Languages of Morocco

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Languages of Morocco
Morocco - Linguistic map.png
Official languagesArabic (80-90%)
Berber (40-50%)
VernacularsRiffian, Shilha, Central Tamazight, Darija, Hassanya
Main foreign languagesFrench (33-39%)[1][2]
Spanish (21%)[3]
English (14%)[4]
Sign languagesMSL
Jump to: navigation, search
Languages of Morocco
Morocco - Linguistic map.png
Official languagesArabic (80-90%)
Berber (40-50%)
VernacularsRiffian, Shilha, Central Tamazight, Darija, Hassanya
Main foreign languagesFrench (33-39%)[1][2]
Spanish (21%)[3]
English (14%)[4]
Sign languagesMSL

There are a number of languages in Morocco, but the two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Berber.[5] Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) is the spoken native vernacular. The languages of prestige in Morocco are Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms and the French language, the latter of which serves as a second language for many Moroccans. According to a 2000-2002 survey done by Moha Ennaji, author of Multilingualism, Cultural Identity, and Education in Morocco, "there is a general agreement that Standard Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, and Berber are the national languages."[6] Ennaji also concluded "This survey confirms the idea that multilingualism in Morocco is a vivid sociolinguistic phenomenon, which is favoured by many people."[7]

There are 12 to 15 million Berber speakers in Morocco, about 40 to 50% of the population.[8] French remains Morocco's unofficial third language, and is taught universally and serves as Morocco's primary language of commerce and economics; it is also widely used in education and government. Morocco is a member of the Francophonie.


Arabic is Morocco's official language, although it is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, namely Darija, that is spoken or understood, frequently as a second language, by the majority of the population (about 85% of the total population). Many native Berber speakers also speak the local Arabic variant.[9] Arabic in its Classical and Standard forms is one of the two prestige languages in Morocco. Aleya Rouchdy, author of Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic, said that Classical/Modern Arabic and French are constantly in conflict with one another, but that most Moroccans believe that the bilingualism of Classical Arabic and French is the most optimal choice to allow for Morocco's development.[10]

In 1995 the number of native Arabic speakers in Morocco was approximately 18.8 million (65% of the total population), and 21 million including the Moroccan diaspora.[11]

As a member of the Maghrebi Arabic grouping of dialects, Moroccan Arabic is similar to the dialects spoken in Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya (and also Maltese). The country shows a marked difference in urban and rural dialects. This is due to the history of settlement. Originally, Arabs established centers of power in only a few cities and ports in the region, with the effect that the other areas remained Berber-speaking. Then, in the 13th century, Bedouin tribes swept through many of the unsettled areas, spreading with them their distinct Arabic dialect in the non-urbanized areas and leaving speakers of Berber in isolated areas in the more mountainous regions.[citation needed]

Modern Standard and Classical Arabic[edit]

Moroccans learn Standard Arabic as a language. It is not spoken at home or on the streets. Standard Arabic is frequently used in administrative offices, mosques, and schools.[12] According to Rouchdy, within Morocco Classical Arabic is still only used in literary and cultural aspects, formal traditional speeches, and discussions about religion.[10]

Dialectal Arabic[edit]

Darija Arabic[edit]

Main article: Moroccan Arabic

Moroccan 'Darija' Arabic, along with Berber, is one of two languages spoken in homes and on the street.[12] The language is not used in writing.[13] Abdelâli Bentahila, the author of the 1983 book Language Attitudes among Arabic–French Bilinguals in Morocco, said that Moroccans who were bilingual in both French and Arabic preferred to speak Arabic while discussing religion; while discussing matters in a grocery store or restaurant; and while discussing matters with family members, beggars, and maids.[14] Moha Ennaji, author of Multilingualism, Cultural Identity, and Education in Morocco, said that Moroccan Arabic has connotations of informality, and that Moroccan Arabic tends to be used in casual conversations and spoken discourse.[15] Ennaji added that Bilingual Moroccans tend to use Moroccan Arabic while in the house.[15] Berbers generally learn Moroccan Arabic as a second language and use it as a lingua franca, since not all versions of Berber are mutually intelligible with one another.[13]

