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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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