Sunday, February 24, 2013

Cultural Representation: Incorporating the Berber Language in the Moroccan School System

Most people think of Morocco as an Arabic country, with a culture similar to those of Middle Eastern countries (ex: Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Iran). However, Morocco's rich culture not only has Arabic influences, but also French, Spanish, and Berber influences. This cultural blend is apparent with the large number of trilinguals (even quadrilinguals) in the country. Darija (Moroccan Arabic) can be heard on the streets, Spanish music is blasting from the radio, French signs are posted everywhere around the city, and on occasion one can hear teenagers shouting oh-so-sophisticated English terms such as "OMG", "LOL", "cool", and "swag". Strangely enough, Berber, one of Morocco's two official languages (the other being Modern Standard Arabic) is by and large restricted to rural areas (especially the Atlas mountains). The majority of the Berbers living in this area only know one or more Berber dialects and as such would need to learn Arabic or French in order to properly function in a Moroccan city subsequently preventing Berbers from climbing up the social ladder. Why is this?

Not pictured: Berber

When Maghreb (Northwest African) countries such as Morocco gained independence from the French, they followed an Arabization policy in an attempt to replace French (the language of the country that colonized them) with Arabic as the dominant language of education and literacy. Ironically, this move to preserve and maintain Morocco's Arabic roots has led to what Berbers (the indigenous ethnic group of North Africa) perceive as the oppression of their culture. This is reflected in Moroccan schools (both those that follow the Moroccan school system and the french school system) which offer French, Spanish, and English language courses but don't offer any Berber language courses despite it being a language deeply connected to Moroccan culture prior to colonization and spoken by at least one-third of the population.
The issue of whether the Western Sahara is part of Morocco is complicated so let's leave it at that...

However, this is all about to change as more and more schools are introducing Berber courses into their school system. However, a lot of problems arise from this, the first one being that Berber has three different dialects in Morocco (Tamazight, Tashelhit, and Tarifit). To represent Berbers all over Morocco, the Moroccan Language Center (specializing in the instruction of languages for all ages in Morocco) is trying to standardize the Berber language by combining the three dialects into one. This has been met with negative reactions from a lot of Berbers which see it as a bastardization of the language and another example of the oppression of their culture by the Arabs. Adding to this, is the ongoing debate whether Berber should be taught with Arabic or Berber writing.
Berber Poetry

Hopefully this issue will be resolved. As Moroccans say it: "Inshallah"

No comments:

Post a Comment