Morocco, Darija, and Tifinagh


root: د-ر-ج / noun / definition: colloquial language spoken in North Africa

I’ve just returned from my one-week holiday in Agadir, and I’m slowly and reluctantly adjusting to the notable lack of heat and sunshine in London, with my already-fading tan and henna sweet reminders of my Moroccan stay.

While I managed to tick off at least one touristy bucket list item (thanks to a sunset camel ride), I also felt strangely like a linguist on a research trip with all of the language-related elements I observed and couldn’t help but mull over and make notes on.

So here are a few of my language-related experiences and learnings from the trip:

  • Firstly, my “casual” MSA did just fine to communicate with the Moroccans—I didn’t get laughed at, as I had been somewhat convinced of by other Arabic students’ stories from their time in Morocco! I ordered msemmen and mint tea in Souk El Had with no issues, and translated between English and Arabic to facilitate a conversation between my family and the driver we invited to lunch. The last time I went to Morocco, I didn’t speak any Arabic, so this all felt like a win.
  • Secondly, I knew that both darija (or Moroccan Arabic) and French were spoken in Morocco, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t confused as I flipped over one or two French menus wondering where the Arabic was! At least the waiters could provide some clarification in Arabic about what I was ordering. My mum, knowing neither French nor Arabic, decided to resort to Spanish and requested a café con leche one time, much to the bewilderment of the poor waiter who had caught us in the middle of a language crisis. My dad’s solution was simply to speak English in a nondescript foreign accent, somewhere between Turkish and optimism.
  • Surprisingly, the Italian I learnt in sixth form came in handy once during my trip, when meeting a family from Puglia. Well, I only really remembered how to say di dove sei?, but at least it was something. It’s worth trying to communicate with people in their native language.
  • And finally, my real linguist excitement was sparked by seeing the Tifinagh script on buildings and signs around the city. The Tifinagh script is used to write the Amazigh languages (or Tamazight). You can see an example in the photo at the top of this post. Here are two other examples I snapped:

Of course, being a linguist, I couldn’t just notice the script and stop there.

So I started by looking up the alphabet—here’s neo-Tifinagh:

…and then I could sound out this:

…although I wasn’t sure why there were two ⵙ characters at the start (ss). Also note how the language is written from left to right, like English.

And then, because I really can’t stop my mind from analysing, I started looking at the shapes of the letters and trying to form phonetic connections between letters with similar shapes. I came up with a few ideas, but I’m only guessing.

Anyway, great trip—both as a tourist, and a linguist!

!إلى اللقاء

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