Languages of Morocco

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Languages of Morocco
Morocco - Linguistic map.png
Official languagesArabic (80–90%)
Berber (25–30%)[1]
VernacularsArabic dialects
Berber dialects
Main foreign languagesFrench (33–39%)[2][3]
Spanish (21%)[4]
English (14%)[5]
Sign languagesMSL

There are a number of languages of Morocco. The two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber).[6] Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) is the spoken native vernacular. The languages of prestige in Morocco are Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms and French, the latter of which serves as a second language for many Moroccans. According to a 2000–2002 survey done by Moha Ennaji, author of Multilingualism, Cultural Identity, and Education in Morocco, "there is a general agreement that Standard Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, and Berber are the national languages."[7] Ennaji also concluded "This survey confirms the idea that multilingualism in Morocco is a vivid sociolinguistic phenomenon, which is favoured by many people."[8]

There are around 12 million Berber speakers in Morocco [9], representing more than a fourth but less than a third of the population. French retains a major place in Morocco, as it is taught universally and serves as Morocco's primary language of commerce and economics, culture, sciences and medicine; it is also widely used in education and government. Morocco is a member of the Francophonie.[1]

Language policy[edit]

After Morocco gained independence with the end of the French Protectorate in 1956, it started a process of Arabization, with the aim of transforming the nation into a monolingual one, with political and economic independence and an Arab-Islamic identity. In the year 2000, after years of neglecting and ignoring the other languages present in Morocco, the Charter for Educational Reform recognized them and the necessity for them.[1]

Until then the Tamazight languages were marginalized in the modern society and the number of monolingual speakers decreased. In recent years, the Tamazight culture has been gaining strength and some developments promise that these languages will not die (Tamazight is the generic name for the Berber languages. The term Berber is not used nor known by the speakers of these languages).[10]

Arabic, on the other hand, has been perceived as a prestigious language in Morocco for over a millennium. However, there are very distinctive varieties of Arabic used, not all equally prestigious, which are MSA (Modern Standard Arabic), the written form used in schools and ‘Dialectal Arabic’, the non-standardized spoken form. The difference between the two forms in terms of grammar, phonology and vocabulary is so great, it can be considered as diglossia. MSA is practically foreign to Moroccan schoolchildren, and this creates problems with reading and writing, consequently leading to a high level of illiteracy in Morocco.[10]

The French language is also dominant in Morocco, especially in education and administration, therefore was initially learned by an elite and later on was learned by a great number of Moroccans for use in domains such as finance, science, technology and media. That is despite the government decision to implement a language policy of ignoring French after gaining independence, for the sake of creating a monolingual country.[10]

From its independence until the year 2000, Morocco opted for Arabization as a policy, in an attempt of replacing French with Arabic. By the end of the 1980s, Arabic was the dominant language in education, although French was still in use in many important domains. The goals of Arabization were not met, in linguistic terms, therefore a change was needed.[10]

In 2000 the Charter of Educational Reform introduced a drastic change in language policy. From then on, Morocco has adopted a clear perpetual educational language policy with three main cores: improving and reinforcing the teaching of Arabic, using a variety of languages, such as English and French in teaching the fields of technology and science and acceptance of Tamazight. The state of Morocco still sees Arabic (MSA) as its national language, but acknowledges that not all Moroccans are Arabic speakers and that Arabization did not succeed in the area of science and technology. The aims of the Charter seem to have been met faster than expected, probably since the conditions of the Charter started to be implemented immediately. Nowadays the different minority languages are acknowledged in Morocco although Arabic still is the dominant one and is being promoted by the government.[10][11]


Arabic, along with Berber, is one of Morocco's two official languages,[6] although it is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, namely Darija, meaning "everyday/colloquial language";[12] that is spoken or understood, frequently as a second language, by the majority of the population (about 85% of the total population). Many native Berber speakers also speak the local Arabic variant as a second language.[13] Arabic in its Classical and Standard forms is one of the two prestige languages in Morocco. Aleya Rouchdy, author of Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic, said that Classical/Modern Arabic and French are constantly in conflict with one another, but that most Moroccans believe that the bilingualism of Classical Arabic and French is the most optimal choice to allow for Morocco's development.[14]

