Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

The Spanish Language Presence in Tangier, Morocco: A Sociolinguistic Perspective1

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

The Spanish Language Presence in Tangier, Morocco: A Sociolinguistic Perspective1

Article excerpt


While research on the presence of the Spanish language outside Spain and the Americas has made considerable advances in recent years, it has concerned itself primarily with the Philippines (Quilis 1992, Lipski 2001), Equatorial Guinea (Granda 1991, Lipski 1985), and less frequently with other regions where Spanish is acquiring importance as a foreign language (Quilis 2000). North Africa, on the other hand, has failed to attract similar attention in spite of its close geographic and historical links with Spain and the uninterrupted presence of the Spanish language there since the 15th century. Few references signal such presence (Heath 1989, Silva-Corvalán 1995, Quilis 2002) but detailed studies are still lacking. Moreno Fernandez's 1992 article on Spanish in Oran and later his brief review "El español en el mosaico lingüístico del Magreb", represent two of the few contemporary contributions on the topic. Another contribution is Tarkki's 1995 analysis of Spanish as it is spoken by the Saharawi refugees in Tinduf (Algeria). As for Northern Morocco, current research is often in the form of unpublished doctoral dissertations (Amzid 1997, Ghailani 1997, El Harrak 1998) or other unedited projects produced mainly at L'Université Abdelmalek Saadi (Tetouan) where the only department of Spanish in former Spanish Morocco is located. Much of this investigation, however, is often limited to the identification of Spanish lexical and semantic borrowings into local varieties of Moroccan Arabic.

Hence, the object of this article is to explore the presence of Spanish in Northern Morocco from a distinct angle by analyzing the case of Tangier, a city where this language is still an important part of the local linguistic market (Bourdieu 1991). Through a sociolinguistic survey, I will describe the different levels of competence, the structural variation in Tangerine Spanish, and the speakers' attitude towards its use. In the conclusion, I will synthesize the findings and explore their implications for future research on Spanish in Northern Morocco and North Africa as a whole.


One serious difficulty in carrying sociolinguistic research in large North African cities concerns the strong variation in the socioeconomic and educational backgrounds of the population. In the case of Tangier, in addition to its long multicultural and multilingual history, the city has witnessed important demographic and economic changes during the last few decades with far-reaching effects. Since the Moroccan independence in 1956, there has been a dramatic descent in the number of European and Jewish residents accompanied by the arrival of waves of rural non-Spanish speaking immigrants. As a result, the distribution of competence in Spanish shows strong irregularities according to the speakers' personal histories rather than social groups making systematic sampling difficult and unproductive. Therefore, I have opted for a judgment sampling method rather than random sampling (Milroy and Gordon 2003: 30) since the latter could be misleading in this city with a growing population of more than half a million people.

The classification I am proposing in this study makes a distinction among three groups of Spanish speakers according to their level of competence: native speakers (including Tangerine Spaniards, temporary Spanish residents, and Sephardic Jews), proficient Moroccan speakers (including balanced-bilingual speakers and advanced learners), and finally non-proficient Moroccans (including uneducated speakers and non-Tangerine Moroccans). Data from the three groups were collected both through ethnohistoric investigation and fieldwork research. Through semi-directed interviews, audio recording of spontaneous natural speech, and participant-observation over two summers in Tangier, I collected data on the knowledge and use of Spanish from forty-one subjects. In the case of native speakers, fourteen informants, ten males and four females, were contacted in Spanish-related settings including La Casa de España, El Institute Cervantes, the Spanish high school, and private businesses. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.