Berber languages

Berber
ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ, ⵜⵎⵣⵗⵜ, Tamaziɣt
EthnicityBerbers (Imaziɣen)
Geographic
distribution
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
Linguistic classificationAfro-Asiatic
  • Berber
Proto-languageProto-Berber
Subdivisions
ISO 639-2 / 5ber
berb1260[1]
Map of Berber Languages 2018.png
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 Berber languages, also known as Berber or the Amazigh languages[2] (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.[3] The languages were traditionally written with the ancient Libyco-Berber script, which now exists in the form of Tifinagh.[4]

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.

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 now extinct Guanche language spoken on the Canary Islands by the Guanches, as well as possibly the languages of the ancient C-Group culture in today's 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.[5]

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.[6][7][8] 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.[9]

Terminology

Speech sample in Shilha (Chelha).

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.[10]

One group, the Linguasphere Observatory, has attempted to introduce the neologism "Tamazic languages" to refer to the Berber languages.[11]