to a resurgence of interest in this language, according to Benjelloun (2002: 101). Spanish has not really been considered a language relating to identity in Morocco, despite its long existence there.

2.4. French

French, on the other hand, despite its far shorter presence in Morocco, has retained a far greater role. The French Protectorate lasted from 1912 to 1956, during which time French became a new 'H' language. It obviously could not replace Arabic for religious functions, but it did become the language of education and administration, and was learnt by a small elite. French, and to a lesser extent Spanish, are often depicted in official discourse as instruments of colonial oppression, but they were also necessary for Morocco to move into the modern world, in terms of technology and also of modern liberal ideas and the consumer society (cf. Grandguillaume, 1983: 25, Benjelloun, 2002: 99) Since Independence French has become widely known, due to the democratisation of the education system, and despite its lack of official status, it remains important in a number of domains, such as commerce and finance, science and technology, and parts of the media. It is still seen as the language of professional success and is the first foreign language in the state education system. Although it only has the status of foreign language, it is not regarded as 'foreign' in the same way as other European languages, and outsiders (eg travel guides for tourists) often classify it as the second national language. Even within Morocco it is often classed (unofficially) as 'second language'. For many Moroccans, speaking French is 'second nature' and is the only way to express certain aspects of their lives.

From this brief overview, it is clear that Classical or Standard Arabic has maintained a dominant role for most of the last fourteen centuries, despite widespread bilingualism and diglossia. Nevertheless, there are several other languags which could claim to represent Moroccan identity in some way. The following sections will examine how official discourse has represented the question of language and identity since independence from France.


3. Official discourse following independence

After forty years of French Protectorate, the newly independent Morocco gave high priority to the idea of national unity, in particular linguistic unity, to the detriment of cultural diversity (Benjelloun, 2002: 99). It may be seen as ironic that, in its zeal to remove all traces of French occupation, the state should adopt the same Jacobin style of language policy favoured by the French state for centuries.

The language policy adopted by the newly independent Morocco was Arabization, the process of replacing French with Arabic. As already mentioned, the Arabic used is in this process is MSA. It was seen as the cultural counterpart of political and economic independence, a means of restoring 'authenticity', asserting the country's Arabo-Islamic identity and removing French cultural influence. This was a popular idea among the mass of the population, even though they had never learnt either French or MSA. They were told that Arabization would liberate them from foreign oppression, and would bring about greater equality of opportunity, because Arabic was their 'own' language. However, it is clear that in reality there is greater opportunity for those who have learnt French, and that mastering MSA is an uphill struggle for most Moroccans, particularly those whose mother tongue is Tamazight. In practice it is still the upper and middle classes, with access to private - bilingual - education, who have the greatest career opportunities (see Grandguillaume, 1983: 35, Redouane, 1998: 200, Boukous, 1999: 53, 77). This suggests that a hidden motive for Arabization was the pursuit and maintenance of power by an elite, who cynically promoted Arabization whilst ensuring that their own children were educated bilingually.

Arabization was also presented as a means of uniting the country, as language policies often are. Since Arabic has undoubtedly been the language of government for centuries, and had, during the Protectorate, become symbolic of national identity, it assumed this role easily. Despite the linguistic diversity already mentioned, the fact that Islam is so central to Moroccan identity means that Arabic is a uniting force, symbolising not only Moroccan unity, but also Muslim and Arab unity. However, some sociolinguists (Grandguillaume, 1983: 39, 1991: 50, Boukous, 1999: 77) have commented that there is an unspoken motivation behind Arabization, that of eradicating the vernaculars. This has never been openly stated, but would be a logical outcome of the policy of Arabization, following the model of France, where French was promoted as the national language to the detriment and virtual disappearance of all regional languages. The mother tongues of Morocco, particularly Tamazight, were simply ignored by official discourse, although active discrimination also occurred. One example is the Law of First Names introduced in 1996 (Dahir No. 1.96.97). 'Instituted allegedly to preserve Moroccan culture, it, in fact, imposes Arabic names on an entire citizenry more than half of which is not Arabic.' (Amazigh Cultural Association in America, Press Release, May 27, 1998).

