Berber - Berbère

Tamazight, Kabyle, Tachawit, Tachelhit, Tarifit, Tamashek, ...

1.  Classification / Classification

"The Berber branch of the Afro-Asiatic (Hamito-Semitic) language family, usually considered as a single language with many dialects, is for purposes of language learning (and by sociolinguistic criteria) more conveniently treated as a number of distinct languages, each with mutually intelligible dialects. (Jeanette Harries 1986)" (Webbook)

"The term 'Berber' is disliked by many modern Berbers, because it comes from the Greek barbaric. Nonetheless, it is used in Western languages by many Berber writers, such as the Kabyle Professor Salem Chaker of INALCO in Paris, Werner Vycichl, and Maarten Kossmann and Harry Stroomer of Leiden University. The term Tamazight is often substituted, particularly to refer to Northern Berber languages; in Western languages, this term 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' []. 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." (Wikipedia)

2.  Where Spoken / Localisation géographique

"They are spoken by minority groups in at least eleven countries of northern and western Africa, from the Mediterranean to beyond the River Niger: in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania (and perhaps still in Senegal), Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Chad. (Jeanette Harries 1986)" (Webbook)

Some of the main dialects of North Africa have significant numbers of speakers in western Europe.

3.  Number of Speakers / Nombre de locuteurs

According to information compiled from Ethnologue:

  • Awjilah: 3,000 in Libya (2000)
  • Chenoua: 4,764 (2000 WCD)
  • Ghadamès
    • 2,000 in Libya
    • Population total all countries: 4,000
  • Kabyle
    • 2,537,000 in Algeria (1995) [Estimates by some sources are up to 6,000,000 in Algeria (1998)]
    • Population total all countries: 3,123,000
  • Nafusi:
    • 141,000 in Libya (1998)
    • 26,000 in Tunisia (1998)
    • Population total all countries: 167,000
  • Sawknah: 5,448 in Libya (2000 WCD)
  • Tachawit: 1,400,000 in Algeria (1993)
  • Tachelhit:
    • 3,000,000 in Morocco (1998)
    • ? in Algeria
  • Tagargrent: 5,000 in Algeria (1995)
  • Tamahaq, Tahaggart:
    • 25,000 in Algeria (1987)
    • 17,000 in Libya (1993 Johnstone)
    • 20,000 in Niger (1998)
    • Population total all countries: 62,000
  • Tamajaq, Tawallammat:
    • 450,000 in Niger (1998)
    • 190,000 in Mali (1991)
    • Few in Nigeria
    • Population total all countries: 640,000
  • Tamajeq, Tayart: 250,000 in Niger (1998)
  • Tamasheq:
    • 250,000 in Mali (1991)
    • 31,169 in Burkina Faso (2000 WCD)
    • Population total all countries: 281,169
  • Tamazight, Central Atlas:
    • 3,000,000 in Morocco (1998)
    • Population total all countries: 3,150,000
  • Tamazight, Temacine: 6,000 in Algeria (1995)
  • Tamazight, Tidikelt: 9,000 in Algeria (1995)
  • Tarifit:
    • 1,500,000 in Morocco (1991)
    • ? in Algeria
    • Population total all countries: 1,700,000
  • Taznatit: 40,000 in Algeria (1995)
  • Tumzabt: 70,000 in Algeria (1995)
  • Zenaga: 200 to 300 in Mauritania (1998)

4.  Dialect Survey / Enquête de dialecte

Ethnologue lists the following varieties (those in bold have more that 1 million speakers in that country):

