Written Moroccan Arabic (WMA)

This page will be updated on an irregular basis. New items will be added at the bottom of this page. Latest update: December 2022

Latest insights: the role of WMA in Moroccan society. 12 domains in which WMA has a role and function.

Since I was a student of Arabic in the eighties of the past century I was interested in the written use of Darija. I wrote my MA thesis about the topic and since then I always remained interested in the topic.
For many years I could not travel to Morocco very often, sometimes only once a year or even less, but since 2006 my travels to Morocco intensified because of the plans to found a Dutch academic institute in Rabat (NIMAR, see www.nimarrabat.nl). And between January 2009 and July 2015 I was the director of NIMAR so during that period I worked and lived in Rabat. (This whole period is described in Dutch on my blog janhoogland.blogspot.com)

This period of intensified travelling to Morocco and residency in Rabat coincided with a strong increase in the use of written Darija in public space, on national television and in print. I have been able to observe this development and managed to collect many manifestations of it. I have taken many photos of billboards and other advertisements in the streets of Rabat and other Moroccan towns. I have obtained a considerable number of printed works containing written Darija (written Moroccan Arabic - WMA).

Another development taking place during this same period was the intensified use of Darija on social media. Indirectly I have observed this development but never with the intention of collecting or analysing the outcome. Several colleagues have faced this challenge and Dominique Caubet deserves special mention for her work on 'E-Darija' and '3aransiya'.

On this website I want to disclose my collection of WMA to those who might be interested. It is my intentention to regularly expand this page with additional items from my collection. Below I will start a series of links to video's consisting of slide shows presenting hundreds of photo's taken of writings in WMA.

All items are described in a database. Here you can download a small pdf extract from the database. In a later stage more content of the database will become available here.

WMA in public space

Slideshows of photos of advertisements, billboards etc. Some grafity.

WMA on national television

Slideshows of TV Stills
Vid_TVst1_WMA284_568, mainly commercials

The magazine Nichane (added November 2021)
On this page you will find photos of some covers of the Moroccan magazine Nichane, which is one of the topics of my linguistic research.

The magazine Khbar Bladna (added December 2021)
The magazine Khbar bladna (news of our country) existed for about five years. It was created from an idealistic point of view and distributed by a foundation from Tangier, led by the American Elena Prentice, who herself used to live part of the year in Tangier. Her motivation for distributing a "newspaper" in Written Moroccan Arabic was the fact that many Moroccans are semi-illiterate, meaning that they know the alphabet but have not received sufficient education to understand the complex structure of MSA. So Elena Prentice wanted to make a newspaper for the people. The language of Khbar Bladna was pure Moroccan Darija in written form, fully provided with vocalization. More than 200 issues of this biweekly magazine have been published. The last issue appeared in 2006. Funding was not available at that time to continue the magazine. The magazine was distributed free of charge and contained no advertisements. The content can be characterized as 'a little bit of everything': short news items, sports, recipes, folk wisdom, etc. I have some pages from two issues available for downloading:
Issue 199 Khbar Bladna
Issue 292 Khbar Bladna
Here you can see a video interview with Elena Prentice by BBC Arabic, but the interview is in English.

The magazine Al 'Amal (added December 2021)
Another magazine is the magazine Al-'Amal (the hope) which appeared in Salé for several months. It was actually an employment project to teach young people the trade of journalism and magazine making. It mainly featured local news from Salé. The Written Moroccan Arabic in this magazine is also fully vocalized. Only a limited number of issues of this magazine have been published. Al Amal was published in print and online form from December 2005 to April 2006. I have some scanned pages from issue nr. 5 available for downloading. The magazine is no longer available online.
Issue 5 Al-'Amal

A remarkable text: Code de la Route (added December 2021)
This is a booklet with an explanation of traffic rules. The title is simply 'Code de la route'. This is a semi-official document, which I first saw in Morocco in the 1990s. The agency that distributes it is not mentioned, nor is the date of first publication. The text is remarkable because it is written in 'genuine' Moroccan Arabic. It contains explanations of traffic signs, analyses priority rules in specific situations illustrated with drawings, etc.
However, the booklet also contains texts written in MSA, which gives it a somewhat messy impression.
In one of my publicationsI have analysed the language used in the booklet and concluded it contains many inconsistencies. Given the great differences (and the arrangement of the text) it is plausible this text was written by different authors.
Here you can download a pdf with a number of pages from the booklet.

Texts from the early 1980's from the Netherlands (added January 2022)
As I mentioned in my introduction to this page, I have been interested in the written use of Moroccan Darija since I wrote my MA thesis in 1983.
In a publication I wrote about this period:
In 1983 we already started investigating this topic. In those days we were involved in translating and correcting translations of information materials for freshly arrived labour migrants (guest workers) to the Netherlands. They needed to be informed about all kinds of information concerning Dutch society, for example about the health care system, personal hygiene, social welfare rules etc. A considerable number of translators appeared to translate these materials in written Moroccan Darija. The principle reason for using Darija in written form probably was the assumption that readers (poorly educated or uneducated labourers) would better understand a text written in Darija than a text written in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). So in 1983 we already decided to investigate the use of Moroccan Darija as a written language: how it was written, i.e. which choices were made by authors, given the fact that no set of orthographic rules exists. As for the conclusions to this question, they will be referred to later in this contribution. (Hoogland 2013) (The publication can be found on my Academia page)
In the near future I intend to present on this page some examples from the corpus of texts I analysed for that publication.

