Maxine Magtoto, Third Place

Braving a New Frontier: the Case for Moroccan Linguistics

In Morocco, words do not interact with one another as they normally would. Rather than fall into a sequence, they twist and turn in tandem as phonetics with no common father, leaving all and nothing between the gaps. They are waves, teasing outwardly towards the periphery and losing momentum as they clash. Regardless, they resign themselves to a peaceful co-existence, choosing diversity over uniformity. There is a beauty to this—perhaps this is a glimpse into our future, where languages are constantly uniting to celebrate their difference.

Yet in a century where conflict is even more pronounced, the implications of a multilingual culture remain vague. It begs the question: is this true diversity, or is it merely compliance? Is there equality in this society, or has compromise simply spawned breeding grounds for intercultural conflict?

The battle for linguistic equality in Morocco has been a rather long and unfulfilling one. While multilingualism is far from a novel concept, Morocco differs from most countries in the historical nuance that pervades it. Racial intolerance is deeply yet subtly ingrained in their rhetoric, voiding the land that otherwise brings these communities together. Concurrently, a linguistic hierarchy invalidates the words that fail to meet the cut.

Much of this can be explained by how the nation’s reign of opulence and prosperity was brought to an abrupt end by the force of European imperialism. The Berber people, the first inhabitants of Moroccan land, met the end of their autonomy following Arabian conquest in 700 AD. Between the 11th to 16th centuries, however, the Berber people overcame the power struggle, taking Morocco once more before succumbing once again to the Arab’s dominion. By the 20th century, the nation had seen roof-shattering levels of political instability.  France eventually established a protectorate following the 1911 Crisis of Agadir, for in their budding desires for nationalism and autarky, European powers saw Morocco as the ideal prospect.

Though Morocco had been treated as a sovereign state throughout this whole endeavour, their realm of control over their educational, political, and social systems was largely limited. To this day, their colonial past lingers on: French is seen as a vehicle for upward mobility, being the official language of all tertiary institutions and the greater Moroccan workforce.

Several moments in history have been coloured by their triumphs over power imbalance.  The successful EDSA People Power Revolution in the Philippines showed that strength could be championed through peace and rationality. The Newsboys’ strike of 1899, in demanding more humanising pay schemes, sparked change not only in a whole generation of paperboys and vendors but the journalism industry at large. Words have always found themselves championing revolutionary measures against injustice, and this fact is constantly making itself known to us.

My best friend Amina often speaks of her experiences with linguistic discrimination. Hailing from Burkina Faso, she has studied in Morocco for most of her teenage life. While she carries four languages with her, she is not confident in any of them. The word ‘culture’, as it traditionally stands, is ill-fitting. It fails to capture the nuance that permeates her narrative. “Because of my darker skin, people don’t assume I can speak French,” she said. “It’s kinda sick how much I want to prove them wrong.” She makes a point of counting the days until our reunion in Canada, a nation whose relationship with language is similarly complex.

Alternatively, her friend Rihab touched on how religion and social attitudes factor in. An Arab-Berber, her demographic represents 99.1% of Morocco’s population. She soon discusses a fleeting moment of vulnerability from her childhood: “It’s only in hindsight that you see how ridiculous all of this stuff is. I remember this one time from when I was younger, and it makes me cringe in embarrassment all the time,” she says. “At school, not speaking French well meant you got bullied. And in my bubble of self-righteousness, I don’t really hesitate to put myself on a pedestal.”

As she prepares to pursue tourism in a French university this coming school year, she finds herself pondering over this experience a lot. “Soon, I’ll be devoting my life to French tourism. If I continue to think of language as [being in a] hierarchy, I would be doing a disservice to both myself and others.”

Unfortunately, this linguistic battle spares no one. The term ‘abuse’ is very loosely, if at all defined in Morocco’s legislative circles. In its most extreme, it funnels into corrupt policies for residential segregation and workplace discrimination, especially towards disparaged communities: Black Moroccans, Jews, and many of the other marginalised populations within Morocco’s borders continue to be pushed to the forefront of the conflict. “So it really sucked,” Rihab added, “that our arguments became this… competition of victimhood. The insults that followed were awful. No one was willing to let the other speak, and in the accusations that followed, nothing was solved. The worst thing? It’s pretty normalised.”

Yet the horizons of Morocco ring with hymns for justice. As the younger generation prepares to take over the workforce, they take with them more languages than there have ever been. This time, however, the processes that underlie this linguistic shift are no longer problematic, even seeing the emergence of entirely new dialects, speech patterns, and cultures.

In a discussion with Emilija, a former mentor and graduate student at Vilnius University with a focus in sociolinguistics, she said: “Much of the fear surrounding where our nations are going is… quite misplaced! Everything that makes up a ‘nationality’ is just growing more and more complex, and with that, the way people interact with one another.”

Perhaps it is through this new chapter that scholars and laymen alike reclaim a history of strife and subordination, thereafter coming into their own. In Morocco, they speak of life in three, four, and five tongues, breathing in the shores of this new world as they step into the light once more.


Third Place: Maxine Magtoto, from Pasig City, Philippines, for “Braving A New Frontier: The Case for Moroccan Linguistics.”  Maxine attends Brent International School Manila and is in 11th Grade.


Maxine Magtoto is of the belief that good writing is the key to any good connection: in a world where both performative advocacy and hate crimes can be isolating, people mistake the loudness of their voices for truth, and as such, live within the vacuum of a misguided reality. But good writing offers a silent retreat from this conflict, coaxing self-reflection and sympathy where there previously was none. Having moved from country to country so often, writing has been one of the only constants in her life, even when the languages themselves would change. She is truly honoured to have found Writing for Peace, and have high hopes in its mission to promote harmony and goodwill through prose: regardless of where it comes from.


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