The below table presents statistical figures of speakers, based on the 2004 population census (Population aged 5 and above)[2]

RegionMoroccan ArabicTotal population% Moroccan Arabic speakers
Guelmim-Es Semara261,109382,02968.35%
Marrakesh-Tensift-El Haouz2,358,9102,765,90885.29%
Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate761,1821,613,31550.57%
Laâyoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra181,413219,50582.65%
Oued Ed-Dahab-Lagouira53,98864,16384.14%
Grand Casablanca3,292,5433,306,33499.58%
Gharb-Chrarda-Béni Hssen1,653,6121,655,85299.86%

Hassani Arabic[edit]

Hassānīya, is spoken by about 0.7% of the population mainly in the southern regions and the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Communities of speakers exist elsewhere in Morocco too, especially in the metropolitan areas of Agadir, Marrakech, Rabat and Casablanca.
The below table presents statistical figures of speakers, based on the 2004 population census (Population aged 5 and above)[2]

RegionHassaniyaTotal popHassniya speakers
Guelmim-Es Semara68,597382,02917.96%
Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz3,2482,765,9080.12%
Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate1861,613,3150.01%
Laayoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra86,926219,50539.60%
Oued Ed-Dahab-Lagouira13,50164,16321.04%
Grand Casablanca1,7783,306,3340.05%
Għarb-Chrarda-Beni Hssen5261,655,8520.03%


Berber speaking areas in Morocco

The exact population of Berber languages speakers is hard to ascertain, since most North African countries do not – traditionally – record language data in their censuses (An exception to this was the 2004 Morocco population census). The Ethnologue provides a useful academic starting point; however, its bibliographic references are inadequate, and it rates its own accuracy at only B-C for the area. Early colonial censuses may provide better documented figures for some countries; however, these are also very much out of date. The number for each dialect is difficult to estimate.[citation needed]

Berber serves as a vernacular language in many rural areas of Morocco.[13] Berber, along with Moroccan Arabic, is one of two languages spoken in homes and on the street.[12] The population does not use Berber in writing. Aleya Rouchdy, author of "Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic," said that Berber is mainly used in the contexts of family, friendship, and "street".[13] In her 2000-2002 research, Ennaji found that 52% of the interviewees placed Berber as a language inferior to Arabic because it did not have a prestigious status and because its domain was restricted.[16] Ennaji added that "[t]he dialectisation of Berber certainly reduces its power of communication and its spread."[6]

Speakers of Riffian dialect were estimated to be around 1.5 million in 1990.[17] The language is spoken in the Rif area in the north of the country, and is the smallest Berber dialect in Morocco, by number of speakers.

The Tashelhit language is considered to be the most widely spoken as it covers the whole of the Region Souss-Massa-Drâa, and is also spoken in the Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz and Tadla-Azilal regions. Studies done in 1990 show around 3 million people, concentrated in the south of Morocco, speak the dialect.[17]

Central Morocco Tamazight is the second Berber language in Morocco. A 1998 study done by Ethnologue, shows that around 3 million people speak the language in Morocco.[18] The language is most used in the regions Middle Atlas, High Atlas and east High Atlas Mountains.

Other Berber dialects are spoken in Morocco, as the Senhaja de Srair and the Ghomara dialects in the Rif mountains and the Figuig Shilha in Figuig (not to be confused with Atlas Shilha).

