The Impact of French Colonization on African Variations of Arabic

In Language by Koubra Haggar

“Jeeb ley lunettes-y min chambour-y” 

If you are bilingual or multilingual, think about a time you were around people who speak the same languages as you, whether that be with your parents, siblings, or friends. If you all speak both (or all three, or all four) languages, the chances are, while you are speaking with this person, you will go back-and-forth between these languages, or include words from the second language within a sentence of a first language. 

French-colonized African countries like Chad, Morocco and Algeria have all experienced cultural shifts due to colonization. One of the most evident examples of that is the way French has moulded language in those countries. What is unique about Chadian Shuwa Arabic or Moroccan Darija is the fusion of multiple languages to make what those languages are today. 

The first sentence of this piece is an example sentence from the Chadian variation of Arabic. Notice how italicized words lunettes and chambour (chambre) are French replacements for what would actually be the words nazhaaraat for glasses and ghurfa for room in standard Arabic. The French influence on countries such as Chad and Morocco goes way beyond language, that is for sure, but it is very important to point out how communication in these countries has been impacted by colonial influence.

One important characterization of the Chadian variation of Arabic is the fact that all strong letters in the Arabic language are deleted. This means that any distinctive phoneme such as the ص ,ح ,ق ,ع , is pronounced in a relaxed manner—the way in which a non-native speaker of the language would pronounce these letters. Although this is not universal, the vast majority of Chadians who speak Arabic locally speak with this defining characteristic. This is one way in which French has not only impacted the words within the language but also the pronunciation of Arabic words in Chadian Arabic.

What is interesting about Moroccan Darija is that although French has a great impact on the language, Spanish is also part of the fusion. This makes sense because of Spain’s proximity to Morocco and the years of trade between the two countries. But these two languages are also overpowered by Berber language influence on Moroccan Darija . Morocco being an ex-French colony means that a large portion of the Moroccan population is also fluent in French. Language development, especially in a colloquial setting, is heavily influenced by every language that is found within that same environment. 

Here is a list of words that stem from French in Moroccan Darija:

EnglishMoroccan Darija FrenchModern Standard Arabic 
Ice creamLa glaceCrème glacéeBuzha (بوظة)
PoolPiscine PiscineHawdh al Sabaha (حوض السباحة)
TableTablaTable Taawila (الطاولة)
KitchenCuisina CuisineMatbakh (مطبخ)
ForkFourchettaFourchetteShoka (شوكة)
CarL’auto(Automobile) VoitureSayara (سيارة)

  One component about colonization in African countries that were already composed of independent tribes in the past is that colonization forced these tribes to interact and communicate even in situations where this was not necessary previously. Tribes within Chad speak their own languages, but French colonization made it so that these tribes had to learn a new language in order to communicate with each other. Now, of course, one of the languages is French itself, but Chadian Arabic came to be when these tribes had to interact to formulate their own language of communication. Many northern tribes of the country already had a base of Arabic due to trade and Islam, but southern Christian tribes did not have this base, therefore both parties had to work to put language together, from French as well as Arabic influence on the region.

Here is a list of words that stem from French in the Chadian variation of Arabic: 

EnglishChadian Shuwa (Arabic) French Modern Standard Arabic 
HospitalLaptanL’hôpital Mustashfaa (مستشفى)
Plate, CupTaassa (plate) Tasse (cup)Finjaan (cup) (فنجان)/ Tabaq (plate) (طبق)
SocksSossette Chaussettes Jawarib (جوارب)
ShirtChémisseChemise Qamis (قميص)
ElectricityCorant Courant électrique Kahraba (كهرباء)
BananaBanane BananeMoz (موز)

The way in which language is moulded in every part of the world is very intriguing and to track the way colonization has impacted language and the way in which people communicate is very important. Chad and Morocco are just two out of the many examples of colloquial language being impacted by European colonization. It is important to note that, through colonization, a lot of culture and tradition have been erased. Language has been erased. Despite this, these cultures remain vibrant and, in this way, combat colonialism each and every day.