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Central Atlas Tamazight

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This article is about the Berber dialect of Central Morocco called Tamazight exclusively. For other uses of the word "Tamazight", see Berber language.
"TZM" redirects here. For the organisation, see The Zeitgeist Movement
Central Atlas Tamazight
Pronunciation [tæmæˈzɪɣt], [θæmæˈzɪɣθ]
Native to Morocco
Region Middle Atlas
Native speakers
2.5 million (2004 census)[1]
Standard forms
Tifinagh, Latin, Arabic
Official status
Regulated by IRCAM
Language codes
ISO 639-3 tzm
Glottolog cent2194[2]
  Location of Central Atlas Tamazight speakers
Central Atlas Tamazight speakers are mostly distributed in a large, contiguous area in central Morocco.
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Central Atlas Tamazight (also known as: Central Morocco Tamazight, Middle Atlas Tamazight, Tamazight, Central Shilha, and, rarely, Braber; native name: Tamaziɣt, Tamazight, ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ [tæmæˈzɪɣt], [θæmæˈzɪɣθ]) is a Berber language[nb 1] of the Afro-Asiatic language family, spoken by 3 to 5 million Moroccans in the Atlas mountains region and its surrounding cities and villages, in Central Morocco. There are also smaller emigrant communities in France and elsewhere who speak this language.[3][4]

Central Atlas Tamazight is one of the most-spoken Berber languages or varieties, along with Taqbaylit, Tashelhit, Rif-Tamazight, and Tashawit, and in Morocco it rivals Tashelhit as the most spoken. All five Berber languages or varieties may be referred to as 'Tamazight', but Riffians and Central-Atlas speakers are the only two Berber-speaking groups who use the term exclusively.

As is typical of Afro-Asiatic languages, Tamazight has a series of "emphatic consonants" (realized as pharyngealized), uvulars, pharyngeals, and lacks the phoneme /p/. Tamazight has a phonemic three-vowel system, but also has numerous words without vowels.

Central Atlas Tamazight (unlike neighbouring Tashelhit) had no known significant writing tradition until the 20th century. It is now officially written in the Tifinagh script for instruction in Moroccan schools,[5][6] while descriptive linguistic literature and some popular literature commonly use the Berber Latin alphabet. The Arabic alphabet has also been used but now is abandoned.

The standard word order is verb–subject–object but sometimes subject–verb–object.[7] Words inflect for gender, number, and state, using prefixes, suffixes, and circumfixes. Verbs are heavily inflected, being marked for tense, aspect, mode, voice, person of the subject, and polarity, sometimes undergoing ablaut. Pervasive borrowing from Arabic extends to all major word classes, including verbs; borrowed verbs, however, are conjugated according to native patterns, including ablaut.[8][9]


Central Atlas Tamazight is one of the four most-spoken Berber languages, in addition to Kabyle, Shilha, and Riff,[10][11] and rivals Shilha as the most-spoken Berber language in Morocco.[12][13][14] Differentiating these dialects is complicated by the fact that speakers of other languages may also refer to their language as 'Tamazight'.[4] The differences between all three groups are largely phonological and lexical, rather than syntactic.[15] Tamazight itself has a relatively large degree of internal diversity, including whether spirantization occurs.[4][16]

Central Atlas Tamazight speakers refer to themselves as Amazigh (pl. Imazighen), an endonymic ethnonym whose etymology is uncertain, but may translate as "free people".[17][18] The term Tamazight, the feminine form of Amazigh, refers to the language. Both words are also used self-referentially by other Berber groups to replace local terms such as ašəlḥi or rifi, although Central Atlas Tamazight speakers use them regularly and exclusively.[4][nb 2]

In older studies, Central Atlas Tamazight is sometimes referred to as "Braber" / "Beraber", a dialetical Arabic term, or its Tamazight equivalent "Taberbrit".[4][19] This is related to the Standard Arabic and English term "Berber", used to refer to all Berber dialects/languages, though eschewed by many Berbers because its etymology is pejorative.[20]

Tamazight belongs to the Berber branch of the Afroasiatic language family; Afroasiatic subsumes a number of languages in North Africa and Southwest Asia including the Semitic languages, the Egyptian language, and the Chadic and Cushitic languages. Along with most other Berber languages, Tamazight has retained a number of widespread Afroasiatic features, including a two-gender system, verb–subject–object (VSO) typology, emphatic consonants (realized in Tamazight as pharyngealized), a templatic morphology, and a causative morpheme /s/ (the latter also found in other macrofamilies, such as the Niger–Congo languages.) Within Berber, it belongs, along with neighbouring Tashelhiyt, to the Atlas branch of the Northern Berber subgroup.