Despite being promoted since the earliest days of independence as a national imperative, Arabization has been implemented somewhat sporadically, for a number of reasons, some practical, some ideological and political. Boukous claims that, although the basis of Moroccan language policy is Arabization, there is a pragmatic compromise between Francophonie and Arabization, reflecting the ambivalence of the policy, caught between 'authenticity' and 'modernity'(Boukous, 1999: 62). The political debate between those who support 'balanced bilingualism' and gradual Arabization, and those who advocate rapid and total Arabization has existed since independence, and has had far more influence than any linguistic, educational or other considerations. 'The pace and scope of Arabization has depended largely on which of these groups has had more power in the government at a given time. For this reason, the history of Arabizing the school curriculum has been marked by ambivalence and discontinuity.' (Redouane, 1998: 199.) Benjelloun (2002: 100) describes this debate as 'trench warfare' which has been expensive and destabilizing for the whole of Moroccan society.

To conclude this section, official discourse since independence has promoted one language, not a mother tongue, as the national language, overtly discouraging the use of French, depicted as an alien language, and covertly discouraging the vernaculars, even actively discriminating against them. Despite the importance given to this policy by successive governments since independence, by the late 1990s it was clear that total Arabization was still far from accomplished, and a new approach to language policy seemed to be called for.


4. The Charter for Reform, 2000: change in official discourse

The National Charter for Education and Training, produced in 2000, is a document covering a proposed reform of the whole education system. For the purposes of this paper I am concerned only with articles 110-118, which deal with the language issue. Article 110 states that Morocco will be adopting a 'clear, coherent and constant language policy within education.' This policy includes 'the reinforcement and improvement of Arabic teaching, the introduction of choice of languages for teaching science and technology, and an openness to Tamazight.' The subsequent articles deal with each aspect in turn.

As far as Arabic is concerned, the Charter reiterates that this is the national language, and provides for the creation of an Arabic language academy, to oversee the modernisation of the language. However, the word 'Arabization' is not used once in the text, a fact seen by Berdouzi (2000:21) as an acknowledgement of the negative connotations of the term. Alongside the provisions for improving the teaching and learning of Arabic, significantly there is provision for teaching science and technology in 'the most appropriate languages', preferably those used in higher education. French is not named, but since this is still the language of much science and technology teaching in universities, it is the obvious choice. Berdouzi sees this as a tacit recognition of the failure of Arabization in the teaching of science and technology, claiming that to persist with Arabization in this area would be to consign millions of young Moroccans to a 'cultural and socio-economic ghetto' (Berdouzi, 2000:21). The Charter thus recognises, albeit tacitly, that Arabic is not the only language that Moroccans can use in an educational setting, and that French is not alien to them.

As for the 'openness to Tamazight', this is recognition that not all Moroccans are Arabic speakers, and that the use of Tamazight in early years teaching could be highly beneficial. Article 115 allows local authorities to use 'any local dialect', which in the context should be taken to mean any dialect of Tamazight, rather than dialect of Arabic. The stated purpose of this is to facilitate learning the national language. This section also provides for the creation of research and development projects in some universities, and support for teacher training in Tamazight. Such provisions mark a distinct change of attitude, acknowledging that there are a number of mother tongues in Morocco and that they will continue to exist alongside the national language.

The Charter, then, marks an important change in language policy. Whilst it is still clear that MSA is the national language and that the teaching and learning of this language must be considerably improved, this is no longer the sole aim of the policy. Articles 110-118 of the Charter indicate the importance of improving competence in other languages, and the importance of learning at least one foreign language is stressed. The need for Tamazight speakers to conserve their language and learn about their cultural heritage is also highlighted. The Charter suggests that the policy makers are tacitly recognising that Arabization has not been a total success and that a new, more pluralistic approach is needed. It also accepts that although there is only one national language, Morocco is not a monolingual state.


