“80 words from Morocco”, by Kenza Sefrioui: discover the country through the musicality and flavor of the verb

The Arabic words “chûkrân!” », “flûs” or even “mechwi” mean something to you? The first two have the translation thank you and money

“80 words from Morocco”, by Kenza Sefrioui: discover the country through the musicality and flavor of the verb

The Arabic words “chûkrân!” », “flûs” or even “mechwi” mean something to you? The first two have the translation thank you and money. As for the third, it designates the roast sheep of holidays which, shortened to “chwa” figuratively means to bully, mishandle, or even cause severe pain. Thus it is said: “Chwa li qalbi, he broke my heart. »

These different explanations are found in 80 words from Morocco, a work recently published by the journalist and essayist Kenza Sefrioui. Lovers of languages ​​and culture will be delighted to find, behind a seemingly modest work, a work of great richness and a true literary invitation to discover Morocco.

One of the major difficulties encountered by the author during the development of the book was making the necessary choices at each stage. Firstly that of the language – Arabic or Amazigh, the two official languages ​​of the country. “The overview of Morocco proposed in this book is in Moroccan Arabic that I offer it to you. Not for the sake of excluding or minimizing other languages, in particular Amazigh languages, but because Darija is ultimately the common denominator of the majority of Moroccans (…),” she decides, after having traced a historical-linguistic inventory of the country.

Second difficulty and not the least: the very selection of words. 80 only according to the principle of the collection, which requires sorting which is all the more important since the Arabic language has more than 12,000. A look at the table of contents of the book as well as the other elements of paratext – preface by linguist Zakia Iraqui Sinaceur, page dedicated to transcription, pronunciation guide – allows you to understand the general principle that guided the author. Namely a clever mix between a scientific approach and the exhilaration of a subjective story.

Passion for the Arabic language

The erudition of the subject is indeed there. We understand this from the introduction to the book, when Kenza Sefrioui recounts how her passion for the Arabic language pushed her in 2005, when she was a literary critic at the Weekly Journal, to create a section entitled “The essence of words » dedicated to the darija.

This space “allowed him to focus on a word each week, often linked to current events or discussions of the day. At this period, in the wake of the Boulevard des Jeunes Musiciens festival, urban music, rap, slam and even cinema, renewed creation in Darija.

These lexicon connotations will be found in 80 words from Morocco where each end of the article is embellished with quotes, song titles and other nods to artistic creation. But the essential scientific reference – essential? – on which the author relies is the monumental Colin Dictionary of Moroccan Dialectal Arabic, a work in eight volumes developed by Georges Séraphin Colin, a French civil servant who arrived in Morocco in 1921.

A graduate of Oriental Languages ​​from Paris, Colin spoke Arabic and “was interested in all lexical areas: music, architecture, plant and animal names, culinary arts, customs, religious practices, medicine, magic. From his informants, people from all walks of life, he gleaned words, proverbs, idiomatic expressions, metaphors,” explains Kenza Sefrioui.

A cultural and literary walk

The 60,000 Bristol cards that he wrote before his death in 1977 provide the content of his dictionary and “constitute a photograph of Moroccan civilization in the 20th century”. Published in 1993, the work became unobtainable in the early 2000s. Kenza Sefrioui pleads for its reissue and considers his 80 words from Morocco as a true tribute to Colin, “a rewriting, with the aim of making him rediscovered”, underlines- she modestly.

However, it would be insufficient to reduce the author's choices to a tribute. Because beyond this referential foundation, his book can be appreciated for what it is: a cultural and literary walk in Morocco through 80 key words chosen for the plurality of their meanings, their heritage dimension, but also the resonances that they can have in different areas. One example among others: the term nûba, which in French became nouba.

“It is the central form of al-Âla, Andalusian music, dating back to the 7th century, we learn. In the 18th century there were twenty-four, one for each hour of the day. This was the music played at each changing of the guard. The Moroccan corpus was then reduced to eleven (…) » Nûba, will evolve in “turns”, then will become “the one whose turn it is, lli fîh ennûba, to whom it falls to act” before passing still thinking about delegation of power...

Structured in seven thematic chapters, the book moves the reader fluidly between the elements of our terrestrial environment (the sea, the star, the rain, etc.), the beings that we are, crossed by emotions or led to experience relationships social (conversation, politeness), including monetary, commercial, professional issues, which are also discussed, as well as the world of the arts or the much awaited for Morocco of cuisine and culinary flavors. .

On each page of this repertoire, which reads like a novel, Kenza Sefrioui brilliantly takes on the challenge of making us discover her country through the musicality and flavor of her words. Morocco on the tip of the tongue.