Tamazight is in the middle of a dialect continuum between Riff to its north-east and Shilha to its south-west.[4] The basic lexicon of Tamazight differs markedly from Shilha, and its verbal system is more similar to Riff or Kabyle.[4] Moreover, Tamazight has a greater amount of internal diversity than Shilha.[16]

Tamazight's dialects are divided into three distinct subgroups and geographic regions: those spoken in the Middle Atlas mountains; those spoken in the High Atlas mountains; and those spoken in Jbel Saghro and its foothills.[4] Although the characteristic spirantization of /b/ > [β]; /t/ > [θ] or [h]; /d/ > [ð]; /k/ > [ç] or [ʃ]; and /ɡ/ > [ʝ], [ʃ] or [j] is apparent in Berber languages in central and northern Morocco and Algeria,[21] as in many Middle Atlas dialects, it is more rare in High Atlas Tamazight speakers, and is absent in Tamazight speakers from the foothills of Jbel Saghro.[4][22] Southern dialects (e.g. Ayt Atta) may also be differentiated syntactically: while other dialects predicate with the auxiliary /d/ (e.g. /d argaz/ "it's a man"), Southern dialects use the typically (High Atlas, Souss-Basin rural country, Jbel Atlas Saghro) auxiliary verb /g/ (e.g. /iga argaz/ "it's a man").[4] The differences between each of the three groups are primarily phonological.[15]

Groups speaking Tamazight include: Ait Ayache, Ait Morghi, Ait Alaham, Ait Youb, Marmoucha, Ait Youssi, Beni Mguild, Zayane, Zemmour, Ait Rbaa, Ait Seri, Guerouane, Ait Segougou, Ait Yafelman, Ait Sikhmane, Ayt Ndhir (Beni Mtir).[23][24][nb 3]

There is some ambiguity as to the eastern boundary of Central Atlas Tamazight. The dialect of the Ait Seghrouchen and Ait Ouarain tribes are commonly classed as Central Atlas Tamazight, and Ait Seghrouchen is reported to be mutually intelligible with the neighbouring Tamazight dialect of Ait Ayache.[25] Genetically, however, they belong to the Zenati subgroup of Northern Berber, rather than to the Atlas subgroup to which the rest of Central Atlas Tamazight belongs,[26] and are therefore excluded by some sources from Central Atlas Tamazight.[27] The Ethnologue lists another group of Zenati dialects, South Oran Berber (ksours sud-oranais), as a dialect of Central Atlas Tamazight,[3] but these are even less similar, and are treated by Berber specialists as a separate dialect group.[28]


The Berbers have lived in North Africa between western Egypt and the Atlantic Ocean since before recorded history began in the region about 33 centuries ago.[29][30][15] By the 5th century BC, the city of Carthage, founded by Phoenicians, had extended its hegemony across much of North Africa; in the wake of the Punic Wars, Rome replaced it as regional hegemon. The Central Atlas region itself remained independent throughout the classical period, but occasional loanwords into Central Atlas Tamazight, such as ayugu, "plough ox", from Latin iugum, "team of oxen"[31] and aẓalim "onion" < Punic *bṣal-im,[32] bear witness to their ancestors' contact with these conquerors.

Arabs conquered the area of modern-day Morocco and Algeria around the 7th century,[33] prompting waves of Arab migration and Berber adoption of Islam.[34] Particularly following the arrival of the Banu Hilal in modern-day Tunisia in the 11th century, more and more of North Africa became Arabic-speaking over the centuries.[35] However, along with other high mountainous regions of North Africa, the Middle Atlas continued to speak Berber.

Map of the Almoravid dynasty in green at its greatest extent, circa 1120. The territory covered most of the Northern reaches of Northern Africa, as well as Southern Iberia.
The Almoravid dynasty (green) at its greatest extent, c. 1120.

