Language, Part juj

There’s a word in Darija. It means “to collect”.

This word is pronounced jm3 (how do I pronounce 3?), and it’s written جمع.

I chose this particular word to illustrate a very common pattern in the language here. Many times, if you take a verb and add some extra sounds to the front, back, and/or in the middle, you end up with words that have a connotation related to the original verb.

Maybe that’s a little confusing. Let’s listen to jm3 and some of its related words:

  • to collect/gather (verb stem): jm3
  • mosque (where people collect to pray): j-jam3
  • association (a collection of people doing something similar): jm3iya
  • university (where people collect to study): jami3a
  • municipality (a government building that oversees people): jama3a
  • Friday (the main prayer day at the mosque): jumu3a
  • group (a collection of people): mjmu3a
  • total (the collection of all prices): mjmu3
  • the name of some girls: Jma3

If we really think about this pattern, we realize that it isn’t especially unique to Darija. We have such patterns in English, too. Look at the verb “to employ”. We have employer, employee, employment, employable, and employability that are all related to it.

So this concept isn’t a new one for me. However, these patterns do make learning the language a bit tougher.


Someone else: “Meet me in front of the mosque.”

Me: “The university? We have a university here?”

Someone else: “No, the mosque.”

Me: “Which association?”

Someone else: “No, the mosque!”

Me: “Oh, in front of the municipality.”

Someone else: “NO, THE MOSQUE!”

Me: “Okay, the mosque, I get it! Sorry.”


There’s another layer I don’t think I’ve yet mentioned fully in my blog. In my site many people speak an Amazigh dialect called Tamazight. There are many dialects of the overarching Tamazight language in Morocco which can be separated into three dialects: Tamazight (called “shilha” in my site, it is spoken generally in the east and southeast of the country), Tashel7it (in the south and southwest), and Tarafit (in the northern mountains).

Eventually I will learn the Tamazight dialect in order to integrate further into my community. Fortunately, my work here doesn’t absolutely require it. Until I start learning Tamazight to communicate with some of the older – sometimes illiterate – people in my community, I can focus my studies on Darija.

My language goal in Darija is to become “advanced low” by the end of this year. This shouldn’t prove too difficult because I achieved “intermediate middle” during my language placement interview. My Tamazight goal is to be “intermediate low” by the end of my Peace Corps service. And my French goal is to be “novice high” by the end of my service.

I Guess I’m a Teacher

I’ve been in Tiflet for only one month but I’ve already changed. I feel like I have passed the first bump in the Darija road. I know when one word ends and another begins; I can express what I have done in the past tense; new words are easier to learn now than others were a week ago.

But I have also changed professionally. PC Morocco has made me push my comfort boundaries further than ever before. Many of you know that I taught percussion over the summer, but until last Wednesday I had never taught in a classroom setting.

Feel free to call me Mr. Rogers now.

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My five CBT group mates and I each taught an English lesson at the local dar chebab (youth center). This was essentially a test run for what we could be doing in our final sites, so we all picked a topic and prepared a lesson plan. The lesson plans followed a specific format developed throughout the years by PC Morocco volunteers and staff. (As we become more comfortable in our final sites, we are free to change the format as needed.)

On Tuesday, Nikita taught ordinal numbers and the top ten countries in terms of size. Wednesday is when I taught basic music theory. On Thursday, Matt taught language used in American restaurants and Andreina taught nutrition and food groups. Then on Friday, Caleb taught language used in sports and Bethan taught opposites.

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Many of us taught English for the first time.
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The youth and adults alike were eager to learn and apply their new knowledge.
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Seeing them challenge themselves while having fun was immensely inspiring.
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One week of teaching down… two years to go!

I chose to teach music theory for a couple key reasons other than my passion for and background in music. First, there is interest. One day I asked Majid, my LCF, about music education in Morocco. He told me that many Moroccans don’t know the theory behind the music they play, despite inherent rhythmic talent around the country. Because music is an integral part of the culture, he said Moroccans would be extremely interested in learning theory. His thoughts were echoed by a few other of my closest Moroccan friends, including one of my host brothers.

Second, music seems to be one of the main reasons I was selected for PC. Four of the eight regional managers, one of whom will be my main point of contact throughout my service, came to Tiflet during training to interview each of us about our final sites.

We spoke for nearly 20 minutes about my skills, interests, and preferences. While I expressed no preference about my site, we did discuss my film and music backgrounds in depth. The managers seemed very interested in projects I had brainstormed and even gave me ideas of possible projects. They absolutely strive to place volunteers in sites where we can use our skills while also meeting the needs and wants of the communities.