Here I provide a few examples from the corpus of texts I analysed in those days to analyse the characteristics of written Darija.
All texts are from the Netherlands and all are translations in the fields mentioned in the paragraph above.
I will give a short description of the texts in this small collection:

Testing reading and comprehension skills in Darija (added February 2022)
In my MA-thesis in 1983 I not only analysed the characteristics of Darija in written form, I also investigated if texts written in Darija were better understood by the target group. For that purpose I collected three texts treating topics related to Dutch society and had each of these three texts translated in three different varieties of Arabic: Modern Standard Arabic, 'Pure Darija' and a 'Middle Variety'. This resulted in 9 different translations.
As part of this collection of texts written in Darija I want to present these texts here.
Text 1 treats the disability to work
Text 2 treats healthy food
Text 3 treats the increase of rents (for housing)
All texts are presented in three versions: MSA, 'Middle Variety', 'Pure Darija'.

Nichane, a weekly magazine in Arabic, using Darija (added February 2022)
Above I already mentioned Nichane.Since the publication of my research is now available online I present it once more. Here is the text of the abstract of this first publication on Nichane:
Darija, the Arabic colloquial of Morocco, and basically a spoken language, has gone through major emancipation processes since 2002. An illustration of this process is the magazine Nichane that appeared between September 2006 and September 2010 and that published articles featuring varying amounts of written Darija. This article presents an analysis of Darija as it is used in the magazine, relating the results to the current emancipation processes of this same language.
Follow this link to go to the special page about Nichane. In the near future I will add some articles from Nichane to that page.

Slidewhow of covers of the magazine Nichane (June 2022)
I have made a video of a slideshow containing (almost) all covers (169 different covers) of the magazine Nichane, about which you can read more elsewhere on my website.
On my Vimeo video channel you can see more slideshows of written Moroccan Arabic (WMA), published earlier and mentioned above.

Brochures containing health information from the Netherlands, 1980ies (July 2022)
In the 70ies and 80ies of the past century a Dutch agency called Office for Health Information to Foreigners (Bureau Voorlichting Gezondheidszorg Buitenlanders) produced an enormous quantity of information to provide the community of guest workers (as they were called in those days) with information about health issues. These information campaigns were aiming at Moroccan and Turkish guestworkers, who had come to the Netherlands in that period. Especially when the workers started to bring their families to the Netherlands, in the framework of family reunion, the need for health information had increased, since these families came from countries and regions where health services like those present in the Netherlands were lacking.
As for the information materials meant for the Moroccans, the Office decided that the brochures had to be written in Moroccan Arabic (Darija). This policy was based on the assumption that the (mostly) poorly educated workers would not understand brochures written in Modern Standard Arabic, and written Darija might be more effective. In those years I have myself been involved in the production process of some of these brochures, mainly in the stage of proof reading.
I have preserved a number of these brochures and included them in my collection of WMA texts. Recently I scanned (parts of) the brochures. I hereby make available some examples of the brochures. Each pdf contains a limited number of pages to give you an impression. You can always ask me to send you more complete files of these brochures.

Qâmûs al-darija al-maghribiya, a remarkable dictionary of Moroccan Arabic (December 2022)
Ïn 2017 the Fondation Zakoura published a dictionary of Moroccan Arabic. Here you can download a few randomly copied pages from this dictionary.
In two publications I have mentioned the dictionary:
A very interesting monolingual dictionary of Moroccan Arabic was published in 2017 by the Zakoura Foundation, a Moroccan NGO striving for the improvement of the education system in the country. To create a vehicle for codification of the Moroccan colloquial, the foundation took the initiative to have this dictionary compiled by a number of academic linguists from Morocco, the principal editors being Khalil Mgharfaoui, Abdellah Chekayri, and Abdelouahed Mabrour. It bears the title Qa¯mu¯s al-da¯rigˇa al-mag˙ ribı¯ya (‘Dictionary of Moroccan Darija’). The dictionary contains 8,100 entries, and all explanations and definitions are in Moroccan Arabic. It contains a modest number of multi-word expressions and proverbs in addition to a considerable number of loanwords from French, all written in Arabic script, with only very few vowels, which leaves the pronunciation of many words unclear to a user who is unfamiliar with the language. The orthography of Moroccan Arabic as applied in this dictionary is not always in accordance with what can be considered as consensus by practice, but it should be noted that orthographic rules for writing the colloquials do not exist, and so every author may devise their own rules or just improvise: theoretically speaking, there is no correct or incorrect method. The reactions to the publication of this dictionary in Morocco were mixed.
From the publication: CWHL Cambridge World History of Lexicography

An interesting example to illustrate this continuing process (of emancipation of Darija) is the monolingual dictionary of Moroccan Arabic by Mgharfaoui and others, published by the Fondation Zakoura in 2017. In this dictionary the meaning of Darija words is explained in Darija. It is still too early to evaluate the position of this remarkable monolingual dictionary of the colloquial language, which is probably the first of its kind in the Arab world. When the dictionary was published it aroused a strong debate in Morocco, but the already mentioned Noureddine Ayyouche, founder of the Zakoura foundation, is convinced of the usefulness of projects involving Darija and quietly realizes his plans without letting the debates prevent him from reaching his goals. This is in line with Høigilt’s observation that ‘today’s publications simply go ahead with their radical writing practices, against orthodoxy, without making a fuss about it or even reflecting much on it ‒ they just do what feels best and most authentic for their rhetorical purposes’ (Høigilt, 2017:184).
From the publication: Darija in the Moroccan press: the case of the magazine Nichane
Here you can see a video of the presentation of this dictionary by two of the compilers of the dictionary prof. Abdellah Chekayri and prof. Khalil Mgharfaoui.

New items will be added to this page on an irregular basis.

Latest insights: the role of WMA in Moroccan society. 12 domains in which WMA has a role and function.

Arabic Media Text Collection by Jan Hoogland is licensed under  CC BY-NC-ND 4.0