  • Algeria
    • Chenoua
    • Kabyle
    • Tachawit (Chaouia)
    • Tachelhit
    • Tagargrent
    • Tamahaq, Tahaggart
    • Tamazight, Central Atlas
    • Tamazight, Temacine
    • Tamazight, Tidikelt
    • Tarifit
    • Taznatit
    • Tumzabt
  • Burkina Faso
    • Tamasheq
  • Libya
    • Awjilah
    • Ghadamès
    • Nafusi
    • Sawknah
    • Tamahaq, Tahaggart
  • Mali
    • Tamajaq, Tawallammat
    • Tamasheq
  • Mauritania
    • Zenaga (nearly extinct)
  • Morocco
    • Tamazight, Central Atlas
    • Tachelhit
    • Tarifit
  • Niger
    • Tamahaq, Tahaggart
    • Tamajaq, Tawallammat
    • Tamajeq, Tayart
  • Tunisia
    • Shilha

SIL International considers "Tamashek" to be a "macrolanguage" grouping four of the tongues listed above: Tamasheq, Tahaggart Tamahaq, Tayart Tamajeq, and Tawallammat Tamajaq.

Web Resources (Maho) states:
"There are at least 6 Berber languages, all of which are spoken in northern and western Africa (cfr Wolff 1981):

    * Atlas Berber -- large dialect chain spoken in Morocco and northern Algeria
    * Nefusi -- spoken in western Libya
    * Siwi -- spoken in Egypt
    * Tuareg -- large dialect chain spoken predominantly in southern Algeria, Mali and Niger
    * Zenaga -- spoken in the south-western tip of Mauritania
    * Zenati Berber -- large dialect chain spoken in north-eastern Algeria, Tunisia, and north-western Libya"

5.  Usage / Utilisation

Usage and official status varies by location. See the Webbook and Wikipedia references below for detailed discussion.

"There is a strong movement among Berbers to unify the closely related northern Berber languages into a single standard, Tamazight." [seeking updated URL]

"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 which teaching, and use in certain highly public spheres, of both Berber languages and Maghrebi Arabic dialect have been suppressed as well. This state of affairs was protested 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', though not necessarily 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." (Wikipedia)

6.  Orthography / Orthographe

6.1  Status / Statut

Tifinagh is the original script of these languages but they have also been transcribed using the Arabic script and in more recent history with modified Latin scripts. In practice, which varies by locality, three scripts have to one degree or another been and are used. (see Writing Berber Languages)

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. (Wikipedia)

"Tamazight has been a written language, on and off, for almost 3000 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); in this century, it is often 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." [seeking updated URL]

6.2  Sample Alphabet / Alphabet exemple

a) Tifinagh, Arabic and Latin

Geonames "Unicode test page...: Tamazight alphabet in Latin, Tifinagh & Arabic script- iskkiln n tamaziγt / ⵉⵙⴽⴽⵉⵍⵏ ⵏ ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ ⵜⵉⴼⵉⵏⴰⵖ / ايسكيلن ن تمازيغت"

Omniglot pages:

b) Arabic


c) Latin

Alphabet tamajaq (arrété 214-99 de la République du Niger) or sites)

According to Wikipedia, an alphabet for northern Berber languages includes several extended Latin characters and two Greek letters. See

[need more]

7.  Use in ICT / Utilisation dans les TIC

7.1  Fonts / Polices

7.2  Keyboard layouts / Dispositions de clavier

a) Tifinagh

  • SNIMA (Service de Normalisation Industrielle Marocaine) has published a standard for Tifinagh keyboard layout: NM 17.6.000 : Technologies de l’information – Prescriptions des claviers conçus pour la saisie des caractères tifinaghes
  • Hapax has the following for Tamasheq (Mac & PC)

b) Arabic

c) Latin

The CNRS/LLACAN "AFRO" Tavultesoft Keyman keyboard (for AZERTY) is intended to support Latin transcriptions of Tamasheq of Mali and Tamajaq of Niger:

Lexilogos has an online keyboard for "berbère - tamaziγt" in Latin script at

7.3  Content on computers & internet / Contenu en informatique et sur l'Internet

Universal Declaration of Human Rights in "Tamazight (Beraber)":

A bilingual (French / Berber in Tifinagh) work is online in PDF form at

The Casablanca Statement in Tamazight and Tifinagh:

7.4  Localized software / Logiciels localisés

Not aware of any.

