The Berber languages, also known as Berber or the Amazigh languages (Berber name: Tamaziɣt, Tamazight; Neo-Tifinagh: ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ, Tuareg Tifinagh: ⵜⵎⵣⵗⵜ, pronounced [tæmæˈzɪɣt], [θæmæˈzɪɣθ]), are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. They comprise a group of closely related languages spoken by the Berbers, who are indigenous to North Africa. The languages were traditionally written with the ancient Libyco-Berber script, which now exists in the form of Tifinagh.
Berber is spoken by large populations of Morocco, Algeria and Libya, by smaller populations of Tunisia, northern Mali, western and northern Niger, northern Burkina Faso and Mauritania and in the Siwa Oasis of Egypt. Large Berber-speaking migrant communities, today numbering about 4 million, have been living in Western Europe, spanning over three generations, since the 1950s. The number of Berber people is much higher than the number of Berber speakers. The bulk of the populations of the Maghreb countries are considered to have Berber ancestors.
Around 90% of the Berber-speaking population speak one of seven major varieties of Berber, each with at least 2 million speakers. They are, in order of number of speakers: Shilha (Tacelḥiyt), Kabyle (Taqbaylit), Central Atlas Tamazight (Tamaziɣt), Riffian (internal: Tmaziɣt, external: Tarifiyt), Shawiya (Tacawit) and Tuareg (Tamaceq/Tamajeq/Tamaheq). The extinct Guanche language spoken on the Canary Islands by the Guanches as well as the languages of the ancient C-Group culture in present-day southern Egypt and northern Sudan are believed to have belonged to the Berber branch of the Afroasiatic family.
The Berber languages and dialects have had a written tradition, on and off, for about 2,500 years, although the tradition has been frequently disrupted by cultural shifts and invasions. They were first written in the Libyco-Berber abjad, which is still used today by the Tuareg in the form of Tifinagh. The oldest dated inscription is from 3rd century BCE. Later, between about 1000 CE and 1500 CE, they were written in the Arabic script, and since the 20th century they have been written in the Berber Latin alphabet, especially among the Kabyle and Riffian communities of Morocco and Algeria. The Berber Latin alphabet was also used by most European and Berber linguists during the 19th and 20th centuries.
A modernised form of the Tifinagh alphabet, called Neo-Tifinagh, was adopted in Morocco in 2003 for writing Berber, but many Moroccan Berber publications still use the Berber Latin alphabet. Algerians mostly use the Berber Latin alphabet in Berber-language education at public schools, while Tifinagh is mostly used for artistic symbolism. Mali and Niger recognise a Tuareg Berber Latin alphabet customised to the Tuareg phonological system. However, traditional Tifinagh is still used in those countries.
There is a cultural and political movement among speakers of the closely related varieties of Northern Berber to promote and unify them under a written standard language called Tamaziɣt (or Tamazight). The name Tamaziɣt is the current native name of the Berber language in the Moroccan Middle Atlas and Rif regions and the Libyan Zuwarah region. In other Berber-speaking areas, this name was lost. There is historical evidence from medieval Berber manuscripts that all indigenous North Africans from Libya to Morocco have at some point called their language Tamaziɣt. The name Tamaziɣt is currently being used increasingly by educated Berbers to refer to the written Berber language, and even to Berber as a whole, including Tuareg.
In 2001, Berber became a constitutional national language of Algeria, and in 2011 Berber became a constitutionally official language of Morocco. In 2016, Berber became a constitutionally official language of Algeria alongside Arabic.
|ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ, ⵜⵎⵣⵗⵜ, Tamaziɣt|
|North Africa, mainly Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, northern Mali and northern Niger; smaller Berber-speaking populations in Burkina Faso, Egypt, Mauritania and the Spanish city of Melilla, Morocco|
Berber-speaking Moroccan and Algerian immigrants of about 2 million in: France, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Italy, Canada and the United States
|ISO 639-2 / 5||ber|
Berber-speaking populations are dominant in the coloured areas of modern-day North Africa. The other areas of North Africa contain minority Berber-speaking populations.
The term Berber has been used in Europe since at least the 17th century and is still used today. It was borrowed from Latin barbari. The Latin word is also found in the Arabic designation for these populations, البربر (al-Barbar); see Names of the Berber people.
