Shilha language

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This article is about the Berber language of Southwestern Morocco exclusively. For other languages or dialects referred to as "Shilha", see Shilha (disambiguation).
Tashelhit, Tasusit
ⵜⴰⵛⵍⵃⵉⵢⵜ (Tašlḥiyt)
Native to Morocco
Western Sahara
Region High Atlas, Anti-Atlas, Souss
Ethnicity Shilha people
Native speakers
3.9 million  (2004)[1]
up to 7 or 8 million (2008, estimate)[2]
Standard forms
Tifinagh, Arabic, Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 shi
Glottolog tach1250[3]
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

ašlḥiy (, tašlḥiyt (


išlḥiyn (, tišlḥiyin (



Shilha /ˈʃɪlhə/,[4] also known as Tashelhit (Tashelhit Berber), Chelha or Chleuh (native Tašlḥiyt or Tamaziɣt n Sus, Moroccan Arabic: شلحة Šəlḥa), is the most populous Berber language, with up to 7 or 8 million speakers.[5] Shilha is spoken in High-Atlas Morocco, an area ranging from the northern slopes of the High Atlas to the southern slopes of the Anti-Atlas, the Great Canyon, bounded to the west by the Atlantic Ocean. The northern limit of the Shilha area is impossible to pinpoint because of a smooth transition into Southern Middle Atlas Berber. The High Atlas Mountains, plains and valleys, and the Great Canyons region is central to the Shilha area, therefore the Shilha-speaking Berbers are also found in surrounding regions and cities well outside of the High-Atlas and Souss areas.

There are also large Shilha-speaking migrant communities of Moroccan Berber origin living in France, Belgium, Germany, the United States, and Canada.

Tašlḥiyt means "the language of the Išlḥiyn". The ethnonym Išlḥiyn (sg. Ašlḥiy) is derived from Arabic šalḥ "brigand" (pl. šulūḥ), but speakers of the language are generally unaware of this etymology. Traditional literature written in Arabic script has been produced since at least the 11th century CE.[citation needed] Muḥammad Awzal (ca. 1680–1749 CE) was one of the most prolific Shilha authors. Important collections of Shilha manuscript literature exist in Leiden University, and in Aix-en-Provence, France, in addition to manuscripts in Morocco.

Language and people[edit]

Percent of Tashlhit speakers in Morocco by census 2004 Based on data found Here

The alluvial plain of the Souss river (Shilha asif n Sus), often itself called ‘the land of Souss’ (tamazirt n Sus)[6] is one of Morocco’s most fertile regions, irrigated by the waters of the Souss river and separated from the Sahara by the Anti-Atlas Mountains and the Great Canyons. Demographically, it was and is the central area of the Shilha language area. As early as the eleventh century, the area was noted for its cultivation and export of sugar. The sale of sugar to Portuguese, Dutch and English traders as well as a share in the Great Canyons gold trade brought prosperity to the region. The traditional Islamic schooling system conducted in Berber and Arabic that has existed in the area for centuries was (and is) “a rare example of a self-organized and productive education system in an almost entirely rural environment”.[7]


Shilha has been written with several different alphabets. Historically, the Arabic script has been dominant. Usage of the Latin script emerged in the late 19th century. More recently, the Shilha has begun to be written in Tifinagh.


Main article: Tifinagh

Tifinagh (or rather, Neo-Tifinagh) was introduced in the late 1990s and its use is now supported by the Moroccan authorities, in a standardised form promulgated by the Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe (IRCAM, Rabat). To date (2015), publications in all-Tifinagh remain rare, and only a tiny proportion of Shilha speakers are able to handle the new script. Its role as a cultural icon is however very visible as Tifinagh has entered the public space. Many town signs now show the name in Tifinagh as well as in Arabic and Latin script.

Arabic script[edit]

Premodern orthography[8]

The way in which Shilha has been written in the Arabic script during the past centuries is very consistent, to the extent that it is possible to talk about "a conventionalized orthography". This premodern orthography has remained virtually unchanged since at least the end of the 16th century, and is still used today in circles of traditional Islamic scholars (ṭṭlba).

The Maghrebi script[9] style is always used. Distinctive features of Maghrebi script are: the different pointing of fāʼ and qāf; shaddah may be represented with a V-shaped symbol; waṣl is indicated by writing the final vowel of the preceding word a second time with the alif (with u represented by a bar through the middle of the alif), e.g. kullu n-nāsi ‹kullu (u)l-nnāsi› ‘all the people’.

In premodern Shlha orthography, two extra letters were added to the alphabet to represent consonants not represented by the Standard Arabic alphabet: a kāf with three dots ݣ for g, and ṣād with three dots ڞ for (dots may also be added underneath the letter). Consonants and , which bear a minimal functional load, are not distinguished in the spelling from r and l.

Texts are always fully vocalized, with a, i and u written with the vowel signs fatḥah, kasrah, and ḍammah. Consonants without a following phonemic vowel are always written with a sukūn. Genmination is indicated as usual with shaddah, but in Shilha spelling it may be combined with sukūn to represent a geminated consonant without following vowel (which never occurs in Standard Arabic). Labialization is generally not represented, e.g. iẓɣʷran ‹iẓɣran› ‘roots’. The Arabic waṣl spellings are often “mirrored” and used to write word-initial vowels, e.g. ayyur ula tafukt ‹ayyur(u) ulatafukt› ‘the moon as well as the sun’.

Vowel length is not distinctive in Shilha, but orthographically long vowels may be used to indicate emphasized syllables in metric texts, e.g. lxálayiq ‹lxālayiq› ‘creatures’ vs. standard Arabic orthography ‹l-xalāʼiq›.

The Arabic letters ﺙ, ﺫ, ﻅ, representing the Arabic interdentals /θ, ð, ð̣/ may be used in etymological spellings of loanwords, but they are often replaced by ﺕ, ﺩ, ﺽ, in accordance with Shilha pronunciation, e.g. lḥadit ʽtradition’ can be written as ‹lḥadiθ› (etymological) or as ‹lḥadit› (phonemic). Final /-a/ in both native Berber words and loan words is sometimes written with alif maqṣūrah, even if the Standard Arabic spelling does not use it, e.g. zzka ‘alms tax’ written as ‹zzká› vs. standard ‹z-zkāt›. Final -t in words of Arabic origin is sometimes written with tāʼ marbūṭah, whether or not the original Arabic word was spelled with it, e.g. zzit ‘olive oil’ written as ‹zzit›. Nunation diacritics are sometimes used to write final -Vn in Shilha words, e.g. tumẓin ‘barley’ ‹tumẓin› or ‹tumẓin›. Native words starting with a vowel and a geminated consonant may sometimes be written as if they contain the Arabic definite article, e.g. azzar ‘hair’ written as ‹al-zzar›. Final -u or -w in Shilha words may be written with a following alif al-wiqāyah.

With respect to word divisions, the premodern orthography may be characterized as conjunctive (in contrast to most European orthographies, which are disjunctive). Thus, elements such as prepositions, preverbials, pronominal affixes, demonstrative and directional particles are written connected to a noun or verb form, e.g. ‹urānɣiḍhir manīɣurikfis iblisī› = ur anɣ iḍhir mani ɣ ur ikfis iblis-i ‘it is not apparent to us where Iblis has not sown [his depravity]’.