Between the 12th and 15th centuries, the Central Atlas, along with the rest of Morocco, successively fell within the domain of the Berber Almoravid, Almohad, and Marinid dynasties. Since the 17th century the region has acknowledged the rule of the Alaouite Dynasty, the current Moroccan royal family. However, effective control of the region was limited; until the 20th century much of the Central Atlas was in a condition of siba, recognising the spiritual legitimacy of royal authority but rejecting its political claims.[36] The expansion of the Ait Atta starting from the 16th century brought Tamazight back into the already Arabised Tafilalt region[37] and put other regional tribes on the defensive, leading to the formation of the Ait Yafelman alliance.

The 1912 Treaty of Fez made most of Morocco a French-Spanish protectorate (under French and Spanish military occupation), leaving the Alaouite monarchy but establishing a French military presence in the Atlas region and installing a French commissioner-general.[38] However, the Berber tribes of the Middle Atlas, as in other areas, put up stiff military resistance to French rule, lasting until 1933 in the case of the Ait Atta.

After Morocco's independence in 1956, a strong emphasis was laid on the country's Arab identity,[39] and a national Arabic language educational system was instituted, in which Berber languages, including Middle Atlas Tamazight, had no place. However, in 1994 the government responded to Berber demands for recognition by decreeing that Berber should be taught and establishing television broadcasts in three Berber languages, including Central Atlas Tamazight.[40] For the promotion of Tamazight and other Berber languages and cultures, the government created the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) in 2001.[41][42]

Geographic distribution[edit]

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

Central Atlas Tamazight is among the four most-spoken Berber languages (the other three being Kabyle, Shilha, and Riff),[10][11] and rivals Shilha as the most-spoken Berber language in Morocco.[12][13][14] Central Atlas Tamazight is mostly spoken in the entire Middle Atlas and its outcroppings, reaching east to Taza and west to the region near Rabat.[3][4][43] It is also spoken in the central and eastern High Atlas mountains in Morocco.[4] It is thus spoken across areas with widely varying ecological conditions — from the mountainous and forested regions of the Middle Atlas mountains to the oases of the northwestern Sahara (Tafilalt).[4] Berber in Morocco is spread into three areas: Riff in the north, Central Atlas in the center, and Shilha in the south/southwest.[44] Central Atlas is mutually intelligible with the dialects Riff and Shilha; but Shilha- and Riff-speakers cannot understand each other,[45] although transitional varieties exist between these dialects, creating a smooth transition.[4]

Figures for the number of speakers of Berber languages are generally a matter of estimates rather than linguistic censuses.[11][46] At least a third of Moroccans seem to speak Berber languages,.[nb 4][47][nb 5] Tamazight is estimated to be spoken by about 40~49% of Morocco's Berber-speakers, while Shilha commands 32~40% and Riff 20~25%.[13][nb 5]


Tamazight, along with other Berber languages of Morocco, has a low sociolinguistic status, used mainly in the home, and rarely in official or formal contexts; it is not an official language.[48] However, media broadcasts and music are available in it,[49] and there is a policy of teaching it in schools.

Of the Central Atlas Tamazight speakers, 40–45% are monolingual, while the others use Arabic as a second language.[3] Monolingual speakers consist mostly of older generations and children.[20] Women are more likely to be monolingual than men, since they typically stay in the village while the men go to work in the cities.[39] Since Tamazight is the language of the home, girls grow up speaking Berber languages and pass them on to their children — this gender stratification helps to preserve the language.[50] Bilingual Berber speakers have learned Moroccan Arabic via schooling, migration, media, or through the government.[20] Most rural Berber children are monolingual. They struggle to succeed in schools where the teachers do not speak Berber, and require them to learn both Arabic and French.[20]

Rural Morocco, including the Central Atlas area, suffers from poverty. Tamazight along with its relative Shilha are undergoing "contraction" as rural families, motivated by economic necessity,[34] move to cities and stop speaking Tamazight, leading many intellectuals to fear Berber language shift or regression.[20][51] However, Tamazight speakers are reported to immigrate less than many other Berber groups.[52] Moreover, Tamazight has a large enough body of native speakers not to be considered under risk of endangerment,[6] although Tamazight speakers reportedly have a lower birth rate than the country of Morocco as a whole.[52]