7.5  Language codes / Codes de langue

Berber (other):

  • ISO 639-1: -
  • ISO 639-2: ber
  • ISO 639-3: -


  • ISO 639-3: auj


  • ISO 639-3: cnu


  • ISO 639-3: gha


  • ISO 639-1: -
  • ISO 639-2: kab
  • ISO 639-3: kab

Nafusi / Shilha

  • ISO 639-3: jbn


  • ISO 639-3: swn


  • ISO 639-3: siz


  • ISO 639-3: shy


  • ISO 639-3: shi


  • ISO 639-3: oua

Tamahaq, Tahaggart

  • ISO 639-3: thv

Tamajaq, Tawallammat

  • ISO 639-3: ttq

Tamajeq, Tayart

  • ISO 639-3: thz


  • ISO 639-1: -
  • ISO 639-2: tmh
  • ISO 639-3: tmh


  • ISO 639-3: taq

Tamazight, Central Atlas

  • ISO 639-3: tzm

Tamazight, Temacine

  • ISO 639-3: tjo

Tamazight, Tidikelt

  • ISO 639-3: tia


  • ISO 639-3: rif


  • ISO 639-3: grr


  • ISO 639-3: mzb


  • ISO 639-3: zen

7.6  Locales / Paramètres régionaux

There are apparently Linux Mandriva? locales for Berber languages (put together by Pablo Saratxaga and Patrick Andries). See

7.7  Other / Autre

8.  Localisation resources / Ressources pour localisation

8.1  Individuals (experts) / Individuelles (experts)

  • Dr. Lahbib ZENKOUAR, formerly of IRCAM, now at l'Ecole Mohammadia d'Ingénieurs, Université Mohammed 5 de Rabat (Morocco)
  • Patrick ANDRIES, Hapax (Canada)

8.2  Institutions / Institutions

Institut Royal de la Culture Amazight au Maroc (IRCAM), Rabat, Morocco

8.3  On the internet / Sur la toile

Character pickers

9.  Comments / Remarques

This is a complex language/dialect situation with speakers over a wide area. Currently some of the most focused effort is in Morocco, certainly as concerns its use in Tifinagh script.

As localisation efforts develop, perhaps the language division cited by Maho could organise some appropriate clusters to work with.

10.  References / Références

Dwyer, David (1997), Webbook of African Languages, (page on "Berber," )

Maho, Jouni, Web Resources on African Languages, (page on "Berber languages," )

Omniglot, "Kabyle (Ṯaqḇayliṯ),"

______, "Tifinagh,"

SIL International, Ethnologue: Languages of the World, "Awjilah,"

______, "Chenoua

______, "Ghadamès,"

______, "Kabyle,"

______, "Nafusi / Shilha,"

______, "Sawknah,"

______, "Tachawit,"

______, "Tachelhit,"

______, "Tagargrent,"

______, "Tamahaq, Tahaggart,"

______, "Tamajaq, Tawallammat,"

______, "Tamajeq, Tayart,"

______, "Tamasheq,"

______, "Tamazight, Central Atlas,"

______, "Tamazight, Temacine,"

______, "Tamazight, Tidikelt,"

______, "Tarifit,"

______, "Taznatit,"

______, "Tumzabt,"

______, "Zenaga,"

SIL International, "ISO 639 Code Tables,"

______, "ISO 639-3 Macrolanguage Mappings,"

Souag, Lameen, "Writing Berber Languages," [seeking updated URL]

U.S. Library of Congress, "ISO 639.2: Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages: Alpha-3 codes arranged alphabetically by the English name of language,"

Wikipedia, "Berber languages,"

______, "Berber Latin alphabet,"

______, "Tifinagh,"

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Categories: Languages, Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Niger, Parts of Tunisia, Parts of Libya, NW Egypt, Northern BF