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Summary of DE Ruiter's Morocco’s Languages and Gender: Evidence From the Field

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Since its inception in the 1970s,the field of language and gender has evolved into a vibrant research area that has witnessed an explosion of publications in the new millennium. Without a shadow of a doubt, different languages existed in Morocco long time ago; namely Amazigh (including its three variants Tarfit, Tashlhit, and Tamazight), Moroccan Arabic (Darija),and Classical Arabic which came as a result of the Islam’s spread in the north African countries.

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The interaction of gender and language can-not be treated as sui-generis in the abstract; it needs to be groundedin real life conditionings and experiences so that it can be decon-structed analytically. Gender performances and women’s agency inthe Moroccan socio-cultural context need to be examined in rela-tion to four sets of factors: (i) the larger power structures that con-stitute Moroccan culture: history, geography, Islam, multilingualism,orality, social organization, economic status, and political system, (ii)social variables (geographical origin, class, level of education, jobopportunity, language skills, and marital status), (iii) contextual vari-ables (physical setting, interlocutor, topic, and purpose of conversa-tion), and (iv) identity variables (motives, saliency, and immediateinterest)

These factors interact in a dialectic way and deeply influencethe system of viewing the world conceptually, the ideology, beliefs, values, and ways of meaning for Moroccan men and women. It isin this interaction that individual and collective identities, as well asgender roles, are continuously constructed, negotiated, and subverted.The interaction of the three factors which influence gender percep-tion, gender subversion and language use show that the social andindividual differences of Moroccan women can be understood onlywithin the Moroccan socio-cultural context.

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In her excellent study on the relationship between gender and language inMorocco, Sadiqi (2003) argues that Standard Arabic is a male language; thatBerber is a female language; that Moroccan Arabic is both a male and a femalelanguage, but more a male language in rural areas; and that French is a femaleand male language, but more a female language in urban areas (Sadiqi, p. 218).She puts this picture into perspective by saying that “this dichotomousqualification of Moroccan languages is not rigid as women and men may usevarious languages according to context.” The aim of her qualification is basically “to draw attention to the fact that the use of languages in Moroccoaffects and is affected by gender” (p

218). Sadiqi’s idea to label languages interms of male and female fits in well with the ideological setting in which shewrote her study. Seeking to define the role of females in Moroccan society from the perspective of the languages used, she investigates the emancipation ofwomen in society and, in doing so, has investigated how the languages used arelinked to the sexes. Her approach is not of an empirical nature, and she does notexclude, as we shall see below, that language choices may change throughfuture modifications in Moroccan society, be they of a social, political oreconomic nature.

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In conclusion, the choice and use of language by Moroccan women is partof negotiating the power related to gender making and creating. Up to now, linguistic issues in Morocco have been largely subordinated to broad historical and cultural discussions, and it is high time we looked at them interms of how Moroccan women make use of the linguistic resources available to them in order to assert themselves.

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Ruiter, J.J. de (2006). Les jeunes Marocains et leurs langues Paris: l’Harmattan,Espaces Discursifs, 44.

Sadiqi, F. (2003). Women, Gender and Language in Morocco, in: Women and Gender –the Middle East and the Islamic World.

Leiden/Boston: Brill, 1.Youssi, A. (1992). Grammaire et lexique de l'arabe marocain moderne. Casablanca:Wallada.

Youssi, A., F. Benjelloun, M. Dahbi & Z. Iraqui-Sinaceur (eds.) (2002). In honour of David Cohen. Aspects of the Dialects of Arabic Today. Rabat: AMAPATRIL.

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