Hello, I’m joining Caitlyn and Chris representing Team Fatima Zahra, the little-known (but very cool) Moroccan cousin of Maha and Nisreen…okay, so obviously al-Kitaab never gave us a Moroccan version of our favourite crowd-phobic Egyptian. And that’s probably because students of Arabic are usually warned off Moroccan, even/especially by other Arabs.
The most common responses I got when telling people I was studying Arabic in Morocco were “You’re learning French,” “come back to Jordan when you want to learn real Arabic”, and “you’re learning African” (…okay).
And yes, Moroccan Arabic (darija) has some pretty crazy mangled French and Spanish words in its vocabulary. For example, the word for sneakers is sberdila, coming from the French éspadrille. The word for a baguette is komeera, coming from the Spanish comer (to eat). The grammar is also a bit different, and some words come from the Amazigh (Berber) languages of Morocco. It’s also true that most Arabs outside the maghreb don’t understand darija.
But don’t write it off. Morocco is the second-largest country in the Arab league, and you will be able to chat to Algerians and Tunisians too. You will feel like a cool spy when you leave your friends from Jordan bewildered. And its top exports are hash and Saad Lmajarred songs, two things I’m sure you will all agree make learning Arabic much more enjoyable. It’s also a relatively stable and fun country to visit to learn Arabic.
So, here are some first basic points about Moroccan Arabic.
In my first darija class they wrote in vowelled Arabic and it was just sukoons on sukoons. This is why darija can sound a bit weird at the beginning. There are some long letters but often there will just be a very short helping vowel. So “I went”, مْشيت, is pronounced mshit (I don’t bother to write the long vowels as ii or aa because there aren’t really short and long in darija, more like semi- and full vowels.)
The same goes for the article, which is usually just l- rather than al-, and prepositions. My favourite thing about living in Fes was that I got to say “ana sakina ffes” which was fun to say and looks ridiculous written down.
In Levantine present tense verbs are prefixed with ba-, bt- by-, but in Moroccan it’s ka:
Kankteb (note also the n- before first person present) كَنْكتَب
Katkteb, katketbi (male/female) كَتكْتَب, كَتْكَتبي
Kanketebu (also here the first person plural ending) كنكَتبو
Past tense verbs aren’t that different to other dialects but one key thing to note here is the ending for “you” is –ti whether you’re speaking to a man or a woman: شفتي, shefti (you saw).
Not fii as in other dialects but كاين, كاينة, كاينين kayn, kayna, kaynin – like the ism fa3el of كان.
In Morocco, forget whatever you know about non-human plurals or plurals up to 11 or whatever (clearly I have already!). If something is plural, it is plural, the verb is plural, everything is plural. Sometimes adjectives might be feminine singular, as in other dialects. So if you wanted to say “the chairs were in the garden”, you would say الكراسة كانو فالجاردة l-kerasa kanu fel-jarda (another helpful French word there).
Top four useful words
I don’t want to overwhelm anybody too much with this crash course in Moroccan, so finally here are some words which really distinguish Moroccan from other dialects:
Bzaf – means ktir, stretch out the a if you really want to emphasise what you’re saying. E.g. how much do I love Moroccan Arabic? Bzaaaaaaaaaf.
Safi – use instead of khallas. The title of a brilliantly terrible Moroccan pop song, and used all the time.
Za3ma – used sometimes instead of ya3ni
Mzyane – means good, just like kwais in Egyptian Arabic
If your brain is exploding but you’re keen to learn more Moroccan Arabic, there are actually quite a few useful resources online including the Armchair Arabist blog. I’ll be putting up shorter posts about specific words and phrases and almost certainly some translations of Saad Lmajarred. And everything will be mzyane bzaaaaaf!