Medieval orthography[10]

A different orthography was used in the few Berber texts in existence from the eleventh to the fourteenth century CE. These were written in an older Berber language likely to be most closely related to Shilha. The consonant g was written with jīm or kāf, with ṣād or sometimes zāy, and with ṭāʼ. Vowels a, i, u were written as orthographically long vowels ‹ā›, ‹ī›, ‹ū›. Word-final wāw was usually accompanied by alif al-wiqāyah. The vowels signs fatḥah or kasrah represent a phonemic shwa /ə/ which was lost in the post-medieval language, e.g. tuwərmin ‹tūwarmīn› ‘joints, articulation’. Labialization may be represented by ḍammah, e.g. tagʷərsa ‹tāgursā› ‘ploughshare’. Prepositions, possessive complements and the like are mostly written as separate words. The medieval texts display many archaisms in phonology, morphology and lexicon.

Modern orthography in Arabic script

Since the 1970s, a fair number of books in Shilha have been published inside Morocco. These books, authored by modern Western-oriented literati, are written in a newly devised orthography in Arabic script. The main features of this orthography are the representation of vowels a, i, u by the letters alif, yāʼ, wāw, the non-use of vowel signs other than shaddah (to indicate gemination of consonants) and ḍammah (to indicate labialization). The consonant g is written with Persian گ gāf, while is either not distinguished from z, or written with Persian ژ zhe. Word separations are mostly disjunctive, with prepositions and the like written as separate words.

Latin script[edit]

Many Shilha texts from the oral tradition have been published since the 19th century, transcribed in Latin script. Early publications display a baroque variety of transcription systems. On the one hand, Stumme (1899) uses an elaborate phonetic (and often incorrect) transcription which can be hard to interpret, e.g. šthíġ adsǻġë̆ġ krá ntiġā́ūsiwin itigĭmẹ́nu[11] = šthiɣ ad sɣ'ɣ kra n tɣawsiwin i tgmmi nu ‘I’d like to buy some things for my house.’ On the other hand, Justinard (1914) uses a transcription based on French orthographical conventions which, although not very precise, is easier to decipher, e.g. stiat lmakan ifoulkin magh antkoum igitan = styat lmakan ifulkin ma ɣ a nttkkʷm igitan ‘choose a good spot where we can pitch the tents”.[12] Laoust (1936) also uses a “French” orthography, while Destaing (1938) has a refined phonetic transcription. A new standard was set by Aspinion (1953), who uses a simple but accurate, mainly phonemic transcription with hyphenation and shwa (‹e›), e.g. is-a-ten-inn bedda gi-s iffal? = is a tn inn bdda gis iffal? ‘does he always leave them there?’[13]

Most publications of recent decades use a fairly uniform transcription-orthography in Latin script (which is also used in the present article). The most unusual feature of this orthography is the use of the symbol ɛ (Greek epsilon) to represent /ʢ/ (voiced epiglottal fricative), e.g. taɛmamt /taʢmamt/ ‘turban’. Other non-IPA symbols are š, ž, ḥ, h, y, which are equivalent to IPA /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /ʜ/, /ɦ/, /j/. Except with , the subscript dot indicates pharyngealisation, e.g. aḍrḍur /adˤrdˤur/ ‘dumb person’. Geminated consonants are transcribed with doubled symbols, e.g. tassmi ‘needle’, aggʷa ‘load’. Some publications use c, j instead of š, ž, e.g. taccarijt = taššarižt ‘basin’. Word divisions are generally disjunctive (not hyphenated).



Shilha, like other varieties of Berber, has an extensive body of oral literature in a wide variety of genres. Fables and animal stories often revolve around the character of the jackal (uššn); other genres include legends, imam/taleb stories, riddles, and tongue-twisters. A large number of oral texts, as well as ethnographic texts on the customs and traditions of the Išlḥiyn have been recorded and published since the end of the 19th century, mainly by European linguists.


The first page of an 18th-century Shilha manuscript written in Arabic script, of Muḥammad Awzal's al-Ḥawḍ, part I (Leiden Cod.Or. 23.354; adapted from N. van den Boogert 1997, plate I)

Seen in the context of the indigenous languages of Africa, Shilha is practically unique in possessing a distinct literary tradition which can be traced back to the pre-colonial era. Numerous texts, written in Arabic script, are preserved in manuscripts, dating from the past four centuries. The earliest datable text is a sizeable compendium of lectures on the “religious sciences” (lɛulum n ddin) composed in metrical verses by Ibrāhīm al-Ṣanhājī, a.k.a. Brahim Aẓnag (d. 1597 CE). The most well-known writer of this tradition is Muḥammad al-Hawzālī, a.k.a. Mḥmmd Awzal (ca. 1680-1749 CE). The longest extant text in Shilha is a commentary (sharḥ) on al-Ḥawḍ, Awzal’s manual of Mālikī law; the commentary, entitled al-Manjaʽ “the Pasture” is from the hand of al-Ḥasan ibn Mubārak al-Tamuddiztī, a.k.a. Lḥsn u Mbark u Tmuddizt (d. 1899 CE). Important collections of Shilha manuscripts are preserved in Aix-en-Provence (the fonds Arsène Roux) and Leiden. Virtually all manuscripts are religious in content, and their main purpose was to provide instruction to the illiterate common people (of course, with literate scholars serving as teachers). Many of the texts are in versified form in order to facilitate memorisation and recitation. Apart from purely religious texts (almost all of them in versified form), there are also narratives in verse (e.g. Lqist n Yusf “ the story of Joseph”, Lɣazawat n Susata “the Conquest of Sousse”), odes on the pleasures of drinking tea, collections of medicinal recipes (in prose), bilingual glossaries, etc.

The premodern written language differs in some aspects from normal spoken Shilha. For example, it is common for the manuscript texts to contain a mix of dialectal features not found in any single modern dialect. The language of the manuscripts also contains a higher number of Arabic words than the modern spoken form, a phenomenon that has been called arabisme poétique.[14] Other characteristics of manuscript verse text, which are probably adopted from oral conventions, are the use of plural verb forms instead of singular forms, uncommon plural nouns formed with the prefix ida, use of stopgaps such as daɣ “again”, hann and hatinn “lo!”, etc. These conventions can be linked to the need to make the text conform to fixed metrical formulae.

Another feature of the premodern text is that they contain lexical items which have become obsolete in modern Shilha. Examples include tamtti “nation”, aẓrf “silver”, timiḍi “a hundred”, tidi “sweat (n.)”, taziḍrt “patience”, ggu “bear witness”, siladd "except", miššan "but", etc.



Shilha has three phonemic vowels, with length not a distinctive feature.[15]. The vowel u is often pronounced without any noticeable rounding.

Shilha vowel phonemes
Front Central Back
Close i u
Open a

The phonetic realization of the vowels, especially a, is highly influenced by the surrounding consonants. For example, pharyngealized consonants invite a more centralised realization of the vowel, as in kraḍ [krɐdˁ] “three”, kkuẓ [kkɤzˁ] “four”, sḍis [sdˁɪs] “six” vs. yan [yæn] “one”, sin [sin] “two”, smmus [smmʊs] “five”.

In addition there are non-phonemic transitional vowels, often collectively referred to as “shwa”. The presence and quality of these transitional vowels depends on the surrounding consonants. Typically, a transitional vowel is audible between the onset and peak consonants of a syllable /CC/ or /CCC/, if one or both consonants are voiced, e.g. tigmmi [tigĭmmi] “house”, amḥḍar [amăʜdˁɐr] “schoolboy”. In most modern publications in Latin transcription, as well as in the premodern Arabic-script orthography, transitional vowels are not represented. Some linguists (e.g. Aspinion 1953) uniformly mark the place where a transitional vowel may be heard with ‹e›, e.g. tigemmi, ameḥḍar, as well as places where in reality no vowel is heard, e.g. akessab [akssæb] “owner of livestock”, kešmat [kʃmæt] ‘enter!’; in these cases, the writing of ‹e› in fact serves to elucidate the syllabic structure of a word, e.g [ti.g‹e›m.mi.], [a.m‹e›ḥ.ḍar.], [a.k‹e›s.sab.], [k‹e›š.mat.]. Evidence supports the conclusion that the transitional vowels (“shwa”) are non-phonemic. For instance, it lacks its own time slot or articulatory target.[16] Due to this, Shilha can be analyzed as containing syllables without phonemic vowels.[17]


Speech sample in Shilha (Chelha).

