Dichotomy of a Language Imbroglio

2011.09.29 by Josh Erb; 589 words.



"An extremely confused, complicated, or embarrassing situation."
synonyms: complication, snarl, clusterf---

My weekend plans have been postponed until next weekend. In that time I have decided that an important piece of the puzzle that this blog is slowly helping you put together is missing. The giant center piece known as language. Communication and its constant, consistent failure is a daily part of the life of any student spending significant amounts of time abroad. I and the others here are no exception.

This puzzle piece has been frustrating me to such an extent that I looked up a new word to help describe it. I realize, however, that it is necessary to explain just how much of language headache a country such as Morocco can cause. And believe you me, that is the understatement of the century. I would provide you with a counter example of other understatements, but I'm tired and that would take some degree of thinking. But I digress.

Let me lay it down for you nice and pretty. An average day in Morocco has me speaking and/or hearing any of four possible languages: English, French, Modern Standard Arabic, and Moroccan Colloquial Arabic. That's not even considering the ten minute block of daily news given in Berber, nor does it take into account the lingering Spanish that's only a short drive north from the town I'm staying in. Needless to say, Moroccan is a veritable cornucopia of language induced headaches. But that's not even the half of it.

Oh no, dearest of readers, there's much more to this polyglot than meets the ear. Here language has become much more than just a means of communication. It has become an indicator of social status and quality of education. This mostly coincides with the use of French and MSA used by people on a daily basis.

Generally you can expect almost everyone you meet here to speak French. However, it is generally spoken with broken grammar and an accent by the average person. The best speakers are usually those who's parents had enough money to send them to a private school where they start teaching them French around the age of four. The same goes for MSA. Moroccan Colloquial Arabic is to Modern Standard as Latin is to Spanish. Many words are different, some words are the same but have different meanings. As a result, not everyone here is able to communicate as easily in MSA as one might think.

Of course, this explanation doesn't nearly capture the complexities or the intricacies of language in Morocco. A history of colonialism and the spread of religion are responsible for my current frustration, along with countless other factors.

To make matters worse, I spoke with my host dad about my fear of not being able to leave my French behind and focus all of my energy on acquiring the two new languages I am trying to learn during my stay here. As a result, Omar was kind enough to tell me that in order to help me he will only speak to me in Arabic (either form) unless I have a real problem understanding.

After this decision was reached he said something in Arabic. I stared at him for a good two minutes while he repeated it again, and again. Then he told me in French that "he's counting on me" to make the effort. I'm am off to a fantastic start.

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