By Adam Ziad, Rabat- In his response to the call for using Darija in education, in lieu of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), Morocco’s leading intellectual Abdallah Laroui argued that unlike Darija, MSA has accumulated a tremendous intellectual and scientific wealth that qualifies it to be the language of education. In fact, Arabic words make up a considerable part of some western languages and is often used in sciences like math, chemistry and astronomy.
The use of Darija, on the contrary, has been limited to everyday life matters, simple, concrete topics, and informal contexts. I cannot disagree with this fact, and neither should any reasonable person. Besides, such a diglossic situation, where two diabetes have distinct purposes is not at all unhealthy.
However, what many people must know is that Darija is only different from MSA in this respect- that is its intellectual and scientific experience, which come to think of it, is an entirely extraneous aspect; from a purely linguistic perspective, however, Darija is totally equal to MSA and so are Berber varieties and any nonstandard dialect for that matter.
Unfortunately, non-standard varieties of any language are often viewed as broken and chaotic versions of the standard dialect used in school and the news, which is allegedly the “proper” and “pure “real language.” Thus, the former is deemed inferior to the latter. Consequently, these dialects are stigmatized, especially in certain formal contexts such as academia and many work settings. It may help to think of the dialects spoken in cities like Eljadida, Asfi, and rural areas versus those spoken in Fez and parts of Rabat, most of which are closer to MSA.
Think of how we perceive the speakers of each type of dialect, how we associate simplicity with the speakers of the former type, and how we correlate prestige, intelligence and sophistication with the latter. This often causes a sort of “linguistic insecurity’ among the speakers of non-standard dialects, which leads to assimilation and, at times, hypercorrection.
But this situation is not unique to Morocco; In America, African American English (AAE), for example, has often been described as “a random series of badly connected words or phrases” (Joseph 154). Such negative attitudes towards dialects stem from ignorance about language and particularly from the widespread misassumption that they don’t have grammar, and thus, are thought of as merely an “accumulation of errors” (153).
Linguists agree that all dialects are governed by grammar. This fact is obvious, when pointed out, for people would not be able to successfully communicate through an unsystematic language, in which there are no fixed rules that control sentence structure, tenses, pronouns and other grammar forms. These rules may not be the same as the standardized rules accumulated by grammarians and imposed by language academies; nonetheless, they are strict, systematic rules.
In Darija for example, one never says (Barah radi namshi), in which the future morpheme (ghadi) is used for the past or any other tense. Furthermore, a dialect such as “Darija” is not only rule-governed but is also as rich and complex as its standardized counterpart (MSA). Labov’s work on (AAE) has empirically proven the complexity and systematicity of non-standard dialects (see his essay the logic of nonstandard English).
To be realistic, it might not be feasible or even favorable to standardize Darija or use it in academia. However, enlightening people about the nature of language in general and reality of all dialects can produce more appropriate opinions about the non-standard dialects of Arabic as well as other minority dialects including varieties of Berber. Describing minority dialects can, then, become value-neutral just like describing plants or planets. For example, people will refer to dialects as simply language varieties, of which the standard variety is only one type.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy