Vous êtes ici : Accueil > ملفاتنا > Quelle langue ? which language ? > Emancipatory power of Darija
  • Emancipatory power of Darija

  • By : Anass Khayati


    I’m aware that Darija has its own linguistic system, no matter how varied, with its own syntax, morphology…etc. So, why can’t it be used to educate ? I imagine that one aspect of this will be that the language of taboos–sexual, religious, familial, political, medical…etc.–will be that of education. I imagine that learning using Darija will reveal these taboos to us and even remedy them by decorticating them and turning them into unbiased pieces of information. Indeed, Morocco’s social sclerosis is being maintained through the maintenance of silence over key daily life issues, and, in turn, this silence is ossified by the cold magma of taboos that vehemently resists to any change. I imagine that such an implementation will do Darija/Moroccans—here the slash expresses a personal opinion to the question of identity, with mother languages being a major constituent ; though, of course, the Moroccan identity doesn’t exist in a singular form not does it exclude the influence of other languages and other constituents that are of no linguistic nature whatsoever—a favor never done before : it’ll systematically and progressively be elevated from silence and ignorance to curiosity and enlightenment. 

    Also, the role Darija played in the aborted Moroccan Spring is highly significant. Learning in Darija will make normal people understand things that are hidden from them (the king will be finally understood !). But, and this is a subject with a lot of buts and howevers, I think this will not take place. The present scene hints that Darija won’t have any official status in the near future. The fact that Darija is connected with emancipation is reason enough for the state to suffocate its potential. More reasons follow.


    Darija, social Islam, pan-Arabism, and the monarchy

    Perhaps turning our gaze towards Amazigh can partially answer this intricate question. Researcher di Mina Afkir (2013) asked her Arabophone interviewees about Arabic and Amazigh and found that 51.28% of the responses agree that schooling should be in both Standard Arabic (SA) and Amazigh, but 61.53% of the answers showed that Amazigh should be taught less than SA, while 33.33% of the respondents see that they should be equally taught. That is, the Arabophone interviewees welcome Amazigh, but simultaneously assert the supremacy of SA.[1] Darija, usually contrasted with SA in the present debate, is seen from a pan-Arabist perspective that assert its self-evident use over any other language. On the other hand, the first media press of Benikran as the head of the government, back to 2nd. December, 2012, was in Darija, but his party fiercely defends SA when it comes to education. For them, as in ads as we’ll see below, Darija is for fighting over the hearts and minds of voters. So, if Amazigh is welcomed to be taught with restrictions, Darija is used for rhetorics and daily life exchange, and Arabic is either seen through the prism of Arab nationalism (Istiqlal party being one of the historical advocates in this direction), or religion (and here you can insert all the parties, legal and prohibited, as well as a great number of Moroccans who see in Arabic a religious identity that must be defended), with the latter being similar as Latin was for the Church in the Middle Ages : the language of God and divine right (of the king). Just imagine what would happen if someone translates the Quran into Darija. Why there’s no such version already ?


    Darija between the PJD, the palace and France

    The linguistic question situates itself in language policy. The political environment in Morocco seems to be divided along many lines that seem hard and unlikely to intertwine. We can now add the language hard line to the debate. The Islamists abhor this talk about using Darija to educate. For them, it’s a clear threat to Islam as a socio-political project. The fact that Noureddine Ayouch is a francophone secular and also the one at the fore of the language media frenzy reinforces the idea in Islamist political circles that this is rather a plight. It’s no surprise that the Justice and Development Party’s (PJD) reaction is what it is : for Arabic, with English (for the eyes of the KSA wahhabists !), against Darija and French. On the other hand, the top financial and political elites—themselves inseparable from language policy, and public policy in general, since we have no constitutional clear cut boundaries between the three types of powers—find this ‘Darija affair’ quite profitable. The Paris-educated elites are keen on serving their interests that usually include French interests : and one of France’s interests is for French, not English, to be kept as a second language taught in schools and the first language of science and business. Stated otherwise, the “Toubon” law, or, better, “loiallgood,” that vehemently defends French (mainly against English) in France has an invisible territorial jurisprudence even over French ex-colonies like Morocco.


    Darija scenario

    In a political system that is shaped much by the marriage of neo-colonialism and cow-milking palace-driven neoliberalism, the ‘Darija affair’ is a way to keep low classes lower and lower in a safe Darijian closet and the high-class higher and higher roving the financial empyrean. This is actually not new. The same scenario has been unfolding since the arabisation of school and the francophonisation of the university : a policy that makes even the most talented young university students lag behind for the simple reason that most of their high-school knowledge is in Arabic while the academic curriculum is in French. I imagine, for the sake of comparison, instead of ‘la mission’ we will have British council (a charitable organisation, mark you !) for the well-off, and the poor will be stuck with Darija, with even less economic opportunity than if one is taught in Arabic.


