Sorry Nasser, I Speak Darija

August 13, 2008

“Labas ki dayrin? twahachtkoum bazaf” that would be the Moroccan way to say “how are you? I miss you so much”, and that’s the sentence I would like to say to my friends in the Egypt whenever I meet them, but I know they will not understand me. My friends in the Middles East assume that Morocco is an Arab and Arabic speaking country, what they don’t know is that we’ve been doing so many efforts to understand their dialects for the sake of Arab Nationalism and Unity, and that now that the notion of Umma Al Arabia is old fashion, it’s their turn to do some effort to understand my language: Darija.

Morocco is a special mixture of cultures, languages, and races. We are probably one of the most African Arab countries, not only because of our geography, but also because it was Morocco that introduced Islam to West Africa thanks to its traders, monarchs, and Sufi brotherhoods. Morocco is probably the most Western Arab country as well, since, when other countries were colonized by one European power, my country endured the colonization of France and Spain together with city of Tanger as an international colony where all super powers had representatives there, whereas contrary to all the MENA countries, we’ve never been colonized by the Ottoman Empire. Arab Andalusia was a Moroccan project, and after the fall of Andalucía most if Spanish Arabs, liberal thinkers and Jews came to settle in Morocco. In addition, the Moroccan Kingdom was one of the first countries to recognize the US in the 18th century and to send diplomatic missions all around the western world. Morocco is also Arab, Berber, Roman, Jewish, Mediterranean, Sahraouian etc. My country’s history rich of interaction and openness ended in giving birth to a typical language called Darija.

In reality a variety of different languages are spoken in my country. In the northern Rif people speak Tarifit which is a Berber Saxon dialect formed from the interaction between Saxon Viking settlers and other Berber tribes. In the Atlas people speak Tamazigt, which is the typical dialect of the original inhabitants of the Maghreb, which are supposed to be Gaulois according to the French anthropologists. People in the Souss Valley, southern Morocco speak Tachelhit. Whereas, the Sahraoui people speak Hassaniya, Andalucians in Fes, Rabat or Tetouan speak Andalucían Arabic, and educated people would rather speak French and English. In the midway between all these varieties of dialects and languages, Darija is the language that unites all this diversity in one tongue. It’s the language of interaction between people, of trade, and the one you will hear in the street.

I remember in Journalism School, in Arabic classes that I never wanted to speak classical Arabic. My teacher would get angry and remind me that it’s our language, and I would always answer in Darija “Arabic it’s not my language, I would like to write in the newspaper in Darija and present the news on TV in Darija. Saying our language is Arabic is killing identity with hypocrisy”. Nothing changed since then, Arabic is still the language of the Kingdom according to its constitution, TV, newspapers, Education Manuals, political speeches are still in classical Arabic. If it’s a matter of religion, I really don’t think we’ll be less Muslim if we admit that our language is Darija. Iran, Pakistan, and Indonesia are strong Muslim countries though they don’t speak Arabic! If it’s about our ties with the Middle East, a Moroccan would still look ridiculous trying to speak classical Arabic with a band of Middle Easterns confident about their dialects.

Two Months ago, I was with one of my Egyptian friends in Cairo, and I was answering him in English whenever he was asking a question, until he said “Why you Moroccans want to destroy the Arabic Unity Nasser built. We are one nation and Arabic is the thing that unites us”. I fixed him right in the eyes and said in proper Darija “Sir goul l Nasser dialek désolé 3lawed ana tanhdar bi Darija”, translation “Go tell your Nasser sorry, because I speak Darija”.


  1. il faut publier tes posts par Darija au lieu de l’anglais et le français !

    Ou bien, t’es de ceux qui croient que le peuple doit parler en Darija et et l’élite en anglais ou en français, pour être plus classe !

  2. not at all my friend! je suis une fille du peuple et j’ai aucune pretention! c’est just que c’est un peu personel car ma première langue à moi était l’anglais puisque j’ai passé mon enfance en angleterre et donc en ecrit c’est plus facile pour moi d’écrire en anglais mais je parle DARIJA chez moi et avec mes amis. alors c’est un handicape dont je m’éxcuse qui est en rlation avec mon histoire c’est tout. :”)

  3. […] for Change discusses the difference between standard Arabic and Moroccan darija, and stands up for her dialect. […]

  4. Bonjour,
    ça doit faire des mois que je n’ai pas laissé un seul commentaire dans un blog malgré mon assiduité à les lire!
    Si je réagis aujourd’hui c’est par rapport au commentaire d’EKM (dont j’apprécie le blog par ailleurs!) et que je trouve d’un manque de respect affligeant!
    Quand on va sur un blog pour en découvrir le contenu, on peut en discuter le fond (c’est même un peu la règle du jeu, et l’intérêt de pouvoir laisser des commentaires!).
    Maintenant, que l’on se permette de commander l’auteur (“il faut” n’a rien d’une suggestion) et que l’on ose lui dire ce qu’il devrait faire ou pas … je trouve ça méprisant et méprisable!
    Et de se servir d’une démagogie populiste pour culpabiliser l’auteur (à tel point qu’il s’excuse alors qu’il n’en a pas la moindre raison) … je trouve ça très moyen!
    Un ami que j’admire a dit un jour : un Blog, on l’aime ou on le quitte 😉
    A bon entendeur, salut!

  5. “The Arabic Unity Nasser built”? What Arab Unity? The unity in mediocrity or dictatorships? Besides, from the few speeches of his speeches that I read, he comes off as a supremacist. But I’m getting completely off track here.

    Darija is limited in scope, hasn’t been codified much (if at all) and virtually impossible to use outside of Morocco. But granted, it is fantastic to study from a linguist’s point of view.

    Anyway, excellent post. It was a pleasure to read. Keep it up!

  6. Great post ! I agree totally with you on the problem of the status of darija ! I hope this will change some day. Interesting too to see how people in Eatern Arabic countries are unaware of the linguistic difference of Morocco…
    (I’m not too sure though of the part about Tarifit being a Berber-Germanic language, or the first inhabitants of Morocco being “Gaulois”…)

  7. Prevetik vsem kto ne spit

    Ja tuta nakladu a vi uberite pliz

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  9. Je me suis souvent demandé, pourquoi ce sont toujours les marocains qui doivent faire des efforts pour que l’autre les comprennent: on parle français avec les français, espagnole avec les espagnoles, libanais avec les libanais et égyptien avec les égyptiens… , faisant comme les espagnoles qui s’obstinent à parler leur langue même s’ils en connaissent d’autres.
    Ps : je me suis toujours marré en écoutant les marocain(e)s qui parlent libanais ou égyptien, ils sont d’un ridicule…

  10. totalement d’accord l’ami!

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  12. Interesting article. As a moroccans living abroad we face this problem every time we talk to arabs wether egyptians, yamanis, saudis,,,,

    We probably understand them because they are closer to the traditional arabic than we do. Also we watch egyptian, syrian,,,, series and movies and this helped us understand them.

    Many borhters and sisters from arab world love our language and are dying to learn more about it.

    I persoanlly beleive that our darija is not helping us learn the traditional arabic and make reading Quran and understanding it harder for us so should i say that is a negative side of the Darija.

    Great article thanks

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