2004 Population Census[edit]

Percentage of Berber languages speakers by region (2004 Population census)

The below table presents statistical figures of speakers, based on the 2004 population census (Population aged 5 and above)[2]

RegionTashlhytTamazightTarifitTotal pop% of Berber speakers
Guelmim-Es Semara182,6956,670766382,02949.77%
Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz969,56114,1702,3722,765,90835.65%
Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate18,923111,731338,0831,613,31529.05%
Laayoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra28,3526,569891219,50516.31%
Oued Ed-Dahab-Lagouira6,9103,21429664,16316.24%
Grand Casablanca367,55825,0679,0363,306,33412.15%
Gharb-Chrarda-Beni Hssen37,16213,8166,1051,655,8523.45%

Older studies[edit]

"Few census figures are available; all countries (Algeria and Morocco included) do not count Berber languages. Population shifts in location and number, effects of urbanization and education in other languages, etc., make estimates difficult. In 1952 A. Basset (LLB.4) estimated the number of Berberophones at 5,500,000. Between 1968 and 1978 estimates ranged from eight to thirteen million (as reported by Galand, LELB 56, pp. 107, 123–25); Voegelin and Voegelin (1977, p. 297) call eight million a conservative estimate. In 1980, S. Chaker estimated that the Berberophone populations of Kabylie and the three Moroccan groups numbered more than one million each; and that in Algeria, 3,650,000, or one out of five Algerians, speak a Berber language (Chaker 1984, pp. 8-)

In 1952, André Basset ("La langue berbère", Handbook of African Languages, Part I, Oxford) estimated that a "small majority" of Morocco's population spoke Berber. The 1960 census estimated that 34% of Moroccans spoke Berber, including bi-, tri-, and quadrilinguals. In 2000, Karl Prasse cited "more than half" in an interview conducted by Brahim Karada at According to the Ethnologue (by deduction from its Moroccan Arabic figures), the Berber-speaking population is estimated at 65% (1991 and 1995). However, the figures it gives for individual languages only add up to 7.5 million, or about 57%. Most of these are accounted for by three dialects:

Riff: 4.5 million (1991)
Shilha: 7 million (1998)
Central Morocco Tamazight: 7 million (1998)

This nomenclature is common in linguistic publications, but is significantly complicated by local usage: thus Shilha is sub-divided into Shilha of the Dra valley, Tasusit (the language of the Souss) and several other (mountain) dialects. Moreover, linguistic boundaries are blurred, such that certain dialects cannot accurately be described as either Central Morocco Tamazight (spoken in the Central and eastern Atlas area) or Shilha. The differences among all Moroccan dialects are not too pronounced: public radio news are broadcast using the various dialects; each journalist speaks his or her own dialect with the result that understanding is not obstructed, though most southern Berbers find that understanding Riff requires some getting used to.


Within Morocco, French, one of the country's two prestige languages,[10] is often used for business, diplomacy, and government.[19] French serves as a lingua franca.[20] Aleya Rouchdy, author of Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic, said that "For all practical purposes, French is used as a second language."[13]

Different figures of French speakers in Morocco are given. According to the OIF, 33% of Moroccans speak French, among them 13.5% fully francophone and 19.5% partially francophone.[1] According to the 2004 census, nearly 69% of alphabetized people can read and write French.[2]

Role and purpose of French[edit]

French is mainly used in administration, banking, commerce, education, and industry. Rouchdy said that within Morocco, French "is the vehicle of science, technology, and modern culture."[10] Rouchdy further explained that the language had been "maintained for instrumental purposes and for building contacts with the West in general."[10] The French language became entrenched in various aspects of Moroccan society, including education, government, the media, and the private sector due to the French colonial authority enacting a policy to spread the French language throughout Morocco during the colonial era.[13] As of 2005, trade with France makes up over 75% of Morocco's international trade. Moha Ennaji, author of Multilingualism, Cultural Identity, and Education in Morocco, said "[i]n this context, one can understand the important status of French, whose colonial connotations have been erased or at least drastically reduced by independence."[16]