Etymologically, the Berber root M-Z-Ɣ (Mazigh) (singular noun: Amazigh, feminine: Tamazight) means "free man", "noble man", or "defender". The feminine Tamazight traditionally referred specifically to the Riffian and Central Atlas Tamazight languages. Many Berber linguists prefer to consider the term Tamazight as a pure Berber word to be used only in Berber text while using the European word "Berber/Berbero/Berbère" in European texts to follow the traditions of European writings about the Berbers. European languages distinguish between the words "Berber" and "barbarian", while Arabic has the same word al-Barbari for both meanings.
Some other Berber writers, especially in Morocco, prefer to refer to Berber with Amazigh when writing about it in French or English.
Traditionally, the term Tamazight (in various forms: Thamazighth, Tamasheq, Tamajaq, Tamahaq) was used by many Berber groups to refer to the language they spoke, including the Middle Atlas, the Riffians, the Sened in Tunisia and the Tuareg. However, other terms were used by other groups; for instance, some Berber populations of Algeria called their language Taznatit (Zenati) or Shelha, while the Kabyles called theirs Taqbaylit, and the inhabitants of the Siwa Oasis called their language Siwi. In Tunisia, the local Amazigh language is usually referred to as Shelha, a term which has been observed in Morocco as well.
Berber is a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. Since modern Berber languages are relatively homogeneous, the date of the Proto-Berber language from which the modern group is derived was probably comparatively recent, comparable to the age of the Germanic or Romance subfamilies. In contrast, the split of the group from the other Afroasiatic sub-phyla is much earlier, and is therefore sometimes associated with the local Mesolithic Capsian culture. A number of extinct populations are believed to have spoken Afroasiatic languages of the Berber branch. According to Peter Behrens and Marianne Bechaus-Gerst, linguistic evidence suggests that the peoples of the C-Group culture in present-day southern Egypt and northern Sudan spoke Berber languages. The Nilo-Saharan Nobiin language today contains a number of key pastoralism related loanwords that are of Berber origin, including the terms for sheep and water/Nile. This in turn suggests that the C-Group population — which, along with the Kerma culture, inhabited the Nile valley immediately before the arrival of the first Nubian speakers — spoke Afro-Asiatic languages.
Roger Blench has suggested that Proto-Berber speakers had spread from the Nile River valley to North Africa 4,000-5,000 years ago due to the spread of pastoralism, and experienced intense language leveling about 2,000 years ago as the Roman Empire was expanding in North Africa. Hence, although Berber had split off from Afroasiatic several thousand years ago, Proto-Berber itself can only be reconstructed to a period as late as 200 A.D. Blench noted that Berber is considerably different from other Afroasiatic branches, but modern-day Berber languages display low internal diversity. The presence of Punic borrowings in Proto-Berber points to the diversification of modern Berber language varieties subsequent to the fall of Carthage in 146 B.C.; only Zenaga lacks Punic loanwords. Additionally, Latin loanwords in Proto-Berber point to the breakup of Proto-Berber between 0-200 A.D. During this time period, Roman innovations including the ox-plough, camel, and orchard management were adopted by Berber communities along the limes, or borders of the Roman Empire. This resulted in a new trading culture involving the use of a lingua franca which became Proto-Berber.
Various orthographies have been used to transcribe the Berber languages. In antiquity, the Libyco-Berber script (Tifinagh) was utilised to write Berber. Early uses of the script have been found on rock art and in various sepulchres. Among these are the 1,500 year old monumental tomb of the Tuareg matriarch Tin Hinan, where vestiges of a Tifinagh inscription have been found on one of its walls.
Following the spread of Islam, some Berber scholars also utilised the Arabic script. There are now three writing systems in use for Berber languages: Tifinagh, the Arabic script, and the Berber Latin alphabet.
After independence, all the Maghreb countries to varying degrees pursued a policy of Arabisation, aimed partly at displacing French from its colonial position as the dominant language of education and literacy. Under this policy the use of the Amazigh/Berber languages was suppressed or even banned. This state of affairs has been contested by Berbers in Morocco and Algeria—especially Kabylie—and was addressed in both countries by affording the language official status and introducing it in some schools.