Shilha has thirty-three phonemic consonants. Like other Berber languages and Arabic, it has both pharyngealized ("emphatic") and plain dental consonants. There is also a distinction between labialized and plain dorsal obstruents. Gemination is contrastive.

The chart below represents the consonants in the standard Latin transcription. IPA equivalents are given in the list of descriptions.

Shilha consonant phonemes: chart
Labial Dental Postalv./
Velar Uvular Epi-
plain phar. plain lab. plain lab.
Nasal m n



Fricative f



Approximant l y w
Trill r
Shilha consonant phonemes: description
Transcription IPA Description
m m voiced bilabial nasal
n n voiced dental nasal
t voiceless dental stop
t̪ˤ voiceless pharyngealized dental stop
k k voiceless prevelar stop
voiceless labialized prevelar stop
q q voiceless uvular stop
voiceless labialized uvular stop
b b voiced bilabial stop
d voiced dental stop
d̪ˤ voiced pharyngealized dental stop
g ɡ voiced prevelar stop
ɡʷ voiced labialized prevelar stop
f f voiceless labiodental fricative
s voiceless dental fricative
s̪ˤ voiceless pharyngealized dental fricative
š ʃ voiceless postalveolar fricative
x x voiceless postvelar fricative
voiceless labialized postvelar fricative
ʜ voiceless epiglottal fricative
z voiced dental fricative
z̪ˤ voiced pharyngealized dental fricative
ž ʒ voiced postalveolar fricative
ɣ ɣ voiced postvelar fricative
ɣʷ ɣʷ voiced labialized postvelar fricative
ɛ ʢ voiced epiglottal fricative or approximant
h ɦ voiced glottal fricative or approximant
l voiced dental lateral approximant
l̪ˤ voiced pharyngealized dental lateral approximant
y j voiced palatal approximant
w w voiced labial-velar approximant
r voiced dental trill
r̪ˤ voiced pharyngealized dental trill

Some pharyngealized consonants are very common(i.e. /tˤ, dˤ, sˤ, zˤ/), while others are very rare, found mostly in Arabic loans (e.g. /nˤ, lˤ, rˤ/).[18]

Via assibilation /t, d/ sometimes become /s, z/ respectively.[19]

Syllable structure[edit]

Due to the presence of vowelless words, sometimes entirely voiceless (e.g. t-fk-t=stt 'you gave it') Shilha poses a difficulty regarding syllabification. Some regard all consonants as possible nuclei, while another opinion is that shwa serves as the phonetic realization of the syllable nucleus.[19]



On the basis of their morphology, three types of Shilha nouns can be distinguished, two indigenous types and one type of external origin: (1) prefixed nouns, (2) unprefixed nouns (including the subtype of bound nouns), and (3) unincorporated loans. The relevant categories are gender, number and state.[20]

Prefixed nouns

Prefixed noun (i.e., nouns provided with a prefix) are by far the most common type, including many incorporated loans. These nouns can be easily recognised from their outward form: they begin with a nominal prefix, which has the shape V- or tV-, e.g. aggu "smoke", igigil "orphan", uṣkay "hound", tadggʷat "evening", tibinṣrt "mash mallow (plant)", tuḍfit "ant". Prefixed nouns distinguish two genders, masculine and feminine; two numbers, singular and plural; and two states, conventionally known by their French names as état libre (free state) and état d'annexion (construct state) and abbreviated as EL and EA. Gender, number and state are all explicitly marked.

The nominal prefix has no semantic content.[21] It may be made up of at most two elements, a gender prefix and a vocalic prefix. Singular feminine nouns may also have a gender suffix. For example, the noun tazdwit "bee" has the feminine prefix t-, the vocalic prefix a- and the feminine singular suffix -t added to the nominal stem zdwi. While feminine prefixed nouns always have the feminine prefix, masculine nouns do not have a gender prefix in the état libre (EL); e.g. abaɣuɣ "fox" has no gender prefix, but only a vocalic prefix a- added to the nominal stem baɣuɣ.

Gender is thus marked unambiguously, albeit asymmetrically. In just a handful of nouns, the morphological gender does not conform to the grammatical gender: ulli "sheep and goats" is morphologically, but takes agreement; alln "eyes" is morphologically, but takes agreement; tarwa "(someone's) children, offspring" is morphologically, but takes agreement.

The état d'annexion (EA) is regularly formed by reducing the vocalic prefix to zero and, with masculine nouns, adding the gender prefix w-, e.g. EL t-a-zdwit, EA t-zdwi-t; EL a-baɣuɣ, EA w-baɣuɣ.

With some nouns, the original vocalic prefix has fused with a stem-initial vowel, to produce an inseparable (and irreducible) vowel. For example, t-afuk-t "sun" has EA t-afuk-t (not *t-fuk-t), and ayyur "moon, month" has EA w-ayyur (not *w-yyur).

While most prefixed nouns have a vocalic prefix a-, some have i- (in some cases inseparable), and a few have u- (always inseparable). When a masculine noun has the vocalic prefix i- (separable or inseparable), the gender prefix w- changes to y-. An overview (all examples are singular; plurals also distinguish EL and EA):

Shilha nouns: state
Masculine EL Masculine EA Feminine EL Feminine EA
"ass" -a-ɣyul w- -ɣyul "egg" t-a-glay-t t- -glay-t
"wadi" -asif w-asif "thigh" t-aɣma t-aɣma
"cave" -i-fri y- -fri "meat" t-i-fiyi t- -fiyi
"ash" -iɣd y-iɣd "salt" t-isn-t t-isn-t
"mouflon" -udad w-udad "light" t-ufaw-t t-ufaw-t

The EA is not predictable from the shape of the noun, e.g. afus, EA wfus "hand" vs. afud, EA wafud "knee".

The phonological rules on the realization of /w/ and /y/ apply to the EA as well. For example, the EA of a-mɣar "chief" is /w-mɣar/, realized as wmɣar after a vowel, umɣar after a consonant: ifka t i wmɣar "he gave it to the chief" vs. imun d umɣar "he accompanied the chief".

The EA is used in clearly defined syntactical contexts: (1) when the noun occurs as subject in postverbal position, e.g. iɣli d wayyur "the EA-moon rose" vs. ayyur iɣli d "[as for] the EL-moon, it rose"; (2) after most prepositions and the linker n "of", e.g. tiskrt d uẓalim "garlic and EA-onions", tangult n uɣrum "a loaf of EA-bread"; (3) after unit numbers and the indefinite number, e.g. kraṭṭ tmkilin "three EA-dishes"; (4) after bound nouns which can occur only with a following NP, e.g. bu trgin "he of the EA-charcoal: charcoal dealer" (tirgin "charcoal"), ayt ugadir "the people of EA-Agadir". Outside these contexts, the EL is used.

Prefixed nouns show a great variety of plural formations, applying one or more of the following processes: (1) suffixation (masc. -n, fem. -in), (2) vowel change (insertion or elision, or ablaut), (3) consonant gemination or degemination, and (4) stem extension. Apart from these processes, the separable vocalic prefix a- is always replaced with i-. Inseparable prefixes either remain unchanged, or change as part of process 2. There are also irregular and suppletive plurals. Below is a sample of nouns, illustrating various plural formations. As shown, if the vocalic prefix is inseparable in the singular, it may may be separable in the plural (as with aduz), and vice versa (as with aydi).

