Berber Languages: Tamazight

Berber Languages: Tamazight

The Amazigh languages are a group of closely related languages belonging to the Afro-Asiatic languages phylum. There is a strong movement among Amazigh people to unify the closely related northern languages into a single standard, Tamazight, which is a frequently used generic name for all Berber languages. There are around three hundred local dialects among the scattered Berber populations.

The exact population of Berber speakers is hard to ascertain, since most Maghreb countries do not record language data in their census data. Early colonial censuses may provide documented figures for some countries; however, those statistics are no longer a reliable measure. It is estimated that there are between 14 and 25 million speakers of Berber languages in North Africa, principally concentrated in Morocco and Algeria, with smaller communities as far east as Egypt and as far south as Burkina Faso.

Among the Berber languages are Tarifit or Riffi in northern Morocco, Kabyle in Algeria and Tashelhiyt in central Morocco. Tamazight has been a written language, on and off, for almost 3,000 years; however, this tradition has been frequently disrupted by various invasions. It was first written in the Tifinagh alphabet, still used by the Tuareg; the oldest dated inscription is from about 200 B.C.E. Later, between about 1000 C.E. and 1500 C.E., it was written in the Arabic alphabet, particularly by the Shilha of Morocco; since the beginning of the twentieth century, it has often been written in the Latin alphabet, especially among the Kabyle. A variant of the Tifinagh alphabet was recently made official in Morocco, while the Latin alphabet is official in Algeria, Mali, and Niger; however, both Tifinagh and Arabic are still widely used in Mali and Niger, while Latin and Arabic are still widely used in Morocco.


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