5. 'Unofficial attitudes': responses from language teachers and learners in Khouribga

We will now examine how this change of attitude is perceived by Moroccans, by looking at some of the responses to a study involving language learners and teachers. The study was conducted among students, aged 14-19 and their teachers, at a number of state schools in Khouribga, a town in central Morocco. Khouribga is not in one of the Tamazight speaking areas, and the first language of all informants was Dialectal Arabic. The town grew and prospered during the French Protectorate, when phosphate deposits were found in the area, and the French influence is still very visible here. Spanish, on the other hand, has never been widely used in this area.

In this study of language use and attitudes, the students were given a closed-question questionnaire, and the teachers a more open-ended questionnaire in which they were asked to express their views on a number of aspects of the 2000 Charter. The following section will report on some of the findings, and relate them to the official attitudes discussed above.

1. The student questionnaire

The questionnaire was distributed to 159 students in a number of state schools in Khouribga. The majority (84%) were aged 14 to 16, the rest were 17-19. There was a majority of female students, with a 60:40 split.

2. Language competence and usage

Students were asked to evaluate their linguistic competence and to say at what age they had started learning both French and MSA, with the following results:

MSA French
Learnt at age 5-7 (61.6%) Learnt at age 8-10 (52.8%)
77.4% speak 70.4% speak
95% understand 80.5% understand
89.3% read 95.6% read
87.4% write 83% write

The relatively low numbers of students claiming competence in languages they have been learning and using for years indicates the lack of confidence and the awareness of inadequacies in the teaching and learning of languages. Such responses corroborate reports on language teaching and learning made shortly after the publication of the Charter. One document produced by the Ministry for Education in 2000 claimed that Moroccan school leavers are increasingly 'nilingue' (non-lingual) as they do not have an adequate grasp of either Arabic, the national language, or French, the first foreign language. A report prepared for the government by the International Literacy Institute (Maamouri, 2000: 10) suggests that Arabic-French bilingual education leads to what linguists have described as 'double semilingualism', meaning that both their French and Arabic are deficient on a number of levels. More students claimed to speak, understand and write MSA than French, which is to be expected, since this is the first language they learnt at school. However, noticeably more students claim to read French than MSA - which may reflect the fact that reading French is relatively easy, once the student has a basic grasp of the spelling system, whereas reading MSA is relatively difficult, given the convention of not using the diacritics which represent vowels when writing. These low levels of self-evaluation already indicate that many students do not see either French or MSA as their own language, since they cannot even speak either of them adequately. Whilst this is only to be expected for French, it is perhaps more surprising for MSA, the national language which should express Moroccan identity.

3. Language attitudes

In order to assess attitudes further, students were asked to say if they agreed or disagreed with a series of statements relating to languages in Morocco. The statements were presented randomly, in order to encourage instinctive answers, and produced an interesting set of responses, often with a clear consensus of views.

Their attitude towards bilingualism was extremely positive, suggesting that official discourse about the importance of linguistic unity has left them quite unmoved. Over 80% of students agreed that 'it is always an advantage to speak two languages'. However, this generally positive attitude masked differing attitudes towards different languages, revealing that in some cases official discourse has been heeded, and in others not.

As far as French is concerned, the students are in favour of maintaining its de facto role as second national language, since they see it as vital for Moroccans. A large majority like learning French and agree that children in Morocco should learn it. They also believe that Arabic-French bilingualism offers advantages to Moroccans; they believe French is useful for working in Morocco, and useful for science and technology, whilst a slightly smaller majority believe it to be a language of culture. Such responses suggest that students are disillusioned by Arabization and do not view French as a sinister 'other' language. It is not, however, widely seen as part of Moroccan cultural heritage. The attitude towards French is also coloured by the apparently growing influence of English: a clear majority believe that English is more important internationally, and although they do not think French will disappear in Morocco, there is a high degree of uncertainty about whether or not future generations of Moroccans will be bilingual in French and Arabic. French may not be seen as 'other', but students do not appear to be emotionally attached to the language - if English offers greater advantages, they would prefer to learn English.

