As in much of the greater Sephardic world, the Jews of Morocco have long used multiple languages within North Africa and broader Mediterranean networks. Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish, Berber, and Arabic were among the idioms in common usage, distributed across various ritual contexts, social environments, and geographic regions. Yet, the early twentieth century marked a significant language shift that captured the interest of French colonial forces that occupied Morocco from 1912 – 1956. Reducing a much more dynamic linguistic environment to a single channel of transformation, colonial linguists focused predominantly on Arabic as the language of a receding Moroccan Jewish past and French as the language of more promising future. This presentation considers how such studies represented Moroccan Jews as both indigenous North Africans limited by their Oriental language and potentially modern subjects of the colonial project.  I conclude by considering how French colonial research continues to inform the study of Modern Judeo-Arabic, particularly with respect the relationship between spoken and written language.

Oren Kosansky

(Lewis & Clark College)

Maurice Amado Sephardic Studies Series

Sponsored by the:
UCLA Center for Jewish Studies