Dissertation Support Grant

Kristin Gee Hickman, Anthropology


My dissertation investigates Moroccans' unconventional relationship to their mother tongue, Darija, a regional Arabic dialect that is both unwritten and officially unrecognized. Long relegated to the confines of everyday speech, Darija has become increasingly present in domains previously reserved for classical Arabic (Fusha): education, the press, and audiovisual media. These challenges to Morocco's linguistic hierarchies have been largely welcomed by outside commentators-heralded as a step towards transforming Darija into a full-fledged language. Yet, the vast majority of Moroccans remain unseduced by the idea of a vernacular revolution, i.e. the official replacement of Fusha with a standardized written Darija. Taking this skepticism of vernacular revolution as its starting point, my dissertation uses contemporary Casablanca as a case to ethnographically investigate how Moroccans are engaging in diverse projects that reimagine Darija by challenging both Morocco's linguistic hierarchies and Western trajectories of vernacularization. By following a wide-range of actors, from dictionary-makers to soap opera translators, I argue that Moroccans are enacting a linguistic revolution on their own terms: reimagining Darija not as a "language" but as what I call a public dialect: a form of speech that strives to be modern and cosmopolitan while simultaneously rejecting any imperatives to become standardized, officialized, or independent.



Kristin Gee Hickman is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on language politics and the place of colloquial Arabic (Darija) in contemporary urban Morocco.