Monday, July 28, 2014

Language Profile: Berber

Today we're taking a look at Berber, a group of closely related language varieties spoken in countries throughout North Africa. Berber constitutes its own branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family, which also includes the Oromo, Somali, and Hausa languages.

Berber varieties are spoken by large numbers of people in Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania, with smaller numbers of speakers in many other countries. Berber is also an official language of Morocco alongside Arabic, and is recognized as a national language in Algeria.

As with many languages, the varieties or dialects of Berber are difficult to classify. However, there are considered to be six major varieties of Berber, which we will briefly introduce to you today.

Tashelhit, also known as Shilha and Chleuh, is the most spoken variety of Berber. It is primarily spoken in Morocco, and is written in either Arabic script or the newer Tifinagh script, which is thought to be related to the ancient Phoenician alphabet.

The second most spoken variety of Berber is Kabyle, also known as Kabylian. It is primarily spoken by the Kabyle people, a Berber ethnic group that resides in Algeria.

Tamazight, also known as Central Atlas Tamazight, is also spoken in Morocco. It is officially written in the aforementioned Tifinagh script when it is taught in Moroccan schools.

A sign for Tiznit Province in Morocco. The Tifinagh script used to write the
Berber language can be seen between the Arabic and French languages. 
Yet another Berber variety spoken in Morocco is Riffian, which is spoken in the country's mountainous Rif region.

Shawiya, also spelled Chaou├»a due to the regional influence of the French language, is spoken in Algeria. In recent years, it has started to be taught in some public schools in Algeria.

The final major variety is Tuareg, also known as Tamasheq. It may be a single language or a large group of closely related dialects, and is spoken across a many North African countries, including Mali, Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad.

There is plenty more to learn about this diverse language (or group of languages), which we'll have to save for another day!