Life in Morocco is a linguistic feast.
In our small village in the Imlil valley, we’ll quite often have what we call ‘a four language day’ which, apart from leaving us mentally exhausted, also feels like an event to be savoured and celebrated.
When you pass through Imlil in the High Atlas – on your way to summit Toubkal, or to scale some amazing ice falls, or maybe just to enjoy the deep, calm green of the valley – you’ll more than likely overhear the regional dialect of Berber (Tashelhayt), the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, alongside the widely spoken French. For us on the days mentioned above, the fourth language is, thankfully, one we actually speak well – English.
But have you ever wondered at the meanings of the names of some of those places you pass through? Or of the mountains you’ve come to summit? Or of the villages with their rock-red houses clinging to the steep sides of the valleys?
If so, then here is a brief linguistic guide to the High Atlas just for you:
The name of our cluster of villages, Imlil, comes quite simply from the Tashelhayt verb ‘to be white’.
Toubkal itself is an Arabic word and it’s often coupled with Jbel which means ‘mountain’ in the dialectal Arabic here. In Tashelhayt, the name for the whole Toukbal mountain range is Adrar n’Dern – ‘mountain of the mountains’ and also refers to a particular summit.
What about the other 4000m peaks?
Timzguida means ‘mosque’ in Tashelhayt.
Ras is the dialect Arabic word for head.
Akioud seems to have varying meanings – it can simply mean the summit of a mountain or, more interestingly, ‘a tuft of hair left on the back of shaved head’.
Afella – top, rooftop, upstairs, terrace. That’s why you feel like you’re on top of the world when you summit J
Biginoussene, Ouanakrim and Immouzer are still eluding me – feel free to let me know if you’ve discovered their meaning!
Aguelzim is a pickaxe – the mountain is a similar shape to the angular tools they use here for breaking up the ground.
Angour is not a word to throw around too much in polite company here – it means ‘buttock’.
Anywhere starting with ‘Tizi’ signifies a col or mountain pass. And a village starting with ‘Ait’ means that that particular tribe or family first settled that place. ‘Ait Bougamez’ for example is where the Bougamez tribe settled and still live. A place name might also start with Imi – meaning ‘mouth’ or ‘doorway’. Imi-n-wassif literally means the mouth of the river. Azrou means ‘rock’.
Tafraout is a pool of water, a mini reservoir, not just an amazing climbing venue – we have one just up the hill from us here. Taghia can mean a ‘slipknot’.
Interested in finding out more? Leave a comment and we’ll do our best to discover the meanings of more place names you might come across on your travels here!
Disclaimer: each region – sometimes each valley or each village – has its own particular set of vocabulary and so you may well hear other meanings to some of the words listed above!