Moroccans learn the French language at school. Secondary school graduates tend to achieve French fluency, and many Moroccans become fluent in French in addition to Moroccan Arabic and use French as their second language. Most Moroccans who are bilingual in French and Arabic live in urban areas where they have strong contact with the French language and where there are high literacy rates. Many Moroccans learn French to conduct business with French tourists; gain access to information, science, and technology; and to attend French-speaking educational facilities. Ennaji said that Moroccans learn French for educational, pragmatic, and sociocultural reasons.[15] Ennaji said "The degree of mastery of French depends on the bilingual's level of education and socio-economic background, for the higher the level of education and the wealthier the family background, the bigger the frequency of speaking French and the more frequent the alternative use of French and Moroccan Arabic by a bilingual. These factors determine the bilingual's ability to choose one or the other language in a particular speech situation."[15]

Abdelâli Bentahila, the author of the 1983 book Language Attitudes among Arabic–French Bilinguals in Morocco, said that Moroccans who were bilingual in both French and Arabic commonly spoke French when discussing matters related to reading, while at a pharmacy, while discussing matters with a doctor or employer, and while discussing scientific and technical topics.[14] Ennaji said that Moroccans tended to use French while discussing matters at work or at school,[15] and therefore French is commonly spoken in offices and schools.[12] If the other party in a conversation is French educated, Moroccans often speak in French or a mixture of Moroccan Arabic and French.[15] French has a prestigious status in Moroccan society, so many bilingual Moroccans mix French and Moroccan Arabic in conversation or use French words in informal Moroccan Arabic conversations.[15] According to Ennaji, in writing bilingual Moroccans only use French, and bilingual Moroccans tend to discuss scientific and technical topics only in French.[15] In Morocco, French has connotations of formality.[15]

Rouchdy said "The predominance of French implies that the chances of strengthening the place of Classical Arabic are reduced."[10]

Attitudes towards French[edit]

Despite the legacy of colonialism, according to Rouchdy, "French is still widely appreciated by both the ruling elite and the general public."[10] Ennaji said "most Moroccans know that Standard Arabic does not meet all their societal needs and that a European language is necessary for the transfer of ideas and technology, and for communication with the world at large, even if this European language is none but the ex-coloniser's language."[16] Rouchdy added that Classical/Modern Arabic and French are constantly in conflict with one another, but that most Moroccans believe that the bilingualism of Classical Arabic and French is the most optimal choice to allow for Morocco's development.[10]

History of French[edit]

In 1912 the French colonial authorities in Morocco introduced the French language to the country, making it the language of government administration, educational instruction, and the media; therefore Classical Arabic was only used for traditional activities and religious services. The French government had intended for the French culture and the French language to be viewed as "civilization and advancement".[10] In 1956 Morocco declared independence, and in the government declared Classical Arabic as the official language. In the early 1960s the Moroccan government began the Arabization process.[10] After independence, to facilitate economic growth and to increase its ties to Europe, the Moroccan government decided to strengthen its ties with France, resulting in the promotion of French. By 2005 Morocco engaged in economic liberalisation and privatization; Ennaji said that these activities, in many sectors, reinforced the usage of French.[16]

French in art[edit]

Within academic arts, French is the main language used. Academic art discourse had been conducted in French within a five decade period until 2010. Reviews of artwork and art journal articles mostly were published in French, while some newspaper coverage of gallery exhibits was in Arabic. French is the main language of art museums in Morocco. The Oudaya Museum, the national art museum, has object histories only in French, while many object labels are in Arabic and French. Moroccans imagined the audiences of museums and artwork as mostly Francophone. Katarzyna Pieprzak, author of Imagined Museums: Art and Modernity in Postcolonial Morocco, said that the "modernist or academic visual art is a language that was learned in art schools in Europe."[21]

Pieprzak concluded that "the use of French reflects a desire to be heard and to participate in a Western-controlled international art sphere and market" and that "French continues to serve as a lingua franca that unites Moroccan artists not only to Europe but also to Francophone Africa."[21]