Shilha nouns: plural formations
Singular Plural Process(es)
"mountain" a-drar i-drar-n suffixation
"dune" aduz i-dazz-n suffixation, vowel change, gemination
"head" a-gayyu i-guyya vowel change
"ear" a-mẓẓuɣ i-mzga-n suffixation, vowel change, degemination (irregular)
"waterhole" anu una vowel change
"document" arra arrat-n suffixation, stem extension
"day" ass ussa-n suffixation, vowel change
"dog" a-ydi iḍa-n suffixation, vowel change (irregular)
"forehead" i-gnzi i-gnzit-n suffixation, stem extension
"forearm" i-ɣil i-ɣall-n suffixation, vowel change, gemination
"scorpion" i-ɣirdm i-ɣardmiw-n suffixation, vowel change, stem extension
"witness" i-nigi i-naga-n suffixation, vowel change
"slave" i-smg i-smga-n suffixation, vowel change
"face" udm udmaw-n suffixation, stem extension
"song" urar urar-n suffixation
"jackal" uššn uššan-n suffixation, vowel change
"egg" t-a-glay-t t-i-glay irregular
"thing" t-a-ɣawsa t-i-ɣawsiw-in suffixation, stem extension
"mouse" t-a-ɣrday-t t-i-ɣrday-in suffixation
"churn" t-a-gššul-t t-i-gʷšl-in suffixation, vowel change, degemination
"fireplace" t-aka-t t-akat-in suffixation, stem extension
"porcupine" t-aruš-t t-uraš vowel change
"key" t-a-saru-t t-i-sura vowel change
"house" t-i-gmmi t-i-gʷmma vowel change
"ewe" t-ili t-att-n suppletive
"meal" t-irm-t t-iram vowel change
"eye" t-iṭṭ all-n suppletive
"mountain pass" t-izi t-izza vowel change, gemination
"lioness" t-izm-t t-izmaw-in suffixation, stem extension
"light" t-ufaw-t t-ufaw-in suffixation

The plural is generally not predictable from the shape of the singular, e.g. a-duku "shoe", pl. i-duka-n vs. a-ruku "utensil", pl. i-rukut-n. In view of this great variety, it is not surprising that many nouns have more than one plural, e.g. a-žnwiy "knife", pl. i-žnway (vowel change) or i-žnwiy-n (suffixation).

Among the prefixed nouns are found many loans which have been fully incorporated. Examples include t-a-kira "wax" (from Latin), a-ɣanim "reed" (from Punic), urti "garden" (from early Romance) and numerous Arabic loans such as a-muslm "Muslim", t-a-bra-t "letter, missive" (plurals: i-ɣanim-n, urta-n, i-muslm-n, t-i-brat-in).

Unprefixed nouns

This is the least common type, which also includes some loans. Examples are dikkuk "cuckoo", fad "thirst", frṭ'ṭṭu "bat, butterfly", gmz "thumb", kḍran "tar", lagar "station", laẓ "hunger", maṭiša "tomatoes", mllɣ "index finger", wazdwit "light afternoon meal", xizzu "carrots". Unprefixed nouns distinguish two numbers, but many are collectives or non-count nouns which do not have a separate plural form.

It is probable that originally all prefixed nouns were masculine. The few that now take feminine agreement contain elements that have been reanalyzed as marking feminine gender, e.g. ttžmnni "type of spider" (initial t seen as feminine prefix), hlima "bat" (not an Arabic loan but final a analyzed as the Arabic feminine ending). One unprefixed noun takes plural agreement even though it is morphologically singular: mddn ~ middn "people, humans".[22]

The plural of unprefixed nouns is made by prefixing the pluralizer id-, e.g. id-lagar "stations".

Proper names (names of people and places) can also be seen as a subtype of unprefixed nouns, e.g. Musa (man's name), Faḍma (woman's name), Mrrakʷš "Marrakech", Sbbanya "Spain". Gender is generally not marked on proper names, but they take gender agreement according to the natural sex of the referent (male/masculine, female/feminine).

Bound nouns

A subtype of unprefixed nouns are the bound nouns, i.e., nouns which are necessarily possessed. Plurals are either suppletive or made with id-. As with proper names, gender is not marked on bound nouns, which also take gender agreement according to the natural sex of the referent. Most bound nouns are kinship terms which require a possessive suffix:

Shilha bound nouns: kinship terms + pronominal suffix
Singular Plural Remarks
"the mother(s) of" ma- id-ma-
"the father(s) of" baba- id-baba-
"the daughter(s) of" ylli- ysti-
"the son(s) of" yiw-, yu-, ywi- (t-arwa) pl. is prefixed noun "sons, offspring"
"the sister(s) of" wlt-ma- yst-ma- compound, lit. "the daughter(s) of the mother of"
"the brother(s) of" gʷ-ma- ayt-ma- compound, lit. "the son(s) of the mother of"
"grandmother: the mother of the mother of" ždda- Arabic loan
"grandfather: the father of the mother of" ti-ma- compound
"grandmother: the mother of the father of" tabt-ti- compound
"grandfather: the father of the father of" žddi- Arabic loan
"aunt: the sister(s) of the mother of" xalti- id-xalti- Arabic loan
"uncle: the brother(s) of the mother of" xali- id-xali- Arabic loan
"aunt: the sister(s) of the father of" ɛmti- id-ɛmti- Arabic loan
"uncle: the brother(s) of the father of" ɛmmi- id-ɛmmi- Arabic loan
"the elder female relative of" taba-
"the elder male relative of" dadda-
"the mistress of lalla- Arabic loan?
"the master of" sidi- Arabic loan

These kinship terms cannot occur without pronominal suffix. Hence, if they are part of a possessive construction "the X of Y", possession is indicated twice, e.g. baba-s n tslit (father-her of EA-bride) "the father of the bride", yiwi-s n gʷma-ø (son-his of brother-my) "my brother's son: my nephew".

Not all kinship terms are bound nouns: some are prefixed nouns which take possessive complements, e.g. tarwa nu "my children", aḍggʷal nnm "your ( father-in-law", laždud nnɣ "our ancestors (lit. grandfathers)".

The remaining bound nouns require a following NP, forming a possessive phrase:

Shilha bound nouns + NP
Singular Plural Remarks
"the daughter(s) of, native(s) of" wlt yst (*)
"the son(s) of, native(s) of" w ayt (*)
"she with, those with" mm id-mm Arabic loan (*)
"he with, those with" bu id-bu Arabic loan (*)
"she without, those without" tar it-tar
"he without, those without" war id-war
(*) Following prefixed noun must be in the EA.

The bound nouns w, ayt, wlt, yst occur as first element in compound kinship terms (see above; w then becomes ). They also serve to indicate descent, origin and ethnicity, e.g. ḥmad u musa "Ahmed son of Moussa" (name of a famous saint), u bṛṛa "native of outside: foreigner", ayt ugrsif "the natives of Aguercif", ayt trudant "the natives of Taroudant", wlt zzna "daughter of fornication: whore", ist tfrawt "the women of Tafraout". When w is followed by another (underlying) w the result is ggʷ, e.g. ggʷižžan /w wižžan/ "native of Ouijjane" (also surname "Gouijjane"), argaz ggʷrgaz /a-rgaz w w-rgaz/ "a man, son of a man: a man of virue". Ayt occurs in many ethnonyms, e.g. ayt bubker "the Sons of Boubker" (a tribe, "Aït Boubker").