Attitudes towards MSA are mixed, although the overall sense is that students do not think of this as their own language. They have grown up in an entirely arabized school system, and have only ever known MSA as the national language. In spite of this, they are less keen on learning MSA than French, and only 42% strongly agree that it represents their national identity. Only 40% (14.5/27) feel that MSA is useful for working in Morocco, and similar numbers feel it is useful for science and technology. A large majority, however, (90%) agrees that it is a language of culture. This is of little comfort, however, when one considers that a group of European students who had learnt Latin might all agree that it is a language of culture, yet nobody would claim that it was a useful language in everyday life.

Attitudes towards Tamazight and Arabic-Tamazight bilingualism were almost entirely negative, reflecting the fact that in this non Tamazight speaking area the language may be viewed by many, if not most, students as worthless dialects. Such a view reflects the official attitude until the late 1990s, when this was very much the way Tamazight was portrayed. They clearly do not view Tamazight as a language on a par with MSA or French, since a majority felt that Arabic-Tamazight bilingualism had no advantages. Their attitude appears to be similar to that frequently encountered in France in relation to regional languages: although these languages have been present in the country for at least as long as French, they do not have the prestige of the national language, and are often dismissed as a hindrance to national unity and to progress. Tamazight undoubtedly has a greater right than Arabic to be seen as the 'true' language of Morocco, since it appears to be indigenous and has survived so many centuries of marginalization. Nevertheless, these young people generally accept that Tamazight is not important or useful in modern Morocco.

Although they seem to have little respect for Tamazight, the students do seem to be proud of their own dialect, in contradiction to responses from traditional Arabic speakers that their dialects are worthless. One of the most interesting responses here is to the statement that Moroccan Arabic represents Moroccan national identity. A very clear majority agreed with this statement, despite the fact that this language has no written form and no official prestige. As the self-evaluation indicated, many of these young people do not feel confident and cannot express themselves adequately in MSA or French. Dialectal Arabic is really their own language, and despite its lowly status, this response suggests a high degree of 'covert prestige', an awareness that it is this language that really allows them to express who they are.


4. The teacher questionnaire

The teachers' questionnaire was far more open-ended, in order to give them scope to express their views on changes in language policy. In some cases they wrote lengthy responses, which allows a greater insight into their attitudes. Their questionnaire was divided into four sections, dealing with the following four areas:

All four areas will be discussed here, as together they give a clear picture of how this group of language teachers views the language question in Morocco today.

Section 1: possible return to teaching science and technology in French

Teachers were first asked what they considered to be the factors motivating the recent change in policy. Although a number of teachers had written quite a long response to this, the responses can be summarized thus:

Failure of Arabization

16% (4)
Low level of French among students

24% (6)
Gap between language of school and university

20% (5)
Political factors

28% (7)

12% (3)

Many of the teachers clearly felt strongly about this, believing that the consequences of a rushed Arabization had been disastrous for schools. Some made comments such as: Let's not be afraid to say it: several generations have been the victims of a lack of forethought in this matter, a fact amply borne out by the decline in standards in schools'; 'Morocco is already backward in science and technology and Arabization only accentuates this backwardness'. Many commented on the decline in standards since the completion of Arabization in schools. One claimed that 'the majority of pupils, on reaching the baccalauréat (school leaving certificate, at age 18) are still at the stage of deciphering; they still stumble over basic points (of the French language)'. They are also concerned by the fact that Arabization in schools has not been followed by Arabization in universities, and students are therefore unprepared for higher studies. Moreover, they say, knowledge of French is essential if young people are to participate in a 'globalized society'. The majority seem to believe that Arabization of science in schools was a mistake, and that the Charter is simply correcting that error, recognizing that 'rushing into Arabization and sterile monolingualism has resulted in a clear decline in the standard of our pupils and the quality of teaching.' Some, however, were convinced that the change was purely political, not didactic or pedagogical, but they did not specify what those political motivations were. One possible motivation could be the link between Arabization and Islamic fundamentalism. Benrabah (1999) has argued at length that Arabization has been directly responsible for the growth of fundamentalism and the deterioration of civil society in Algeria, and the Moroccan authorities are anxious to avoid similar developments. The new language policy could be viewed as an attempt to curtail the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Morocco, and to encourage a more pluralistic and tolerant outlook.