The 2011 constitution of Morocco makes "Amazigh" an official language alongside Arabic. Morocco is a country with several competing linguistically different languages, including French, Modern Standard Arabic, Moroccan Arabic and Amazigh. As the higher status of Modern Standard Arabic grew, so did the relation between the male population and the language, as well as the female population and the lower status language Amazigh. Women became the main carriers of the Amazigh language as the lower-status language in the country. On 17 June 2011 King Mohammed VI announced in a speech of new constitutional reform that "Tamazight" became an official language of Morocco alongside Arabic and will be used in all the administrations in the future. On 30 April 2012 Fatima Chahou, alias Tabaamrant, member of the Moroccan House of Representatives and former singer became the first person to ask questions and discuss the minister's answer in Tamazight inside the Parliament of Morocco.
Algeria recognized Berber as a "national language" in 2002, though not as an official one. However, on 7 February 2016 the Algerian parliament recognised Berber languages as having official status along with Arabic.
Although regional councils in Libya's Nafusa Mountains affiliated with the National Transitional Council reportedly use the Berber language of Nafusi and have called for it to be granted co-official status with Arabic in a prospective new constitution, it does not have official status in Libya as in Morocco and Algeria. As areas of Libya south and west of Tripoli such as the Nafusa Mountains were taken from the control of Gaddafi government forces in early summer 2011, Berber workshops and exhibitions sprang up to share and spread the Tamazight culture and language.
In Mali and Niger, there are a few schools that teach partially in Tuareg languages.
The exact population of Berber speakers is hard to ascertain, since most North African countries do not record language data in their censuses. Ethnologue provides a useful academic starting point; however, its bibliographic references are very inadequate, and it rates its own accuracy at only B-C for the area. Early colonial censuses may provide better documented figures for some countries; however, these are also very much out of date.
A survey included in the official Moroccan census of 2004 and published by several Moroccan newspapers gave the following figures: 34 percent of people in rural regions spoke a Berber language and 21 percent in urban zones did; the national average would be 28.4 percent or 8.52 million. It is possible, however, that the survey asked for the language "used in daily life", which would result in figures lower than those of native speakers, as the language is not recognised for official purposes and many Berbers who live in an Arabic-speaking environment cannot use it in daily life; also, the use of Berber in public was frowned upon until the 1990s, which may have affected the result of the survey.
Adding up the population (according to the official census of 2004) of the Berber-speaking regions as shown on a 1973 map from the CIA results in at least 10 million speakers, not counting the numerous Berber population which lives outside these regions in the bigger cities.
The division of Moroccan Berber languages into three groups, as used by Ethnologue, is common in linguistic publications, but is significantly complicated by the presence of local differences: Shilha is subdivided into Shilha of the Draa River valley, Tasusit (the language of the Souss) and several other mountain languages. Moreover, linguistic boundaries are blurred, such that certain languages cannot accurately be described as either Central Morocco Tamazight (spoken in the central and eastern Atlas area) or Shilha.
Other Berber languages spoken in Algeria include: the Tamazight of Blida, the languages of the Beni Snouss and Beni Boussaid villages in the province of Tlemcen, the Matmata Berber spoken in the Ouarsenis region, the Mozabite language spoken in the region of the province of Mzab and the language of the Ouargla oasis.
Thus, the total number of speakers of Berber languages in the Maghreb proper appears to lie anywhere between 16 and 25 million, depending on which estimate is accepted; if we take Basset's estimate, it could be as high as 30 million. The vast majority are concentrated in Morocco and Algeria. The Tuareg of the Sahel adds another million or so to the total.