(cover image and video by Andreina Santamaria, aka Jamila)

Term of Today: shwiya

Language…

as I’ve written before, is the key to integration. While I learn the language, there are words that become more important to me than others. Reasons can range from the words’ utility, anecdotal significance, ease of remembrance, or humor. My Term of Today series will dissect the importance of certain Darija words and give you a whiff of what’s going on here in Morocco.

Word: shwiya

Translation: little

Importance: shwiya was one of the first few Darija phrases I learned and it has quickly become one of my most spoken. I’ve used it in two ways:

1) It helps define how much I understand. Native speakers in any language usually speak faster than a language learner’s understanding can match. My host family situation is no different. Following four hours of Darija class in which my teacher speaks slowly and clearly, I come home for lunch and suddenly the pace of dialogue is lightyears faster. I recognize a word every now and then; I often smile out of sheer arrogance. But then my family turns their attention to me and ask, “Fhmti?” (“Do you understand?”). My response? “shwiya.”

2) It’s necessary to indicate that I am learning Darija. The phrase shwiya b shwiya was one of the first I learned and it is now probably my most used. It’s a failsafe phrase that I use after struggling through any sentence with the little vocabulary I already know. For example, today my older host sister (to whom I’ve given the American name Stacy) asked who I went to the cafe with. I answered, “hay’Aat salam… sabki… smitu Matt… u khu – khuya – khuh… juj khuh. Darija, shwiya b shwiya” (Literally, “Peace Corps… my friend… his name is Matt… and brother – my brother – his brother… two his brother. Darija, little by little.”) And, without fail, whoever has been patient enough to listen to me tear their language apart will repeat “shwiya b shwiya” with a huge understanding grin. Then we both laugh.

Language, Part wa7d

1 wa7d, 2 juj, 3 tlata, 4 rb3a, 5 khmsa, 6 stta, 7 sb3a, 8 tmnya, 9 ts3ud, 10 3shra

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Darija & Technology

Darija is a purely verbal language. You can write its words in Arabic script, but due to the variance in pronunciation, one person may spell a word different than another. What complicates Darija even further is the factor of technology. Cell phone use is increasing throughout many parts of the world, and I haven’t seen anyone in Morocco – save some older community members – without a cell phone.

Phone keyboards, however, are often limited to the Latin alphabet. To compensate for this, Moroccans write words in Latin script that more or less represent what they sound like in Darija. They know Latin sounds likely from the French they studied in secondary school.

We now must take into account the Arabic sounds that don’t exist in the Latin alphabet:

Arabic character: ض
Transcription character: D
Sound: like English “d” but with greater tension in the tongue and throat

Arabic character: ص
Transcription character:
S
Sound: like English “s” but with greater tension in the tongue and throat

Arabic character: ط
Transcription character:
T
Sound: 
like English “t” but with greater tension in the tongue and throat

Arabic character: ق
Transcription character:
q
Sound: 
like English “k” but pronounced further back in the throat

Arabic character: خ
Transcription character:
kh
Sound: 
like the “ch” in the German “Bach”; some people use this sound to say yech!

Arabic character: غ
Transcription character:
gh
Sound: 
like the “kh” sound above, but pronounced using your voice box; similar to the French “r”

Arabic character: ح
Transcription character:
7
Sound: 
like English “h”, except pronounced deep in the throat as a loud raspy whisper

Arabic character: ع
Transcription character:
3
Sound: 
approximated by pronouncing the “a” in “fat” with the tongue against the bottom of the mouth and from as deep in the throat as possible

(source: Peace Corps Morocco, Moroccan Arabic textbook)

Moroccans use the transcription characters to represent the non-Latin-alphabet sounds. PC Morocco’s language model has evolved to better reflect this new cultural norm. As I understand it, the staj before mine didn’t use “q” or “7” or “3”. They used other letters until it became apparent Moroccans were using “q” and “7” and “3” on their cell phones. PC Morocco then changed its Darija textbook for my staj.

Note: PC Morocco uses a transcription approach to Darija, meaning we trainees follow the cell phone standard and use the Latin alphabet. I will mostly write Darija words in this alphabet, though I may accompany some words with the Arabic script.


Community-Based Training (CBT)

Six days a week you can find my five group mates and me in our Language and Cultural Facilitator’s (LCF’s) rented apartment. In the mornings Majid walks us through language lessons, some of the most recent being about possessive pronouns and conjugating the verb “to want”. Interspersed in the lessons is new vocabulary that we practice out loud, one at a time, to take with us to our host families and neighborhoods.

