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The Berber languages (or Tamazight) are a group of closely related languages mainly spoken in Morocco and Algeria. A very sparse population extends into the whole Sahara and the northern part of the Sahel. They belong to the Afro-Asiatic languages phylum. There is a strong movement among Berbers to unify the closely related northern Berber languages into a single standard, Tamazight. Among the Berber languages are Tarifit or Riffi (northern Morocco), Kabyle (Algeria) and Tashelhiyt (central Morocco). Tamazight has been a written language, on and off, for over 2000 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 BC. Later, between about 1000 AD and 1500 AD, it was written in the Arabic alphabet (particularly by the Shilha of Morocco); since the 20th 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 scripts are still widely used in Morocco. After independence, all the Maghreb countries to varying degrees pursued a policy of "Arabization", aimed primarily at displacing French from its colonial position as the dominant language of education and literacy. But under this policy the use of both Berber languages and Maghrebi Arabic have been suppressed as well. This state of affairs has been contested by Berbers in Morocco and Algeria especially Kabylie and is now being addressed in both countries by introducing Berber language education and by recognizing Berber as a "national language"[1], though not an official one. No such measures have been taken in the other Maghreb countries, whose Berber populations are much smaller. In Mali and Niger, there are a few schools that teach partially in Tamasheq. The term Berber has been used in Europe since at least the 17th century, and is still used today. It was borrowed from the Arabic designation for these populations, ????, el-Barbar. The latter might have been derived from the Arabic or Persian words "barbakh"/"barbar" and "khanah", a house or guard on the wall.[citation needed] Despite the phonetic resemblance, the term has probably nothing to do with the Latin barbarus, which was used by the Romans to refer to non-Roman tribes of the Roman Empire (see Barbarian). Although the Berbers obviously fell under that definition, Romans usually called them under more specific names, such as "Numidians" or "Mauri". The Egyptians referred to them as Meshwesh, the ancient Greeks as "Libyans", the Byzantines as "Mazikes". As far as languages are concerned, the term Tamazight has recently gained ground over Berber, particularly to refer to Northern Berber languages, just like "Amazigh" is used to refer to a native Berber speaker. In Western languages Tamazight can also (somewhat misleadingly) be used specifically to refer to the language of the Middle Atlas mountains in Morocco, closely related to Tashelhiyt. Etymologically, it means "language of the free" or "of the noblemen." Traditionally, the term "tamazight" (in various forms: "thamazighth", "tamasheq", "tamajeq", "tamahaq") was used by many Berber groups to refer to the language they spoke, including the Middle Atlas, the Rif, Sened in Tunisia, and the Tuareg. However, other terms were used by other groups; for instance, many parts of western Algeria called their language "taznatit" or Zenati, while the Kabyles called theirs "thaqvaylith", the inhabitants of Siwa "tasiwit", and the Zenaga "Tuddhungiya"[1]. Around the turn of the century, it was reported that the Zenata of the Rif called their language "Zenatia" specifically to distinguish it from the "Tamazight" spoken by the rest of the Rif. One group, the Linguasphere Observatory, has attempted to introduce the neologism "Tamazic languages" to refer to the Berber languages.

Tamazight (Berber) is spoken/used in Morocco

Language Family
Family: Afro-Asiatic (Hamito-Semitic)
Subgroup: Berber


Copyright © Kenneth Katzner, The Languages of the World, Published by Routledge.