The bound noun bu is used as a versatile formative element to make nicknames, e.g. bu tbratin "he of the letters: postman", bu tḥanut "he of the shop: shopkeeper", bu tagant "he of the forest: wild boar", bu ššišit "he of the bonnet: lark", bu sa yiwaliwn "he of seven words: a liar". Often bu fuses with a following nominal prefix, e.g. bumarg from bu wmarg "he of the poetry: poet", bizmawn from bu yizmawn "he of the lions" (name of singer), bidammn from bu ydammn "he of the blood: barber", bigʷra from bu ygʷra "he of the frogs" (place name, "Biougra"). The feminine mm is used less frequently. Examples are mm igrtal "she of the mats: prayer room in a mosque", mm lɣrur "she of deception: the world", mm iwlẓa "she of the thick ankles: ugly woman", mm ifalan "she of the threads: needle", mm uɣu "she of the milk: euphorbia".

Unincorporated loans

These are are nouns of Arabic origin (including loans from French and Spanish through Arabic) which have largely retained their Arabic morphology. They distinguish two genders (not always explicitly marked) and two numbers (explicitly marked). A notable feature of these nouns is that they are borrowed with the Arabic definite article, which is semantically neutralized in Shilha, e.g. lfqih "the scholar, a scholar" (Moroccan Arabic l-fqih "the scholar"), ššahd "the witness, a witness" (Moroccan Arabic š-šahəd "the witness").

The Arabic feminine ending -a is often replaced with the Shilha suffix -t, e.g. Moroccan Arabic l-ɛafy-a becomes lɛafi-t "fire", Moroccan Arabic n-nəqʷr-a becomes nnqʷr-t "silver". Arabic loans usually retain their gender in Shilha. The exception are Arabic masculine nouns which end in t; these change their gender to feminine in Shilha, with the final t reanalyzed as the suffix -t of prefixed nouns, e.g. Moroccan Arabic l-ḥadit "the prophetic tradition" (masc.) becomes lḥadi-t (fem.).

Arabic plurals are usually borrowed with the singulars. The borrowed plural has the same gender as the borrowed singular if this is feminine, even if the gender is not explicitly marked on the plural, e.g. lɛwafi "fires" is feminine (although not marked as such) because the singular lɛafi-t is feminine (and marked as such). Loans whose singular is masculine however may have a plural which is feminine, and marked as such (according to Arabic morphology), e.g. lɛlam "flag" (m.), pl. lɛlum-at (f.).

The plurals of unincorporated nouns of low frequency are sometimes made with the pluralizer ida- (a variant of id- used with unprefixed nouns), e.g. lmizab "drain", pl. lmyazb or ida-lmizab. This pluralizer also occurs in verse texts, sometimes added (metri causa) to a plural, e.g. ida-žžnanat "gardens" (lit. "gardenses", normal pl. žžnanat, sg. žžnan).


There are three basic sets of pronouns: independent, direct object, and suffixed. In addition, there are two derived sets which contain the suffixed pronouns (except 1sg.): indirect object and possessive complement. The five sets are set out below. Gender is consistently marked on 2sg., 2pl. and 3pl. pronouns. Gender is not consistently marked on 3sg. and 1pl. (there is a separate 1pl.f. independent pronoun nkkʷnti, not shown in the table). Gender is never marked on 1sg.

Shilha pronouns[23]
Independent Direct object Suffix Indirect object Possessive complement
1sg. nkk(i(n) yyi V-ø / C-i yyi V nw / C inw
2sg.m. kyy(i(n) k -k a-k nn-k
2s.f. kmm(i(n) km -m a-m nn-m
3sg.m. ntta(n) t -s a-s nn-s
3sg.f. nttat tt / stt -s a-s nn-s
1pl. nkkʷni a(n)ɣ -(n)ɣ, -t-nɣ a-(n)ɣ nn-ɣ
2pl.m. kʷnni kʷn -wn, -t-un a-wn nn-un
2pl.f. kʷnnimti kʷnt -wnt, -t-unt a-wnt nn-unt
3pl.m. nttni, nitni tn -sn, -t-sn a-sn nn-sn
3pl.f. nttnti, nitnti tnt -snt, -t-snt a-snt nn-snt
ø = zero morpheme.

The independent (‘overt’) pronouns are used to stress an argument, as well as with certain pseudo-prepositions such as zund ‘like’, bla ‘without’, e.g. nkki, ur giɣ aɣyul zund kyyi ‘me, I’m not an ass like you.’

The suffixed pronouns are used with prepositions to indicate the object, and with a closed set of necessarily possessed kinship terms to indicate possession. The plural forms with infixed -t- (of unexplained origin) are always used with the kinship terms, and with some prepositions (in some cases as a free or dialectal variant of the form without the infix), e.g. baba-t-nɣ ‘our father’ (never *baba-nɣ), flla-sn ~ flla-t-sn ‘on them’, dar-sn ‘with them’ (never *dar-t-sn), ingra-t-sn ‘among them’ (never *ingra-sn).

The possessive complements follow the noun, e.g. tigmmi nu ‘house of-me: my house’ (phonemic /nw/ is realized as [nu] before pause or between consonants), tigmmi nnk ‘house of-you (sg.m.): your house’, etc.

Of the direct object pronouns, 3sg.f. stt is used after a dental stop, e.g. awyat stt id ‘bring ( her here!’ vs. awi tt id ‘bring ( her here!’.


Most prepositions have a short and a long form: the long form is used with pronominal suffixes, and the short form is used in all other contexts, e.g. ɣ lmdint ‘in the city’ (ɣ ‘in’, short form), gi-s ‘in her’ (gi- ‘in’, long form).

Most prepositions require the following noun to be in the EA. Exceptions are ar ‘until’, s ‘toward’ (in some dialects and in premodern texts) and some prepositions of Arabic origin such as bɛd ‘after’ and qbl ‘before’. Examples: ddu tafukt ‘under the EA-sun’ , ɣ wayyur n šutambir ‘in the EA-month of September’, ifškan n tgmmi ‘the things of the EA-house ‘, s wuzzal ‘by means of the EA-iron’, but ar assf n lžaza ‘until the EL-Day of Judgment’, s aflla ‘to the EL-top’ (also s uflla ‘to the EA-top’), qbl iḍ ‘before the EL-night’.

Shilha prepositions
short form long form translation equivalent
d id-, did- ‘with, in the company of’
dar dar- ‘at, by, chez
ddu ddaw-, ddawa- ‘beneath, under’
f flla- ‘on; because of’
gr gra- ‘between’
(i)ngr (i)ngra- ‘among’
ɣ gi(g)- ‘in, at’
i (see Pronouns) ‘for, to’
n (see Pronouns) ‘of’
nnig nniga- ‘on top of’
s is- ‘with, by means of’
zgi(g)- ‘from’
s sr- ‘to, toward’
ar ‘until, as far as’

Below, by way of example, is the preposition ɣ ‘in’ with pronominal suffixes, with all its free and dialectal variants. The other prepositions display less variety.

Shilha preposition ɣ ‘in’ with pronominal suffixes
gig- gi- with -t- irregular formations
1sg. gig-i gi-ø
2sg.m. gik-k gi-k
2sg.f. gi-m
3sg. gi-s giz, gid, git
1pl. gi-nɣ gi-t-nɣ
2pl.m. gig-un gi-wn gi-t-un
2pl.f. gig-unt gi-wnt gi-t-unt
3pl.m. gi-sn gi-t-sn gizn, gidsn
3pl.f. gi-snt gi-t-snt giznt, gidsnt

Two prepositions can be combined, e.g. illa ɣ dar lqaḍi ‘he is at the cadi‘s’ (ɣ dar, lit. ‘in at’, location), ifta s dar lqaḍi ‘he went to the cadi’ (s dar, lit. ‘to at’, movement).

