Darija (Arabic: الدارجة), means "everyday/colloquial language"and is spoken by around 30 million people in Morocco. For visitors Darija may seem difficult at first, but more and more expats and students are studying Darija in preference to French
Darija shares the majority of its vocabulary with standard Arabic, but it also includes significant borrowings from Berber (Tamazight) as well as extensive borrowings from French, and to a lesser extent Castilian Spanish and even Italian.
Darija is spoken and to various extents mutually understood in the Maghreb countries, especially Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, but can often be unintelligible to speakers of other Arabic dialects. Darija continues to evolve by integrating new French or English words, notably in technical fields, or by replacing old French and Spanish ones with Standard Arabic words within some circles.
Recently the Morocco World News ran an interesting article by an American on the Moroccan dialect.Katrina Bushko writes...
But not me. I loved that class because I found it not only easier than Modern Standard Arabic (MSA, fusha), but also useful. The other dialects are closer to fusha, so if I were to go to Egypt or Syria or Lebanon, many people would be able to understand me if I spoke in MSA. In Morocco, however, there are few similarities with the classical Arabic, and so it is in a sense its very own language.
I will be the first to say that initially, darija is not a pretty language. It’s difficult to understand because of the lack of vowel pronunciation, the difference in verb conjugation, and the frequent use of the harsh consonant “?” that is absent in most other dialects. But after being in Morocco for a total of 3.5 months already (non-consecutive, of course), my ear has slowly been fine-tuning itself to understanding more and more of this language. And the more that I understand, the more beautiful it becomes to me.
I have grown to appreciate the way that Moroccans speak, as well. Last semester, I took an Egyptian Colloquial Arabic class that greatly improved my overall speaking skills. I noticed that the manner in which we were trained to speak is very different from the Moroccan style.
As for my own speaking and understanding, I think that by now I have a basic grasp of Moroccan Arabic. I can get around pretty easily by myself without relying on French (indeed, my grasp of French pretty much boils down to, je ne comprends pas français.). I can order food, buy bus or train tickets, converse with hostel owners about myself and what I would like from the hostel, among other vital things that are important to know for everyday life (for example, whenever I’m asked if I know Arabic, my automatic response is (shwii-ya), or, “a little”). As for understanding, I can understand a lot of what shopkeepers say to me regarding price and their wares, and I can pick up bits and pieces of everyday conversation. But the most useful tool in understanding something in a language that you don’t know well is body language.
The great thing about asking for directions is that it is universal to respond with hand motions, meaning that when someone says that you must turn left, they usually give you a signal pointing left. So as I watched their body language and listened carefully for words I knew (i.e. take the SECOND left after the green door, not the first), I was able to lead us out of the maze that is the medina of Meknes.
Although I will be in Morocco for four months this semester, I know that I will not be going back to the United States fluent in either fusha or darija. I will, however, become more familiar with the dialect here and (inshallah) be able to hold some type of conversation for a good amount of time. And of course, having a Moroccan boyfriend was a great advantage in this area.
Katrina Bushko is a senior at Princeton University majoring in Political Philosophy with minors in Arabic and Near Eastern Studies. Her love for Morocco came about in the summer 2012, when she attended the ARANAS program at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane.
Reprinted from Morocco World News with permission.