Darija is a primary language in Morocco, and it is often used within Moroccan-Arab families, between friends, by shopkeepers, in offices, by cab drivers, on the television, and so on. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is typically only used for official business. The Berber population generally uses Amazigh at home, though most people also speak Darija, promoting cohesion between the Arab and Berber ethnic groups that inhabit Morocco.
Linguistic differences may be related to vocabulary, context, syntax, grammar, and pronunciation. Although many Moroccans can understand speakers from the Arabian Peninsula, the reverse cannot always be said. Moroccan Darija is, however, very similar to the language spoken in neighbouring Algeria and, to a lesser extent, the languages of Tunisia and Libya.
While a lot of Darija’s vocabulary comes from Arabic and Amazigh, there are many words that have entered the language thanks to French, Spanish, and other languages. Some words remain unaltered, while others have been changed to varying degrees. Additionally, some Arabic words used in Morocco are used in a different context than within MSA. Furthermore, some words from classical Arabic have withstood the test of time in Morocco, yet are no longer used in MSA. There are also words that are unique to Darija, with no traceable roots of sources outside Morocco.
The Darija word for cat is مش, pronounced mersh. In MSA, a feline is قط, pronounced very similar as it is in English, sounding like cut.
Carrot is another difference. In Darija, خزو is used (pronounced like khi-zu). In MSA, it is written as جزرة and pronounced like juz-ra.
Morocco received large numbers of Spanish-speaking Andalusian Muslims in times gone by. They brought with them many new traditions and customs and also introduced a number of new words to the local population. Spanish colonialism introduced more vocabulary.
The Moroccan words for kitchen, week, school, family, and wardrobe are just a few examples of words that entered the language from Spanish.
French colonialism played a large part in the development of Moroccan Arabic. The Darija words for fork, napkin, telephone, bag, bus, TV, radio, computer, camera, and hospital are all examples of words taken from French.
English, German, and Portuguese words are sprinkled throughout the local lingo as well. Pop culture and tourism have played a role in the spread of words from the English language. Past colonialism in particular areas is the main reason for German and Portuguese words having entered the Moroccan lexicon.
In MSA, the word for the number two is اثنان, pronounced ith-nan. The word زوج (pronounced juge) means couple or pair—mainly in the context of marriage. The latter is, however, used for the number two in Morocco.
Arabic words are used in Morocco to pose the everyday question of “What do you want?” A speaker of other Arabic dialects would likely interpret the question a little differently, however, with a stronger and deeper meaning that is more akin to “What do you desire?”
The Arabic word for donkey is حمار. Most Arabs would only associate this word with the animal. In Morocco, however, it is also used as a light insult rather similar to how the word ass can be used in English to refer to an animal or a foolish person.
There are plenty of idiomatic sayings and slang words that are not easily understood outside of Morocco as well.
Using the Modern Standard Arabic phrase to ask “how many …” (كم / kam) might not be so straightforward in Morocco. Moroccans use a different phrase altogether: شحال (sha-al).
People in Morocco use واخا (wak-ha) to express that all is okay. Moroccans also have their own phrase to tell someone they love them.
There are, of course, many other examples of unique-Moroccan vocabulary.
While Darija uses many Arabic words, pronunciation differences can make words difficult to understand. Numerous words in Moroccan Arabic have seen significant vowel changes, especially the shortening of vowel sounds that are longer in MSA and the omission of some short-vowel sounds altogether. The omission of short vowels in Darija is especially noticeable when they appear at the start of a word in standard Arabic.
Missing-vowel sounds can cause clusters of consonants, which can be tricky to pronounce and understand. Different word stresses can also create confusion when listening to Moroccan Arabic.
Most grammar rules are the same for Darija as they are for MSA. There, are, however, a few verb conjugations that are a little different, such as the first person in the present tense.
For making negative statements, Moroccan Arabic follows a similar pattern to the French language that sets it a little farther apart from MSA. This is the same, however, as in Algeria and some countries in the Levant Region.
Passive phrases aren’t common in any forms of Arabic, but are arguably less common in Moroccan Darija.
To further add to the fun in communicating with people when travelling in Morocco or trying to learn Darija, there are, as in many countries around the world, regional linguistic differences around the nation too.