languages in Morocco

Moroccan languages


Current language situation in Morocco. Constitutional and legal provisions


Even though most of the people thinks that arabic and french are the official moroccan languages, the Moroccan Constitution, in its 5th article, recognizes Arabic and Berber as official languages. It also stipulates, in the same article, that “The state works to preserve Hassani (the arabic dialect in Sahara desert), as an integral part of the united Moroccan cultural identity, as well as to protect cultural expressions and speeches practiced in Morocco. Similarly, it ensures the consistency of the moroccan linguistic and cultural policy and the learning and mastery of the most widely used foreign languages in the world,” and that organic laws relating to the introduction of the Berber language and the creation of a “National Council of Moroccan Languages and Culture” are planned. In the same article, it states that “The State shall work to preserve Hassani as an integral part of the united Moroccan cultural identity, as well as the protection of cultural expressions and speeches practiced in Morocco.


Morocco is a land of Berbers, partially Arabized 13 centuries ago, which also received human and cultural contributions from Spain and France.


The Moroccan linguistic landscape is the witness of these mixes :




Arabic is the official moroccan language and mother tongue of nearly two thirds of the population. It is also the language of the dominant religion, Islam. However, a distinction must be made between official Arabic, that of the administration and dialectal Arabic (the real mother tongue: Darija) which all Moroccans speak, even if more than a third of them first learned Berber. Darija has only recently been used on television.


Article 5 of the constitution: “Arabic remains the official language of the state. The State shall work for the protection and development of the Arabic language, as well as the promotion of its use. Similarly, Amazigh is an official language of the state, as a common heritage for all Moroccans without exception”. It establishes a hierarchy of languages: Arabic remains THE official language, Amazigh is ONE official language in Morocco.


Marginally, there are two other variants of Arabic: Judeo-Moroccan (a few thousand speakers in Morocco, plus 200,000 in Israel, a few tens of thousands in France) and hassania (hassaniyya), spoken by a few tens of thousands of people in the extreme South (Tan Tan region) and in Western Sahara (this dialect is mostly spoken in Mauritania).



Amazighe (Berber language)


Amazighe is spoken by about 40% of the population, but has little official existence, although it is mentioned since 2011 by the constitution. Like Arabic, it is divided into several dialects, including :


– rifain, or zenatiya, or tarifit, spoken in the Rif.


– Tamazight ( or Braber) spoken in the Middle Atlas, part of the High Atlas and several valleys. It has an alphabet (the tifinagh) also used by the Tuaregs.


– the tachelhit practiced by the Chleuhs of the High Atlas, the Sous and the coast of southern Morocco.


In a more marginal way, these three Berber dialects are spoken in Algeria and France. Little is published in the Berber language, a few newspapers and a few books. Many of those who speak it do not read it (its learning at school is very recent and very limited in Morocco). The subject of the status of this language remained taboo for a long time. During the 1990s, several teachers were imprisoned for asking for the adoption of Berber as an official language alongside Arabic.


berber languages in Morocco

The Berber Question

“In 1982, a dozen Berber academics and executives were imprisoned for a month. In a magazine they had just created, they had stated that Berber was a language, just like Arabic. The author of this intolerable assertion spent a year behind bars, after having refused to ask for mercy from Hassan II. However, the event does not make too many waves; we are still in the “leaden years”, and the movement is, moreover, very fragmented. An embryo of unification began to emerge in 1991, when six associations came together to draft a platform of demands known as the “Amazigh Charter”? But it hardly goes any further. Three years later, the associations multiplied and gained in influence. The attempt to unite is reiterated by the creation of the Coordinating Council of Amazigh Associations in Morocco. (…) Hassan II nonetheless gave up ballast by freeing the prisoners, promising that Berber would soon be taught in schools (a promise that has remained a dead letter to this day) and authorizing the famous TV flashes “in dialects”.


After the death of Hassan II, the Berber question regained strength, and Berber insurance activists. On March 1, 2000, a major step was taken: a “Berber manifesto”, the fruit of two years of intense debate, was signed by 229 people, among the finest, flower of Moroccan Berber intellectuals. “Extract from an article by Ahmed R. Benchemsi, Morocco correspondent for Jeune Afrique / L’Intelligent, May 2001.