    The case for English

    Once university students conquer French, that is, the 14 to 19 per cent of them that graduate, accordingly to a recent report,[2] they have to deal with thousands of references in English. That is just not feasible under the present circumstances. The problem is not that students do not master English for the lack of interest on their part : it is because they don’t have access to free and quality teaching. Students at UM5 are generally taught English two hours a week. The opposite would definitely make sense : BA and MA programmes in English with two hours a week of French. Regarding PhD students, if they can seriously make it French tout court then good luck ! As for business, with no further ado, English takes the lead. 


    Ayouch and Al Laroui TV debate

    Noureddine Ayouch himself, being a business person (he’s the founder of Shem’s Publicité, Zakoura Micro Crédit, and Fondation Zakoura Education), has nothing to do with (public) education. He might have some business experiences in that, based on which he claims that Darija has the potential to reduce early school dropouts. Watching the debate between Laroui and Ayouch on 2M, I’m not surprised when Ayouch mentions advertisement. First, the example of advertisement is not only inadequate but is insulting to the intelligence of Moroccans. Using Darija in ads is mainly to push people to consume. While it is profitable for companies to talk to the people with the language of the people, this logic does not apply to education. We educate citizens so that they know, among other things, how the (advertised) goods themselves are produced, paving the way for innovations and inventions. It follows that the knowledge required to do so is inexistent in Darija. Ayouch asserts that the UNESCO recommends the mother tongue to be used in schooling : “it makes it easy for children to success in school, the experts say,” he states. Oral language, the first tongue, or the mother tongue, it depends on what you call it, is completely different from the written language ; that is, from the language of schooling. Emphasising the use of the first language in schooling (Darija), Laroui responds, is to create a working force with enough language knowledge for it to be able to work in the factory ; understand orders ; read straightforward notices ; push the right buttons…etc. So, according to Laroui, those who advocate for Darija wants to prepare the country for global exploitation of cheap labour—cheaper than it already is.

    Ayouch, shortly, is concerned with reshaping school to his entrepreneurial ambitions. Laroui suggests that we should modernise and simplify Arabic by making its grammar easier for pupils to grasp without having to deal with things like “Al jam3 lmodakkares-salem.” This is what they did in Israel to the Hebrew and it has proven quite successful ; they revived their language and turned it from a primarily religious language to a modern, literary, political, scientific, religious, secular language. Other successful examples abound. I believe we should develop in this direction.



     Darija will be fully written in the future, as many academics predict.[3] But its great varieties and lack of linguistic norms to a great extent make it far from being a language of schooling.[4]They say that Morocco cannot implement English in any serious way because, for example, we don’t have enough English teachers. It is a question of will and time before we have plenty of teachers, journalists, researchers…etc. Arabic can be modernized, as Alaroui and so many thoughtful scholars think. All said, I don’t believe we’ll make a transition to something new. But that’s not because of the tremendous complexity of the issue. Not at all. There’s a lack of societal and political will to change. Dinosaurs at the top of the power pyramid keep herding the country whichever way suits them. The head of the Superior Council of Education, Omar Azziman, himself directly appointed by Mohamed 6—the whole council is actually the palace’s idea, not the elected government ! —now is discussing, among other things, whether English should (gradually) replace French. But one may speculate that French will remain intact by seeing that the council’s website is only in French and Arabic (the case with almost every other ‘.gov.ma’ website) ; that Mr Azziman himself has no academic output in English (just what to say to the world ?), and that, after all, he is a photocopy of the ruling elite in Morocco and their mouthpiece : his expected report will not deviate from the interests of those who appointed him. Time will tell.


    P.s : Thanks for Mohamed Oubenal, Anass and Youssef Bekkali for pointing out many inconsistencies during the preparation of this article.

    [1]di Mina Afkir. (2013). A Dominant Community’s Attitudes towards the Teaching of Amazigh (Berber) in Morocco. Retrieved from http://www.metis.progedit.com

    [2]Amjad Hemidach. (11, April 2015). Report : Moroccan Students Are the “Second Laziest” in World. Retrievedfrom www.moroccoworldnews.com

    [3] Jon Hogland. (2013). L’arabe marocain, langue écrite. In Montserrat Benítez Fernández, Catherine Miller, Jan Jaap de Ruiter, and Youssef Tamer (eds.), Evolution des pratiques et représentations langagières dans le Maroc du vingt-et-unième siècle. Paris:L’Harmattan.

    [4] Montserrat Benítez Fernández et al. (2013). Panorama. In Montserrat Benítez Fernández, Catherine Miller, Jan Jaap de Ruiter, and Youssef Tamer (eds.), Evolution des pratiques et représentations langagières dans le Maroc du vingt-et-unième siècle (pp. 37-38. ). Paris:L’Harmattan.