I have always thought that one of the greatest possible cultural assets is to have your own language or dialect. What can identify a place more than having its own language rules? For this reason, I think it is necessary to talk about Moroccan Arabic.
Don’t be scared off by the length of this article, it will be enjoyable and doesn’t go too deep into this subject. It is only an introduction a way to learn a little more about the culture that attracts us so much and that at the same time is so different. Let’s get started!
Morocco has two official languages: Arabic (Modern Standard Arabic) and Berber, which are completely different from each other, the second being the original language of Morocco with the first one having come with the arrival of Islam in the 7th century.
There are also several local languages such as Tarifit or Tashelhit, although the most commonly spoken language, by far, is colloquial Arabic, also known as Darija. So much so that people use it more than the official language, Modern Standard Arabic, which is the only language used for formal situations such as official speeches or trials. It is a spoken dialect based on classical Arabic, but also with influences of other languages that have left their mark on Morocco throughout its history (Berber, other variations of Arabic, French and even Spanish).
In summary, classical Arabic is the original, which is enshrined in the Qur’an, while Darija is a modified version that has been impregnated by other linguistic cultures and is the option preferred by Moroccans for everyday communication.
So do we need to carry an English-Darija dictionary when we travel to Morocco? Definitely not. Let’s be honest, no Moroccan businessman worth his salt is going to let language get in his way of offering his products or services. Furthermore, as a result of colonialism, Moroccans have a working knowledge of French and Spanish, but in most places, especially if if they live in a tourist area, they are fluent in English.
That said, since our interest lies primarily in establishing a connection with the locals, we will focus on colloquial Arabic.
The Arabic Alphabet
The Arabic alphabet is used in all varieties of Arabic and is made up of 28 letters. One of its characteristics that usually attracts attention, in addition to the fact that most of the letters of each word (with the exception of six) connect with the other similar to cursive writing, is that it is written from right to left.
Although it may be strange to us, this is due to an overwhelmingly simple, technical issue that we see in other ancient alphabets such as Hebrew and Chinese. Before paper existed, writing was done on mediums such as wax. While the left hand pounded the carving instrument, the right hand controlled the tip. So, it was more practical to write from right to left so that you could clearly see what you were writing.
In spite of this, I can’t help but think that Arabic writing is the greatest testimony of how different the Arab culture is from western culture (reading in the opposite direction) and of the emphasis on the sense of community instead of individualism (cursive writing with letters “joining hands”).
Some Phrases and Words in Moroccan Arabic
Don’t get your hopes to far up: after learning these phrases and words you won’t be completely equipped to show off your conversation skills in every possible situation.
But even learning just a little of the language goes a long way. It can be the perfect bridge between cultures and a great way to break the ice. If you learn a little of the local lingo it shows that you accept their culture. Soon enough, they’ll be teaching you Arabic and you’ll be teaching them some English. You never know what interesting words you’ll end up learning or teaching others.
The following are the most common words and phrases that will spark that connection with the locals. It’s divided into themes, and each table including three features:
- The word or phrase in English
- A phonetic translation into Darija (that is, written like it sounds)
- An audio recording of the phrase
The list is pretty thorough, so don’t try to take it all in at once. Feel free to add it to your favorites and take a look at it every now and then.
I have to thank my friend Salah for his help on the audio recording, and Miriam Berenguer, for her sage advice.
I hope this post will help you and, above all, pique your interest a little more in Moroccan culture. See you all next time!
|See you later||Ila al-liqa|
|Good morning||Sabah al-kher|
|Good afternoon||Masa al-kher|
|Good night||Layla saida / Tesbah ala kher|
|You’re welcome||La shukran|
There are several ways to say “hello” in Moroccan Arabic, some require the same response as the greeting and others require a different response. Here are the most common ones:
|Peace be with you||Al-Salam Alikum|
|And with you be peace (in response to the previous one)||Wa-Aleikum as-Salam|
|How are you?||Kif nta? (to a man)|
Kif nti? (to a woman)
|Good, thanks (in response to the previous one)||Bi-khair, shukran|
|Thank God (in response to the previous one)||Al Hamdu lillah|
Commonly Used Words
|Not good||Meshim syan|
|Okay||Wakha (both to say you’re ok and to ask someone if they’re ok)|
|This afternoon||Had il-masa|
Food and Drink
|Town Square||Plasa / midan|