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Moroccan Arabic

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Number of Speakers: About 19,500,000

Key Dialects: Rabat-Casablanca Arabic, Fez. Meknes, Tangier Arabic, Oujda, Jebli (Jebelia, Jbala), Southern Morocco Arabic, Marrakech Arabic.

Geographical Center: Northern Morocco and southern Morocco south of the Atlas Mts., and including the port cities of the Sahara.

It is estimated that about 60% of Morocco's population of 32,000,000 people are Arabs and hence native speakers of Moroccan Arabic. The remaining 40% are Berber. It appears that a large proportion of the Berber population is bilingual in Arabic and Berber. Official statistics indicate that 90% of the country's population speaks Arabic.

Arabic is a Semitic language, as described in our Arabic Overview, and is closely related to Hebrew and somewhat more distantly to the Semitic languages of Ethiopia, including Amharic and Tigrinya.  The modern spoken Arabic dialects are generally divided into Western Arabic and Eastern Arabic. Moroccan Arabic is a member of the Western Arabic group of dialects.

As a member of the Western Arabic grouping of dialects, Moroccan Arabic is similar to the dialects spoken in Mauritania, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya (and also Maltese). The entire area 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 11th century, Bedouin tribes swept through much of the unsettled areas, spreading with them their distinct Arabic dialect in the non-urbanized areas and leaving speakers of Berber in isolated pockets in the more mountainous regions.

Moroccan Arabic is written in Arabic script, which is described in the Orthography section of the Arabic Overview page.

As a dialect of Arabic, Moroccan Arabic shares many of the features found in other varieties of Arabic described in the Linguistic Sketch section of our Arabic Overview. Only features peculiar to the Moroccan variety will be described here.

Moroccan Arabic has thirty-one consonants, including eight emphatic (pharyngealized) ones. The geminates bb, ff, and mm also have an labialized, emphatic variant. Emphatic consonants are usually represented with a dot underneath. It this profile they are written with a capital letter. Moroccan Arabic has lost the interdental fricatives of Classical Arabic. It has six vowels: the three "stable" vowels i, a, and u, and the three "variable" vowels e, ă, and o. A stable vowel can occur in all positions and cannot be deleted or invert its position relative to a consonant. In contrast, a variable vowel is shorter, doesn't occur in certain positions (such as word-finally), and can be subject to deletion or inversion.

Variable vowels cannot generally occur in an open syllable (that is, followed by a single consonant followed by a vowel), and there are two general phonological processes which prevent this situation from occurring, called elision and inversion. Elision refers to the deletion or dropping of a variable vowel, such as the e in Ražel "man, husband" > Ražli "my husband". In inversion, the variable vowel switches position relative to a consonant, such as the e and t in ktef "shoulder" > ketfi "my shoulder". Neither of these processes occurs in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Also unlike MSA, Moroccan Arabic allows syllable-initial geminates, as in ddexli "you (fem.) enter", and syllable-initial consonant clusters, as in lbes "he wore". Sequences of several consonants are allowed, as in šefthom "I saw them", ndxol "I enter", and ttfekkit "I got loose", and f-weST n-nhaR "in the middle of the day".

Dual number is limited to a small number of nouns, most of which are units of measurement or of time. Only nouns have a dual form. While some nouns, such as those denoting professions, have distinct masculine and feminine plural forms, the adjectival and verbal paradigms do not distinguish between genders in the plural. Unlike Standard Arabic, Moroccan Arabic can be said to have indefinite articles. These take the form of ši- prefixed to a noun or the invariant word waHed followed by a noun with the definite article, as in  ši-bent and waHed l-bent "a girl, some girl".

In Standard Arabic, possession and similar concepts are normally expressed by a construct state, which is a type of noun phrase ending in a genitive noun or pronoun, such as kitaabu s-sulTaani "the sultan's book". Only the last noun in a construct can have the definite article. In Moroccan Arabic, the construct state is limited to certain types of possessed nouns, such as body parts and terms of kinship. Possession of other types of nouns employs the preposition d- or dyal, which is analogous to English of. Thus, while a construct state can be used to translate "the merchant's son" as weld t-tažer, a prepositional phrase is required to translate "the merchant's camels" as ž-žmel dyal t-tažer.

As in Standard Arabic, a finite verb can be either perfective or imperfective. A perfective form denotes a completed action and most often corresponds to an English past tense. The imperfective, in contrast, denotes a uncompleted action. A bare imperfective in Moroccan Arabic is subjunctive or modal in meaning (that is, it conveys the meaning of should, would, and the like), as in ddxol "she should go in". The present tense is formed by prefixing the particle ka- to the verb, as in ka-ddxol "she goes in, she's going in". Similarly, the future is formed by using the future auxiliary ghadi before the verb.

Negation usually employs both the prefix ma- and the suffix -š(i), as in kteb "he wrote" > ma-kteb-š "he didn't write". In some cases, ma- and -š(i) come together to form the word ma-ši, which appears before the negated item, as in huwa ma-ši hna "he's not here". The suffix is omitted in what is termed "categorial negation", which can be translated into English using the word any. Compare the ordinary negative ma- žbeRt-š le-flus  "I didn't find the money" with the categorial negative ma- žbeRt flus "I didn't find any money". A simple noun or adjective can be negated either by affixing  ma- and -š(i) to it or by preceding it with ma-ši, as in huwa ma-ši kbir and huwa ma-kbir-ši "he's not big".

Unlike Standard Arabic, but like other modern dialects of Arabic, Moroccan Arabic is a predominately SVO language, meaning that its normal word order is Subject Verb Object, as in English.

Morocco is a multilingual country. While 90% of the country speaks Moroccan Arabic, many of these speakers are actually bilingual in Berber. The official language and the language of most primary and secondary education is standard Arabic, which boosts the social status of Moroccan Arabic over Berber, which does not have an official status, is not standardized, and which does not usually used as a written medium of expression. Morocco is a former French colony, and before its independence in 1962, French was the sole language of administration and education. Since independence, Morocco (like other countries of the Maghreb) has undertaken a policy of Arabization. Nonetheless, French remains an important language in Morocco, where it competes with Standard Arabic as the language of written expression and of higher education.

Adil Moustaoui. "The Amazigh language within Morocco’s language policy". Dossier 14 on the CIEMEN (Centre Internacional Escarré per a les Minories Ètniques i les Nacions) website at

Harrell, Richard S. (1962) A Short Reference Grammar of Moroccan Arabic. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

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