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Moroccans and the complex of speaking French

Larbi Arbaoui
Dedicated free-lance journalist with three years of experience as a news correspondent, translator, and editor. Larbi has been working as a journalist, reporting and conducting interviews for more than two years for international on-line publication ...
Moroccans and the complex of speaking French

Taroudant, Morocco

This morning my landlord, an old man who spent half of his age working in the mine of Bouwazar in the southeast of Morocco, knocked at my door with a paper on his hand. Being written in French, the old man couldn’t read any word on the paper except for his name that he recognized from the script he is familiar with. The paper was not a letter from a French friend with whom he worked in the mine, but, unfortunately, a document sent from a Moroccan administration. To be clear, it was a tax bill from the Taxation and Revenue Department. Honestly, I felt pity, not for the old man who doesn’t know how to read French, but most scandalously to my country, whose official language is Arabic and Tamazight as is enshrined in the constitution, but still addresses tax payers with a language that they not only don’t understand but also reminds them, as aged people, of the hard times of colonialism.

Personally, I am not against the French language or any other foreign language on earth, but rather I advocate the teaching and learning of foreign languages. However, it seem strange to receive administrative bills, letters or any other documents written in a language that is not one of the official languages of your country. The Moroccan administrations are exercising symbolic violence on the citizens. Whether they know French or not, it remains, I believe, an act of humiliation and disrespect since they don’t address the citizens with their own language in their country.

Officially in Morocco, the French language is considered a foreign language, but once you go to a Moroccan government agency you will notice that, in fact, you are the one who is the foreigner. Everything is written in French, from documents to the door mount nameplates on the gates of offices and pavements. The personnel speak to you in French, as if your mother’s name is Jacqueline, especially those secretaries in racy dress who learned French only recently. Frankly, it is sufficient to take a tour in the streets or visit the shops of Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech or any big city to notice how the French language is the dominant language in people’s normal conversations. Why?

Despite the oblique picture that the report of the Moroccan High Council for Education drew for student proficiency of languages in our schools, you find the majority of Moroccans borrow half of the words from the French diction when they communicate to one another. This linguistic phenomenon becomes more frequent when they are in a more formal meeting, with their loved ones or more often when they are before the lens of the camera. Some even forget that they are Moroccans and are addressing Moroccans whose languages are either Arabic or Berber.

Many people believe that French is a prestigious language which reveals high social backgrounds of the speaker. For this reason a large number of Moroccans tend to use French as a tool that can give them the desired social status and may suggest that they are belonging to the educated elite. Some linguistic studies say that girls tend to use a more formal local language and they are likely to use a foreign language in a different social environment.

In time when the foreign language, in general, should be a means to access the science, technology and everything constructive produced by those people, it is unfortunately reduced to an objective in itself. Most of those who show off their linguistic competencies in front of their peers hardly understood the culture, thought, and high human values produced by the natives of that language.

Wrong are those who believe that their discourse is elevated and that their ideas are enlightened by the linguistic support they use. What make the speech so strong are the power of ideas and the credibility of thought. With respect to the culture imbedded in every language, what counts, in the end, is the innovative ideas and human values you communicate, but never the language by which you express those thoughts. I wonder why when someone speaks French in an inappropriate place and for no reason, I manage to understand all the words but the meaning makes no sense to me.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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Comments (13)



  • Pehuel Yupanqui

    I totally support what you think Mr. Larbi and I want also to remind that Tamazigh is the first language of the country and unfortunately it has not a proper place in Morocco. As you have said the two language of the colonialism Arab and French are the officials. Very sad indeed.

    • sara keen

      Arabic is NOT a colonist language. It is the language the the Arabs brought with them to morocco. We muslims do not consider those who brought Islam as colonizers. They are not like the french UNBELIEVERS who raped, maimed, murdered muslims and robbed them of their wealth. When the Arabs brought Islam to Morocco, slowly people of Amazigh entered into the fold of Islam. Slowly with Islamisation came Arabization, although full Arabization did not take place until after independence in the 1950’s. So since Arabic has been in use in morocco for nearly 1400 years, it’s mindboggling to think that their are people like you who consider Arabic as a foreign language. the vast majority would agree that Arabic is the first and official language of those who chose Arabisation and Tamazight is the first and official language of the Amazigh. So therefore morocco has two first languages. Don’t worry! This does not impact on your identity. You are what you are no matter what language you speak. Another thing is that its impossible to use Amazigh in other aspects of society. Tamazight could never be used it business or medical or engineering or ICT. I have amazigh friends who cannot understand why they have to learn Amazigh in school. Maybe they could give amazigh the option of having court hearings in Tamazight and give them the right to give their children amazigh names so to protect cultural rights. Anyway problems in morocco run much deeper than this. You should only worry how Allah identifies you, not people. You will not take you national identity to your grave.

  • ???

    i agree, French keep Morocco jailed in 50’s for ever.

  • Larbi Arbaoui

    Larbi Arbaoui

    This is,
    unfortunately, a clear sign that we are still dependent. Even the constitution,
    and other Codes and Laws, the state always make sure to draft a French version.


  • Larbi Arbaoui

    This is, unfortunately, a clear sign that we are still dependent. Even the
    constitution, and other Codes and Laws, the state always make sure to draft a French version.


