Multilingualism and cultural diversity constitute inherent features of human society, making it challenging to discuss the concept of a monolingual or monocultural society. Across all nations, a variety of languages and diverse cultures coexist to varying degrees. The Moroccan society is no exception to this norm. Throughout its history, ancient and fleeting civilizations have existed alongside the Amazigh civilization, recognized as the earliest to take root in the North African region.

Due to its strategic location throughout history, Morocco evolved into a pivotal crossroads where significant civilizations converged: Phoenician, Byzantine, Roman, and Arab-Islamic. These civilizations coexisted with the native population, resulting in a melding of cultures—exchange, and amalgamation transpired as transient cultures interwoven with local ones. Notably, the Arab-Islamic civilization has played a paramount role, enduring in Moroccan society for centuries, thereby becoming an integral facet of the Moroccan identity. Although numerous countries, especially over the last two decades of the twentieth century, have responded to linguistic pluralism and cultural diversity by adopting multiple official languages instead of a solitary one, Morocco has yet to formulate a distinct perspective on this pluralism. The country’s linguistic policy remains relatively ambiguous (if it’s appropriate to even characterize it as a “linguistic policy” in Morocco). This uncertainty persists despite the changes instigated at the outset of the third millennium, subsequent to the political engagement with segments of the Amazigh cultural movement and the integration of its teachings into primary education. Consequently, it becomes imperative to scrutinize Morocco’s linguistic landscape in order to ascertain the position of the Amazigh language within the prevailing linguistic framework.

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The Linguistic Situation in Morocco’s Language

Language bears a social and cultural essence; it surpasses mere communication utility. It serves as a conduit for values, a medium for expressing societal dynamics, and a bedrock for both collective and individual identities. It stands as a symbol of cultural heritage, a vessel of knowledge, and a catalyst for social integration. Individuals use language to innovate and transcend boundaries, hence necessitating a clear delineation of its purpose: Is language merely a vessel for prepackaged consumption and the transmission of established knowledge, or does it serve as a fount of creativity? The role and standing of language are contingent upon its function. Thus, proponents of this discourse suggest that addressing the linguistic quandary in Morocco requires a tripartite examination: universal language, national-official language, and mother tongue.

Morocco’s linguistic landscape is defined by a diverse array of languages, a fact universally recognized, coupled with a state of utter disorder that engenders the coexistence of these languages. Each language vies for its niche, role, and status, often striving to dominate specific geographical domains. Contributing to this state of affairs is the prevalent public policy. Present-day Morocco witnesses the juxtaposition of several linguistic streams: Amazigh (rural, Amazigh, Tashalhit), Arabic (colloquial, including Hassaniya), classical Arabic (or Fusha, as per colonial sociological terminology), and foreign languages—French, Spanish, and English. Can a harmonious future be envisaged for these languages in Morocco?

Convention dictates that the essence and standing of languages be discerned through their functions. As most theories posit, Arabic is assigned a role in religious matters and education, albeit to a limited extent, with a modest footprint in administration and media. French, on the other hand, is earmarked for economics, administration, education, and foreign relations. Spanish maintains a relatively confined presence, primarily in select northern and southern pockets, remnants of Spain’s colonial past. English’s presence is even more recent. While colloquial Arabic and Berber serve as conduits for everyday interactions, their rich cultural heritage often goes unacknowledged. In contemporary Morocco, Amazigh (in its various dialects), Arabic (in its diverse forms), and French coexist, while Spanish and English hold limited sway. What warrants meticulous attention are the three imperative official languages: Amazigh, Arabic, and French. Thus, an elucidation and preliminary comparison of these languages are in order.

French, a language once synonymous with colonial dominion, maintains a robust influence in administrative and educational domains, as well as societal integration platforms such as media. Although it was once propagated through the educational system during a historical juncture characterized by French rule, its usage was largely confined to a particular social stratum—the various tiers of the bourgeoisie. Its impact on the broader populace, especially the lower echelons of society, remained marginal. The presence of a French-speaking community and factions warranting recognition is faint compared to the colonial era. However, the political and economic vested interests of French capital persist, as it continues to steer the wheels of Morocco’s economy and shape its foreign policy.

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The Necessity of Managing the Linguistic Landscape in Morocco

Effectively managing Morocco’s linguistic situation demands a well-defined linguistic policy capable of bringing an end to the prevailing linguistic disorder. This responsibility rests on the shoulders of all stakeholders and scientific institutions capable of devising a strategy that accommodates the call for diversity while preserving it. Achieving this goal hinges on fostering a dialogue among cultural and linguistic components. Morocco boasts scientific institutions capable of reinvigorating diversity, refining the linguistic landscape, and rectifying distortions. Competence is not lacking; what is lacking is the will and recognition of the historical imperative that underscores this action. Are we incapable of implementing substantial change?

