Notes on the Berber Cultural Claim (BMCC) in modern Morocco

The Amazigh (Berber) Cultural Claim in modern Morocco

(A Multidimensional Question)


Abstracts of a series of lecturing topics, submitted to the Fulbright Visiting Specialist Program: "Direct Access to the Muslim World" 2004-2005


                                                               Mohamed Elmedlaoui 1

 April, 02 2004


 (Summaries of lectures)


I. Multilingualism in North Africa as a historical permanent dimension


This study adduces and defends two hypotheses. According to the first one, a functional multilingualism is rooted in North Africa since the early entrance of this area into the historical period under different successive denominations.

According to the second one, the different terms and moods of either a complementary coexistence, or a competitive relation between any set of languages that happen to deal with each other at this area through a given period of history, have always been a function of the battery of ideological values in interaction in that period within the wider space of the Mediterranean geopolitical world, rather than a function of the different ethnic rapport de force in North Africa specifically.

As far as the historical knowledge can go back, the Berber languages family is the most ancient linguistic entity that shows a continuous but evolving presence in North Africa. But, throughout the historical period, all the other languages which acquired, each at a given time, some degree of  international recognition (Phoenician, Punic, Judo-Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English) have always been easily accepted and established in a given relevant sociolinguistic function (learned culture/religion, trade/diplomacy, etc.) in North Afric.

Already at the late antiquity, the Greek language was so anchored in North Africa as a language of learned society that the Berber king, Juba II of Mauritania (north-western Africa), wrote many books of history in that language. Nevertheless, Greeks have never had any colonial presence in this part of Africa.

Nowadays, Moroccan literature continues to be written in many languages. Thus, if the overwhelming use of Arabic, but of also of Berber to some extent, could be related in part to ethnic and/or religious factors, the overwhelming use of French, but also of Spanish to some extent in some areas is related, in part, to colonial factors. But the more and more substantial use of English could only be related to the international status of this language nowadays, and to the weight of the utilitarian, symbolic and ideological values it conveys. Hence, for example, "The First National Forum for Moroccan Creative Writers in English" took place on March 04 2001 at the Faculty of Letters - Oujda (Morocco).2


The final question this lecture concludes with, a pragmatic one, is the following:

Education, which can be undertaken only in a/some given language/s, was intended in the past to be a social means devoted essentially to ensure the reproduction of the main ideological foundations which underlie the prevailing socio-cultural terms and values. Nowadays, additional functions are assigned to this social institution. It is believed also to be a social means of mobilizing human and natural resources and potentials in order to achieve the socioeconomic development, considered as an ultimate value per see. To what extent, then, do concerned officials and political partners in Morocco, and in North Africa in general, try seriously to have at their disposal relevant specialized diagnoses, expertness, valuations and studies, when managing the sociolinguistic field in order to readjust it to any educational planning they believe necessary  to achieve the desired socioeconomic development and to ensure any new socio-political balance and cultural cohesion?



II. What Kind of Institution the RIAC Institute is?


The RIAC (Royal Institute for the Amazigh Culture) has been institutionally created in Morocco on October 17 2001 by a Royal Dahir, known since as the Ajdir Dahir, after the Middle Atlas Berber locality of Ajdir, where King Mohamed 6th  promulgated it before all the delegates of the Nation.


According to Chapter 3 of the Dahir, the Institution should fulfil its tasks of competence, as defined in Chapter 2, namely by performing the following:


1.    By collecting data related to the different aspects of the Amazigh (i.e. Berber) culture (...);

2.    By conducting researches and achieving studies on the Amazigh culture (...), and by encouraging researchers and experts in the field,

3.    By enhancing the artistic creativity in the field of the Amazigh culture (...);

4.    by exploring the scriptural expressions liable to ensure a widespread easy learning of the Amazigh language;

5.    By elaborating curricula and programs appropriate to initial and/or continuous trainings destined for the (future) pedagogical staff of educators and teachers of the Amazigh language (...);

6.    By helping universities creating centres devoted to conduct research on the Amazigh language and culture and to promote that language and culture in accordance with the 116th  clause of the National Educational Charta;

7.    By exploring methods appropriate to encourage and consolidate the Amazigh language position within the public space of information and communication;

8.    By tying links of scientific and cultural cooperation with relevant institutions; nationally and internationally.


According to the same Dahir (Chap. 7), the annual programs the different research centres of the Institute elaborate in order to carry out their above respective tasks should be previously approved by the institution's senate: the Administrative Council.


