Northern Berber languages

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Northern Berber
Northwest Africa
Linguistic classification: Afro-Asiatic
Glottolog: nort3053[1]

The Northern Berber languages form a dialect continuum across the Maghreb that constitute a branch of the Berber language subgroup of the Afroasiatic family. Their continuity has been broken by the spread of Arabic, and to a lesser extent by the Zenati group of Northern Berber, which shares certain innovations not found in the surrounding languages, notably a softening of k to sh and an absence of a- in certain words, such as "hand" (afus vs. fus.)

The Northern Berber languages, with those spoken by over a million people are Shilha, Central Morocco Tamazight, Riff, Shawiya, Kabyle. They fall into three groups,

The eastern boundaries of the group seem to be controversial; some sources include the Nafusi and Ghadames languages, while others do not. Most sources agree in regarding Ghadames as lying outside of Northern Berber, but the Ethnologue does not.

There is no authoritative answer to the question of which of these to describe as a "language" versus a "dialect"; some academics have seen not only Northern Berber but all the Berber languages as dialects of a single language, while others come up with much higher counts. At any rate, mutual comprehensibility among Northern Berber languages is high, though not perfect.


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Northern Berber". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.