In 1995 the number of native Arabic speakers in Morocco was approximately 18.8 million (65% of the total population), and 21 million including the Moroccan diaspora.[15]

As a member of the Maghrebi Arabic grouping of dialects, Moroccan Arabic is similar to the dialects spoken in Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya (and also Maltese). The country shows a marked difference in urban and rural dialects. This is due to the history of settlement. Originally, Arabs established centers of power in only a few cities and ports in the region, with the effect that the other areas remained Berber-speaking. Then, in the 13th century, Bedouin tribes swept through many of the unsettled areas, spreading with them their distinct Arabic dialect in the non-urbanized areas and leaving speakers of Berber in isolated areas in the more mountainous regions.[citation needed]

Modern Standard and Classical Arabic[edit]

Moroccans learn Standard Arabic as a language. It is not spoken at home or on the streets. Standard Arabic is frequently used in administrative offices, mosques, and schools.[16] According to Rouchdy, within Morocco Classical Arabic is still only used in literary and cultural aspects, formal traditional speeches, and discussions about religion.[14]

Dialectal Arabic[edit]

Moroccan 'Darija' Arabic[edit]

Moroccan 'Darija' Arabic, along with Berber, is one of two languages spoken in homes and on the street.[16] The language is not used in writing.[17] Abdelâli Bentahila, the author of the 1983 book Language Attitudes among Arabic–French Bilinguals in Morocco, said that Moroccans who were bilingual in both French and Arabic preferred to speak Arabic while discussing religion; while discussing matters in a grocery store or restaurant; and while discussing matters with family members, beggars, and maids.[18] Moha Ennaji, author of Multilingualism, Cultural Identity, and Education in Morocco, said that Moroccan Arabic has connotations of informality, and that Moroccan Arabic tends to be used in casual conversations and spoken discourse.[19] Ennaji added that Bilingual Moroccans tend to use Moroccan Arabic while in the house.[19] Berbers generally learn Moroccan Arabic as a second language and use it as a lingua franca, since not all versions of Berber are mutually intelligible with one another.[17]

The below table presents statistical figures of speakers, based on the 2004 population census (Population aged 5 and above)[3] It most be noted that this table includes not only native speakers of Arabic, but also people who speak Arabic as a second or third language.

Region Moroccan Arabic Total population % Moroccan Arabic
Souss-Massa-Drâa 1,694,780 2,775,953 61.05%
Oriental 1,487,620 1,739,440 85.52%
Meknès-Tafilalet 1,633,122 1,926,247 84.78%
Tadla-Azilal 1,038,765 1,299,536 79.93%
Marrakesh-Tensift-El Haouz 2,358,910 2,765,908 85.29%
Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate 761,182 1,613,315 50.57%
Rabat-Salé-Zemmour-Zaer 2,101,916 2,136,636 98.38%
Fès-Boulemane 1,375,766 1,418,475 96.99%
Grand Casablanca 3,292,543 3,306,334 99.58%
Tangier-Tetouan 2,199,093 2,205,457 99.71%
Gharb-Chrarda-Béni Hssen 1,653,612 1,655,852 99.86%
Chaouia-Ouardigha 1,476,318 1,478,605 99.85%
Doukkala-Abda 1,765,904 1,768,150 99.87%
Morocco 24,036,041 26,755,605 89.84%

Hassani Arabic[edit]

Hassānīya, is spoken by about 0.7% of the population mainly in the southern sahara regions of Morocco. Communities of speakers exist elsewhere in Morocco too, especially in the metropolitan areas of Agadir, Marrakech, Rabat and Casablanca.
The below table presents statistical figures of speakers, based on the 2004 population census (Population aged 5 and above)[3]

Region Hassaniya Total pop Hassniya speakers
Souss-Massa-Drâa 13,349 2,775,953 0.48%
Oriental 573 1,739,440 0.03%
Meknes-Tafilalet 983 1,926,247 0.05%
Tadla-Azilal 470 1,299,536 0.04%
Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz 3,248 2,765,908 0.12%
Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate 186 1,613,315 0.01%
Rabat-Sale-Zemmour-Zaer 2,781 2,136,636 0.13%
Fès-Boulemane 370 1,418,475 0.03%
Grand Casablanca 1,778 3,306,334 0.05%
Tangier-Tetouan 329 2,205,457 0.01%
Gharb-Chrarda-Béni Hssen 526 1,655,852 0.03%
Chaouia-Ouardigha 617 1,478,605 0.04%
Doukkala-Abda 508 1,768,150 0.03%
Morocco 194,742 26,755,605 0.73%


