The Morphology of Moroccan Street Talk

Like the other Arabic dialects, Moroccan Arabic exhibits many similarities to Standard and Classical Arabic. Among the most entertaining is the use of the diminutive, which presents itself most often in street talk, or zanqawiyya. As we'll see, in Moroccan street talk, making someone 'smaller' makes them more dear to you.
At least in theory, all Arabic words possess a diminutive form called tasghir التصغير. This form is used to express a 'smaller' version of said word. You may be familiar with the -ito suffix in Spanish, which signifies the diminutive. In Spanish, papa means 'father' and papasito means 'little father'.

The Arabic dimunitive is formulaic. It involves pronouncing the first short vowel as a 'short u' sound, or damma, and adding a long vowel between the 2nd and 3rd root letters. A good example of this is Hasan and Hussein. Hussein is the diminutive form of Hasan, so literally 'little Hasan'. In Arabic you write it like this:

Base form: Hasan حَسَن
 Diminutive: Hussein حُسَين

The diminutive expresses a range of literal and figurative meanings both in Standard Arabic and Moroccan dialect. For instance, in Standard Arabic you say jubayl جُبَيل for 'small mountain' (diminutive of jabal جَبَل). Importantly for our discussion, you can also use the diminutive to exaggerate someone or express their greatness. The butayl بُطَيل is the great batal بَطَل, or champion.

In Moroccan dialect, the diminutive appears in several entertaining contexts. Most times, it is used to express intimacy between two speakers. This is most apparent in the zanqawiyya, or street talk used between friends.

Below is a typical greeting that I hear from neighbors in Fes Jdid:

A fin lrwayjil? أه فين الرَوَيجْل؟
What's up man?

Literally this phrase means: "Where are you going, little man?" You may recognize rwayjil الرويجل as the diminutive of rajl الرجل, which means 'man'. In this context, the use of the diminutive signals that the speaker is addressing his close friend, his 'man' or 'dude'. 

Here's a similar example:

 A fin wuld lmwima? أه فين ولد الْموِيَمة؟
What's up man?

Here again, the diminutive is used a term of endearment. The phrase wuld lmwima ولد المويمة literally means 'son of the little mother', and in this context is similar to the English phrase 'brother from another mother'. Calling someone wuld lmwima says to them that you consider them to be like your brother.

The diminutive can also, not surprisingly, be used to belittle someone. In different contexts, the word rwajil can be used as a challenge to someone's masculinity. The rwajil is the person who is still becoming a man, rajl. Maybe he is immature or unable to handle certain 'masculine' responsibilities (like having a girlfriend and/or taking care of her and/or defending her honor). Or maybe that person is physically inferior to another. Similarly, wuld lmwima, as seen in the second example above, can mean 'mama's boy'. 

We see this also in the phrase a-tali a3wisha التالي عويشة, which children say when they race each other, and literally means 'the last one is a little girl/Aisha (a popular girl's name)'. In other words, the slowest kid is a loser.

The last usage we'll discuss is the most literal. Often, Moroccans will use the diminutive when making a request for something or asking a favor of another person.

Here are some examples:

A3tini shay khobiza, Allah yar7am lwalidain. عطيني شي خُبِيزة الله يرحم الوالدين
Give me some bread [i.e a little piece of bread], May God Bless your Parents.

 A3tini shay shuriba dial ma2 a3ffak. عطيني شي شُرِيبة ديال الماء عفّك
Give me a drink [i.e. a little drink] of water, please.

Kain shay srayyif khoya? كاين شي صرَيِّف خويا؟
Do you have change [i.e. a little change], my brother?

In these instances, the diminutive acts almost as a plea to the person at our behest. By making this object of our request 'smaller', we are reducing the burden placed on the other party. However, this usage is not necessarily polite, and can be patronizing.

These examples are by no means exhaustive, and for practical purposes could never be. Moroccan dialect, and all other Arabic dialects, are vital languages that can be changed and adapted in almost any way that suits the speaker. Though they are related to Standard and Classical Arabic, it is this freedom and creativity which sets them distinctly apart.

A Note on Transliterations:

The numbers used in some transliterations above signify Arabic letters that have no English equivalents. They are as follows: 
3 = ع
2 =  ء
7 = ح
And I use 'kh' = خ 

 We can call this 'Standard Chat Arabic' and is commonly accepted online in instant messages.


  1. "The last is a little Aisha" probably refers to the narration where the Prophet and Aisha raced on foot two times.

    The first time, Aisha was younger and she won the race easily.

    The second time, Aisha had grown a little fatter after marriage and she lost, and the Prophet said "this erases the first".

    salallahu alayhi wa sallam wa radhi Allahu anha.


Post a Comment