Spacial relations are also expressed with prepositional phrases of the type ‘on top of’, e.g. ɣ iggi n umdduz ‘on top of the dung heap’, ɣ tama n uɣaras ‘at the side of the road’, ɣ tuẓẓumt n wasif ‘in the midst of the river’.


Modern Shilha, as most Northern Berber languages, often uses Arabic numerals. The inherited cardinal numeral system consisted of ten unit numerals (with gender distinction) and three numeral nouns. There is also an indefinite numeral which morphologically and syntactically patterns with the unit numerals, meaning ‘several, many’ or ‘how many?’.

The unit numerals are listed below. The formation of feminine ‘1’ and ‘2’ is irregular. Feminine kraṭ-ṭ is phonemically /kraḍ-t/. The variant ttam ‘eight’ developed under the influence of ttẓa ‘nine’, itself a variant of tẓẓa (premodern manuscript texts consistently use tam and tẓẓa).

Shilha unit numerals[24]
masculine feminine
‘one’ ya-n ya-t
‘two’ sin sna-t
‘three’ kraḍ kraṭ-ṭ
‘four’ kkuẓ kkuẓ-t
‘five’ smmus smmus-t
‘six’ sḍis sḍis-t
‘seven’ sa sa-t
‘eight’ tam, ttam tam-t, ttam-t
‘nine’ tẓẓa, ttẓa tẓẓa-t, ttẓa-t
‘ten’ mraw mraw-t
(indefinite) mnnaw mnnaw-t

The units are constructed with nouns in the EA, the gender of the unit agreeing with that of the noun, e.g. yan wagʷmar ‘one EA-horse’, yat tfunast ‘one EA-cow’, sin wagʷmarn ‘two EA-horses’, snat tfunasin ‘two EA-cows’. The same obtains with the indefinite numeral, e.g. mnnaw wagʷmarn ‘several/many horses’, ‘how many horses?’, mnnawt tfunasin ‘several/many cows’, ‘how many cows?’

Numerals yan, yat ‘one’ also serve as indefinite article, e.g. yan urumiy ‘one Westerner, a Westerner’.

The teens are made by connecting the units ‘1’ through ‘9’ to mraw(t) ‘ten’ with the preposition d ‘with’, e.g. masc. sin d mraw, fem. snat d mrawt ‘twelve’ (lit. two with ten). In the premodern language, the teens, like the units, were constructed with a noun in the EA, e.g. sin d mraw wagʷmarn ‘twelve horses’ (lit. two with ten EA-horses), snat d mrawt tfunasin ‘twelve cows’ (lit. two with ten EA-cows). In the modern language, the teens are connected with the linker n ‘of’ to a singular or plural noun, e.g. sin d mraw n wagʷmar / wagʷmarn ‘twelve horses’ (lit. two with ten of EA-horse(s)), snat d mrawt n tfunast / tfunasin ‘twelve cows’ (lit. two with ten of EA-cow(s)). The teens tend to develop fused forms, in which the unit is always masculine, e.g. sindmraw n wagʷmar ‘twelve horses’, sindmrawt n tfunast ‘twelve cows’.

In addition to the unit numerals, there are three numeral nouns. These are now obsolete, but well attested in the premodern manuscripts. Morphologically, they are ordinary prefixed nouns.

Shilha numeral nouns
singular EL singular EA plural EL plural EA
‘a tensome’ t-a-mraw-t t-mraw-t t-i-mraw-in t-mraw-in
‘a hundred’ t-i-miḍi t-miḍi t-i-maḍ t-maḍ
‘a thousand’ ifḍ y-ifḍ afḍa-n w-afḍa-n

Tens, hundreds and thousands were formed by combining the unit numerals with the numeral nouns, e.g. snat tmrawin ‘two tensomes: twenty’, snat tmaḍ ‘two hundred(s)’, sin wafḍan ‘two thousand(s)’. The numeral nouns are connected with the linker n ‘of'‘ to a noun, most often in the singular, e.g. snat tmaḍ n wagʷmar ‘two hundred horses’ (lit. two hundreds of EA-horse), snat tmaḍ n tfunast ‘two hundred cows’ (lit. two hundreds of EA-cow).

In the modern language, the Arabic tens have been borrowed, but they have developed a separate feminine form, e.g. masc. ɛšrin n wagʷmar ‘twenty horses’ (lit. twenty of EA-horse), fem. ɛšrint n tfunast ‘twenty cows’ (lit. twenty of EA-cow). The numerals between the tens are taken over in their entirety from Arabic, e.g. xmsa w-ɛšrin n wagʷmar ‘twenty-five horses’ (lit. five and twenty of EA-horse).

The Arabic hundreds and thousands are used in the modern language, taking the places of the original numeral nouns while maintaining the same syntax, , e.g. miya n wagʷmar ‘a hundred horses’ (lit. hundred of EA-horse), snat id-miya n wagʷmar ‘two hundred horses’ (lit. two hundreds of EA-horse); alf n tfunast ‘a thousand cows’ (lit. thousand of EA-cow), sin walfiwn n tfunast ‘two thousand cows’ (lit. two thousands of EA-cow).

There is also a vigesimal system built on the Arabic numeral ɛšrin ‘twenty’,[25] e.g. sin id-ɛšrin n tfunast ‘forty cows’ (lit. two twenties of EA-cow).

When counting units of time, value and measurement, it is common to borrow the entire phrase from Arabic, e.g. xmsṭṭaɛšr yum ‘fifteen days’, tlata d-ryal ‘three riyals’, sttin rṭl ‘sixty rotl (a weight)’.

Ordinal numerals are formed by prefixing masc. wis-, fem. tis- to a cardinal numeral, which is then constructed with a noun in the usual manner, e.g. wis-kraḍ wussan ‘the third day’ (lit. ORD-three EA-days), tis-kraṭṭ twal ‘the third time’ (lit. ORD-three EA-times). The ordinal prefixes can be used with Arabic numerals as well, e.g. wis-xmsa w-ɛšrin n dulqiɛda ‘the 25th [day] of [the month] Dhū’l-Qaʼda’.

Because four of the ten unit numerals begin with s..., the geminated ss that resulted from the prefixation of wis-, tis- (as in wissin, wissmmus, etc.) is often generalized to the other numerals, hence wis-kraḍ, wiss-kraḍ, tis-kkuẓ, tiss-kkuẓ, etc.

The ordinal prefix is also used with the indefinite numeral, e.g. wis-mnnawt twal ‘the how-manieth time?’

The ordinals ‘first’ and ‘last’ are expressed with prefixed nouns derived from the verbs zwar ‘be first, precede’ and ggru ‘be last’:

Shilha ‘first’ and ‘last’
Masculine EL Masculine EA Feminine EL Feminine EA
‘first’ sg. a-mzwaru w-mzwaru t-a-mzwaru-t t-mzwaru-t
pl. i-mzwura y-mzwura t-i-mzwura t-mzwura
‘last’ sg. a-mggaru w-mggaru t-a-mggaru-t t-mggaru-t
pl. i-mggura y-mggura t-i-mggura t-mggura

These nouns can be used independently, or in apposition to nouns, agreeing in gender and number with the referent, e.g. ɣ wass amzwaru ‘on the first day’ (lit. in EA-day EL-first), tamggarut n tmɣarin ‘the last of the women’ (lit. last of EA-women).


