Tamazight language in Morocco: Is standardization possible?


By Majid Dardour- Rabat- Some people say that Tamazight is a language. Others say that Tamazight is a dialect. Nowadays, there is a movement among speakers of Tamazight language varieties to unite them into a single standard language. This enables, Tamazight to include all the indigenous related dialects.

The national charter of Moroccan education was the turning point in the standardization of Tamazight. Furthermore, political and cultural factors might be crucial to determine the state of any language or language varieties. So, to what extent has the national charter contributed to the standardization of Tamazight and unified its varieties into a single language?

Any language can contain many dialects. One of the main characteristic of Tamazight that has confused Tamazight linguists and Tamazight speakers themselves is that there are many dialects. Tamazight has three major varieties. Tashlhit, Tamazight and Tarifit. And each of these dialects consists of many sub-dialects. For example, within the geographical area of Tarifit, there are Tagznayt, Takhlfit and so on and so forth. However, geographical proximity facilitates mutual understanding, as the case of Amazigh and Chleuh shows. They understand each other with almost no difficulty.  Structurally, there are similarities between Tamazight dialects. So, the diversity of dialect is superficial rather than essential. Let’s now examine the possibility of standardizing the Tamazight language through the national charter.

The concept of standardization is a necessary and vital process in any language. A language must be codified by standardizing its phonology, morphology, syntax, spelling and vocabulary. For this reason, the national charter gave a paramount value to Tamazight in terms of its existence within educational institutions. Tamazight has shifted from a predominantly oral system to a written one and has gained a wider acceptance by speakers throughout Morocco. Ahmed Chafik claims 80 per cent of Moroccans are Berber. Besides, Tamazight gets a particular identity when it is fixed and codified in written form. A modernized form of the Tifinagh alphabet was made official in Morocco in 2003. Before this point Tamazight did not have a literacy tradition, and it has only recently developed a strong literary tradition.

In the past, Tamazight in Morocco was neglected and marginalized by political decisions. So, the standardization of Tamazight cannot be achieved if there are no legal and political initiatives to protect it. Due to the rising Berber cultural and political activism, the popularity of the term Tamazight made it known and recognizable by every citizen. On June 17, 2011 King Mohammed VI announced in a speech about constitutional reform that Tamazight would become an official language of Morocco, alongside Arabic, and will be used in all the administrations in the future.

In conclusion, Tamazight, due to the national charter, is now ubiquitous in Morocco.  You can hear it and find it in schools, universities, media, and in the government. Nonetheless, Tamazight cannot achieve a purely standardized status that is understood by all Imazighen because, in reality, such a single standard does not exist.



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