Two thirds of them considered that science teaching would be improved as a result of this change, and that all science and technology should be taught in French. Some also pointed out that improvements would only occur if there were 'a serious commitment from teachers'. Nevertheless, 48% felt it would be better to improve science teaching in Arabic: one claimed that in other Arab countries sciences are taught in Arabic with excellent results, whilst another claimed that Arabic was perfectly adequate for sciences, it simply needed to be properly used. Others thought that teaching in Arabic should be improved, but still felt that it was more useful to teach sciences in French, if only because there is a lack of documentation in Arabic. Their responses to the question of which language should be used for science teaching is indicative of the ambivalence surrounding the use of French in education. Clearly a number of informants are still not sure if one solution is really better than the other, believing on the one hand that they should improve and use Arabic to teach science, but on the other hand that it would be better done in French.

As for the usefulness of French in relation to English, 68% felt that English would overtake French in the long term, although at present French is the more useful language in Morocco.

Section 2: foreign language teaching in primary schools

The second section focussed on plans to introduce foreign language teaching at a very early stage in primary schools. Teachers were very positive about this, almost all believing that it would be beneficial for children. The majority (68%) did not believe that this would jeopardize the acquisition of Arabic. Some teachers did feel it would be to the detriment of Arabic acquisition, in one case because 'children are always attracted by novelty', whilst another feared 'the risks of acculturation or damaging the social, religious and economic identity of children'. Others, however, referred to their own experience in the 1960s and 1970s as proof that introducing a foreign language early is not harmful. One such teacher concluded that 'learning a foreign language will be enriching, not alienating. Knowing only one language is to live on the edge of society; we should encourage bilingualism.' All those who expressed an opinion believed that bilingualism was advantageous, although some commented that it was more advantageous to certain social classes. They did not, however, comment on the fact that they represent the minority who were fortunate enough to have benefited from a bilingual education during the 1960s and 1970s. Although in theory education was freely available to all, in practice few ordinary working class Moroccans were able to complete their education. Their positive attitude towards early introduction of a foreign language is directly related to their own positive experience of a bilingual education, and the benefits it has brought them and their peers. It is thus not surprising that 84% of them agreed that Arabic-French bilingualism offers advantages to Moroccan children. Despite their very positive attitude towards French, however, 36% thought that French should be offered together with English, 12% with Spanish, and 28% 'another language'. This suggests that although they are attached to French and see very distinct benefits to being Arabic-French bilingual, many of them would not want to be exclusively tied to French. It is a language they use, they do not own it.

Section 3: the teaching of Tamazight in relevant areas

As mentioned earlier, the issue of Tamazight has not always been tackled openly in Morocco, and it is only since the 1990s that it is recognised as an issue. In a town like Khouribga, where there is not a sizeable Tamazight speaking population, it is not generally considered an important issue. Just over half of the informants thought that using Tamazight in primary schools would be a good idea, for pedagogical reasons, but a very large majority thought it would be problematic. Some mentioned specific problems such as the lack of qualified teachers, and the lack of a written form for these languages. Others were opposed to the idea, seeing these languages as being of limited use and interest. Some even saw it as a retrogressive step, potentially detrimental to the acquisition of Arabic, and liable to cause regional and social divisions. Such attitudes again reflect the Jacobin view that a united country should have a unified language. The fact that a small majority is opposed to Arabic-Tamazight bilingualism is indicative of the ambivalence felt about this issue; although they have expressed their enthusiasm for bilingualism and are very much in favour of introducing French and other European languages at an early age, they are uncomfortable with the idea of other languages having the status of 'own' language in Morocco. On the other hand, a majority (68%) felt that Tamazight represents an important part of Moroccan cultural heritage, although most informants were rather vague on this subject. However, it can be explained by the fact that Amazigh cultural activities (music, dance, festivals) are frequently presented as 'authentic Moroccan', but also as essentially folkloric. Amazigh culture may be viewed quite differently to Tamazight language, since it does not threaten the perception of an Arabo-Islamic identity.