Guiding the linguistic situation necessitates substantial material and human resources. However, this requirement should not serve as a justification for refusal, as rectifying the current “linguistic chaos” is an act of justice to history, civilization, and its people simultaneously. This endeavor mandates the acknowledgment of official and national languages. While considering Arabic as the central figure in this diversity might seem logical, it doesn’t present a novel solution to the present situation. The argument of certain scholars, like Abd al-Latif Gota, suggesting Morocco emulates European nations in safeguarding their official and national languages, merely reiterates the linguistic and cultural diversity Morocco has historically embraced. Placing Arabic at the forefront does little beyond marginalizing French, while Tamazight finds no place at all in this perspective. This stance, which echoes exclusionary rhetoric, mirrors the French model where the recognition of French was elevated in 1992 as the official and national language of the Republic.

However, France’s model isn’t an ideal blueprint, given that many European countries have adopted a more accommodating approach to multilingualism, recognizing at least two official national languages:

CountryOfficial and National Languages
SwitzerlandFrench, Italian, Romansh, German
FinlandFinnish, Swedish
BelgiumFrench, German, Flemish

Throughout Europe, the trend is shifting toward acknowledging linguistic diversity and the right of individuals to utilize their preferred language, alongside official recognition of languages according to dominant linguistic groups. This trend isn’t confined to Europe alone; in countries like Canada, three official languages are recognized: English, French, and Inukkut. Furthermore, emphasis should be placed on regional languages, secured by constitutional provisions to protect the national languages—akin to Belgium’s approach—to safeguard the so-called mother tongues.

The pressures of globalization and the rapid advancement of linguistic dominance underscore the need to breathe life into national and regional languages, thereby fostering their growth instead of relegating them to the periphery. The proliferation of technological avenues and the rise of cybernetic culture pose threats not solely to mother languages, whether national or regional, but also to globally spoken languages. The challenges facing French and Spanish pale in comparison to the encroachment of English. This prompts the question: What fate awaits the Arabic language? Numerous academic conferences and specialized seminars echo the call to engage in linguistic competition, if not an outright “linguistic war,” propelled by the ascent of globalization. However, this evolution should not come at the expense of coexisting languages. Rather, the focus should be on elevating the Arabic language to adapt to the contemporary technological revolution, enabling it to thrive within the cybernetic realm.

Amidst this landscape, where do the Amazighs stand in this mosaic of diversity?


Exploring the Array of Arabic Dialects

Arabic holds the distinction of being the first official language recognized and sanctioned by the constitution. Nevertheless, it isn’t the sole predominant language. In this context, we are referring to classical Arabic, not the various iterations of colloquial Arabic that are more prevalent in usage. In terms of official application, Arabic takes the lead in education and media.


Tamazight, a language of constant daily interaction throughout Morocco’s history, struggled to assert itself in written form until the last two decades. It gained official recognition within the educational system at the onset of the third millennium. Current efforts to solidify its written form represent historical endeavors that must be safeguarded in reverence to their legitimacy and the potential for a revival of an ancient civilization and heritage. Standard Moroccan Amazigh stands as Morocco’s second official language alongside Arabic.

Morocco Language: A Comparative Analysis of Morocco’s Languages

This comparison addresses the nature, role within the education and media framework, historical context, societal ties, political legitimacy, and geographical impact of each language:

  • Arabic takes the lead in both written and spoken domains. It originated with the Islamic conquests and is intertwined with all societal strata, serving as a means to legitimize political authority within cities and their environs.
  • French ranks second in terms of written prevalence and circulation. Its origins trace back to French colonialism, associated with the bourgeoisie and historical interests of the French capital. It maintains a limited presence in rural and small-town settings.
  • Tamazight has a limited written presence but holds broad and extensive circulation, claiming third place. Boasting ancient roots intertwined with Morocco’s history, it finds a strong connection with Amazigh communities. It stands as the second official language, with significant historical influence across urban and rural areas.

Position of the Amazigh Language in Morocco’s Multilingualism

Delving into the subject of Berber in Morocco necessitates a panoramic historical examination of the Berber language, which spans various countries: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania. Among these nations, Morocco and Algeria are key players in Amazigh language and culture due to several factors:

  • Substantial Amazigh-speaking populations (Algeria: 10-19%, Morocco: 26%)
  • Rich cultural heritage
  • The robust Amazigh movement advocating cultural preservation and language recognition
  • Well-established institutions for research, study, and revitalization of Amazigh cultural heritage

Thus, the predicament of the Amazigh language and culture extends beyond Morocco, encompassing a populace scattered across various regions such as Morocco, the Sahara, and the Sahel. This mandates an all-encompassing approach to the Amazigh language and culture, transcending Morocco’s specific context, as the Amazigh issue surpasses mere political situations and willpower. Addressing this issue requires open platforms necessitating comprehensive efforts at all levels. It demands diverse methodologies, precise research tools, and robust scientific and institutional frameworks.