According to the above elements and articles of the Dahir, the RIAC's profile seems to conform to the standards of an academic institution of research, for which the so called Administrative Council stands for a senate. However, the quite obscure way the members of that AC have been nominated for the first mandate, and the no less obscure way the research centres have been given administrative heads and principals and supplied with human resources, resulted in an overall human profile and constituency that rendered the Institute's vocation and concrete action no more self evident despite all the above motioned battery of legal clauses. For example, in his response to a relevant question put by a journalist from the journal Albayan, the new rector of the Institute, newly appointed to replace the resigning Mohamed Chafik, expressed overtly in his meeting point with the press (IRCAM, Rabat, march, 31 2004) his belief that the "Institute is a very special institution where the scientific and the non-scientific interfere":

 'ãÄÓÓÜÉ íÊÞÇØÜÚ ÝíåÇ ãÇ åæ ÚáãÜÜí æãÇ åæ ÛÜíÜÜÑ Úáãí'


In fact, the Institute's nominated senate members have all been chosen on the basis of political, regional, and ethnic considerations. Even the minority of experts in the fields of the Amazigh language and culture that the senate includes have been appointed in fact regarding to those considerations and not to their competences as scholars and experts.   

In the remainder of the lectures (III, IV and V), I will explore the different aspects of this special situation of such ambiguous institution.



III. How did the Tifinagh Script Option win?


This lecture will examine how the Tifinagh script option to write Berber overrode, officially at least, the two other competing ones, the Arabic script option and the Latin script one. The so-called script is an adaptation coined in the Centre for Linguistic Planing of the RIAC on the basis of a mixture of the old Libyc inscriptions and the modern Touareg scripts once the AC had decided (2003) its exclusive use to write Berber in Morocco.  

We will see throughout this lecture how the above mentioned profile of the human constituency of the Institute (cf. lecture II), in connection with the general ideological and political significances commonly assigned in Morocco to any major action or approach related to Berber, led this institution to bring through some political-like negotiations a rather overt political, dogmatic and categorical response to the socio-educational question of script, instead of exploring possible solutions which rely on linguistic, sociolinguistic and socio-pedagogical diagnoses that take into account, in any educational and cultural planning, all the socio-pedagogical and socio-cultural dimensions of time, sociolinguistic space, economic cost and the targeted human element (see on the same blog the article in Arabic: "Questions omises du débat sur la graphie officielle de l'écriture de l'Amazighe (Berbère) au Maroc". PARTIES 1-7 ).



IV. Remarks on the recent Berber translation of the Koran in Morocco


As mentioned in section 4 of my letter of interest sent to the Direct Access to the Muslim World program, the firm rejection by the Islamic movements - at least before the turn of the may 16 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca - of any translation of the Koran into Berber, is an illustration among others of the ideological and socio-political divergences that oppose, in depth, the Islamic movement as a whole, under its current political expression, to the nowadays Berber Cultural movement considered also as a whole. That previous principled dogmatic rejection by the Islamists of any eventual translation of the Koran on the basis of some alleged theological considerations and the enthusiasm that the recent Berber translation by H. Jouhadi (2003) has created on the contrary among the Berber Cultural Claim movement, the non religious included curiously, illustrate also the political dimensions and values any major action and/or decision related to the Berber culture acquire in present days Morocco, where Islamism, as a political positioning, counts more and more seriously. Those ideological dimensions and values are yet reflected, on the other hand, through the way the translator of the Holly Book, H. Jouhadi, has arranged the Berber lexicon coining hundreds of neologisms in order for this lexicon to convey all the concepts specific to the Revelation without making use of no loan word to Arabic at all. The study I have just achieved in Arabic on this last point shows how ideological concerns could interfere with the standard questions related to translation in general and the lexicon in particular.



V. Standardizing Berber in Morocco


Among the tasks the RIAC is charged with, figures the task of arranging the Berber language variants in Morocco, till now essentially oral, in order for these variants to converge and qualify in the future as a unified national standard language of school. As it has been the case with the question of the script appropriate to write officially Berber, namely at school, the prominence of the ideological concerns over the relevant scientific diagnoses, put forward from the very experimental beginning step (i.e. 2003-2004) of introducing Berber to only 217 schools all over the country a no less dogmatic Manichean dilemma called: 'one or many [dialects]?'. That means one handbook, in a completely suddenly coined 'standardized' Berber, or three handbooks, each for one of the commonly accepted three variants of Berber in Morocco (Tashelhiyt, Tamazight and Tarifit) as these dialects are in fact defined till now on the basis of purely lay opinions and extra-linguistic and socio-regional conceptions of what a 'dialect' is. The remainder of the talk undertakes to explore and expose the concrete manifestation of this question.


[1] At the time, "Directeur de Recherche" at the Royal Institute for the Amazigh Culture – Rabat. Presently, researcher at the Institut Universiataire de la Recheche Scientifique -Rabat.


2 See my report on the event in Elmedlaoui, Mohamed (2001) "Oujda conference of creative Moroccan writers in English sees participation of many former grantees".  Newsletter,  n° 6 (Spring 2001; p 7). The Moroccan American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange. Rabat.


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