February brought the end of my language study at the Arabic Language Institute in Fes (ALIF). For the first 5.5 months in Morocco, I was actually on a separate grant from the Fulbright, called the Critical Language Enhancement Award (CLEA), also administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE) through the State Department (SD…okay, I just wanted to make more acronyms). The purpose of the CLEA is to encourage and facilitate the learning of “critically needed languages”, according to the State Dept, including Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic. This grant is also supposed to supplement my research, which will, in theory, be conducted partially in Arabic.
Because I have some background in Arabic and it is pretty central to my research (many official government documents and archived testimonies are written in Arabic), I won the CLEA award in conjunction with the Fulbright. This means that the first 5.5 months were to be dedicated entirely to learning the language(s) and Moroccan culture.
For the first 6 weeks in country, some of us Fulbrighters studied the Moroccan dialect, known as “Darija”. Though it has its roots in Modern Standard Arabic (also known as “FusHa”), it is a COMPLETELY different language. In fact, native Arabic speakers make fun of Moroccan Arabic for being so completely different than any other regional dialect. Darija mixes Arabic, French, and Berber.
I guess I should back up. I’m no linguist, but the general story is as follows: Before the Arab traders brought their language, religion, and culture to North Africa in the 7th century, Berber culture dominated. There were 3 major tribes across Morocco: Tamazight, Tachelhit, and Tarafit, each with their own language. Since the arrival of Islam (with Arabic as its holy language) and later with French colonization, Berbers have become marginalized. This means that languages have evolved and melded to produce totally new languages, rooted in ancient history. I am learning 2 such languages in Morocco.
First, Darija, which most Moroccans use in their everyday lives. It’s such a fun language, using the sound “shhhh” or the word “meshy” to negate sentences, the word “Shnu?” to ask “what?”, and the phrase “La Bes?” (literally, “No problems?”) to say hello. I enjoy learning this language immensely, and enjoy getting a kick out of Moroccans once they are shocked to discover that a white American can communicate with them in their own language. At the very least, it helps me get a better price at the market, and at most has helped me make some great Moroccan friends who don’t speak anything but Darija.
ALIF classrooms are in a beautiful, ancient restored riad in Fes.
Next, I have spent the last 5 months studying Modern Standard Arabic (FusHa), which I also studied in college. Not gonna lie, when I took my CLEA placement exam, I discovered that I had pretty much lost all that I had learned, and could not even come up with answers to the most basic questions. Because each country across the Arab world pretty much operates in its own dialect, someone somewhere decided it would be a good idea to create a standard Arabic which would be used in all official documents, on TV and Radio and Newsprint, and in books. Thus, FusHa was born, and thus I need it for my research. Nobody speaks FusHa on the street, though all high schoolers are required to learn it. I find it more difficult than Darija, because of all the complex grammar rules and exact pronunciation.
If you know me, you know that one of my favorite things in the world is studying languages. My Arabic classes were only made more fun by my classmates, which included Caitlyn, my roommate, and Jesse, a former “Oregon Marine”. Good times had by all. We had class together 20 hours a week, 5-days per week. And I have to admit, there were some days that all I’d do besides go to class was Arabic homework. They worked us hard, but the caliber of instruction at ALIF was world-class and professional, modeled after American university language classes. I have to say I was quite pleased with my time there, and would recommend it to anyone looking for an Arabic language school. (Also, I would highly recommend the little café in the corner of the ALIF courtyard. Abdelrahman’s Chocolate Chaud is still the best I’ve ever tasted in my life. )
Alas, at the conclusion of my language study, I was required to take a follow-up exam, to check my progress. Let me tell you, it was like it wasn’t even me talking! Not only was I able to understand complex questions (“How do you get to the nearest market?”, “How has education changed in the past 25 years?”, “What do you hope to be doing 20 years from now?”), but I was able to answer semi-intelligently and with an ease that even surprised myself! I guess I DID learn something! The only drawback is that I keep mixing up Darija and FusHa words, which is normal in Moroccan speech, but only confused the evaluator. According to the US Department of State’s Language Evaluation Service, I am officially an “Advanced High” Arabic speaker. Wahoo!
Jesse and I, studious as can be, dressed in our Friday Finest
Besides Darija and FusHa, I have been speaking more French. As a former French colony, most Moroccans with at least a little formal education are able to understand French. I have studied French ever since middle school, and because I used it so much in Senegal, I have little to no problem communicating in it, even in very official settings (including as a translator for the State Department’s Human Rights Attaché in Morocco…story to follow later). I’m trying NOT to use it as much as possible, in order to ameliorate my Arabic(s).
Once I get settled in Rabat, I am going to continue to pursue language study, but I haven’t decided yet which would be more useful, Darija or FusHa. Any suggestions?
And now, for your amusement, here is a Mini Moroccan Languages Dictionary:
Darija FusHa French English
1. Salaam Aleykum! 1. Salaam Aleykum! 1. Bonjour! 1. Hello!
2. La Bes? 2. Kayf al-hal? 2. Ca va? 2. How are you?
3. Shnuuuu? 3. Metha? 3. Quoi? 3. What?
4. Yuagibny beled dielek, wa heta raiis dielna daba! 4. Uhibu beleduka, wa raiisna yuhibuhu aydan! 4. J’aime beaucoup votre pays, meme que notre president actuel! 4. I love your country, as does our current president!
5. Kundun hetha kefta diel laham auteny doods. 5. Athun an hetha kefta al-laham auteny al-dood fii botony. 5. Je pense que cette kefta m’a donne des vers. 5. I think that meat kefta gave me worms.
6. Hetha galy bizzef! Ana meshy Sauudia! 6. Hetha galy jidan! Ana laysa Sauudia! 6. Ca c’est trop cher! Je ne suis pas Sauudia! 6. That’s too expensive! What do you think I am, Saudi Arabian?
7. Eindek. Rajul diely houa fromage kibeer fi al-jaysh. 7. Eindek. Zowjy houa daubit kabeer fi al-jaysh. 7. Faites attention. Mon mari est un officier important dans l’armee. 7. Be careful. My husband is an important officer in the army.
8. Yumkinany an shoof rikbatayn dielik. Hashuma!! 8. Ustatia an erah rikbatayik. Haram!! 8. Je peut voir votre rotules. Honte sur vous!! 8. I can see your kneecaps. Shame on you!
9.Mara-mara, yeshoor bi al-looz. Mara-mara la. 9. Ahiyanan kunta teshoor bi al-jooz. Ahiyanan la. 9. Parfois vous vous sentez comme un ecrou. Parfois pas. 9. Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t.
10. Tuajibuny, azizy. 10. Uhebuka, habibi. 10. Je t’aime, mon cheri. 10. I love you, darling.