Throughout Morocco’s rich history, the Amazigh people flourished, coexisting with various civilizations, and sharing knowledge and culture. Amazigh isn’t confined to society, religion, history, and civilization; it’s intrinsic to them. The Amazigh language and its cultural legacy have been studied and researched extensively, capturing the interest of sociologists, anthropologists, and even juridical luminaries such as Ibn Khaldun and Al-Susi.

What endures through historical evolution is the language: a potent link binding a diverse and rich culture, fostering a unified identity and robust ethnic affiliation. This essentially oral link varies across regions. Three primary Amazigh linguistic zones can be identified in Morocco: the Rif, Middle Atlas, and Souss regions along with the Anti-Atlas.

Artistic forms like music, carpet weaving, folk dance, and poetry persist vividly today, even thriving with the surge of the “Amazigh cultural movement” and heightened cultural and ethnic awareness. While customs and social structures underwent shifts, some elements persisted, preserving an enduring culture. This raises intriguing questions: What factors allowed the Amazigh culture to endure despite cultural succession in Morocco? What enabled it to remain vibrant in the face of foreign cultures coexisting for extended periods in the country? What kindled the preservation of the Amazigh language, despite it lacking a written tradition? Even in comparison to civilizations such as Islamic civilization, which has deep historical roots in Morocco, the Amazigh culture managed to maintain its distinct identity and vitality. Could there be an innate resilience and reservoir of strength within this culture that resisted external influences?

Evolution of the Amazigh Language

French colonialism played a pivotal role in advancing the study and research of the Amazigh language, aided by its presence in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt. It is credited with connecting the Amazigh people to their historical and linguistic heritage. French scholars dedicated themselves to deciphering the grammar and morphological structure of the Amazigh language, leaving behind data that forms the bedrock of modern studies undertaken by subsequent generations. Notable Amazigh intellectuals who pursued studies in Europe, particularly France, established the Berber Academy in 1970 and later the World Amazigh Congress.

Unlike written languages that chronicle their cultural heritage, the Amazigh language historically lacked a written form, aside from recent efforts that began with Souss’ lyrical and folkloric legacy. However, Amazigh symbols persisted in drawings, decorative arts, weaving, beadwork, and henna adornments. Morocco stands out for its promotion of the Amazigh script. The decision to integrate the Amazigh language into the educational system and promote its script marked a pivotal moment in its history, despite the challenges posed during its implementation. This development contrasts starkly with the long-standing disregard for the Amazigh cultural movement’s pleas in Algeria, Libya, and Morocco.

To solidify the position of the Amazigh language, it must attain constitutional recognition as a national and official language, and embrace its cultural heritage. Codification necessitates significant human and material resources and genuine commitment. However, this is not the endpoint. Currently, the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture spearheads Amazigh language affairs, leading to concerns about the credibility of its decisions. The pursuit of a classical Amazigh language, moving away from local dialects to encompass all Amazigh people in North Africa (spanning 11 dialects), raises complexities.

The multiplicity of Amazigh dialects stems from historical divergence. Although efforts have bridged many of these variants, reducing Amazigh to a single language poses potential problems. Such an approach could result in a non-dynamic language, detached from its widespread oral circulation that has persevered for centuries. Regional and local conflicts may arise from such language standardization. This relationship between written Berber and its dialects can be likened to the relationship between classical Arabic and colloquial Arabic, where classical Arabic is confined within elite circles. There’s a possibility that promoting a single Amazigh language might lead to the emergence of independent local languages, much like how European languages stemmed from Latin. However, historical, political, religious, and cultural factors contributed to the consolidation of linguistic and cultural pluralism in Europe.

While Arabic and French serve as written and spoken languages, Amazigh predominantly thrives as an oral language among the majority of citizens. To elevate its status, tangible efforts are required. Specialized support must be channeled toward granting it a written form, fostering creativity, critical thinking, and the construction of Amazigh civilization. Accomplishing this demands modern scientific institutions and research centers specializing in the realms of thought, humanities, and sciences. It’s imperative to revive heritage and restore respect for the Amazigh civilization. This mission remains incomplete without addressing the Moroccan manuscripts (approximately 20 million), many of which are housed in archives and centers in Western nations. Above all, it’s crucial to acknowledge the existence of a scientific, literary, and artistic heritage that can support linguistic diversity and cultural richness.

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