Shilha number-gender markers
1sg. ...
2sg. t- ... -t
3sg.m. y- ...
3sg.f. t- ...
1pl. n- ...
2pl.m. t- ... -m
2pl.f. t- ... -mt
3pl.m. ... -n
3pl.f. ... -nt

Verbs carry the person, number and gender information of their subject in the form of affixes. There are four inflectional forms of the verb[citation needed] traditionally called aorist, preterite, negative preterite and intensive[citation needed]. The basic opposition is between the aorist, a non-past form which lacks further tense information, and the preterite which often conveys past tense. The intensive (usually called inaccomplit in French) encodes habitual and/or durative/continuative aspect. It is often preceded by a particle ar, for instance in ar ttsisn waman‘ (lit. ar boil:3pm:INT water:EA) 'the water is boil'. In texts, a sequence of aorist verb forms usually follows after the initial setting of tense by an imperfect or intensive verb form.

A relative form of the verb, usually called participle, is used in relative clauses. It looks like the preterite form of the verb, with affixes added for person and number: i-...-n for 3rd person singular (y-...-n with vowel-initial verbs), and -in for 3rd person plural. For example, the relative forms of ili 'to be' (with preterite form lli) are illan and llanin for singular and plural, respectively. A singular imperative consists of the bare form of the verb without any affixes (fssa! 'be silent, sg'); in the plural, the imperative distinguishes between masculine and feminine by means of the affixes -at and -amu, respectively.

Stative verbs, verbs expressing qualities, are characterized by initial i- in the aorist, e.g. imɣur 'be big (aorist)', imim 'be sweet (aorist)', ili 'be, exist (aorist)'. The aorist form of stative verbs usually has a subjunctive or counter-factual reading, whereas the preterite form (characterized by gemination of the consonant, e.g. lli/lla 'be (pret.)') generally is used to express a (current) state of affairs, e.g. llan islman ɣ isaffn (be:PRET:3pm fish:pm in river) 'there are fishes in the river'. Shilha has only few simple adjectives; the most common adjectival construction is the relative form of a stative verb, as in argaz imqquṛn (man PTC:sg:m-be.big-PTC:sg:m) 'big man'.

Derived verb forms exist: a causative s, medial[disambiguation needed] m (or nasal), and passive tt... can be recognized, as in muddu 'travel' from ddu go' + medial, or smugr 'meet each other' from gr 'touch' + causative + medial. However, derivation is no longer productive, i.e. speakers no longer consciously produce causatives, medials, or passives by applying derivative morphology to verbs.

Shilha sample verb: fk ʽto giveʼ
Aorist Preterite Preterite
1sg. fk fki ur fki ar akka
2sg. t-fk-t t-fki-t ur t-fki-t ar t-akka-t
3sg.m. i-fk i-fka ur i-fki ar y-akka
3sg.f. t-fk t-fka ur t-fki ar t-akka
1pl. n-fk n-fka ur n-fki ar n-akka
2pl.m. t-fki-m t-fka-m ur t-fki-m ar t-akka-m
2pl.f. t-fki-mt t-fka-mt ur t-fki-mt ar t-akka-mt
3pl.m. fki-n fka-n ur fki-n ar akka-n
3pl.f. fki-nt fka-nt ur fki-nt ar akka-nt
sg. i-fka-n ur i-fki-n y-akka-n
pl. fka-nin ur fki-nin akka-nin
2sg. fk akka
2pl.m. fk-at akka-yat
2pl.f. fk-amt akka-yamt


Shilha has a large native (non-borrowed) lexicon which is fully able to deal with the natural, cultural and material world of a traditional society. In this respect, Shilha is no different from any other natural language. And, like any other language, Shilha has borrowed extensively from the languages with which its speakers came into contact.


The earliest identifiable loan is tiyni ‘dates’, from Egyptian-Coptic (cf. Tuareg tehäyne, Ghadamis aβêna; cf. Coptic bnne, beni, benni ‘date palm-tree; dates’[26]).

More numerous are the loanwords from Phoenician-Punic and Latin/Romance, which date to the first millennium CE or earlier. Almost all loans from these sources are nouns which have been morphologically incorporated as prefixed nouns.

Phoenician-Punic, a Northwest-Semitic language, was spoken in parts of North Africa, especially in what is now Tunisia, up to the 5th century CE (it was still a living language in the time of St Augustine). Punic loans are found in several Berber languages, among them Shilha. Examples (etymons from Hebrew, another, better attested Northwest-Semitic language): agadir “fortress” (cf. Hebrew gādēr “wall”), aẓalim “onions” (cf. Hebrew bəṣālīm), aɣanim “reeds” (cf. Hebrew qānīm), tifst ‘flax, linen’ (premodern Shilha, cf. Hebrew pišt-). The verb lmd “to learn” is probably also a Punic loan (cf. Hebrew lāmad). The noun uday "Jew" probably came to the Berber languages from the Aramaic language spoken by early Jewish immigrants in North Africa (cf. Aramaic-Syriac yūdāy-ā vs. Hebrew yəhūdī, Arabic yahūdī).

Van den Boogert (1997:221) notes that the units ‘5’ through ‘9’, taken together, give the impression of being Semitic (non-Arabic) loans. However, the corresponding numerals in Phoenician-Punic, the historically most likely origin, do not seem to be the source. A comparison:

Shilha unit numerals ‘5’ - ‘9’: Semitic loans?
Shilha Tigrinya Phoenician Arabic
‘five’ smmus ḥammuš- ḥmš xams-
‘six’ sḍis šədəš- šš sitt- (ordinal sādis)
‘seven’ sa šobʕat- šbʕ sabʕ-
‘eight’ tam, ttam šommon- šmn θamān-
‘nine’ tẓẓa, ttẓa təšʕat- tšʕ tisʕ-

A variety of Latin/Romance was spoken in parts of northern Morocco right up to the advent of Islam. Loans from Latin and early Romance include: afullus “cock, rooster” (Latin pullus “young animal, chick”); afurnu “oven” (cf. Latin fornus); asnus “ass’s foal” (Latin asinus “ass”); fliyyu “pennyroyal” (Latin pulēium); ikikr “chickpeas” (Latin cicer); tafala “peel, spade” (Latin pāla); tafaska “ewe for slaughter on the ʽīd al-aḍḥā” (Latin pascha “paschal lamb”); talima “file” (Latin līma); tayuga “yoke, pair” (early Romance, cf. Latin pl. iuga, sg. iugum “yoke”); urti “garden” (early Romance, cf. Latin hortus); taɣawsa “thing” (Latin causa); takira “wax” (Latin cēra); tibitas “beets” (early Romance betas, cf. Latin sg. bēta); tifiras “pears” (early Romance piras, cf. Latin pl. pira, sg. pirum).

Later Romance loans can be distinguished by the fact that original s becomes š instead of s as in the earlier loans. Presumable, the later loans originated from Ibero-Romance, with which Berber speakers came into contact in al-Andalus (Islamic Spain). Examples include ašaqqur “axe” (cf. premodern Spanish segur, Latin securis), šmrir “broad-rimmed hat” (cf. Spanish sombrero), ašbaru “spur” (premodern Shilha; cf. Spanish sg. espuera → Shilha pl. išbura → sg. ašbaru), and ašnti “rye” (cf. medieval Shilha šəntin, Spanish centeno; the form šəntin naturally developed into tišntin, from which ašnti was back-formed). Another probable loan from a Romance language is tabaɣa “tobacco” (the etymon seems to be tabaca, a form still current in Central-American Spanish slang).