About 5 million Moroccans speak Spanish. Spanish is spoken by some Moroccans, especially in the northern regions.[22] Spanish is mostly spoken in northern Morocco and the Spanish Sahara because Spain had previously occupied those areas. Moroccans in regions formerly controlled by Spain watch Spanish television and have interactions in Spanish on a daily basis.[10]

After Morocco declared independence in 1956, French and Arabic became the main languages of administration and education, causing the role of Spanish to decline.[10]


English, while still far behind French and Spanish in terms of the number of speakers, is rapidly becoming the second foreign language of choice among educated youth, after French. As a result of national education reforms entering into force in late 2002, English will be taught in all public schools from the fourth year on. English is spoken sporadically in the business, science and education sectors but its usage and learning have grown over the last decade, especially since 2002, when English instruction was introduced from the 7th grade in public schools.[citation needed]

Because it is the primary international language worldwide and because there are no colonial overtones, the language gained prestige within Morocco.[10] In a survey held by Ennaji in the summers of 2000, 2001, and 2002, 58% of the respondents said that English was their favorite foreign language because it is the primary international prestige language.[6] Heather Lea Moulaison, author of "Morocco — The New Era of Moroccan Libraries," said in 2012 that Moroccan society was increasingly accepting English as a lingua franca.[23]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "La Francophonie dans le monde." (Archive) Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. p. 16. Retrieved on 15 October 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e 2004 Morocco Population Census
  3. ^ According to a survey made in 2005 by CIDOB, 21.6% of the population speak Spanish (, According to the Morocco Census of 2004, the Morocco population is 29,680,069 (
  4. ^
  5. ^ 2011 Constitution of Morocco Full text of the 2011 Constitution (French)
  6. ^ a b c Ennaji, p. 164.
  7. ^ Ennaji, p. 162-163.
  8. ^ Frédéric Deroche, Les Peuples autochtones et leur relation originale à la terre., éd. l'Harmattan, 2008, p. 14, extrait en ligne
  9. ^ Ethnologue report for language code: shi. Retrieved on 2011-07-23.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Rouchdy, p. 71. ISBN 0700713794, 9780700713790.
  11. ^ Ethnologue report for language code: ary. Retrieved on 2011-07-23.
  12. ^ a b c d Ennaji, p. 162.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Rouchdy, p. 73.
  14. ^ a b Stevens, p. 73.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ennaji, p. 127.
  16. ^ a b c d Ennaji, p. 163.
  17. ^ a b Ethnologue report for language code: rif. Retrieved on 2011-07-23.
  18. ^ Ethnologue report for language code: tzm. Retrieved on 2011-07-23.
  19. ^ "Morocco." (Archive) CIA World Factbook. Retrieved on 13 October 2012. "French (often the language of business, government, and diplomacy)"
  20. ^ "Bitter Fruit: where Donegal's jobs went." Irish Independent. Saturday January 16, 1999. Retrieved on October 15, 2012. "Behind the locked gates and the sign saying `Interdit au Public' (forbidden to the public) French is the lingua franca in Morocco) I[...]"
  21. ^ a b Pieprzak, Katarzyna. Imagined Museums: Art and Modernity in Postcolonial Morocco. University of Minnesota Press, 2010. xxvii (Introduction). Retrieved from Google Books on October 15, 2012. ISBN 0816665184, 9780816665181.
  22. ^ Leyre Gil Perdomingo and Jaime Otero Roth, Enseñanza y uso de la lengua española en el Sáhara Occidental, in : Analysis of the Real Instituto Elcano nº 116 (2008) [1]
  23. ^ Moulaison, Heather Lea. "Morocco — The New Era of Moroccan Libraries." Within: Sharma, Ravindra N. and IFLA Headquarters (editors). Libraries in the early 21st century, volume 1: An international perspective. Walter de Gruyter, Jan 1, 2012. p. 236. Retrieved from Google Books on October 15, 2012. ISBN 3110270633, 9783110270631.

Further reading[edit]