(In English) Multilingualism and linguistic planning in Morocco

Linguistic Planning and Multilingualism in Morocco; the case of Berber/Amazigh and Moroccan Arabic


A forthcoming talk by Mohamed Elmedlaoui

Oct. 18 2016

Center for Research on Bilingualism. Stokholm University





Morocco has always been a multilingual society, with Berber (in its different historical states and geographic varieties) as the oldest language historically reported. Along the Moroccan and North African history in general, different other languages of Mediterranean influence (Phoenician, Punic, Greek, Latin, Classical Arabic, Spanish, French, English, etc.) were, successively or concurrently, assigned different functions (formal education, religious instruction, learned literature, etc.) and different sociolinguistic statuses.


Through their long history, Berber varieties in North Africa remain principally ORAL (every day’s communication and a rich popular literature: poetry, tales, epics, etc.) with an extremely limited written traces in the old Berber Script known as “Lybique” (some repestral inscription).


From the 11th century up to the mid 20th century, a mainly religious Tashlhiyt Berber literature, written in Arabic Script called “Al-Mazghi”, flourished in Southern Morocco in particular. It gave rise, in those areas, to a two-speed system of education: (i) one in Classical Arabic, intended for formal education (Classical Arabic grammar and literature, Islamic sciences and medieval lay sciences) and (ii) another in Al-Mazighi for informal religious adults’ education.


With the rise of the Berber/Amazigh ‘identitarian’ movement in the seventies of the 20th century, which got strengthening by the nineties in parallel with the weakening of the Arabism and the rise of Islamism, The Royal Institute for the Amazigh Culture was created at 2001, and Beber/Amazigh began to be taught at 2003 in some elementary schools. It is written in Tifinagh script, derived recently from the old Lybique script.


With the Islamic era, another spoken language emerges and spreads gradually and continuously until it ends up nowadays as the most SHARED spoken language among Moroccans. It is spoken or at least understood enough even in those areas traditionally speaking/understanding only Berber. That is Moroccan Arabic.


Despite its present days function as the actual main language of intercommunication in different spheres of the collective social life, and aside a quite large body of manuscript written in Arabic Script (collections of the rich Malhun poetry tradition), Moroccan Arabic remains also of only ORAL use, with no overt and official recognition within the formal educational system.


With the colonial period (France in the middle of the country and Spain in North and South), the modern school introduces two other languages of modern formal education: French and Spanish according to the regions. While French end up, by the independence of Morocco in the mid fifties of the 20th century, by supplanting Spanish in its previous areas in North and South, competing thus alone with Classical Arabic in school and university through the successive official linguistic reforms of the educational system, another language, English, started competing with the two by the eighties as a language of science and social success.


This extremely complex sociolinguistic situation gave and gives rise to eager continuous debate and successive bureaucratic and contradictory ‘reforms’ in Morocco since its Independence. This debate remains however largely ideologist, ‘identitarian’ and quite schizophrenic: most of the proponents of Arabism or ‘Amazighism’ prefer actually private educational institutions that teach in French and/or English, in order to ensure a successful education for their offspring.


Mohamed Elmedlaoui

Mohammed V University in Rabat

Institut Universitaire de la Recherche Scientifique



Short bio


Mohamed Elmedlaoui is a linguist (phonology). He published in Arabic, French and English about a hundred papers on Berber and Semitic languages and cultures; among them, a dozen in linguistics with François Dell (CNRS-Paris). He published nine books (in Arabic, French or English) including two with F. Dell on Berber phonology, metrics and music. He is a Fulbright alumnus (UMASS Univ. 1990) and had four times a Poste Rouge position as an invited researcher at the CNRS (Paris: 1986, 1991, 1995 and 1999). Before joining the Institut Universitaire de la Recherche Scientifique – Rabat (2006 on) where he served as a head of the research team ‘Géoplolitique, Identité et Migration’, he taught linguistics (1979-1985) and then Hebrew (1986-2001) in the Arabic and Islamic Departments at the Faculty of Letters – Oujda (Morocco), where he served also as a vice-dean (1995-1999). In 2003 he joined the Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe in Rabat as a ‘Directeur de Recherche’ (2002-2006). He won the 2012-Moroccan Book Prize for Language and Literature.

He is a founding member of many civilian and learned societies, among them the Moroccan Fulbright Alumni Association. Currently (2015 on), he is the president of the ‘Association des Amis du Musée du Judaïsm


Email:                               elmedlaoui@yahoo.fr

The blog OrBinah:       https://orbinah.blog4ever.com/

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