  • Jamal

    Can t agree more on the content of this short essay though I have to say one cannot expect much from a country whose a majority of its citizens have no pride in speaking their native languages being Arabic and Berber . We should look around the spaniards and notice how proud they are of their language . It is so sad to carry on teaching a lingo that is no longer in demand in today s world of information technology and business which is dominantly English

  • Abdul Nasser

    Interesting article! I thought French was studied by people who wanted
    to move into the French Economic System. I’m American and have been to
    Morocco during this past Ramadan. I was able to practice Darija. I think
    the topic of language in Morocco is similar to that in the US. We have
    politicians in States with Mexican majority proclaiming English the
    language of the land, however, the English that come here to work
    try to hide their Mother Tongue and speak more American in their accent!
    Don’t believe me? The TV sitcom “House” had as it’s main character a
    Dr. House played by Hugh Laurie. Would the show have been successful if
    he spoke with a British accent? If you want to move up in any system
    then the way you speak is very important. Linguistic Nationalism aside, how
    about an article on the “proper” reading of the Qur’an?

    There is a famous quote by Ibn Rushd which I found on this website:


    meaningful use of language is possible only through the connection of
    linguistic terms and ideas with a framework in which they make sense,
    and such a framework is connected to the varying uses of the terms and
    to the way in which the world is.”

    In other words, as I wrote
    above, the purpose of studying French lies in the power of its’ economic
    value, just as the purpose of studying Arabic lies in the power of
    its’ spiritual value.

  • Ilyass

    This is absolutely a big problem, and honestly it makes me nervous sometimes. Why do moroccans speak french while they are able to express their own ideas in arabic or berber? it is very simple, Moroccans have to change their mind, otherwise they will go astray and lose their values. Is this hard? I don’t think so.

  • ALS

    A very relevant article. The writer has raised valid points and the masses would do well to read and re-read this.

  • meknassi

    I love Morocco but when it comes to using the French language, we are an extremely sick and disordered people with poor judgement.

    Is Morocco situated in France? Nope. (It is remembered that France only accorded Algeria this unrequited distinction.)

    Are we Moroccans from the French race? No, far from it, not a drop of their blood has entered the Moroccan people. (Although, it would be equally true to also mention that we are genetically different from those in the Arabian Peninsula, in so much as to say that Arabians did not populate an empty Morocco despite what the Moroccan official history leaves us to infer)

    Do we share history with France? Only a mere faint 44 years of political rape, aka the Protectorate, a drop in the ocean against the 1,200 years of Moroccan civilisation (although the history of the land where Morocco sits goes back much further than 1,200 years). Northern Morocco and France were both part of the same Roman empire. (Though unlike the Gauls we were familar with civilisation early and did not wait for the Romans to extract us from the mud).

    • meknassi

      OK now we got those questions answered — why the Fuc*k is French appearing on my Bank Chaabi statement?!?! That really is what gets me confused. I look in the mirror, there is a brown face; I look at my wife, there is a brown woman in Hijab; I look at the history of my country Berber-psuedoArab-Islam; I look at the historical enemies of my nation and civilisation: the Spanish and French are very conspicuous in that category. I ask and answer so many pertinent and deep questions about why the French language is still present in Morocco…

      The one answer that stands up to scrutiny the longest (relatively speaking) is the one that goes like this: French is the language of modernity and its usage will modernise Morocco. The problem is, the one who utters such a statement is as dumb as the one responsible for releasing that paedophile Galvin.

      If modernity is the end, and French is the means to this coveted end, Morocco would be better served by learning English as a foreign language. Science is modernity. No Science, no modernity. Access to Science determines level of modernity. Where is most of the science taking place?

      French needs to be taken off its pedestal.

      My dream for Morocco is for the promotion of what some call “Darija” to be no more called “Darija” and instead be the official Moroccan language, also the language of politics, art and culture, intellectual discourse, etc. Moroccans really do have a language that is spoken by 95% of the population!!!!! 95% It is the language of unity, the democratic language since it enfranchises people not disenfranchise them. It doesn’t matter if you are illiterate you shall understand it and be included in the nation with it. English will be available to any Morocco who wishes to use it to help his scientific enquiry, not as a status symbol, not as a way to differentiate himself from other Moroccans, but merely as a tool to contribute to the social good. I dream that this infatuation with foreigners ends, by all means learn from the outside World,but don’t place a subjective premium on foreign things unless they can be objectively proven to be superior and useful in a Moroccan context.

      As well as the French, Moroccans pay too much undue attention to Mashreq culture and intellectual life. I say leave these people injoy their own peculiar music and keep their lowlife intellectuals and thinkers as far away from Moroccan minds as possible. Don’t bring them to Mawazine, don’t give them heed in newspapers and books, try to hinder their broadcasts, keep them out. Just ignore them unless you want plumes of smoke being generated by car bombs in Morocco’s skies, corpses confiscating the streets and fouling the air, fanatics with machines guns trampling on law and order, military practising their art on their own folks, flames and blood exhausted from burning and flowing, wailing victims, blood-curdling screams, cities crumbling like a biscuit, one section of society cheering the massacre of another section, etc. “Arab Nationalism”! and “Caliphate”!…the only two words/ideas that flow from Mashreqi mouths/minds. Look what happens when you promulgate the great lie and the great illusion.

  • Kenza Belhaj

    I think that French has become so widely spread in Morocco that it should no longer be considered a foreign language. On the contrary, it should be given some sort of official status because, whether we like it or not, it has become part of our cultural and linguistic heritage.

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