It is now official, Morocco is opting for more multilingualism. I am referring here to the announcement made on May 23 by Chakib Benmoussa, Minister of National Education, which formalizes through a ministerial circular the gradual generalization of the teaching of English in college.
The approach is eminently strategic and daring, since it aims to offer young Moroccans a new window on the world. However, the approach is far from being discriminatory, since it is in no way a policy of linguistic replacement as some people call it, but a policy of enrichment, with all due respect francophobes.
But if many young Moroccans did not wait for the State to start learning English, the implications of such a decision are numerous and deserve attention.
Because what English are we talking about when it comes to self-taught young people who speak English today? Is it the language of Shakespeare or that of Netflix? Chesterton’s or Snoop Dogg’s? These seemingly provocative questions inevitably lead us to ask ourselves the following question: what is a language?
She is many things. But, let us limit ourselves, within the framework of this chronicle, to two fundamental aspects. The first is that which apprehends a language as a vector of communication, exchange and verbalization of thoughts, ideas and emotions, among other things. From this point of view, English is the “lingua franca” of the contemporary world. In other words, it is the vernacular language which allows populations of different origins and over a vast geographical area to communicate and exchange, thus circumventing linguistic and cultural barriers. Thus, from music to science via cinema, English has been able to cross political and mental borders and gradually establish itself as the hegemonic language.
However, and here we come to the second aspect, this hegemony is only functional when it is based on a broader state of mind and cultural configuration. That for example, during the Glorious Thirties, of the “American way of life” and the “American dream”. Thus, English was at one time the language of rock, of the rebellious spirit of the cowboy, of a relaxed dress code, that of jeans, then, later, of the spectacular but also often Manichean cinema of Hollywood. So, the question that arises and that we ask ourselves is: today, what is the underlying and the vector of English? The field is again very vast, since it ranges from the jargon of marketing and management (brainstorming, ASAP, etc.) to the neutral and square language of scientific research, passing through the neologisms of the “woke” ideology.
Because adopting a language as culturally and ideologically connoted as English also means opening a avenue to a mass of ideas and ways of life, which must be questioned upstream, in order to be able to arbitrate and sorting.
Finally, as a fundamental element of a relationship to the world and of a civilizational paradigm, a language acts in depth on the epistemological dimension, that which determines how knowledge is constructed. From this point of view, the Anglo-American and continental European worlds have, for a long time, been separated by two philosophical and epistemological traditions that the context of a chronicle does not allow to approach with the required depth. But let’s say, to be quick and with a lot of shortcuts, that in the Anglo-Saxon world, it is the empirical tradition that predominates, the one that starts from the real and the concrete to deduce knowledge from it, where in continental Europe , it is the idealist, idealistic, abstract and conceptual approach which imposed itself from Descartes to German Hegelianism.
Here again, training a generation of Moroccans in English, a fortiori in a school and academic setting, also means spreading a more pragmatic, more realistic and consequently more effective relationship with the world. Which, really, isn’t so bad. But to do so, as is the case in Morocco, while keeping French and, of course, Arabic, is to combine business with pleasure. It now remains to give coherence to all this, which again amounts to asking an eminently important question, that of the mother tongue. Because it’s nice to have several windows, but you still need a front door. But on this slippery slope, things are far from obvious. Because a “mother” language, as its name suggests, is the one that structures our psyche during the first months and years of our childhood,
Is it Arabic? The darijah? The tachelhit? Tamazight? It is up to each person to answer according to their experience and context. But before thinking about integrating a global vernacular, perhaps the other urgency would be to designate our vernacular on a national scale. But that’s a whole other story, which will probably be covered in a future column.
Rachid Achachi is a consultant and respeccted commentator who writes for Le 360, which is where a french language version of this article originally appeared.