Nouns in the Berber languages vary in gender (masculine versus feminine), number (singular versus plural) and state (free state versus construct state). In the case of the masculine, nouns generally begin with one of the three vowels of Berber, a, u or i (in standardised orthography, e represents a schwa [ə] inserted for reasons of pronunciation):
Berber languages have two types of number: singular and plural, of which only the latter is marked. Plural has three forms according to the type of nouns. The first, "regular" type is known as the "external plural"; it consists in changing the initial vowel of the noun, and adding a suffix -n:
The second form of the plural is known as the "broken plural". It involves only a change in the vowels of the word:
The third type of plural is a mixed form: it combines a change of vowels with the suffix -n:
Berber languages also have two types of states or cases of the noun, organized ergatively: one is unmarked, while the other serves for the subject of a transitive verb and the object of a preposition, among other contexts. The former is often called free state, the latter construct state. The construct state of the noun derives from the free state through one of the following rules: The first involves a vowel alternation, whereby the vowel a becomes u:
The second involves the loss of the initial vowel, in the case of some feminine nouns:
The third involves the addition of a semi-vowel (w or y) word-initially:
Finally, some nouns do not change for free state:
The following table gives the forms for the noun amghar "old man / leader":
Berber pronouns show gender distinction in the second- and third-persons, but in verbal agreement markers, the distinction is lost in the second-person.
A listing of the other Berber languages is complicated by their closeness; there is little distinction between language and dialect. The primary difficulty of subclassification, however, lies in the eastern Berber languages, where there is little agreement. Otherwise there is consensus on the outlines of the family:
The various classifications differ primarily in what they consider to be Eastern Berber, and in how many varieties they recognise as distinct languages.
There is so little data available on Guanche that any classification is necessarily uncertain; however, it is almost universally acknowledged as Afro-Asiatic on the basis of the surviving glosses, and widely suspected to be Berber. Much the same can be said of the language, sometimes called "Numidian", used in the Libyan or Libyco-Berber inscriptions around the turn of the Common Era, whose alphabet is the ancestor of Tifinagh.
plus a few peripheral languages, spoken in isolated pockets largely surrounded by Arabic, that fall outside these continua, namely
Within Northern Berber, however, he recognises a break in the continuum between Zenati and their non-Zenati neighbours; and in the east, he recognises a division between Ghadamès and Awjila on the one hand and Sokna (Fuqaha, Libya), Siwa and Djebel Nefusa on the other. The implied tree is:
and within Berber,
The Berber languages have influenced Maghrebi Arabic languages, such as Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian Arabic. Their influence is also seen in some languages in West Africa. F. W. H. Migeod pointed to strong resemblances between Berber and Hausa in such words and phrases as these: Berber: obanis; Hausa obansa (his father); Berber: a bat; Hausa ya bata (he was lost); Berber: eghare; Hausa ya kirra (he called). In addition he notes that the genitive in both languages is formed with n = "of".
A number of extinct populations are believed to have spoken Afro-Asiatic languages of the Berber branch. According to Peter Behrens (1981) and Marianne Bechaus-Gerst (2000), linguistic evidence suggests that the peoples of the C-Group culture in present-day southern Egypt and northern Sudan spoke Berber languages. The Nilo-Saharan Nobiin language today contains a number of key pastoralism related loanwords that are of Berber origin, including the terms for sheep and water/Nile. This in turn suggests that the C-Group population — which, along with the Kerma culture, inhabited the Nile valley immediately before the arrival of the first Nubian speakers — spoke Afro-Asiatic languages.
Additionally, historical linguistics indicate that the Guanche language, which was spoken on the Canary Islands by the ancient Guanches, likely belonged to the Berber branch of the Afro-Asiatic family.
The Aures Mountains (Berber languages: ⵉⴷⵓⵔⴰⵔ ⵏ ⴰⵡⵔⴰⵙ, Latin: Aurasium, Arabic: جِـبَـال الْأَوْرَاس, translit. Jibāl al-Awrās) are an eastern prolongation of the Atlas Mountain System that lies to the east of the Saharan Atlas in northeastern Algeria, North Africa. The mountain range gives its name to the mountainous natural and historical region of the Aures.Bejaia Province
The Bejaia province (Arabic: ولاية بجاية, ⵜⴰⵎⵏⴰⴹⵜ ⵏ ⴱⴳⴰⵢⴻⵜ, French: Wilaya de Béjaïa), stylized Béjaïa in French, is a province of Algeria in the Kabylie region. The province's capital city is Béjaïa.