In July 2001, King Mohamed VI announced the creation of a National Institute for Berber Studies whose mission is to prepare the integration of the Amazigh language into Moroccan public education. The creation of such a body had already been voted by the Parliament in 1978, without ever seeing the light of day. Under the pressure of the revolt in Algerian Kabylia, the project seems this time to be better engaged. Berberism is becoming one of the channels of protest in Morocco, where a manifesto recently collected more than a million signatures.


Since the advent of Mohammed VI, Tamazight (Berber) has become a language in its own right, introduced in public programs and television broadcasts.



Unofficial Moroccan languages


French language in Morocco


The French language and the Arabic language coexist in the Moroccan administration and the business world.

French is one of the two prestigious languages of Morocco. It is often used in commerce, diplomacy, and government.


There are various statistics concerning the number of French speakers in Morocco :


History of french in as a Moroccan language


French began to be taught, but in a very marginal way during the second half of the nineteenth century.


In 1912 the colonial authorities in Morocco introduced the French language into the country and it became the language of government administration, education and the media. Consequently, classical Arabic is only used for traditional activities and religious services. The French government had planned to associate the term “Civilization and Progress” with French culture and language1. In 1935, 2 percent of Moroccan school-age children attended French schools.8 The French government’s policy of “civilization and progress” was not implemented until 1935.


In 1956 Morocco declared independence, and the government declared classical Arabic the official language. In the early 1960s the Moroccan government began a process of Arabization.1 The government’s policy was to introduce classical Arabic as the official language of the country. After independence, to facilitate economic growth and to increase its ties with Europe, the Moroccan government decided to strengthen its ties with France by promoting the French language.


In 2005 Morocco began economic liberalization and privatization. According to Moha Ennaji, its activities in various sectors have strengthened its mastery of the French language9. Today, French is the country’s second language in business and is taught from the third year of primary school for an hourly volume of eight hours per week. Reforms introduced by the National Charter for Primary Education provide for a 90-minute introduction to the French language starting in the second year of primary school.


Role of french in Morocco

French is mainly used in administration, banking, commerce, education and industry.

Moha Ennaji writes in Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic:

“In Morocco, French is the vehicle of science, technology and modern culture. …] the language has been maintained for instrumental purposes and to establish contacts with the West in general. »


French takes root in various aspects of Moroccan society, including education, government, the media, and the private sector as a result of the French colonial authority, which adopted a policy of disseminating the French language throughout Morocco during the colonial era. As of 2005, trade with France accounted for more than 75 percent of Morocco’s international trade.


Moroccans learn the French language at school. High school graduates tend to have a better command of French, and many Moroccans are fluent in French, in addition to Moroccan Arabic, and use French as a secondary language. Most Moroccans who are bilingual in French and Arabic live in urban areas where they have strong contact with the French language and where literacy rates are high. Many Moroccans learn French to trade with French tourists and to access information, science, and technology.




Attitudes towards the French language in Morocco

Despite the legacy of colonialism, according to Ennaji, the French language is still highly valued by both the ruling elite and the general public. Ennaji adds that classical Arabic and modern Arabic are in constant conflict with each other, but that most Moroccans believe that bilingualism in Arabic and French is the best choice for Morocco’s development1. Moha Ennaji believes that most Moroccans know that Moroccan Arabic does not meet their societal needs and that European languages are necessary for the transfer of ideas and technology, and for communication with the world at large, even though European languages are those of the former colonizers.



French is spoken, to varying degrees, by a large part of the population, mainly in cities and in educated environments (66% of the population has been literate for more than 10 years, according to a 2015 survey). Most of the Moroccan press is published in French, as are one-third of the books published in Morocco.





Spanish is spoken in the north of the country, in regions close to Spain where the influence of the Iberian Peninsula remains important. It is not uncommon to find, for example, that in the region of Tangier more Spanish is spoken than French. Among tourism-related professionals, there are also a large number of Spanish-speakers.





Finally, English benefits here, as elsewhere, from its status as the first international language of exchange.
English is learned in school in Marrakech as anywhere else in the world and here too, children and adults spend a good part of their time in front of Netflix, Facebook or Instagram….

More generally, it should be noted that Moroccans, born in a land of mixing, exchange and international tourism, show an amazing facility to learn and practice languages. Thus, tourists never cease to be amazed that young teenagers can have acquired on their own the ability to express themselves in several languages and to maintain a fluent conversation in each of them…





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▷ Moroccan languages
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