Signs of the phonetics of Moroccan French

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[This is a guest post by Scott Mauldin]

I recently visited Marrakesh and was fascinated by the signs that I submit in the attached photographs. Ostensibly these were originally a kind of business sign that artisans and professionals could hang on their businesses or homes to advertise their profession, but they have evolved into something slightly different for touristic consumption as they now sometimes feature the faces of celebrities or even items.

They're interesting in themselves as a cultural item, but if you look closely at the photos the truly fascinating bit are the "errors" and deviations from standard French spelling. These signs are often made by artisans without a formal education in French and sometimes are phonetic renderings that encode Maghrebi French pronunciations.

Some of the examples pictured:

[Center, blue] Deffonce de fumer (défense de fumer – smoking prohibited)

[Top center, purple] Kini (kiné(sithérapeute) – physical therapist)

[Left, blue] Retrété (retraité – retiree)

Second photo: vogzvagn (Volkswagen)

Another very interesting one I saw (but I could not manage a photo) was "medcin des poumo" (médecin des poumons – lung doctor), encoding a complete loss of the nasal n.

I have a few more photos if they're of interest.

Selected readings


  1. Martin Schwartz said,

    May 10, 2023 @ 10:51 pm

    Scott Mauldin's photo is a fine set-up for his presentation.
    I once spent an afternoon going through a souk (sūq) in
    Tangier(s), locally called Tanja, hoping to find some
    Arabo-Andalusian 78 r.p.m. discs; no such luck. SM's photo makes me wistfully wonder if such may lurk somewhere in that shop….

  2. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    May 11, 2023 @ 7:06 am

    The merger of /ɑ̃/ and /ɔ̃/ is not specific to Moroccan French. There are definitely speakers of European French who merge down all nasals into only two sounds (especially since the merger of /œ̃/ and /ɛ̃/ is pretty much standard France French nowadays).

    "Retrété" reflects a nonstandard, but common tendency to turn /ɛ/ and /e/ into allophones because /e/ does not occur at all in closed syllables in French, so some speakers, particular in Southern France, use /ɛ/ in all closed syllables and /e/ in all open syllables. The opposite is reflected in the loss of the accent in "medcin". When the middle syllable is elided, French doesn't really allow for a /e/ in the first syllable.

  3. Peter Taylor said,

    May 11, 2023 @ 8:22 am

    Vendeur de cocayene?

  4. cameron said,

    May 11, 2023 @ 9:54 am

    I'd be interested to see the text above what appears to be a picture of Tintin near the top of the first picture.

  5. Platon Arnold said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 2:41 am

    "Dintist" is also very cool. Can hear the Maghrebi French accent in it .

  6. Keith said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 6:15 am

    @Peter Taylor, there's also "vendeur de hache".

    Oh, and a slightly gruesome "circoncion" (for circoncision)

    There's an interesting plaque showing a cat, apparently named Faruc, in that picture. I found a brief discussion of it and a better photo on Reddit. It definitely looks like it was inspired by "Chat aux poissons rouge" by Matisse.

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