The Zenati languages, named after the medieval Zenata tribe, are a branch of the Northern Berber language family of North Africa, first proposed in Destaing (1915, 1920–23). They are distributed across the central Maghreb, from northeastern Morocco to just west of Algiers, and the northern Sahara, from southwestern Algeria around Bechar to Zuwara in Libya; in much of this range, they are limited to discontinuous pockets in a predominantly Arabic-speaking landscape. The largest languages are Riffian in NE Morocco and Shawiya in eastern Algeria, each with over a million speakers.
There is a large number of Zenati varieties, with the distinction between language and dialect ambiguous in many cases.
- Ghomara, in the northwestern part of the Rif in Morocco
- Riffian (Tarifit), in northern Morocco
- South Oran Berber, in the ksours along the Algerian–Moroccan border
- Central Maghreb Berber
- Achacha (extinct), north of Mostaghanem in Algeria
- Ben Halima (extinct), west of Tiaret in Algeria
- Ouarsenis (extinct?), in the Ouarsenis, east of El Asnam in Algeria
- Harawa (extinct?), south of Ain Defla in Algeria
- Shenwa (Haqbaylit; Beni Menacer, Djebel Bissa), between Tipasa and Ténès in north-central Algeria west of Algiers
- Shawiya (Chaouia), south of Constantine in northeastern Algeria
- Mzab–Wargla (northern Saharan varieties):
- Sened in Tunisia (extinct)
- Zuwara in northwestern Libya
According to Kossmann (1999:28, 32), Zenati consists of the following varieties:
- Riff (northeastern Morocco), including Beni Iznasen
- Eastern Middle Atlas: Ait Seghrouchen and Ait Warain (north-central Morocco)
- South Oran and Figuig (southwestern Algeria and southeastern Morocco)
- Northwestern Algerian varieties: Beni Snous, Chenoua, Beni Menacer etc., Metmata
- Mozabite aka Tumzabt (northern Algerian Sahara, near Ghardaia) and Ouargli aka Teggargarent (northern Algerian Sahara, near Ouargla)
- Gourara Berber (southwestern Algeria, around Timimoun)
- Shawiya (around Batna and Khenchela in eastern Algeria)
- Matmata Berber (Matmata in southeastern Tunisia)
- Djerbi (Djerba in southeastern Tunisia)
- Zuwara Berber (Zuwara in northwestern Libya)
The Ethnologue (16th edition) also includes Senhaja De Srair and Ghomara, along with an extra subgroup, the "East Zenati languages": Ghadamès, Nafusi, and Sened. These do not share all the innovations listed above.
Blench & Dendo (2006)
- Riff cluster (Shawiya, Tidikelt, Tuat, Tariifit/Riff, Ghmara, Tlemcen, Sheliff Basin)
- Mzab–Wargla (Gurara, Mzab, Wargla, Ghardaia, Tugurt, Seghrušen, Figuig, Senhaja, Iznacen)
- East Zenati (Tmagurt, Sened, Jerba, Tamezret, Taujjut, Nefusi, Zwara)
Shenwa is not addressed.
According to Kossmann (1999:31-32, 86, 172), common innovations defining the Zenati languages include:
- The vowel a- in nominal prefixes is dropped in a number of words when it precedes CV, where C is a single consonant and V is a full (non-schwa) vowel. For example, afus "hand" is replaced with fus. (A similar development is found in some Eastern Berber languages, but not Nafusi.)
- Verbs whose original aorist forms end in -u while their perfect forms end in -a end up with -a in the aorist as well, leaving the aorist / perfect distinction unmarked for these verbs. For example, *ktu "forget", Siwi ttu, becomes Ouargli tta. (This also affects Nafusi.)
- Verbs consisting (in the aorist) of two consonants with no vowel other than schwa fall into two classes elsewhere in Berber: one where a variable final vowel appears in the perfect form, and one which continues to lack a final vowel in the perfect. In Zenati, the latter class has been entirely merged into the former in the perfect, with the single exception of the negative perfect of *əγs "want". For example, Kabyle (non-Zenati) gər "throw", pf. -gər (int. -ggar), corresponds to Ouargli (Zenati) gər, pf. -gru. (This change too also affects Nafusi; Basset (1929:9) gives examples where it appears not to occur in Chenoua.)
- Proto-Berber *-əβ has become -i in Zenati. For example, *arəβ "write" becomes ari. (This change also occurs in varieties including the Central Atlas Tamazight dialect of the Izayan, Nafusi, and Siwi.)
- Proto-Berber palatalised k´ and g´, corresponding to k and g in non-Zenati varieties, become š and ž in Zenati (although a fair number of irregular correspondences for this are found.) For example, k´ăm "you (f. sg.)" becomes šəm. (This change also occurs in Nafusi and Siwi.)
In addition to the correspondence of k and g to š and ž, Chaker (1972), while expressing uncertainty about the linguistic coherence of Zenati, notes as shared Zenati traits:
- A proximal demonstrative suffix "this" -u, rather than -a
- A final -u in the perfect of two-consonant verbs, rather than -a (e.g. yə-nsu "he slept" rather than yə-nsa elsewhere)
These characteristics identify a more restricted subset of Berber than those previously mentioned, mainly northern Saharan varieties; they exclude, for example, Chaoui and all but the easternmost Riff dialects.
- Edmond Destaing, "Essai de classification des dialectes berbères du Maroc", Etudes et Documents Berbères 19-20, 2001-2002 (1915)
- Edmond Destaing, "Note sur la conjugaison des verbes de forme C1eC2", Mémoires de la Société Linguistique de Paris, 22 (1920/3), pp. 139-148
- Maarten Kossmann, Essai sur la phonologie du proto-berbère, Rüdiger Köppe:Köln
- Kossmann identifies this as the Matmata Berber of Tunisia, but the source he cites for it, Destaing (1914), is for the Matmata of northwestern Algeria.
- Ethnologue: Zenati language tree
- AA list, Blench & Dendo, ms, 2006
- Maarten Kossmann, "Note sur la conjugaison des verbes CC à voyelle alternante en berbère", Etudes et Documents Berbères 12, 1994, pp. 17-33
- André Basset, La langue berbère. Morphologie. Le verbe.-Étude de thèmes. Paris 1929, pp. 9, 58
- See also Maarten Kossmann, "Les verbes à i finale en zénète", Etudes et Documents Berbères 13, 1995, pp. 99-104.
- Salem Chaker, 1972, "La langue berbère au Sahara", Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée 11:11, pp. 163-167
- # Penchoen, Th.G., 1973, Etude syntaxique d'un parler berbère (Ait Frah de l'Aurès), Napoli, Istituto Universitario Orientale (= Studi magrebini V). p. 14
- Lafkioui, Mena. 2007. Atlas linguistique des variétés berbères du Rif. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe. pp. 207, 178.