Monday, March 9, 2015

Country Profile: The Languages of Morocco

Last Friday we looked at the languages of Uganda, and now we're shifting across the continent to Morocco. This beautiful country with coastlines on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea has a fascinating linguistic landscape, despite being home to only 14 languages.

The Official Languages

Morocco has two official languages: Arabic and Berber. While Modern Standard Arabic, the standardized literary form of Arabic used in most Arabic-speaking countries, is the country's official variety of Arabic, the vast majority of Moroccans speak Moroccan Arabic. Also known as Darija, Moroccan Arabic is the language most commonly used in everyday life in Morocco. It can be distinguished from other varieties of Arabic due to its inclusion of Berber, Spanish, and French loanwords.

Toubkal, the highest mountain peak in Morocco and North Africa.
The country's other official language, Berber, is a group of language varieties belonging to the Afro-Asiatic language family. The exact number of Berber speakers in Morocco is unknown, but estimates generally fall between 25 and 50% of the country's population. Just like Darija, Berber languages are vernacular languages generally used when speaking with family and friends. They are generally not used as a written language.

While we did say that Morocco only has two official languages, the country is home to one other language that has all the hallmarks of an official language without the recognition. That language is French, which is used nearly 70% of the population as either a native or second language.

Along with Modern Standard Arabic, French is a prestige language in Morocco, which is used in government, business, education, industry, science, banking, and other important areas. As is true in many other African countries, French retains a high level of prestige in the country due to its importance during the colonial era, when Morocco was a protectorate of France. It is also an obligatory subject in all Moroccan schools, hence its prominence in society as a second language, and is considered a lingua franca that helps to connect Morocco to Europe.

Other Languages

In comparison with other African countries, Morocco is not very linguistically diverse. However, most of its citizens are multilingual, speaking some combination of the various forms of Arabic and Berber as well as French. Two other prominent languages in the country are English and Spanish, which are both popular choices when learning a foreign language.

English is primarily chosen due to its global importance, while Spanish is often chosen in northern Morocco. This is due to its use in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish cities that are located on the African continent and surrounded by Morocco. Unsurprisingly, Morocco's government disputes Spain's claim on the cities, but that's a political matter we won't be getting into today.