Official status[edit]

The entrance to the IRCAM (Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe) building in Rabat. Two women are standing in front of a large, metal plaque with the word "IRCAM" written on it in large letters, and the organization's logo.
The IRCAM (Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe) in Rabat

As of the Moroccan constitutional referendum, 2011, the Berber languages are official in Morocco alongside Arabic. In 1994, King Hassan II declared that a national Berber dialect would acquire a formal status; television broadcasts are summarized in Tamazight, as well as Shilha and Rif, three times a day; and educational materials for schools are being developed.[53][54][55] On October 17, 2001 King Mohammed VI sealed the decree (Dahir 1–01–299) creating and organizing the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM).[41][42] IRCAM's board is composed of Amazigh experts, artists, and activists, all of whom are appointed by the king.[56] The institute, located in Rabat, has played an important role in the establishment of the Tifinagh script in Morocco.[56] There are multiple political parties and cultural associations in Morocco that advocate for the advancement of Berber, calling for it to be recognized as an official language, used more extensively in the mass media, and taught more in schools.[29][57]

A legal issue affecting Tamazight speakers is restrictions on naming - Moroccan law stipulates that first names must have a "Moroccan character", and uncommon names, including some Berber ones used in the Central Atlas, are often rejected by the civil registry.[53][58]


Main article: Berber orthography
The word ⵜⴰⵎⴰⵣⵉⵖⵜ.
Tamaziɣt in Tifinagh

Until the 20th century Tamazight, like many other Berber languages but in contrast with neighbouring Tashelhiyt, was basically unwritten[59][60] (although sporadic cases, using Arabic script, are attested.[61]) It was preserved through oral use in rural areas, isolated from urban hubs.[60] Scholars from the Middle Atlas, as elsewhere in North Africa, usually wrote in the more prestigious Arabic language, rather than their vernacular.[60]

At present three writing systems exist for Berber languages, including Tamazight: Neo-Tifinagh, the Berber Latin alphabet and the Arabic script.[56] To some extent, the choice of writing system is a political one, with various subgroups expressing preference based on ideology and politics.[56] The orthography used for government services including schooling is Neo-Tifinagh, rendered official by a Dahir of King Mohammed VI based on the recommendation of IRCAM.[56] However, various Latin transcriptions have been used in a number of linguistic works describing Central Atlas Tamazight, notably the dictionary of Taïfi (1991).[62]



Central Atlas Tamazight has a contrastive set of "flat" consonants, manifested in two ways:

Note that pharyngealization may spread to a syllable or even a whole word.[63] Historically Proto-Berber only had two pharyngealized phonemes (/dˤ, zˤ/), but modern Berber languages have borrowed others from Arabic and developed new ones through sound shifts.[64]

In addition Tamazight has uvular and pharyngeal consonants, as well as a conspicuous lack of /p/ in its plosive inventory.[nb 6]

All segments may be geminated except for the pharyngeals /ʕ ħ/. In Ayt Ndhir, which is a dialect of Tamazight with spirantization, the spirantizeable consonants appear in their stop forms when geminated, and additionally the geminate correspondents of /ʁ, dˤ, ʃ, ʒ, w, j/ are usually /qː, tˤː, t͡ʃː, d͡ʒː, ɣʷː, ɣː/ respectively. However some native Berber words have /ʁː/ (not /qː/) where other dialects have singleton /ʁ/, and similarly for /ʃː, ʒː/.[65] In addition, in Arabic loans singleton non-spirantized [b, t, tˤ, d, k, ɡ, q] occur (though [b t d] and to an extent [tˤ] often alternate with their spirantized versions in loans), giving this alternation marginal phonemic status.[63]

In the table below, when consonants appear in pairs, the one on the left is voiceless.

