Arabization and Language Policy: The Case of Morocco and Algeria

Arabization and Language Policy: The Case of Morocco and Algeria

Using one language as the medium of instruction seems to be inevitably successful in some countries. However, in multilingual societies such as Morocco and Algeria, basing education on one medium of instruction results in the failure of the whole educational system. In this article, I plan to talk about Arabization, which was implemented as a language policy and a medium of instruction in Morocco and Algeria in the 60s. All textbooks, road signs and government documents were translated from French to Arabic. Unfortunately, the then newly introduced policy did not seem to work well neither in either country, the weaknesses of the policy are still visible in the population of these two North African countries, especially Morocco.

Arabization policy is aimed at the spread of the use of Arabic by the suppression of French and other local languages such as colloquial Arabic and Tamazight. Before proceeding to the implementation of the Arabization policy, authorities should have considered the fact that Arabic needed a thorough terminology coining for the teaching of science and technology. Consequently, the weakness of Arabic to fulfill the needs of education led Algerians to maintain the use of French. Similarly, by the time the first Arabized student cohort reached higher education, Morocco’s Ministry of Education had no other choice, but to decree a new law that allowed the use of French in universities despite the pressure exerted in elementary schools. As a response, attempts were made to enrich Arabic’s vocabulary, but the fact that Arabic required the use of many words to express one word in French or English led to more confusion and impreciseness. This handicap made the Arabization policy an unbalanced, inconsistent and incomplete one, which resulted in the low proficiency of lots of students in both languages: Standard Arabic and French.

Moreover, the disaster was the unpreparedness of students to deal with French as they were not allowed to become proficient enough in it to pursue more complex fields of studies such as mathematics, engineering or biology. As a result, the standards of the institutions declined dramatically because students struggled first and foremost with French and then the content. It would be false to generalize about student proficiency in French. Some were able to talk about their field of studies in French, but not in Arabic.

Some people claim that Arabization was intended to separate between the elite and other social classes in order to reduce competition for the prestigious and highly paid careers. Thus, the elite made sure that their children grew up more proficient in French than Arabic since French has always been the language of commerce in Morocco. It is a well-respected Moroccan norm to speak French better than Arabic because of its social capital. The other aim behind Arabization is the strive for a monolingual nation and for an Arab-Islamic identity that is independent from all western and internal influence. Arabization policy leaders have ignored that both Algeria and Morocco are linguistically diverse. Consequently, Tamazight speakers started to be very active in promoting the consideration and use of their languages and won the battle only at the end of 2011 when Tamazight became an official language after the amendment of the Moroccan constitution.

The elite did not want to have many competitors in jobs that pay big salaries and they were smart enough to educate their children either in French schools or in prestigious private schools. This interpretation could also be extended and related to current events and claim that authorities wanted to reduce the percentage of educated people because the government may not be able to employ all the youths and unemployment would be a difficult thing to deal with, especially at this time that most revolutions in the Arab world resulted from the high rate of unemployment, corruption and inequality of opportunities.

The leaders know very well how students in the 60s and the 70s were successful, knowledgeable and intelligent bilinguals. Leaving French as the medium of instruction in higher education was perhaps meant to be an impediment for students to face problems and challenges which will result in their low qualification for the job market. However, some of the students managed to become proficient in French by practice and the hard work they devoted to the language along with the course content.

Bouchra Kachoub

Bouchra Kachoub is an English Instructor at the University of Wollongong in Dubai. She was previously a Lecturer and Foundation Year Program Coordinator at the Superior Institutions for Science and Technology (SIST) in Casablanca, Morocco. She was awarded a scholarship and a teaching assistanship from the Department of Linguistics at Ohio University, where she obtained her Masters degree in Applied Linguistics and previously received the PLUS scholarship through which she earned a Bachelor degree in English Education from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, USA. Her areas of interest lie in a variety of issues including teaching, language learning, language policy, bilingualism, historical linguistics.

4 Responses to Arabization and Language Policy: The Case of Morocco and Algeria

  1. The Arabization policies enacted after “independence” are really essential to understanding the Amazigh situation in North Africa. Whenever I read about this issue, I remember what Lounes Matoub said about Arabization in Algeria, about how missing each Arabic class was a sign of resistance, a reclamation of his Amazigh identity. This sentiment really expresses what many Imazighen feel about the brutality of the imposition of Arabic over their mother tongue.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this article. very insightful. I took the chance to reflect about the situation in SA where there is a contionous debate about students being taught subjects in their own languages.

  3. Language indeed poses a major challenge to the educational system in Morocco. The issue as I see it does not lie in the existence of sever languages in Morocco. Matter of fact, i see this as a positive thing. The issue i think with our (govt) mismanagement of diversity. We have a serious policy crisis when it come this. The govt introduced Arabization laws but they failed based on the following rule: Why Arabize me if I am Arab? and Why Arabize me if I am not Arab?

  4. u left me speechless after reading ur work. all i want to say is that because of this policy of arabization Moroccans students were deprived of the mastery of any of the languages that represented the very core of Morocco’s linguistic diversity. Instead of focusing on the consolidation of the essential structure of Morocco’s educational system, working on generalizing education for all Moroccan children and creating a balance between private and public educational institutions, the state put all its weight on the linguistic policy of arabization, in a desperate bid to radically rid the educational system of the leftovers of an educational system previously implemented by the colonizer. thank you.

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