Berber-speaking areas in Morocco

The exact population of speakers of Berber languages is hard to ascertain, since most North African countries do not – traditionally – record language data in their censuses (An exception to this was the 2004 Morocco population census). The Ethnologue provides a useful academic starting point; however, its bibliographic references are inadequate, and it rates its own accuracy at only B-C for the area. Early colonial censuses may provide better documented figures for some countries; however, these are also very much out of date. The number for each Berber language is difficult to estimate.[citation needed]

Berber serves as a vernacular language in many rural areas of Morocco.[17] Berber, along with Moroccan Arabic, is one of two languages spoken in homes and on the street.[16] The population does not use Berber in writing. Aleya Rouchdy, author of "Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic," said that Berber is mainly used in the contexts of family, friendship, and "street".[17] In her 2000–2002 research, Ennaji found that 52% of the interviewees placed Berber as a language inferior to Arabic because it did not have a prestigious status and because its domain was restricted.[20] Ennaji added that "[t]he dialectisation of Berber certainly reduces its power of communication and its spread."[7]

Speakers of Riffian language were estimated to be around 1.5 million in 1990.[21] The language is spoken in the Rif area in the north of the country and is one of the three main Berber languages of Morocco.

The Tashelhit language is considered to be the most widely spoken as it covers the whole of the Region Souss-Massa-Drâa, and is also spoken in the Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz and Tadla-Azilal regions. Studies done in 1990 show around 3 million people, concentrated in the south of Morocco, speak the language.[21]

Central Morocco Tamazight is the second Berber language in Morocco. A 1998 study done by Ethnologue, shows that around 3 million people speak the language in Morocco.[22] The language is most used in the regions Middle Atlas, High Atlas and east High Atlas Mountains.

Other Berber languages are spoken in Morocco, as the Senhaja de Srair and the Ghomara dialects in the Rif mountains, the Figuig Shilha (not to be confused with Atlas Shilha) and Eastern Zenati in eastern Morocco, and Eastern Middle Atlas dialects in central Morocco.

2014 Population Census[edit]

Local used languages in Morocco:

Local used languages Male Female Total
Darija 65% 65% 65%
Tashelhiyt 20% 20% 20%
Tamazight 13% 13% 13%
Tarifit 11% 10% 12%
Hassania 0,8% 0,8% 0,8%

2004 Population Census[edit]

The below table presents statistical figures of speakers (use in everyday's communication), based on the 2004 population census (Population aged 5 and above)[3]

Region Tashlhyt Tamazight Tarifit Total pop % of Berber speakers (use in everyday's communication)
Souss-Massa-Drâa 1,717,139 313,284 3,873 2,775,953 73.28%
Oriental 48,076 85,916 741,913 1,739,440 50.36%
Meknes-Tafilalet 37,533 843,595 33,966 1,926,247 47.51%
Tadla-Azilal 199,092 409,446 1,436 1,299,536 46.94%
Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz 969,561 14,170 2,372 2,765,908 35.65%
Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate 18,923 111,731 338,083 1,613,315 29.05%
Rabat-Sale-Zemmour-Zaer 166,658 268,687 14,965 2,136,636 21.08%
Fès-Boulemane 23,138 217,845 15,275 1,418,475 18.07%
Grand Casablanca 367,558 25,067 9,036 3,306,334 12.15%
Tangier-Tetouan 26,783 11,963 98,780 2,205,457 6.24%
Gharb-Chrarda-Beni Hssen 37,162 13,816 6,105 1,655,852 3.45%
Chaouia-Ouardigha 40,858 8,308 1,435 1,478,605 3.42%
Doukkala-Abda 24,367 3,656 1,794 1,768,150 1.69%
Morocco 3,894,805 2,343,937 1,270,986 26,755,605 28.07%

Other studies[edit]