Tamazight consonants (Ayt Ayache)[66][67]
Labial Alveolar
Palatal Velar Uvular Phary
Nasal m nˤ
Stop b tˤ dˤ k¹
Fricative f sˤ zˤ ʃ ʒ χʷ² ʁʷ² ħ ʕ h
j w
Flap/Trill[nb 7] rˤ
*addition to standard

Phonetic notes:

^1 /k g/ are fricatives [x ɣ] in the Ayt Ayache dialect
^2 rare—native speakers can freely substitute /χ ʁ/
^3 mainly in Arabic borrowings
^4 For a small number of speakers, /b/ is sometimes lenited to [β].[68]
^5 /t/ is aspirated [tʰ].[68]
Example words
Phoneme Example Gloss Phoneme Example Gloss Phoneme Example Gloss
/m/ ⵎⴰ/ma/ 'what?' /n/ ⵉⵏⵉ/ini/ 'say!' /b/ ⴱⴰⴱ/bab/ 'owner'
/t/ ⵉⵙⴰⵍⵜ/isalt/ 'he asked him' /d/ ⴷⴰ/da/ 'here' /tˤ/ /tˤalˤb/ 'to demand'
/dˤ/ /dˤmn/ 'to guarantee' /k/ /ks/ 'to tend sheep' /ɡ/ /iɡa/ 'he did'
/xʷ/ /xʷulː/ 'all' /ɣʷ/ /aɣʷːa/ 'a burden' /q/ /iqrˤːa/ 'he confessed'
/qʷ/ /iqʷmːrˤ/ 'he gambled' /f/ /fa/ 'to yawn' /s/ /sus/ 'to shake off'
/z/ /zːr/ 'to pluck' /sˤ/ /sˤbrˤ/ 'to be patient' /zˤ/ /zˤdˤ/ 'to weave'
/ʃ/ /ʃal/ 'to buy grain' /ʒ/ /ʒhd/ 'to be strong' /χ/ /χulf/ 'to be different'
/ʁ/ /ʁal/ 'to think' /χʷ/ /aχʷmːas/ 'share-cropper' /ʁʷ/ /ʁʷzif/ 'tall'
/ħ/ /ħml/ 'to flood' /ʕ/ /ʕbd/ 'to adore, worship' /h/ /ha/ 'here is, are'
/j/ /jːih/ 'yes' /w/ /waχːa/ 'all right' /l/ /la/ 'no'
/lˤ/ /lˤazˤ/ 'hunger' /r/ /rdm/ 'to demolish' /rˤ/ /rˤdˤu/ 'to bless'


Tamazight has a typical phonemic three-vowel system, similarly to Classical Arabic:

Tamazight vowel phonemes[69]
Front Central Back
Close i u
Open a

These phonemes have numerous allophones, conditioned by the following environments:

(# denotes word boundary, X denotes C[−flat −/χ//ʁ/], C̣ denotes C[+flat], G denotes C, /χ/, and /ʁ/)

Tamazight vowel allophony[70]
Phoneme Realization Environment Example Gloss
/i/ [i] #_X /ili/ 'to exist'
[ɨ] #_Xː / Xː_ /idːa/ 'he went'
[ɪ] [e] _G / G_ /dˤːiqs/ 'to burst out'
[ɪj] X_# /isːfrˤħi/ 'he made me happy'
/u/ [u] #_X / X(ː)_X /umsʁ/ 'I painted'
[ʊ] [o] _G / G_ /idˤurˤ/ 'he turned'
[ʊw] X(ː)_# /bdu/ 'to begin'
/a/ [æ] #_X(ː) / X(ː)_X /azn/ 'to send'
[ɐ] X(ː)_# /da/ 'here'
[ɑ] _C̣ / C̣_ adˤr/ 'to be present'

Phonetic Schwa

There is a predictable non-phonemic vowel inserted into consonant clusters, realized as [ɪ̈] before front consonants (e.g. /b t d .../) and [ə] before back consonants (e.g. /k χ .../).[71] It is voiced before voiced consonants and voiceless before voiceless consonants, or alternatively it can be realized as a voiced or unvoiced consonant release.[71][72] It also may be realized as the syllabicity of a nasal, lateral, or /r/.[72]

The occurrence of schwa epenthesis is governed morphophonemically.[72] These are some of the rules governing the occurrence of [ə]:

(# denotes word boundary, L denotes /l r m n/, H denotes /h ħ ʕ w j/)