Also borrowed from a variety of Ibero-Romance are the names of the months of the solar calendar:

Shilha solar month names
Catalan Spanish Portuguese
ynnayr gener enero janeiro
brayr febrer febrero fevereiro
marṣ març marzo março
ibril, ibrir abril abril abril
mayyu(h) maig mayo maio
yunyu(h) juny junio junho
yulyu(z) juliol julio julho
ɣušt agost agosto agosto
šutambir setembre setiembre septembro
ktubr octubre octubre outubro
nuwambir novembre noviembre novembro
dužambir dezembre diciembre dezembro

Spanish and French loans which date from the colonial era can be recognised by the fact that they are almost all borrowed via Arabic, as shown by the presence of the Arabic definite article in nouns such as lfišta ‘feast’ (Spanish fiesta), sskʷila ‘school’ (Spanish escuela), lbakit ‘package’ (French paquet), ṭṭumubil ‘car’ (French automobile).

The noun atay [atæj] "tea" may be a unique loan from Dutch thee [tej].[27]

By far the most numerous group of loans is from Arabic. As with most languages spoken in the Islamic cultural sphere, Shilha has adopted many hundreds of words from Arabic, which now permeat the entire lexicon (except body parts and other basic vocabulary). Loans include verbs and nouns as well as numerals, prepositions, conjunctions and adverbs. Borrowed verbs are completely absorbed into the Shilha verbal system. Many of the borrowed nouns however were not incorportated into the the nominal morphological system, thus constituting a subgroup of their own (see above, Nouns).

It is interesting to note that although some nouns denoting typicaly Islamic concepts (e.g. timzgida ‘mosque’, taẓallit ‘ritual prayer’, uẓum ‘fasting’), which certainly belong to the very earliest Arabic loans, are incorporated in Shilha morphology, but that many equally central Islamic concepts are expressed with unincorporated nouns (e.g. lislam ‘Islam’, lḥažž ‘pilgrimage to Mecca’, zzka ‘alms tax’). It is possible that during the early stages of islamization, these concepts were actually expressed with native vocabulary or earlier (non-Arabic) loans; for example, the non-Arabic noun assarən ‘prophets’ is attested in Medieval Berber (cf. modern Shilha lanbiya, sg. nnbi, unintegrated Arabic loan).

Secret languages[edit]

Two secret languages used by Shilha women are taqžmit and tagnawt.[28]

Destaing[29] mentions a secret language (argot) called inman or tadubirt which is spoken by ‘des gens du Sous et notamment des descendants de Sidi Ahmed ou Moussa.’ He quotes an example: is kn tusat inman? ‘do you speak the secret language?’

Sample text[edit]

Lqiṣt n yan urgaz lli izznzan tammnt ɣ ssuq. 1 Yan urgaz iɛmmr mnnaw yilmawn n tammnt ɣ ssuq. ² Yašk nn dars yan urgaz, ira ad dars isɣ tammnt. Inna yas: "Mnšk at tzznzt tammnt ann?" ³ Inna yas: "Mḍi tt, iɣ ak tɛžb ar gis tsawalt." 4 Yasi urgaz ann yan yilm, ifsi t, imḍi tammnt, ifk t i bab nns, inna as: "Amẓ, ar kiɣ gussɣ wayyaḍ." 5 Yamẓ t s ufus nns, yasi daɣ umsaɣ lli wayyaḍ, ifsi t, imḍi tammnt, ifk t daɣ i bab nns. 6 Yamẓ t s ufus nns yaḍnin, yasi umsaɣ yan yilm n tammnt, irur, iggammi bu tammnt mad a nn iskar i yilmawn lli yumẓ. 7 Ar yaqqra i mddn at t fukkun.[30]

The story of the man who sold honey in the souk. 1 A man was filling some leather bags of honey in the souk. ² There came another man to him, who wanted to buy honey. He said: "At how much do you sell that honey?" ³ The seller said to him: "Just taste it, and if it pleases you, make a bid." 4 The man took a bag, poured out some, tasted the honey and gave it back to its owner; he said: "Please hold it, so that I can try another one". 5 The seller held it in his hand, the buyer took another bag, poured out some, tasted the honey and gave it back to its owner, 6 who held it in his other hand. Then the man took another bag of honey and ran away. The seller could not do anything because of the bags he held. 7 He called on some people to liberated him.

[Word for word translation:] Story of one man who selling honey in souk. 1 One man he.fill some leather.bags of honey in souk. 2 He.came there to.him one man, want to him buy honey. He.say to.him: "How.much you.sell honey that?" 3 He.say to.him: "Taste it, if it.please then about.her speak. 4 He.take man there one leather.bag, he.pour-out it, he.taste honey, he.give it to owner its, he.say to.him: "Hold, until (ar kiɣ) I.test another. 5 He.hold it in hand his, he.take again seller that another, he.pour-out it, he.taste honey, he.give it again to owner its. 6 He.hold it in hand his other, he.take seller one bag of honey,, he.not-able owner.of honey what to because leather.bags that he.held. 7 Then to people that him they.liberate.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Recensement général de la population et de l'habitat 2004". Haut commissariat au plan. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  2. ^ Stroomer 2008: "In Morocco, Berber is spoken in the Rif (Tarifit), in the Middle Atlas (Tamaziɣt) and in the High Atlas, the Sous plains and the Anti-Atlas (Tasusiyt, Tashelhiyt), by an estimated 45% of the total population of 30 million people. (…) Berber immigrant communities of various origins have settled in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Israel. Of all Berber languages Tashelhit Berber is the one with the highest (estimated) number of speakers: some 8 to 9 million."
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Tachelhit". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ "Shilha". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Stroomer 2008; cited as an estmate, without mentioning a source.
  6. ^ Arab geographers often used the name bilād al-Sūs to refer to the whole of medieval Morocco, see van den Boogert 1997:1.
  7. ^ Van den Boogert 1997:9
  8. ^ The following description is based on van den Boogert 1997:61-67.
  9. ^ On the peculiarities of Maghrebi script and orthography see van den Boogert (1989).
  10. ^ The following description is based on van den Boogert 2000 and van den Boogert 1997 ch. 6.
  11. ^ Stumme 1899:137.
  12. ^ Justinard 1914:102.
  13. ^ Aspinion 1953:296
  14. ^ A term introduced by Paulette Galand-Pernet (1972:137).
  15. ^ Galand 1988:214
  16. ^ On the Nature of shwa-like Vocalic Elements within some Berber Clusters PDF (319 KB)
  17. ^ Words without Vowels: Phonetic and Phonological Evidence from Tashlhiyt Berber PDF (284 KB)
  18. ^ Pharyngealization and pharyngeals in Tashlhiyt Berber: A descriptive and comparative study PDF (58.9 KB)
  19. ^ a b Syllabification in Tashlhiyt Berber, Phonetic and Phonological Arguments PDF (119 KB)
  20. ^ The analysis of nominal morphology offered here is not innovative but goes somewhat beyond the statements found in descriptions of Shilha such as Aspinion (1953) and Galand (1988) as it takes into account the results of more recent studies on other Berber languages, in particular Kossmann (1997) on Figuig, and Heath (2005) on Tamashek.
  21. ^ That is, it is not a sort of (in)definite article.
  22. ^ The final n in mddn, middn is not the masculine plural suffix but belongs of the stem; cf. Kabyle i-mdan-ən "people" ( prefixed noun).
  23. ^ Cf. Galand 1988:233
  24. ^ Aspinion 1953:252
  25. ^ Aspinion 1953:254
  26. ^ Crum, W.E. (1939). A Coptic Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon, p. 40b; Coptic ‹b› represented /β/ or /v/
  27. ^ Tea was introduced into Morocco by Dutch and English traders through the international port of Agadir at the end of the 18th century (Bellakhdar 1997:230).
  28. ^ "Morphologie gabaritique et apophonie dans un langage secret féminin (taqjmit) en berbère tachelhit", The Canadian Journal of Linguistics
  29. ^ Destaing 1938:21
  30. ^ Text from Podeur 1995:140-141.


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]