"Few census figures are available; all countries (Algeria and Morocco included) do not count Berber languages. Population shifts in location and number, effects of urbanization and education in other languages, etc., make estimates difficult. In 1952 A. Basset (LLB.4) estimated the number of Berberophones at 5,500,000. Between 1968 and 1978 estimates ranged from eight to thirteen million (as reported by Galand, LELB 56, pp. 107, 123–25); Voegelin and Voegelin (1977, p. 297) call eight million a conservative estimate. In 1980, S. Chaker estimated that the Berberophone populations of Kabylie and the three Moroccan groups numbered more than one million each; and that in Algeria, 3,650,000, or one out of five Algerians, speak a Berber language (Chaker 1984, pp. 8-)

In 1952, André Basset ("La langue berbère", Handbook of African Languages, Part I, Oxford) estimated that a "small majority" of Morocco's population spoke Berber. The 1960 census estimated that 34% of Moroccans spoke Berber, including bi-, tri-, and quadrilinguals. In 2000, Karl Prasse cited "more than half" in an interview conducted by Brahim Karada at According to the Ethnologue (by deduction from its Moroccan Arabic figures), the Berber-speaking population is estimated at 65% (1991 and 1995). However, the figures it gives for individual languages only add up to 7.5 million, or about 57%. Most of these are accounted for by three dialects:

Riff: 4.5 million (1991)
Shilha: 7 million (1998)
Central Morocco Tamazight: 7 million (1998)

This nomenclature is common in linguistic publications, but is significantly complicated by local usage: thus Shilha is sub-divided into Shilha of the Dra valley, Tasusit (the language of the Souss) and several other (mountain) dialects. Moreover, linguistic boundaries are blurred, such that certain dialects cannot accurately be described as either Central Morocco Tamazight (spoken in the Central and eastern Atlas area) or Shilha. The differences among all Moroccan dialects are not too pronounced: public radio news are broadcast using the various dialects; each journalist speaks his or her own dialect with the result that understanding is not obstructed, though most southern Berbers find that understanding Riff requires some getting used to.


French and Arabic (MSA) coexist in Moroccan administration and business.

Within Morocco, French, one of the country's two prestige languages,[14] is often used for business, diplomacy, and government;[23] and serves as a lingua franca.[24] Aleya Rouchdy, author of Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic, said that "For all practical purposes, French is used as a second language."[17]

Different figures of French speakers in Morocco are given. According to the OIF, 33% of Moroccans speak French, among them 13.5% fully francophone and thus bilingual with one of the other Moroccan languages, and 19.5% partially francophone.[2] According to the 2004 census, nearly 69% of literate people can read and write French.[3]

It is also the mother language of some Moroccans, regrouped mainly in the western side of the country (Casablanca and Rabat Mainly, but also many other cities.)


About 5 million Moroccans speak Spanish, especially in the northern regions.[25] The use of Spanish in northern Morocco and Western Sahara derives largely from the fact that Spain had previously occupied those areas and incorporated Spanish Sahara as a province. In these regions Spanish is commonly used in public discourse and Spanish-language television is a common medium.[14]

After Morocco declared independence in 1956, French and Arabic became the main languages of administration and education, causing the role of Spanish to decline.[14]

Today, Spanish is one of the languages most studied in the educational system, together with classical Arabic, Berber and French. According to the Cervantes Institute, there are at least 58,382 students of Spanish, and the Committee of Castile and León reports as many as 350,000.[26] The interest in Spanish for the Moroccans arises from their proximity to Spain and the fact that Moroccans are the most numerous group of legal immigrants in Spain (748,953).[27] Morocco has six Cervantes Institutes, the second highest of any country (after Brazil). In addition, four other Cervantes classrooms exist, for a total of 10 cities with Cervantes Institutes in Morocco. 11 Spanish language educational institutions exist with 4,353 pupils, 16% of whom have Spanish nationality. Spanish could become the European language in highest demand in Morocco, displacing French, due to the increasing popularity of the Spanish language.[27]


English, while still far behind French[28] and Spanish in terms of the number of speakers, is rapidly becoming the second foreign language of choice among educated youth, after French. As a result of national education reforms entering into force in late 2002, English will be taught in all public schools from the fourth year on. English is spoken sporadically in the business, science and education sectors but its usage and learning have grown over the last decade, especially since 2002, when English instruction was introduced from the 7th grade in public schools.[citation needed]