Gouraya National Park is located in Béjaïa Province. A population of an endangered primate species, the Barbary macaque, is found within the park; this primate has a severely restricted and disjunctive range.Casablanca-Settat
Casablanca-Settat (Arabic: الدار البيضاء - سطات, Berber languages: ⴰⵏⴼⴰ - ⵙⵟⵟⴰⵜ) is one of the twelve administrative regions of Morocco. It covers an area of 20,166 km² and recorded a population of 6,861,739 in the 2014 Moroccan census, 69% of which lived in urban areas. The capital of the region is Casablanca.Drâa-Tafilalet
Drâa-Tafilalet (Berber languages: Dra-Tafilalt, Arabic: درعة - تافيلالت) is one of the twelve regions of Morocco. It covers an area of 88,836 km2 and had a population of 1,635,008 as of the 2014 Moroccan census. The capital of the region is Errachidia.Eastern Berber languages
The Eastern Berber languages are a group of Berber languages spoken in Libya and Egypt. They include Awjila, Sokna and Fezzan (El-Fogaha), Siwi and Ghadamès, though it is not clear that they form a valid genealogical group.
Eastern Berber is generally considered as part of the Zenatic Berber supergroup of Northern Berber.Fezzan
Fezzan (Berber languages: ⴼⴻⵣⵣⴰⵏ, Fezzan; Arabic: فزان, Fizzān; Latin: Phazania) is the southwestern region of modern Libya. It is largely desert, but broken by mountains, uplands, and dry river valleys (wadis) in the north, where oases enable ancient towns and villages to survive deep in the otherwise inhospitable Sahara Desert. The term originally applied to the land beyond the coastal strip of Africa proconsularis, including the Nafusa and extending west of modern Libya over Ouargla and Illizi. As these Berber areas came to be associated with the regions of Tripoli, Cirta or Algiers, the name was increasingly applied to the arid areas south of Tripolitania. Fezzan is Libya’s poorest region.Fès-Meknès
Fès-Meknès (Arabic: فاس-مكناس, Berber languages: Fas-Meknas, ⴼⴰⵙ-ⵎⴻⴾⵏⴰⵙ) is one of the twelve Regions of Morocco. It has a population of 4,236,892 (2014 census). Its capital is Fès and its current president is Mohand Laenser and its current Wali is Said Zniber.Judeo-Berber language
Judeo-Berber (Berber languages: Tamazight Tudayt, Hebrew: ברברית יהודית) is any of several hybrid Berber varieties traditionally spoken as a second language in Jewish communities of central and southern Morocco, and perhaps earlier in Algeria. Judeo-Berber is (or was) a contact language; the first language of speakers was Judeo-Arabic. (There were also Jews who spoke Berber as their first language, but not a distinct Jewish variety.) Speakers emigrated to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. While mutually comprehensible with the Tamazight spoken by most inhabitants of the area (Galand-Pernet et al. 1970:14), these varieties are distinguished by the use of Hebrew loanwords and the pronunciation of š as s (as in many Jewish Moroccan Arabic dialects).Latifa Akherbach
Latifa Akherbach (َBerber languages: ⵍⴰⵟⵉⴼⴰ ⴰⵅⵔⴱⴰⵛ, Arabic: لطيفة أخرباش – born 1960 in Tetouan) is a Moroccan politician and journalist. Between 2007 and 2012, she was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the cabinet of Abbas El Fassi.Latifa Akherbach started her career in 1981 as a journalist in the daily "Al Maghrib" and "La Vie Eco" magazine. Sometime in the late 1990s she taught at the "Higher Institute of Journalism of Rabat" (French: Institut Supérieur de Journalisme de Rabat) and in 2003, she was appointed by King Mohammed VI as the head the "Higher Institute of Information and Communication" (French: l'Insititut Supérieur de l'Information et de la Communication ISIC), then in 2007 as co-CEO of the SNRT (société nationale de radio-diffusion), heading the Moroccan state radio.Akherbach co-authored two books in French about women rights; "Women and Media" (Femmes et médias) and "Women and Politics" (Femmes et politique).Mascara Province
Mascara (Arabic: معسكر Muʿaskar, Berber languages: ⵎⵄⴻⵙⴽⴻⵔ Mɛesker) is a province (wilaya) in Algeria. It was named after its capital, whose name means "military garrison" in Arabic, and which is unrelated to "mascara", the cosmetic. Another important locality is the town of Sig.Médéa
Médéa (Berber languages: Lemdiyyet, Arabic: المدية al-Madiya), population 123,535 (1998 census) is the capital city of Médéa Province, Algeria. It is located roughly 68 km south of Algiers.