Tamazight schwa epenthesis[73]
Environment Realization Example Pronunciation Gloss
#C(ː)# əC(ː) /ɡ/ [əɡ] 'to be, to do'
#LC# əLC or LəC /ns/ [əns] ~ [nəs] 'to spend the night'
#CC# CəC /tˤsˤ/ [tˤəsˤ] 'to laugh'
#CːC# əCːəC /fːr/ [əfːər] 'to hide'
#CCC# CCəC / C1C2 are not {L H} /χdm/ [χdəm] 'to work'
/zʕf/ [zʕəf] 'to get mad'
#CCC# əCCəC or #CəCəC# / {C1 C3} is {L H} /hdm/ [əhdəm] ~ [hədəm] 'to demolish'
#CCC# CəCəC / C2C3 = {L H} /dˤmn/ [dˤəmən] 'to guarantee'


  • /tbrˤːmnt/ > [tbərːəmənt] ('you (fp) turned')
  • /datːħadˤar/ > [datːəħadˤar] ('she is present')
  • /ʕadˤːrˤ/ > [ʕadˤːərˤ] ('to meet')

However note that word-initial initial /j, w/ are realized as /i, u/ before consonants. In word-medial or -final position [əj], [əʝ], and [əw] are realized as [ij], [ij], and [uw] respectively, and may become [i] and [u] in rapid speech.[72]

Tamazight in fact has numerous words without phonemic vowels, and those consisting entirely of voiceless consonants will not phonetically contain voiced vowels.[nb 8]

[ə] is written as in neo-Tifinagh and as e in the Berber Latin alphabet. French publications tended to include [ə] in their transcriptions of Berber forms despite their predictability, perhaps due to the French vowel system. This can cause problems because alternations such as /iʁ(ə)rs/ 'he slaughtered' – /uriʁris/ 'he did not slaughter' would then have to conditioned morphologically.[74]


Word stress is non-contrastive and predictable — it falls on the last vowel in a word (including schwa).[75][76]


  • /sal/ > [ˈsal] ('to ask')
  • /dajtːħadˤarˤ/ > [dajtːəħaˈdˤarˤ] ('he is present')
  • /fsːr/ > [fəsːˈər] ('to explain')
  • /tfsːrnt/ > [təfəsːəˈrənt] ('you (fp) explained')


Central Atlas Tamazight grammar has many features typical of Afro-Asiatic languages, including extensive apophony in both the derivational and inflectional morphology, gender, possessive suffixes, VSO typology, the causative morpheme /s/, and use of the status constructus.


Tamazight nouns are inflected for gender, number, and state. Singular masculine nouns usually have the prefix /a-/, and singular feminines the circumfix /t...t.[77] Plurals may either involve a regular change ("sound plurals"), internal vowel change ("broken plurals"), or a combination of the two.[78] Masculine plurals usually take the prefix /i-/, feminines /ti-/, and sound plurals also take the suffix /-n/ in masculine and /-in/} in feminine, although many other plural patterns are found too.[79]


/axam/ → /ixamn/ 'big tent(s)' (m)
/amaziɣ/ → /imaziɣn/ 'Berber(s)' (m)
/adaʃu/ → /iduʃa/ 'sandal(s)' (m)
/asrdun/ → /isrdan/ 'mule(s)' (m)
/taxamt/ → /tixamin/ 'tent(s)' (f)
/tafunast/ → /tifunasin/ 'cow(s)' (f)
/taɡrtilt/ → /tiɡrtal/ 'mat(s)' (f)
/tamazirt/ → /timizar/ 'property(ies)' (f)

Nouns may be put into the construct state (contrasting with free state) to indicate possession, or when the subject of a verb follows the verb. This is also used for nouns following numerals and some prepositions, as well as the conjunction /d-/ ('and').[81] The construct state is formed as follows: in masculines, initial /a/ becomes /u, wː, wa/, initial /i/ becomes /i, j, ji/, and initial /u/ becomes /wu/. In feminines, initial /ta/ usually becomes /t/, initial /ti/ usually becomes /t/, and initial /tu/ remains unchanged.[82]

Examples (in Ayt Ayache):[82]

/babuxam/ ( ← /axam/) 'head of the house'
/ijːs ntslit/ ( ← /tislit/) 'the horse of the bride'

Central Atlas Tamazight's personal pronouns distinguish three persons, and two genders. Pronouns appear in three forms: an independent form used in the subject position, a possessive suffix (and a derived independent possessive pronoun), and an object form affixed[nb 9] to the controlling verb.

