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Monday, March 24, 2008

Tamazight is a member of the Afro-Asiatic language family (formerly called Hamito-Semitic). Traditional genealogists of tribes claiming Arab origin often claimed that Berbers were Arabs that immigrated from Yemen. Some of them considered Tamazight to derive from Arabic. This view, however, is rejected by linguists, who regard Semitic and Berber as two separate branches of Afro-Asiatic.

The exact population of Berber speakers is hard to ascertain, since most North African countries do not record language data in their censuses. The Ethnologue provides a useful academic starting point; however, its bibliographic references are 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 Early colonial censuses may provide better documented figures for some countries; however, these are also very much out of date.
"Few census figures are available; all countries (Algeria and Morocco included) do not count Berber languages. The 1972 Niger census reported Tuareg, with other languages, at 127,000 speakers. Population shifts in location and number, effects of urbanization and education in other languages, etc., make estimates difficult. In 1952 A. Basset (LLB.4) estimated the number of Berberophones at 5,500,000. Between 1968 and 1978 estimates ranged from eight to thirteen million (as reported by Galand, LELB 56, pp. 107, 123-25); Voegelin and Voegelin (1977, p. 297) call eight million a conservative estimate. In 1980, S. Chaker estimated that the Berberophone populations of Kabylie and the three Moroccan groups numbered more than one million each; and that in Algeria, 3,650,000, or one out of five Algerians, speak a Berber language (Chaker 1984, pp. 8-9)."[2]
This nomenclature is common in linguistic publications, but is significantly complicated by local usage: thus Tachelhit is sub-divided into Tachelhit of the Dra valley, Tasusit (the language of the Souss) and several other (mountain)-dialects. Moreover, linguistic boundaries are blurred, such that certain dialects cannot accurately be described as either Central Morocco Tamazight (spoken in the Central and eastern Atlas area) or Tachelhit.
Mohammad Chafik claims 80% of Moroccans are Berbers.[3] It is not clear, however, whether he means "speakers of Berber languages" or "people of Berber descent".

Tamasheq: 250,000
Tamajaq: 190,000

Tawallamat Tamajaq: 450,000
Tayart Tamajeq: 250,000
Tahaggart Tamahaq: 20,000
Thus, judging by the not necessarily reliable Ethnologue, the total number of speakers of Berber languages in the Maghreb proper appears to lie anywhere between 14 and 20 million, depending on which estimate is accepted; if we take Basset's estimate, it could be as high as 25 million. The vast majority are concentrated in Morocco and Algeria. The Tuareg of the Sahel add another million or so.

Morocco: In 1952, André Basset ("La langue berbère", Handbook of African Languages, Part I, Oxford) estimated that a "small majority" of Morocco's population spoke Berber. The 1960 census estimated that 34% of Moroccans spoke Berber, including bi-, tri-, and quadrilinguals. In 2000, Karl Prasse cited "more than half" in an interview conducted by Brahim Karada at According to the Ethnologue (by deduction from its Moroccan Arabic figures), the Berber-speaking population is estimated at 35% (1991 and 1995). However, the figures it gives for individual languages only add up to 7.5 million, or about 28%. Most of these are accounted for by three dialects:

  • Tarifit: 1.5 million (1991)
    Tachelhit: 3 million (1998)
    Central Morocco Tamazight: 3 million (1998)
    Algeria: In 1906, the total population speaking Berber languages in Algeria (excluding the thinly populated Sahara) was estimated at 1,305,730 out of 4,447,149, ie 29%. (Doutté & Gautier, Enquête sur la dispersion de la langue berbère en Algérie, faite par l'ordre de M. le Gouverneur Général, Alger 1913.) The 1911 census, however, found 1,084,702 speakers out of 4,740,526, ie 23%; Doutté & Gautier suggest that this was the result of a serious undercounting of Chaouia in areas of widespread bilingualism. A trend was noted for Berber groups surrounded by Arabic (as in Blida) to adopt Arabic, while Arabic speakers surrounded by Berber (as in Sikh ou Meddour near Tizi-Ouzou) tended to adopt Berber. In 1952, André Basset estimated that about a third of Algeria's population spoke Berber. The Algerian census of 1966 found 2,297,997 out of 12,096,347 Algerians, or 19%, to speak "Berber." In 1980, Salem Chaker estimated that "in Algeria, 3,650,000, or one out of five Algerians, speak a Berber language" (Chaker 1984, pp. 8-9). According to the Ethnologue, more recent estimates include (by deduction from its Algerian Arabic figures) 17% (1991) and 29% (Hunter 1996). The actual figures it gives for Berber languages, however, only add up to about 4 million, under 15%. Most of these are accounted for by two dialects:

    • Kabyle: 2.5 million (1995), or 8% of the population - or "up to" 6 million (1998), which would be more like 20%.
      Chaouia: 1.4 million (1993), thus 5% of the population.
      Tunisia: Basset (1952) estimated about 1%, as did Penchoen (1968). According to the Ethnologue, there are only 26,000 speakers (1998) of a Berber language it calls "Djerbi" in Tunisia, all in the south around Djerba and Matmata. The more northerly enclave of Sened apparently no longer speaks Berber. This would make 0.3% of the population.
      Libya: According to the Ethnologue (by deduction from its combined Libyan Arabic and Egyptian Arabic figures) the non-Arabic-speaking population, most of which would be Berber, is estimated at 4% (1991, 1996). However, the individual language figures it gives add up to 162,000, ie about 3%. This is mostly accounted for by languages:

      • Nafusi in Zuwarah and Jabal Nafusa: 141,000 (1998).
        Tahaggart Tamahaq of Ghat: 17,000 (Johnstone 1993).
        Egypt: The oasis of Siwa near the Libyan border speaks a Berber language; according to the Ethnologue, there are 5,000 speakers there (1995). Its population in 1907 was 3884 (according to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica); the claimed lack of increase seems surprising.
        Mauritania: According to the Ethnologue, only 200-300 speakers of Zenaga remain (1998). It also mentions Tamasheq, but does not provide a population figure for it. Most non-Arabic speakers in Mauritania speak Niger-Congo languages.
        Mali: The Ethnologue counts 440,000 Tuareg (1991) speaking:
        Niger: The Ethnologue counts 720,000 Tuareg (1998) speaking:
        Burkina Faso: The Ethnologue counts 20,000 - 30,000 Tuareg (SIL 1991), speaking Kidal Tamasheq.
        Nigeria: The Ethnologue notes the presence of "few" Tuareg, speaking Tawallamat Tamajaq.
        France: The Ethnologue lists 537,000 speakers for Kabyle, 150,000 for Central Morocco Tamazight, and no figures for Tachelhit and Tarifit. For the rest of Europe, it has no figures.
        Ceuta and Melilla: A majority of Melilla's 80,000 inhabitants, and a minority of Ceuta's inhabitants, speak Berber[4].
        Israel: A few thousand elderly Moroccan-born Israelis use Judeo-Berber dialects. Berber languages Population
        Nouns in Berber languages / Tamazight vary in gender (masculine vs feminine), in number (singular vs plural) and in state (free state vs construct state). In the case of the masculine, nouns generally begin with one of the three vowels of Berber, a, u or i:

        afus "hand"
        argaz "man"
        udm "face"
        ul "heart"
        ixf "head"
        ils "tongue"
        While the masculine is unmarked, the feminine is marked with the discontinuous morpheme t…t. Feminine plural takes a prefix t… :

        afus → tafust
        udm → tudmt
        ixf → tixft
        ifassn → tifassin
        Berber languages / Tamazight 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:

        afus → ifasn "hands"
        argaz → irgazn "men"
        ixf → ixfawn "heads"
        ul → ulawn "hearts"
        The second form of the plural is known as the "broken plural". It involves only a change in the vowels of the word:

        adrar → idurar "mountain"
        agadir → igudar "wall"
        abaghus → ibughas "monkey"
        The third type of plural is a mixed form: it combines a change of vowels with the suffix -n:

        izi → izan "fly"
        azur → izuran "root"
        izikr → izakarn "rope"
        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 become u :

        argaz → urgaz
        amghar → umghar
        adrar → udrar
        The second involves the loss of the initial vowel, in the case of some feminine nouns:

        tamghart → tmghart "women"
        tamdint → tmdint "town"
        tarbat → trbat "girl"
        The third involves the addition of a semi-vowel (w or y) word-initially:

        asif → wasif "river"
        adu → wadu "wind"
        ils → yils "tongue"
        uccn → wuccn "wolf"
        Finally, some nouns do not change for free state:

        taddart → taddart "village"
        tuccnt → tuccnt "female wolf"
        The following table gives the forms for the noun amghar "old man, sheikh":

        Subclassification of the Berber languages is made difficult by their mutual closeness; Maarten Kossmann (1999) describes it as two dialect continua, Northern Berber and Tuareg, and a few peripheral languages, spoken in isolated pockets largely surrounded by Arabic, that fall outside these continua, namely Zenaga and the Libyan and Egyptian varieties. Within Northern Berber, however, he recognizes a break in the continuum between Zenati languages and their non-Zenati neighbors; and in the east, he recognizes a division between Ghadames and Awjila on the one hand and El-Foqaha, Siwa, and Djebel Nefusa on the other. The implied tree is:
        There is so little data available on Guanche that any classification is necessarily uncertain; however, it is almost universally acknowledged as Berber on the basis of the surviving glosses. 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.
        The Ethnologue, mostly following Aikhenvald and Militarev (1991), subdivides it somewhat differently:

        Nefusa-Siwa languages
        Ghadames-Awjila languages
        Northern Berber languages

        • Zenati languages (including Tarifit)
          Kabyle language
          Moroccan Atlas languages (including Tashelhiyt and Central Morocco Tamazight)
          Tuareg languages
          Zenaga language
          Eastern Berber languages

          • Siwa
            Awjila-Sokna languages
            Northern Berber languages

            • Zenati languages
              Kabyle language
              Chenoua language
              Moroccan Atlas languages
              Tamasheq languages

              • Northern Tamasheq languages
                Southern Tamasheq languages
                Zenaga language Subclassification

                See also

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