By Souhaila Rahbi
By Souhaila Rahbi
Brussels – Morocco, along with Algeria and Tunisia, opted for an Arabisation policy after its independence for the purpose of establishing linguistic and cultural unification within the Arab Muslim World and restoring an authentic identity that was defiled by colonialism. Arabic was presented as the only legitimate language for a Muslim country that would regenerate a lost identity. Yet, Arabisation has certainly not been successful as an educational policy.
Arabic is said to be our mother tongue. This is a barefaced lie! A majority of the population in the Maghreb countries speak a phonetically and a syntactically different variant of Arabic called Maghrebi Arabic or Darija which is derived from different sub-stratums and influenced by many other languages (Tamazight, Old Arabic, Turkish, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Sub-Saharan languages). Most others speak Tamazight, the native language of the Imazighen, who are the original inhabitants of the region. School was our first exposure to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or Fusha.
Being taught in a different language than the one spoken at home and within the community results in sporadic school attendance, especially for the Imazighen who are logically disadvantaged since instruction in Tamazight was not permitted even in primary schools. This also had adverse impacts on a population whose identity is suppressed and marginalised by this policy. They drummed in our ears that Arabisation counteracts the language of colonialism.
Ironically, the continued presence of the French language is undeniable in Northwest Africa, especially in government, business and technical jobs. Engineering schools and medical universities retained French as the first language of instruction, only rarely complemented by Arabic. Many students who receive their high school diplomas are faced with the expiration date of the Arabic language that used to offer them knowledge. This results in broken ambitions about their future if they fail admission tests to institutions of higher education, just because their command of French is not good enough.
Maghrebi Darija, Tamazight, French and German are all conversational and eloquent languages. That is, they are languages that are used in daily life for social interaction; they can be used when talking on the phone, at home, in the restaurant, at the market or at university. However, Modern Standard Arabic is not a colloquial language anywhere in the world; it is only spoken in exceptional situations and limited contexts such as seminars, TV news, speech and prayers. People speaking Arabic outside of these contexts will be the subjects of ridicule and derision; Arabic has become discordant and strange, inappropriate when spoken outside of the aforementioned contexts. All of this makes Arabic a language that is ‘handicapped’, as it has lost its communicative function in everyday life, maintaining only its written function. And this is where Latin and Modern Standard Arabic meet; the only difference is that Latin is declared dead but Arabic is still in extremis.
A language that is half dead results in an educational system that is half dead as well. This loss of the oral communicative function has its own costly price in terms of students’ school achievement. Their lack of mastery and proficiency in the language of instruction disadvantages students and leaves them unqualified to master other foreign languages, such as French, English or Spanish. Why? Because studies have shown that a good command of the mother tongue is helpful for students to learn languages effectively. In the absence of the mother tongue as the language of teaching, as is the case in Morocco and other countries in Northwest Africa, the problem is not only in Arabic as a language.
The policy of Arabisation shifts from a means to an end when it is used as an ideology, namely the construction of an identity using the language of the Koran. Enough of taking education hostage for an ideological purpose! People have lost interest in the often-repeated line that Arabic is the language of the Koran, as if only Arabic speaking people can be considered Muslims. There are many Pakistani, Iranian, Turkish and Afghani Muslims, and most of these people are not taught in Arabic. Yet, they are not less Muslim than any person of the same faith in Northwest Africa.
Before concluding this paper, I would like to add that I am Moroccan and proud to be an Arabic speaker, while at the same time ashamed for being unable to speak Amazigh, the language that represents the other half of my cultural identity. Morocco has been a multilingual country for centuries, but the Arabisation policy has ignored this linguistic reality. It is time to preserve this multilingual character and reaffirm our cultural diversity. The Arabisation coffin is waiting to be burned, while the reality multiculturalism in our country has to be respected, thereby accentuating an existing national and cultural diversity.
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