Demonstrative pronouns distinguish between proximate and remote. When they occur independently, they inflect for number. They may also be suffixed to nouns, e.g. /tabardaja/ 'this pack-saddle'.[83]

Tamazight subject affixes[84][85]
Person (Ayt Ayache) (Ayt Ndhir)
s 1 /...-ɣ/ /...-x/
2 /t-...-d/ /θ-...-ð/
3 m /i-.../ /j-.../
f /t-.../ /θ-.../
pl 1 /n-.../
2 m /t-...-m/ /θ-...-m/
f /t-...-nt/ /θ-...-nθ/
3 m /...-n/
f /...-nt/ /...-nθ/

Central Atlas Tamazight verbs are heavily inflected, being marked for tense, aspect, mode, voice, person, and polarity. Tamazight verbs have at their core a stem, modified by prefixes, suffixes, moveable affixes, circumfixes, and ablaut. The prefixes indicate voice, tense, aspect, and polarity, while the suffixes indicate mood (normal, horatory, or imperative). Subject markers are circumfixed to the verb, while object marking and satellite framing are accomplished via either prefixing or suffixing depending on environment[86] Some verb forms are accompanied by ablaut, and sometimes metathesis.[87]

Pronominal complement markers cliticize to the verb, with the indirect object preceding the direct object, e.g. /iznz-as-t/ "he sold it to him".[88]

Attributive Adjectives after the noun they modify, and inflect for number and gender.[89][90] Adjectives may also occur alone, in which case they become an NP.[90] Practically all adjectives also have a verbal form used for predicative purposes, which behaves just like a normal verb.[90]

/argaz amʕdur/ 'the foolish man' (lit. 'man foolish')
/tamtˤut tamʕdur/ 'the foolish woman'
/irgzen imʕdar/ 'the foolish men'
/tajtʃin timʕdar/ 'the foolish women'
/i-mmuʕdr urgaz/ 'the man is foolish' (lit. '3ps–foolish man')
/argaz i-mmuʕdr-n/ 'the foolish man' [using a non-finite verb]

Prepositions include /xf/ ('on'), /qbl/ ('before'), /ɣr/ ('to'), and the proclitics /n/ ('of') and /d/ ('with, and').[nb 10] These may take pronominal suffixes. Some prepositions require the following noun to be in the construct state, while others do not.[91]


Word order is usually VSO (with the subject in construct state) but sometimes is SVO (with the subject in free state), e.g. (/ifːɣ umaziɣ/ vs. /amaziɣ ifːɣ/ 'the Berber went out').[7] Tamazight also exhibits pro-drop behavior. [92]

Tamazight may use a null copula,[93] but the word /ɡ/ 'to be, to do' can function as a copula in Ayt Ayache, especially in structures preceded by /aj/ 'who, which, what'.[94]

wh- questions are always clefts, and multiple wh-questions[nb 11] do not occur.[95] Consequently, Tamazight's clefting, relativisation, and wh-interrogation contribute to anti-agreement effects,[nb 12] similar to Shilha,[95] and causes deletion of the verbal person marker in certain situations.[96]


As a result of relatively intense language contact, Central Atlas Tamazight has a large stratum of Arabic loans. Many borrowed words in Berber also have native synonyms, e.g. /lbab/ or /tiflut/ 'door', the latter used more in rural areas.[97] The contact was unequal, as Moroccan Arabic has not borrowed as much from Berber languages,[98] though Berber has contributed to Moroccan and Algerian Arabics' very reduced vowel systems.[99]

Arabic loans span a wide range of lexical classes. Many nouns begin with /l-/, from the Arabic definite prefix, and some Arabic feminines may acquire the native Berber feminine ending /-t/, e.g. /lʕafit/ for /lʕafia/ 'fire'.[100] Many Arabic loans have been integrated into the Tamazight verb lexicon. They adhere fully to inflectional patterns of native stems, and may even undergo ablaut.[8][9] Even function words are borrowed, e.g. /blli/ or /billa/ 'that', /waxxa/ 'although', /ɣir/ 'just', etc.[97]