Section 4: Arabization and the linguistic future of Morocco

Just over half the teachers felt that Arabization was still a valid policy for Morocco, although almost all of them recognized that the policy needs to be rethought in detail, since it has clearly not succeeded in improving the general level of education. Those in favour of Arabization commented that it is 'a national principle' or 'reflects our essence'. Many of the informants, though, were in favour of Arabization and bilingualism. As one commented, Arabization represents the desire for autonomy and the need to give value and status to the national language, but this need not exclude knowledge of foreign languages. Several informants agreed with the aims of the new policy, as expressed in the Charter: they felt it was important to improve knowledge of Arabic whilst also improving competence in other languages. Some teachers were totally opposed to Arabization, pointing out the negative results it had produced in schools. One even claimed that it had devalued Arabic, since pupils today were not even capable of constructing a text in this language. Another claimed that over several generations Arabization had led to a decline in cognitive and interactive capabilities in the majority of pupils and students. Such views give further evidence that people have not been convinced by the government's discourse on Arabization.

The majority, 64%, agreed that Arabic-French bilingualism does not present problems for Moroccans. As one expressed it: 'on the contrary it allows them to enjoy exchanges with other cultures, to explore new horizons and perspectives, and is enriching. It is a privilege.' Others again referred to their own positive experience: 'Look at the seventies: Arabic-French bilingualism didn't give Moroccans any problem then. Teaching in both languages was beneficial.' Some did say that bilingualism could be problematic, but the only specific problem mentioned was that Arabization had led to poor expression in French. The question did not specify the types of problems that might arise, but informants clearly interpreted it as meaning educational problems.

When it came to the sociolinguistic future of Morocco, many (44%) believed it was very unclear, largely due to their lack of confidence in the ability of the system to improve, whilst others (20%) were more optimistic. Nobody thought that Arabic would be the only language in use, but views on the role and status of other languages varied. The most optimistic believed the policy in the Charter would be acted upon, and that Arabic would be safeguarded and defended, whilst the country would be 'enriched' by other languages - French, English, Spanish and Italian. At the other extreme, one said 'in the current climate, I see no future, we are heading for a linguistic catastrophe.' Several repeated their belief that things would improve as long as the Arabization of science teaching were discontinued.


5. Conclusion

To conclude, the official line that Morocco must unite behind Arabic, symbol of her Arabo-Islamic culture, has had to change slightly, to take into account the sociolinguistic reality of the country. The changes introduced: acknowledging the role that an outside, colonial, language - French - can still play in the independent Morocco, and recognizing the existence of vernaculars, are changes welcomed by teachers and language learners alike. The study suggests that the new language policy recognizes the attitudes of ordinary Moroccans towards the languages in contact in the country: Arabization is right for a country like Morocco, but MSA needs to be adapted and tools for language learning improved. At the same time, there is a need to benefit from the continued presence of the 'other' language, French, and even to foresee using English, where it is in the best interests of the people and the country. Finally, although this study did not reveal a great awareness of Tamazight, it did reveal language loyalty to Moroccan dialect, suggesting that Moroccans feel that their vernacular is their 'own' language.

© Dawn Marley (University of Surrey, UK)


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6.1. Standardvariationen und Sprachauffassungen in verschiedenen Sprachkulturen | Standard Variations and Conceptions of Language in Various Language Cultures

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

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For quotation purposes:
Dawn Marley (University of Surrey, UK): Official and unofficial attitudes towards 'own' and 'other' languages in Morocco. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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