Moroccan Arabic

I’ve always thought that one of the greatest heritages possible is to have your own language or dialect. What can identify a place more than having its own rules of language? Based on that and the passion that unites us, I think it is necessary to talk about Moroccan Arabic.

You should not be afraid of the length of the article, because it will be entertaining and it is not and does not pretend to be a manual on the subject. It is just an approach to generate a curiosity and, as far as possible, to know a little more about this culture that attracts us so much and at the same time is so different.

Let’s start then!

The Language

The official languages of Morocco are two: traditional (or classical) Arabic and Berber, both completely different, the latter being the original language of the country and the former a product of the arrival of Islam in the 8th century.

There are several dialects such as Tarifit or Tashelhit, although by far the most widely spoken is colloquial Arabic, also known as Dariya. So much so that its use is more extensive than traditional Arabic, even though it is the one recognized as official and the only one allowed for cases such as official speeches or trials. It is a dialect whose basis is classical Arabic, although it is also influenced by those languages that have left their mark on the country throughout its history (Berber, other variations of Arabic, French and even Spanish).

In short, classical Arabic is the original one, the one that is embodied in the Koran, while Dariya is a modified version that has been impregnated by other linguistic cultures and the preferred option for Moroccans to communicate among themselves.

Arabic alphabet letters from the Koranic verses on the walls of a madrasa
Does this mean that we should take a Spanish-dariya dictionary with us when we travel to Morocco? Not at all, because as a result of the protectorate, the Moroccans also have a profound knowledge of French and, to a lesser extent, of Spanish and because, let’s be frank, no Moroccan who is proud of himself will be prevented from using the language to offer his products or services.

So much so that, in addition to the language, more than one will let out some of the typical snaps of our culture to empathise. The undersigned still has his jaw unsettled since I heard one say “in two words: im …precionante”, that famous phrase coined by our illustrious Jesulín de Ubrique.

Having said that, as I understand that your interest lies above all in establishing a connection with the inhabitants, we will now focus on the colloquial Arabic.

The Arabic alphabet, also known as aliphate and common to all dialects, consists of 28 letters. One of the characteristics that usually draws attention, besides the fact that most of the letters of each word (except for six) are spelled out, is that it is written from right to left.

Although this may seem strange, it is due to an overwhelmingly simple, instrumental issue inherited from other ancient alphabets: as paper did not exist before, and writing was done on supports such as wax, it was more useful to have the sense of it from right to left so that, while the left hand was hit with the right hand, it was marked, so as not to hide what was being written.

In spite of this, I will not deny that I viscerally think of Arabic writing as the greatest testimony of how different its culture is from that of the West (in its opposite sense of reading) and of the emphasis on the sense of community prevailing over individualities (the bound writing).

And, now, let’s go with some commonly used words and phrases in Dariya. I don’t want you to be misled: after learning them you will not be able to cope with most situations, let alone show off some knowledge.

Surely you have all been involved in this situation at some time: a foreigner joins your group of friends and one of the first things he is interested in is our language. And that curiosity is enough to break the ice and proudly teach him some of our vocabulary, some grammar, set phrases… until someone opens the door and teaches him some bad words, and a laugh ensues at the same time when he sees how the Spanish language sounds, mixed with a foreign accent.

In the end, it’s not about the search for knowledge, hardly even about understanding each other better. It’s simply as good a way as any to make a connection.

I hope this entry will help you and, above all, make you interested, even if it is only a little more, in Moroccan culture.