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A Dominant Community’s Attitudes towards the Teaching of Amazigh (Berber) in Morocco

di Mina Afkir

Abstract

Two linguistically and culturally different communities have been living in Morocco since the Arab-Islamic conquests in the seventh century AD, namely the Amazigh-speaking and the Arabic-speaking communities.

The language policies that were implemented by the Moroccan government from independence in 1956 till 2001 greatly promoted the Arabic language, which resulted in the exclusion of the Amazigh language from the educational system, the media, and public services and led to its marginalization and stigmatization. In 2003, after the official recognition of Amazigh as a basic component of the Moroccan identity and culture by a royal dahir (decree) in 2001, Amazigh was granted institutional support and was introduced in the educational system at the primary school level. The aim of this paper is to explore how the Arabic-speaking community, which has been a dominant language group in the Moroccan society for hundreds of years, views the teaching of Amazigh, which has reduced the space of the Arabic language in the educational system and has changed the status of Amazigh from a language of the home to a language of the school, granting it more value and power. The data on which the paper is based consists of interviews and questionnaires administered to a group of Arabophones in order to see whether they hold favorable or unfavorable attitudes towards the integration of Amazigh in the educational system and to what extent they are ready for this drastic change that will certainly remake the national educational space. Baker (1992, p. 9) said, “If a community is grossly unfavorable to bilingual education or the imposition of a ‘common’ national language is attempted, language policy implementation is unlikely to be successful.”

1. Introduction

Since 2001, a date considered a turning point in the history of the Amazigh community in Morocco, the government has been engaged in revitalizing Amazigh as part of a new national language policy that grants more space to this language after hundreds of years of exclusion. One of the factors deemed crucial in the revitalization process of languages, which includes both corpus planning and status planning, is education. “Certes le processus de revitalisation langagière se nourrit d’un environnement micro qui assure la transmission intergénérationnelle de la langue et de la culture, et de la prise de conscience volontariste de l’irréductibilité de l’identité communautaire, mais il doit également s’accompagner de la complétude institutionnelle par l’investissement des espaces institutionnels, sociaux, culturels et éducatifs” (Boukous, 2009, p. 13).

Education is a crucial and powerful factor in any revitalization process because it shapes and determines the value and status of languages in bilingual or multilingual contexts and hence bestows more power upon the communities which speak those languages. Public schooling guarantees the institutionalization of a minority language and its transition from the intimate family sphere to the public sphere and consequently grants it institutional support, which has an impact on the power relations between the co-existing communities. In the Moroccan society, where the Amazigh-speaking and Arabic-speaking communities have been living together since the Arabs’ conquests in the seventh century AD, a drastic change took place in the country’s educational language policy in 2003. For the first time in its history, Morocco introduced the Amazigh language in the state school system. This shift in the educational language policy was an inevitable outcome of the official recognition of Amazigh as a basic component of the national identity and culture in 2001 and is fundamental in its revitalization process. The goal of this paper is to examine how Arabophones, who have constituted a dominant...
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