The present-day city is situated on the site of an ancient Roman military post and has a history dating back to the 10th century. The town is French in character, with a rectangular city plan, red tile-roofed buildings, and beautiful public gardens. The hills surrounding Médéa are covered with vineyards, orchards, and farms that yield abundant grain. Médéa’s chief products are wines, irrigation equipment, and various handicrafts.Northern Berber languages
The Northern Berber languages are a dialect continuum spoken across the Maghreb, constituting a subgroup of the Berber branch of the Afroasiatic family. Their continuity has been broken by the spread of Arabic, and to a lesser extent by the Zenati group of Northern Berber. The Zenati idioms share certain innovations not found in the surrounding languages; notably a softening of k to sh and an absence of a- in certain words, such as "hand" (afus vs. fus.)
Northern Berber languages spoken by over a million people include Shilha, Central Morocco Tamazight, Riff, Shawiya and Kabyle. They fall into three groups:
Moroccan Atlas languages (incl. Shilha, Central Morocco Tamazight)
Zenati languages (incl. Riff, Shawiya)
KabyleThe eastern boundaries of the North Berber varieties are uncertain. Some linguists include the Nafusi and Ghadames languages, while others do not. Most regard Ghadamès as lying outside of Northern Berber, but the Ethnologue does not.
There is no authoritative answer as to whether the Northern Berber varieties constitute a language rather than a dialect. Some academics believe that not only Northern Berber but all the Berber languages are dialects of a single language, whereas others come up with much higher counts. At any rate, mutual comprehensibility among the Northern Berber varieties is high, though not perfect.President of Algeria
The President of Algeria is the head of state and chief executive of Algeria, as well as the commander-in-chief of the Algerian People's National Armed Forces.Rabat-Salé-Kénitra
Rabat-Salé-Kenitra (Arabic: الرباط-سلا-القنيطرة; Berber languages: Eṛṛbaṭ-Sla-Qniṭra) is one of the twelve administrative regions of Morocco. It is situated in north-western Morocco and has a population of 4,580,866 (2014 census). The capital is Rabat.Relizane
Relizane or Ghilizan (Arabic: غلیزان; Berber: Ɣilizan; French: Relizane) is a city in Algeria. It is also the capital city of Relizane Province in Algeria.Souss-Massa
Souss-Massa (Berber languages: Sus-Massa, Arabic: سوس ماسة) is one of the twelve regions of Morocco. It covers an area of 51,642 km² and had a population of 2,676,847 as of the 2014 Moroccan census. The capital of the region is Agadir.Tanger-Tetouan-Al Hoceima
Tanger-Tetouan-Al Hoceima (Arabic: طنجة - تطوان - الحسيمة, Berber languages: ⵜⴰⵎⵏⴰⴹⵜ ⵏ ⵟⴰⵏⵊⴰ ⵜⵉⵟⴰⵡⵉⵏ ⵍⵃⵓⵙⵉⵎⴰ, French: Tanger-Tétouan-Al Hoceïma) is one of the twelve regions of Morocco. It covers an area of 15,090 km² and recorded a population of 3,556,729 in the 2014 Moroccan census. The capital of the region is Tangier.Thélepte
Thelepte (Berber languages: تلابت) was a city in the Roman province of Byzacena, now in western Tunisia. It is located 5 km from the modern town of Fériana, near the border with Algeria, at around 34°58′33″N 8°35′38″E.Tizi Ouzou Province
Tizi Ouzou (Arabic: ولاية تيزي وزو, Berber languages: ⵜⴰⵏⴻⴱⴹⵉⵜ ⵏ ⵜⵉⵣⵉ ⵡⴻⵣⵣⵓ, French: Wilaya de Tizi Ouzou) is a province (wilayah) of Algeria in the Kabylie region. Its capital is Tizi Ouzou.
Languages of the Maghreb
Major Afroasiatic languages
Italics indicate extinct languages