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Moroccan languages: official and unofficial

Morocco has two official languages, but other languages are spoken more or less regularly in the country. That’s why on this page we discuss how you can communicate with other people during your trip. And remember that if you organize your tour with Chic Morocco, you will have staff from our agency that will assist you in English and can give you a hand in whatever you need.

Table of Contents

Official languages of Morocco: Arabic and Amazigh

Morocco’s 2011 Constitution enshrines two languages as ‘official’: Arabic and Amazigh. And it does not limit this official status to any territory, as is the case in other countries (where the co-official status of several languages is granted in a given state or region). This means, to the surprise of many people, that French has no official status although, as we will see below, it is still a widely spoken language in Morocco.

Arabic: the main language

Arabic is the most important official language in Morocco: the one spoken by all the country’s citizens and the one that permeates life in all regions. This is because most Moroccans are of Arab ethnicity: more than 65%, according to some estimates. But it is also the language of reference for religious reasons: it is the language of the Koran and has been taught in schools since time immemorial.

However, a distinction can be made between several types of Arabian:

  • Classical Arabic: the original and ancient variant, in which the Koran is written. For this reason, it is the most respected and practically only used in the liturgical field.
  • Standard Arabic: this is the variant that can be read in the media or used by the Administration, and is the same as that used by other Arab countries in the same contexts.
  • Dariya: this is the dialectal variety of Arabic in Morocco, i.e. the one used orally and in informal settings. It is very similar to standard Arabic, but with borrowings and influences from other languages in the form of words or expressions.

Amazigh: a recent recognition

The official status of the Amazigh or Berber language is a recent recognition and a nod to this ethnic group, so important in the history of Morocco and in the shaping of its culture. In reality, there is not a single Amazigh language, but many variants, grouped in a more or less generic way according to their place of use:

  • Tamazight, spoken in the Middle Atlas area
  • the tashelhit, used in the south of the country, in parts of the High Atlas and the Anti Atlas, as well as in large areas of the desert.

These languages have an important oral component and their use is mainly confined to rural areas, within the Imazighen communities. Although it does not have an institutional character and a grammatical corpus as developed as Arabic, it is a language that is deeply rooted among its speakers, and this has allowed it to survive for so long in Morocco.

Arabic and Amazigh

Non-official languages

If you are going to travel to Morocco and do not speak Arabic, you will find other solutions to communicate with Moroccans: at the popular level, other languages are spoken, either as a legacy from the past or as a new habit due to the influence of tourism.

French: a heritage that lives on

As mentioned above, French is no longer an official language in Morocco. And we say that now is not because years ago it was, specifically during the French Protectorate. After Moroccan independence, the official objective has been to progressively abandon its use, although its influence in Moroccan life remains important: in education (especially higher education) or in commerce, for example.

And of course, in tourism: many French or French-speaking tourists visit Morocco, and offering services in this language is a natural measure, which generates little added effort on the part of companies and professionals. For this reason, you will find in French all the information about trains, buses, restaurants, etc.

English: a language for premium travelers

Generally speaking, the Moroccan population is by no means noted for its good command of English. However, in the tourism sector, this language is relatively common in the premium segment. Professionals working in this niche tend to be well-educated, including a more or less fluent command of English.

On the other hand, you will find it very difficult to communicate in English with ordinary people. For example, in souks you will find sellers who will barely know how to use the basic words for a simple transaction, but not to explain in detail the characteristics of a product.

Spanish: a stronghold in the north

If you speak Spanish, you may be able to use it in the northern part of the country, in the territory that was Spanish Protectorate in the 20th century. The new generations no longer have anything to do with that period, but there are still people who try to learn it on family advice, with the intention of emigrating to the neighboring country in the future or because of the proximity to the Spanish autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, located on the Mediterranean coast.

Therefore, in cities such as Tetouan or Castillejos (Fnideq), Spanish is a language that is still very present in everyday life. In the rest of the country, on the other hand, Spanish is not a widely spoken language, which will not allow you to communicate effectively with any Moroccan.

Hassania, a nod to Western Sahara

Finally, if you like languages, you might like to know that the Constitution of Morocco mentions another language: Hassanian. It does not grant it official status, but merely calls for its preservation due to its cultural value. It is a language spoken in Western Sahara and, given the policy of integration of this territory by the Kingdom of Morocco, this constitutional mention can be interpreted as a wink of rapprochement and consideration.

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