Sorry Nasser, I Speak DarijaAugust 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”.