Scripts, Literacy, and Language Policy in Morocco

Abder El Aissati & Jeanne Kurvers

Tilburg University, The Netherlands

TP163: Language policy and literacy

After its independence in 1956, Morocco was clear in its language policy: Arabic will be the exclusive official language of the country, and the role of the languages of previous colonization, namely French and Spanish, should be minimized. There was no mention of Berber as a national language or minority language, and no prospect for making any room for this language in the national official landscape.

However, in September 2003 teaching Berber in public schools became a reality. Among the crucial decisions that needed to be made was the choice of a script. Berber has been written in all three scripts most widely used in North-Africa, namely, the Tifinagh script (originally a Lybian script), the Roman script, And the Arabic script.

This choice went against the wish of a scientific community which was used to transcribing texts mostly in Roman alphabet. Such was the tradition among the early French and Spanish philologists. A few diacritics had to be added to the letters and the alphabet worked just fine.

In the field of literature, the Arabic script was popular especially among Tashelhit speakers (southern variety of Berber).

The Tifinagh script has been around for centuries, but mostly restricted to emblems and short texts (like epigraphs). The first major expansion of this alphabet was in 2003, with the introduction of Berber in the primary school education system in Morocco, and the choice of . Tifinagh as the official script for writing Berber.

In the present contribution the results of two studies will be presented: a survey about the status of this script among teachers of Berber in Morocco (2006) and an earlier study among Berber speakers (in 1995) about the choice for an alphabet if Berber were to be taught. The two studies shed light on the discrepancy between theoretical choices and practical considerations of, respectively, cultural activists and teachers.

Session: Themed Panel
Language policy and literacy
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 06