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Abstract

This dissertation investigates standard language ideology as a key site of modern power in the postcolonial world through an archival and ethnographic examination of vernacular language politics in urban Morocco. Specifically, it examines how a very particular and historically contingent set of ideas about language—namely, that every nation-state should have its own language in which citizens carry out all aspects of their daily lives—has come to set the terms for debates over the Arabic language in contemporary Morocco. While explicit debates over language often seem to lay bare opposing linguistic ideologies, I argue that such debates in fact serve to both reinscribe and invisibilize standard language ideology as the common ground of discussion—in this case, further entangling Moroccan Arabic (dārija) speakers within the logics and sensibilities of postcolonial modernity even as they struggle to imagine alternative linguistic and national futures. The dissertation draws on historical research conducted in the archives of the French Protectorate in Morocco, as well as on ethnographic research carried out over a period of 21-months across three major Moroccan cities: Tétouan, Rabat, and Casablanca. By looking at a wide variety of sites—from colonial-era schools to contemporary dubbing studios—I locate fraught debates over the Arabic language within changing conceptualizations of what language is (or is not) and how it should (or should not) function. In particular, I focus not only on sites of text production, but also on sites of sound production. Similarly, I attend not only to Moroccan actors, but also to non-Moroccan others—particularly West African immigrants—who have become unexpectedly entangled in “the dārija question.” I show that over the course of the past century, such debates have facilitated the transformation of “dārija” from a mere adjectival modifier describing a type of language (al-lugha al-dārija, vernacular language) into a proper noun (Darija) understood to describe a particular national language. Further, I show that this reification of dārija into a national language of sorts has led to new and unexpected tensions about dārija as a local form of speech tethered to ethnic Moroccan bodies, versus the potential for dārija to be an anonymous public language that can be spoken by anyone by virtue of belonging to no one in particular. I argue that the Moroccan case exposes this as a core tension that has long existed at the heart of standard language ideology. Yet I conclude that the stakes in a postcolonial context like Morocco are higher than in the global north, as such a tension serves to further solidify a country’s location as marginal and never fully-modern—even while it remains stuck within the logics and sensibilities of modernity, and struggles to imagine futures beyond these confines.

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