Event: Arabic Flagship Roundtable (Hester Hall, 20 November 2015)
For the final Flagship roundtable meeting of the year, Professor Aisha Mojan gave a presentation on her home country, Morocco. Her presentation focused in great detail on the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, known colloquially as Darija, and how it differed from and was similar to classical Arabic and other dialects. Darija is known for being vastly different from other Arabic dialects, up to the point where speakers of other dialects cannot understand Moroccans. Professor Mojan introduced the students (all of whom spoke either Egyptian or, like me, Syrian-Lebanese Arabic) to some basic Moroccan phrases. It is not only fascinating to see the vast differences between Moroccan Arabic and my “base” dialect (Lebanese), but also the similarities. Professor Mojan explained some of the connections of many Darija words to archaic classical Arabic, showing connections that tied Darija into the larger family of Arabic dialects. This was especially stunning for me because growing up I was always told that Moroccan Arabic was not actually Arabic because other Arabs could not understand it. But Aisha’s explanations of how Darija was connected to other versions of Arabic helped everyone obtain a new appreciation for how Darija was a fascinating variant on the versions of Arabic that we were already familiar with.
She also spoke at length on Moroccan culture, cuisine, and politics. She talked about the various culinary influences from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Europe that made Moroccan cuisine so unique. At the end of the presentation, when she was taking questions, I asked her what she thought were the biggest challenges facing Morocco today. She responded without hesitation that unemployment was Morocco’s greatest problem, as it prevented people from contributing to building up Morocco’s economy and also provided an opening for political unrest.