Kan qra Darija – a phrase which means, I am learning Darija
Last weekend I watched Diablo, a telenovella from Spain (I think) that’s set in New York and dubbed in Darija. The clip above is from the show. As a New Yorker, a new resident of the Maghrib and a language obsessionista, it was really fun to watch Diablo, even if I could only recognize a word here and there. Today, I found this article discussing the debate about Darija dubbing — and I think it’s an excellent introduction to the linguistic situation in Morocco. Which is to say: here, all matters of language are extremely complicated.
First, the official language of Morocco is Arabic. I’m under the impression this is Classical Arabic, which is the language of the Koran and therefore the language of prayer and of religious discussions. Fusha is Modern Standard Arabic, which is…obviously, modern. This you might hear on Al Jazeera, or other news and radio programs.
What’s spoken on the streets, in cafes and otherwise out and about, however, is Darija. This is a dialectical form of Arabic. Egyptians, for example, speak a different dialect, which is more widely understood among Arabic speakers, primarily because of popular Egyptian films. I’m told Moroccan Arabic has similarities to Fusha and Egyptian Arabic in some ways, but that ultimately, they’re totally different languages. Moroccan’s don’t venerate Darija the way you might expect, which is why dubbing television shows into Darija causes a bit of a debate. In Italy, everything was dubbed and everyone was happy about that.
This picture of language is further compounded by Tamazight, the native Berber language of Morocco. Tamazight, of course, has it’s own subset of dialects that range in the degree to which they are similar and understood between regions. And we though the US was the melting pot!
If these languages aren’t enough, add French to the mix. When I mentioned the official language is Arabic, I didn’t tell you that the official declaration in the constitution was penned in French. French is the language of diplomacy and business here, but it’s also on the street and peppered throughout Darija. Sentences — at least when it comes to me — rarely start and end in the same language. And a lot of Moroccans speak English. Those who don’t, often seem to want to learn.
I should point out that this is specific to spoken language. Matters of literacy are even more complex and deserve their own post. It’s conceivable that a Moroccan who speaks five or more languages, will have trouble reading in any of them.
My friend, Matt, jokes that everyone here is a professor of linguistics and when he flatters taxi drivers with this comment, they laugh and laugh. But it’s true. I asked a policeman for directions the other night and instead I got a jovial lecture about how I need to learn Arabic or French or both, even when I insisted in Arabic that I was learning the language slowly. But he also wanted to know how is English sounded. I told him it was better than mine, and he explained that he’d learned it from the movies. And it still took me 45 minutes, 3 languages and texting friends for vocabulary words to walk 10 blocks.