Bridge of sukuns

There’s a nice piece on bridges in last Thursday’s L’Economiste, reporting a conference at the Ecole hassania des travaux publiques. Mustapha Qadery of UM5A spoke about his research on bridges, and particularly into why so many bridges in Morocco are reputed to have been built by the Portuguese, even when they are in parts of the country where the Portuguese never reached. It turns out that these Portuguese were less than entirely willing bridge-builders, and that there were large numbers of such bridges built in the reigns of Al Mansour Saadi in (1578-1601) and Moulay Ismail in (1672-1727). Both won famous victories over the Portuguese – at Ksar al-Kabir in 1578, and Larache in 1689, when a great many prisoners were taken and enslaved. So the Portuguese builders, far from being imperial engineers, were somewhat involuntary navvies. Portuguese nonetheless.

Also interesting (if rather demoralising) is a sentence in the article beginning: “Le peuple de “Brtqiz” (portugais en darija) était en effet …” Brtqiz? No wonder I’ve had such trouble learning darija – it is entirely bidoon harikat. When I used to buy oranges in Cairo I would ask for burtugal, or burtugan … big, brightly coloured words full of vowels. Brtqiz depresses me almost as much as my friend Abnbi, who turns out after intensive linguistic-forensic analysis to be called Abdel Nabi. Pragmatically and theoretically I see very clearly the usefulness – perhaps in the long-term inevitability – of education for literacy in darija. But I wonder, I wonder, how small children will survive on paper the fusillade of sukuns that is Morocco’s spoken tongue. Dive for cover?

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