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Sometimes we have classes on the roof.

The lessons expand upon the Darija textbook. I like to read a little bit ahead, making it only slightly simpler to understand during the next day’s class. I also have begun a flashcard regimen that I review every night with my 8-year-old host sister. She’s learning English while I learn Darija, and we both enjoy helping each other.

Language classes are just one part of CBT. Afternoons are devoted to culture lessons and Arabic script. The former prevents us from making poor cultural mistakes – like hugging a member of the opposite sex in public – and helps us understand/participate in the culture further – like the opportunity to fast during Ramadan. The latter helps make life easier; after all, how will I know how to report my location in the case of emergency if I can’t read road signs? Or know what’s a hammam and what’s a dar chebab?

That is Majid’s job in a nutshell: teach six wide-eyed Americans Darija and how to exist positively in Moroccan culture. A third aspect of his job, though unofficial, is being our friend. He is only a year older than me and he has many of the same interests as all of us in his group. We have all visited a few cafes during culture sessions where we were free to ask questions and shoot the breeze. Though he’s still somewhat shy, I think he’ll become a close friend by the end of CBT.

Of Dirhams and Darija

This week the 109 newest Peace Corps Trainees are staying in a hotel south of Rabat, Morocco. It is a touristy area for Moroccans, meaning host country nationals (HCNs) visit here on weekends and especially during school holidays. The hotel lies a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean, a fact I only realized once I threw open my room’s shutters for the first time.

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This is clearly a beautiful place to ease into Moroccan language and culture.

After four intense days of medical presentations, language classes, and safety and security presentations at the hotel, Sunday was a self-directed learning day. Essentially we had the option to leave the hotel compound and surrounding area to use some of our new language “in real life”. A few of my closest friends here – Kelly, Matt, and Micah – and I paid 100 dirhams to get to the kasbah of Rabat. (We were greatly overcharged, but I’m going to let that slide.)


McDonald’s in the Kasbah

Wandering the streets of the kasbah and the medina within, we eventually came across a McDonald’s. Very authentic, right? But in our defense, it is fascinating to note how the McDonald’s menu changes around the world. In Rabat it wasn’t very different than in the States, just that some ingredients were left out or added to the usual menu items, and all the beef is halal.

“Salam,” I said happily to the cashier.

“Salam,” she replied.

Struggling to find the right words, I stuttered out, “McFlurry, s’il vous plaît.” I heard some Moroccans at the next register laugh. Not at me, inshallah, but I certainly heard it.

She smiled. “What kind?”

“Lion, please.”

The cashier turned around and quickly whipped up the Lion McFlurry. She soon placed it on a tray and slid the tray to me.

“Shukran,” I say.

“You’re welcome. Bon appetit.”

And that’s the story of how a McDonald’s employee and I spoke in three languages in 30 seconds.


Language: The Key to Integration

Language is the most critical element in integrating and assimilating into another culture. Here in Morocco people speak Darija, a western dialect of Arabic. Kids learn French as a second language in school, many add English or Spanish in high school, and there is a sizable Berber-speaking population found particularly in the south.

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All Maghrebi (western) dialects are blue. (source)

Critical to my success in learning Darija is my Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF), Abdelmajid. He is a thin, grinning, patient Moroccan hired by PC specifically to teach myself and the rest of my Community-Based Training (CBT) group how to speak Darija and to train us in Moroccan culture. I will describe CBT and Abdelmajid’s role in fuller detail in a future post.

My CBT group of six have had a few language learning sessions with Abdelmajid in the week at the hotel. We have focused mostly on introductory phrases and words, though Abdelmajid is preparing us with as much vocabulary as possible, spelling things in both Roman letters and Arabic script. The idea is to give us enough words so that we can communicate at the most basic level with our host families.

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Over the next ten weeks, all 109 trainees will scatter across the Khemmisset-Meknes-Fes area in their small CBT groups. My group is headed to TifletI don’t know much about it besides that around 70,000 people call it home and there are dozens of cafes (read: I should have WiFi access almost always.)

My CBT group – Matt, Andreina, married couple Caleb and Bethan, and Nikita – will meet our host families on Thursday. I for one can’t wait to continue pushing myself through the challenging language and to meet my new little brother or sister!

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Peace Corps Morocco orientation schedule.
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My CBT site, Tiflet, in relation to where I am now.
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Closer image. I am the gray dot on the left; Tiflet is on the right.