By Lahcen Ait Idir
By Lahcen Ait Idir
Azilal, Morocco There is currently a long-running debate about the merits of diversity within societies. One of the arguments that keeps reverberating is that diversity — whether cultural or linguistic — is a double-edged sword, with definite pros and cons, some “happy” and some “unhappy.”
This article lands on the side of “unhappy talk” about linguistic diversity in Morocco. It highlights how language differences are employed to suppress and stigmatize “minor” (in terms of power) languages such as Tamazight, one of Morocco’s indigenous languages. Not only is Tamazight seemingly not socially recognized, but it carries with it political, academic, and institutional stigma, and has been subject to “linguistic terrorism” over the years in Morocco. This article sets out to unravel how the Tamazight language is a source of anxiety for the dominant culture expressed in Arabic, and how it has therefore had to be suppressed.
“Linguistic terrorism” is defined by anthropologists as “the suppression of the mother tongue [of a group of people] by another dominant group” (De katzew, 14). In the Moroccan “melting-pot” society, “minor languages” such as Tamazight are subject to stereotypes. Tamazight is discredited and “demonized” and frequently associated with the concepts of being “illegitimate,” “bastard,” “different” and “orphan.” Amazigh people perceive their language as “inferior” because it is made to be seen as inferior by the prevailing culture articulated in Arabic. Thus, Amazigh people are looked down upon because they speak a “different” language, causing them to hide their identities and feel ashamed. This fact manifests itself (as in Hegelian philosophy) in different everyday contexts such as in administrations, hospitals, schools, courts, and markets.
In this same line of thought, the term “Berbers” that is used to refer to Imazighen is “linguistically violent.” In history, this term was originally used by the Greeks to indicate people who spoke languages other than classical Greek. Eventually, the same term was used to refer to “people in North Africa who didn’t speak Latin,” a practice that was adopted by the Arabs that later settled in North Africa and referred to [Imazighen] as ‘Barbar’” (El Allame, 181). ”The Berbers”thus became a derogatory term, a “political definition” and “a violent word; speakers of the Tamazight language prefer to be called Imazighen.
Politically, Tamazight does not enjoy full recognition in the Moroccan Constitution, an issue to which the current government has turned a blind eye. Tamazight is politically excludedand is afforded attention only in moments of political tension and electoral campaigns. Morever, religious factors have contributed to the development of stereotypical representation and suppression of Tamazight. These include the belief that Arabic is the only language of Islam, which leads people to build a strong link between Arab ethnicity and the essence of Islam. For these people, to be Muslim, one should belong to the Muslim community and the pan-Arab nation.
Because of the above historical, political, and religious factors, the dominant group in Morocco constructs and enhances negative attitudes towards Tamazight language and identity. These attitudes are replete with stereotypical representation and “violent words” which, in one way or another, affect the Amazigh self-perception and perception of (the other) The statements uttered by the non-Amazigh about Tamazight illustrate this constructed social stigma. These taken-for-granted statements — which are proudly and thoughtlessly made — include: “Tamazight is a prehistoric language,” “Tamazight is useless and is not going to help you ‘earn your bread,’” and “Tamazight is not a language as the cat is not a bird.” Subjectively and stereotypically informed, these statements reveal the imprisoned frames of mind that construct solely negative qualities about Tamazight. The attitude that “Tamazight is useless” denies the pivotal role language plays in informing its speakers’ identities. For those with such a negative attitude, the idea that “I am what I speak” is not the common sense.
These attitudes impact Imazighens’ perception of themselves, their language, and their identity. In an attempt to avoid “the psychological and social unrest and the fear of being excluded from the social group, [Imazighen] abandon their language and minimize their linguistic and ethnic identity” (El Allame, 187). As a consequence, Amazigh feel ashamed of themselves and their language which they label in such shameful statements as “learning Tamazight is a fiasco,” “Tamazight is a bastard language,” and “Using Tamazight derides one’s social status.” All these statements are reveal the degree to which the Amazigh people have internalized the feeling that they will not be socially acknowledged unless they abandon their language and use Arabic instead. This further emphasizes their “inferiority complex” as they perceive the Arabs and the Arab language as enjoying a “higher position” within society.
Lastly, insufficient support from the State plays a pivotal role in Tamazight’s stigmatization and denial. For example, Tamazight is given less importance and is almost absent in the Moroccan education system. Schools have been a tool for Tamazight’s suppression, since Arabic is the only language used for communication and thus denying the Amazigh any chance to learn their own language and impeding their learning process. Amazigh people then stop transmitting their language to their children, for they believe it is a source of an “inferiority complex” if their children go to school without knowing Arabic (EL Allame, 184). This makes Amazigh children feel locked outand too ashamed to deal with their instructors.
In fact, some instructors themselves hold a negative attitude towards Tamazight and its speakers. This impacts the psychology of students and breeds low self-worth and the fear of being unacceptable because of the “different” language one speaks, Tamazight. Once again, students feel ashamed of their language, and they start “blaming themselves” for a language that their mother transmitted to them in their early life (El Allame, 2009). In fact, all these feelings develop from the perception and derogatory words of the dominant group towards the Tamazight language and Amazigh identity.
The misconstruction of cultural and linguistic differences within societies is often times fueled by a deficiency in reasoning and thinking. The other’s difference is equated with ‘wrongness’ and ‘illegitimacy’ by the dominant group. In order to peacefully and serenely live side by side and appreciate diversity, we must respect and accept the language, culture and identity of others. Such respect and acceptance will diminish linguistic terrorism’ (use double quotes as you have been the rest of the article) and ‘clash of cultures’ between people of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.
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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