Because it is the primary international language worldwide and because there are no colonial overtones, the language gained prestige within Morocco.[14] In a survey held by Ennaji in the summers of 2000, 2001, and 2002, 58% of the respondents said that English was their favorite foreign language because it is the primary international prestige language.[7]

See also[edit]


  • Ennaji, Moha. Multilingualism, Cultural Identity, and Education in Morocco. Springer Publishing, January 20, 2005. p. 127. ISBN 0387239790, 9780387239798.
  • Rouchdy, Aleya. Language Contact and Language Conflict in Arabic. Psychology Press, January 6, 2003. Volume 3 of Curzon Arabic Linguistics Series, Curzon Studies in Arabic Linguistics. p. 71. ISBN 0700713794, 9780700713790.
  • Stevens, Paul B. "Language Attitudes among Arabic-French Bilinguals in Morocco." (book review) Journal of Language and Social Psychology. 1985 4:73. p. 73–76. doi:10.1177/0261927X8500400107.


  1. ^ a b c Deroche, Frédéric (2008-01-01). Les peuples autochtones et leur relation originale à la terre: un questionnement pour l'ordre mondial (in French). L'Harmattan. ISBN 9782296055858.
  2. ^ a b "La Francophonie dans le monde." (Archive) Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. p. 16. Retrieved on 15 October 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Youssef Maaroufi. "Recensement général de la population et de l'habitat 2004". Site institutionnel du Haut-Commissariat au Plan du Royaume du Maroc.
  4. ^ According to a survey made in 2005 by CIDOB, 21.6% of the population speak Spanish (, According to the Morocco Census of 2004, the Morocco population is 29,680,069 (
  5. ^ "British Council – United Kingdom" (PDF). May 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-13.
  6. ^ a b 2011 Constitution of Morocco Full text of the 2011 Constitution (French) Archived 2012-02-29 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b c Ennaji, p. 164.
  8. ^ Ennaji, p. 162-163.
  9. ^ Frédéric Deroche, Les Peuples autochtones et leur relation originale à la terre., éd. l'Harmattan, 2008, p. 14, extrait en ligne
  10. ^ a b c d e Marley, Dawn. "From Monolingualism to Multilingualism: Recent Changes in Moroccan Language Policy" (PDF). Retrieved 30 April 2017.
  11. ^ Marley, D. (2004). Language Attitudes in Morocco Following Recent Changes in Language Policy. Language Policy 3. Klauwer Academic Publishers. Pp. 25-46.
  12. ^ Wehr, Hans: Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (2011); Harrell, Richard S.: Dictionary of Moroccan Arabic (1966)
  13. ^ Ethnologue report for language code: shi. Retrieved on 2011-07-23.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Rouchdy, p. 71. ISBN 0700713794, 9780700713790.
  15. ^ Ethnologue report for language code: ary. Retrieved on 2011-07-23.
  16. ^ a b c Ennaji, p. 162.
  17. ^ a b c d e Rouchdy, p. 73.
  18. ^ Stevens, p. 73.
  19. ^ a b Ennaji, p. 127.
  20. ^ Ennaji, p. 163.
  21. ^ a b Ethnologue report for language code: rif. Retrieved on 2011-07-23.
  22. ^ Ethnologue report for language code: tzm. Retrieved on 2011-07-23.
  23. ^ "Morocco." (Archive) CIA World Factbook. Retrieved on 13 October 2012. "French (often the language of business, government, and diplomacy)"
  24. ^ "Bitter Fruit: where Donegal's jobs went." Irish Independent. Saturday January 16, 1999. Retrieved on October 15, 2012. "Behind the locked gates and the sign saying "Interdit au Public" (forbidden to the public) (French is the lingua franca in Morocco)"
  25. ^ Leyre Gil Perdomingo; Jaime Otero Roth. "Enseñanza y uso de la lengua española en el Sáhara Occidental" (PDF). Analysis of the Real Instituto Elcano nº 116 (2008).
  26. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 11 July 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 July 2011.
  27. ^ a b[permanent dead link]
  28. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-06-16. Retrieved 2015-04-08.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)

Further reading[edit]