Purity and contamination: Language ideologies in French colonial native policy in Morocco

Katherine Elizabeth Hoffman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Among French scholars and administrators during the French Protectorate of Morocco (1912-1956), especially prior to World War II, there was both a great belief in, and widespread suspicion of, a group's language as a reliable indicator of its ethnicity. Legend among the Ida ou Zeddout Berber people of southwestern Morocco holds that Captain Ropars, who ran the French Protectorate's Anti-Atlas mountain military post in Igherm from 1949-1954, not only spoke the Tashelhit Berber language, but also ordered the local men to do so under threat of imprisonment. "You're Ishelhin (Tashelhit speakers)," he allegedly told people in this collective memory as recounted to me. "You should speak Tashelhit, not Arabic." The widespread eighteenth- and nineteenth-century idea of Volkgeist ("soul of the folk") that Ropars evoked has become commonplace today. A group's language is often considered to function as what Herder called the "treasury of the thought of an entire people" and "the mirror of its history, its deeds, joys and sorrows" (in Bauman and Briggs 2003: 169"70; see also Lorcin 1999: 44), and even what Abbey Condillac earlier called the "genius of each people" (Steedly 1996: 447). Captain Ropars followed Samuel Johnson's claim that identifying languages was the same as identifying "nations," and, as Irvine and Gal paraphrase, "a logical first step in comparing, understanding, and ordering [nations'] relations to each other and to Europeans" (2000: 50). Yet, other French Protectorate administrators and scholars saw the link between language and primordial ethnicity as false, since histories of language use may be obscured or simply uninterrogated by a group's members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)724-752
Number of pages29
JournalComparative Studies in Society and History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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