Languages


Languages
   The term for the Berber language today is Tamazight, and the name of Berber speakers is Imazighen. The term "Imazighen" refers to the free, noble, and indigenous inhabitants of the historic Tamazgha, or Berber homeland, stretching east to west from Siwa in the Western Desert of Egypt to the Canary Islands and north to south from the Mediterranean shores to the southern limits of the Niger and Senegal rivers.
   Tamazight is the mother language of Berber dialects. Tamazight is part of the Afro-Asiatic language group, which is composed of the Semitic languages and Ancient Egyptian. Tamazight dialects vary widely, but they are all related to Tamazight. The term "Tamazight" also takes various forms, as in "thamazight," "Tamasheq," "Tamajeq," and "Tamahaq," and it is used by a number of Berber communities in the Middle Atlas Mountains, south-central Morocco, the Rif, and Sened in Tunisia and by the Tuareg to refer to the language they speak. Other communities in western Algeria refer to their language as "taznatit" or "Zanati," while Kabyles call theirs "thaqvaylith," the inhabitants of Siwa "tasiwit," and the Zenaga "Tudhungiya." In general, although the classification of Berber languages is somewhat capricious, linguists and anthropologists seem to agree on five variants of Tamazight languages: Eastern Berber languages, Northern Berber languages, Guanches, Tamasheq languages, and Zenaga.
   The Eastern Berber languages are spoken in regions of Libya and Egypt. Variants of Tamazight include Awjila, Sawknah, and Nafusi in Libya and Tasiwit in Egypt. The Northern Berber languages form a continous linguistic band throughout North Africa, stretching from Tunisia through the Sahara to Morocco. In Morocco, it consists of Tashalhiyt, Judeo-Berber, Tamazight, Tarifit, and other Zanati enclaves. In Algeria, it is composed of the following dailects: thaqvaylith, Beni Snous, Achacha, Ouarsenis, Bel Halima, Harraoua, Chenoua, Chaouia, Tumzabt, Ouargli, and other Zenati languages. In Tunisia, Tamzight takes the forms of Sened and Djerbi. Guanche is an extinct language, and it is said by linguists to have been the language spoken on the Canary Islands until the end of the 16th century. The Tuareg language group consists of Tamasheq, Tamajaq, and Tamahaq, which are spoken in parts of Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad. This group is mutually comprehensible and is considered to constitute a single language. These languages have been historically written in the Tifinagh alphabet; however, the Arabic alphabet is commonly used among some groups, while the Latin alphabet is used in Mali and Niger. Tuareg languages are divided into northern and southern languages. The northern variant includes Tamahap, also known as Tahggart, spoken in southern Algeria and northern Niger. The southern group consists of Tamasheq spoken among the Kel Adrar in Mali, Tayart Tamajaq aamong the Kel Aïr in Niger, and Tawallammat Tamajaq among the Iwellemmeden in Mali and Niger. Zenaga is spoken by mostly pastoral nomadic communities in Adrar, Dekhlet-Nouadhibou, Inchiri, Mderdra, Tagant, Tiris Zemmour, and Trarza in Mauritania.
   In general, Tuareg languages are distincly different from most of the Berber languages, for they provide purer and less Arabized forms of Berber, with a more elaborate grammar structure and a negligible amount of loanwords from Arabic. Today, as the revival of the Berber language is considered one of the most significant factors of the affirmation of Berber identity, Tuareg languages are considered precious linguistic data critical for the rehabilitation and revitalization of Tamazight across the Maghreb.

Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen) . . 2014.

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