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Moroccan Arabic, or, Darija

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I love the Arabic that is spoken here in Morocco, which is interesting because not very many people do. I remember when I was here over the summer that many of my friends did not like the darija class that we took for an hour a day in June. Some complained that it was too hard; others, that it was useless (indeed, native speakers of Egyptian or Levantine Arabic usually find it impossible to understand Moroccan Arabic). But not me. I loved that class because I found it not only easier than Modern Standard Arabic (MSA, fusHa), but also useful. The other dialects are closer to fusHa, so if I were to go to Egypt or Syria or Lebanon, many people would be able to understand me if I spoke in MSA. In Morocco, however, there are few similarities with the classical Arabic, and so it is in a sense its very own language.

I will be the first to say that initially, darija is not a pretty language. It’s difficult to understand because of the lack of vowel pronunciation, the difference in verb conjugation, and the frequent use of the harsh consonant “ق” that is absent in most other dialects. But after being in Morocco for a total of 3.5 months already (non-consecutive, of course), my ear has slowly been fine-tuning itself to understanding more and more of this language. And the more that I understand, the more beautiful it becomes to me.

I have grown to appreciate the way that Moroccans speak, as well. Last semester, I took an Egyptian Colloquial Arabic class that greatly improved my overall speaking skills. I noticed that the manner in which we were trained to speak is very different from the Moroccan style. For example, the word “يعني” (yaa-nee) is frequently used in Egyptian to indicate the common English word “like” (as in, the “like” that teenagers often use as a sentence filler); however, I have barely noticed this word being used in the Moroccan dialect. I recently asked my roommate what the Moroccan equivalent would be, and she said that it was “زعمة” (zaa-ma). And although they both have the same purpose, I hear زعمة used much less frequently than my Egyptian Colloquial professor used يعني. Of course, this is only one of the many, many differences between the dialects.

As for my own speaking and understanding, I think that by now I have a basic grasp of Moroccan Arabic. I can get around pretty easily by myself without relying on French (indeed, my grasp of French pretty much boils down to, je ne comprends pas français.). I can order food, buy bus or train tickets, converse with hostel owners about myself and what I would like from the hostel, among other vital things that are important to know for everyday life (for example, whenever I’m asked if I know Arabic, my automatic response is “شوية” (shwii-ya), or, “a little”). As for understanding, I can understand a lot of what shopkeepers say to me regarding price and their wares, and I can pick up bits and pieces of everyday conversation. But the most useful tool in understanding something in a language that you don’t know well is body language.

There have been many a time where I have had to rely mostly on the point of a finger or a gesture of a hand. For example, when my friends and I went to Meknes and stayed in a hostel deep in the heart of the medina, I had to continuously stop and ask for directions to Bab Mansour, a well-known gate that faces the main entrance to the souq. In order to understand what these temporary guides were saying, I had to piece together my knowledge of darija with their hand movements. The great thing about asking for directions is that it is universal to respond with hand motions, meaning that when someone says that you must turn left, they usually give you a signal pointing left. So as I watched their body language and listened carefully for words I knew (i.e. take the SECOND left after the green door, not the first), I was able to lead us out of the maze that is the medina of Meknes.

Although I will be in Morocco for four months this semester, I know that I will not be going back to the United States fluent in either fusHa or darija. I will, however, become more familiar with the dialect here and (inshallah) be able to hold some type of conversation for a good amount of time. And of course, having a Moroccan boyfriend is a great advantage in this area. (:

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1 Comment

  1. Haitham Mkamel says:

    I’m glad that you had a great time, I also have a blast when I go, if you need help with Darija it is my second language so I might be able to help you, Just e-mail me.

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