Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Opinion: A new second language for Morocco?

Saïd Bellari, a Moroccan Dutch Psychiatrist, recently penned an essay for Moroccoboard.com which questioned the continued influence of the French language in Morocco. The essay, entitled "Morocco: Speaking the wrong language" is sure to raise the debate. The big question; will anyone take any notice. Ibn Warraq reports for The View from Fez.

Al-Humdullilah ! At last someone has come out and said what so many of us have been thinking for a very long time. Recently I was asked to give a talk to non-Moroccans about literacy in Morocco. One of the points I made was that with so many people growing up with one of the Amazigh languages at home, the move to Darija was an initial difficulty. Then there was the need for MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) and finally, the fact that French was also required. At the time I thought again "why do we still teach French".  Right at the beginning of the essay, Saïd Bellari draws attention, not to literacy, but to "disliteracy".

"While you will not be able to find this word in a regular English dictionary I think that it matters nonetheless. The more so because it is especially prevalent amongst the educated elite. It means that they are speaking the wrong language in Morocco amongst themselves and with the rest of the world. Because of that we fail to go with the global flow and we isolate ourselves more and more from the development growth of other areas abroad like the one in South East Asia."

So, what should we be speaking amongst ourselves and what language should we employ to address the world? Saïd Bellari makes it very clear: "I do not want to say that we should stop speaking Arabic in Morocco. Allah yastar! Not in the least, perhaps we should do that even more. With it I mean in fact that we should aim to fade out the French language as soon as possible. Simultaneously we should give the English language a fresh stimulus in all aspects of Moroccan society and let it take its place as a second language of Morocco. French should not even be 3rd or 4th language for that matter. This change from a francophone to an "Arab-Anglophone" country will introduce a second era of Istiqlal. It will unleash a sense of freedom of spirit in our Moroccan society that will erode historic brakes and obstacles settled in Moroccan collective mind."

This is stirring stuff! Not only is he suggesting ditching the language of the colonisers, but very sensibly promoting the idea of wider use of English. Dropping French more than 55 years after independence is taking things a bit too slowly. There are compelling reasons for taking up English. Yes, all of the international ones abut also the local ones, such as tourism. It is noticeable in Fez, year after year, that there are constant complaints that Festivals employ French rather than English, and when they do condescend to publish a programme in English, the translation is from French and is usually laughable.

Saïd Bellari does not hold back from a little straight talking.

"While we celebrate quite some decades of independence now year after year, one can truly ask himself whether that state of independence has truly soaked our whole Moroccan society? Or is it that in certain corners, some of them essential, the French occupier is virtually still subjugating our hearts and minds to the detriment of our future prospects? Well in the matter of language the question does not even beg for an answer: every Moroccan academician, scientist, entrepreneur, artist, writer, doctor, politician or whatever key societal character, will easily admit that French is still the Master of the Moroccan Universe. In more than 50 years France has still succeeded in keeping the illusion in Morocco alive and kicking that we need our historical and cultural ties with it. It is a communal trance-like state of mind that is inhibiting our progress. Even after all the abuse that colonialism brought with it. (Or perhaps even because of the abuse of our people during centuries by the Western occupiers that shared the inhumane idea behind colonialism.)This pathological trait of dependency is still hurting Moroccan society and it’s future enormously. While I am in the least propagating a severing of ties with France or its culture, it would be foolish indeed, I am merely asking Moroccans to count to 10, think again and again and ask themselves plainly why they would choose French as a second language in this 21st Century?"

France and its culture has become a niche society on Earth and following it as a Moroccan amounts to civilizational self-destruction. While it was understandably hard to make this massive cultural transition in the sixties or the seventies of the 20th Century, nothing ought to keep the Kingdom and its people from choosing their own future nowadays. And this counts especially for the second language that we are cultivating collectively in Morocco. So that is why I am proposing to kick out the French asap and welcome the English in our homes, of course secondly behind our treasured Arabic. There is also a powerful psychological reason behind this transition that will mean a world of difference on this grassroots level.

France and French are part of our history. And that is exactly all it should be. A part in our history that we did not choose voluntarily. A part also that cost our society a lot to shed definitely, if not at least partially. For the remaining part, French as a Lingua Franca in Moroccan society, consciously, but even more unconsciously, still reminds us of being slaves, of being dependent, of being backward, of being unable and of being all the things that second rate people are, or better phrased: of being what racist people want you to think of yourselves, of being second rate: "I am less worthy, less able”. This mental complex deeply rooted in our collective mind would take generations to overcome otherwise. By audaciously and emphatically peeling French from our society, which was not of our own choosing, we heal ourselves collectively. And by replacing it of our own accord by English (as a logical alternative to better connect to world society and be better prepared for the future) we would heal ourselves even more! It would emanate a second grand wave of independence in Moroccan society. A true collective grass-roots wave that speaks of will-power, self-determination, self-expression and new trust, hope and optimism for the future.

This is no small undertaking as Saïd Bellari admits - "A committee could investigate and report on how this transition is best done during one generation. Helpful would be ties with the Anglophone part of the world in general and Islamic countries in particular. As a live example of the last category, showing a marvelous development trajectory counts the experience of Malaysia: it is comparable to Morocco in population but instead had a very successful transition since independence from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy and now in the midst of growing into a services oriented economy delivering these also to developed countries. Not coincidentally Malaysia was managed for decades by a doctor who had an assertive and healing stance against their former colonial occupier: the legendary Dr. Mahathir. Morocco would do well to emulate his Wawasan 2020 vision and try to learn from his teachings on the issue of transforming society. But Morocco needs to disremember French and acquire English very soon: the 2nd language after Bahasa in Malaysia….il n'est jamais trop tard pour bien faire.

Will it ever happen?  Inshallah!  


Piggy said...

Fine words and of course you are right. But living languages absorb words from around the world, especially now with the internet. Languages are moving closer with words common to each language.
Accept what young people do and use new words from other cultures then the world will be better able to communicate with each other.
Examine English. Words from other cultures have been used now for hundreds of years
So relax and let your language live and grow.

Anonymous said...

I think our good friend Ibn Warraq has his tongue in his cheek! good story though.

Omar said...

What you are saying is what I have been thinking of, for a long time. Why does Morocco still continue using French? What purpose does it serve?

I believe Morocco would be better served with English as a second language.