The first few (1–3 in Ayt Ayache and Ayt Ndhir) cardinal numerals have native Berber and borrowed Arabic forms.[nb 13][101] All higher cardinals are borrowed from Arabic, consistent with the linguistic universals that the numbers 1–3 are much more likely to be retained, and that a borrowed number generally implies that numbers greater than it are also borrowed. The retention of one is also motivated by the fact that Berber languages near-universally use unity as a determiner.[102]

Central Atlas Tamazight uses a bipartate negative construction (e.g. /uriffiɣ ʃa/ 'he did not go out') which apparently was modeled after proximate Arabic varieties, in a common development known as Jespersen's Cycle.[103] It is present in multiple Berber varieties, and is argued to have originated in neighboring Arabic and been adopted by contact.[104]


English Tamazight (Ayt Ayache)
Hello /sːalamuʕlikːum/ (to a man by a man)
/ʕlikːumsːalam/ (response)
/lˤːahiʕawn/ (to or by a woman)
/lˤːajslːm/ (response)
Good morning /sˤbaħ lxirˤ/
Good evening /mslxirˤ/
Good night /ns jlman/ (to m.s. or f.s.)
/mun dlman/ (response)
/nsat jlman/ (to m.p.)
/tmunm dlman/ (response)
/nsint jlman/ (to f.p.)
/tmunt dlman/ (response)

/lˤːajhnːikː/ (to m.s.)
/lˤːajhnːikːm/ (to f.s.)
/lˤːajhnːikːn/ (to m.p.)
/lˤːajhnːikːnt/ (to f.p.)

/tamanilːah/ (response)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

ⵉⵎⴷⴰⵏⴻⵏ, ⴰⴽⴽⴻⵏ ⵎⴰ ⵍⵍⴰⵏ ⵜⵜⵍⴰⵍⴻⵏ ⴷ ⵉⵍⴻⵍⵍⵉⵢⴻⵏ ⵎⵙⴰⵡⴰⵏ ⴷⵉ ⵍⵃⵡⴻⵕⵎⴰ ⴷ ⵢⵉⵣⴻⵔⴼⴰⵏ-ⵖⵓⵔ ⵙⴻⵏ ⵜⴰⵎⵙⴰⴽⵡⵉⵜ ⴷ ⵍⴰⵇⵓⴻⵍ ⵓ ⵢⴻⵙⵙⴻⴼⴽ ⴰⴷ-ⵜⵉⵍⵉ ⵜⴻⴳⵎⴰⵜⵜ ⴳⴰⵔ ⴰⵙⴻⵏ.[105]

Imdanen, akken ma llan ttlalen d ilelliyen msawan di lḥ weṛma d yizerfan- ghur sen tamsakwit d lâquel u yessefk ad-tili tegmatt gar asen.[106]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Central Atlas Tamazight may be referred to as either a Berber language or a Berber dialect. As Berber languages have a some degree of mutual intelligibility, there is little consensus on what is considered a "language" and what a "dialect". Additionally, Berber cultural activists like to consider all Berber dialects to be a single language to emphasize unity, though this is not entirely linguistically sound (e.g. geographically non-proximate "dialects" may be mutually unintelligible), see Brenzinger (2007:124)
  2. ^ Using gh for [ɣ] when embedding Berber words in English text follows the tradition set by French-language publications, even those written by Berbers Goodman (2005:xii). The name "Tamazirt" results from French transcription of Tamazight /ɣ/ with the letter r, which in French represents the similar-sounding phoneme /ʁ/. Cf. Souag (2004)
  3. ^ (/ajt~/ literally means "children of ~", see Abdel-Massih (1971b:118)
  4. ^ André Basset estimated in 1952 that a "small majority" of Morocco's population spoke Berber, see Basset, André (1952), "La langue berbère", Handbook of African Languages, Part I (London: Oxford University Press) 
  5. ^ a b According to the Ethnologue (by deduction from its Moroccan Arabic figures), the Berber-speaking population should be estimated at 35% or around 10.5 million speakers. However, the figures provided for individual languages only add up to 7.5 million, divided into the three dialects as follows: Riff at 1.5 million speakers in 1991; Shilha at 3 million speakers in 1998; and Central Atlas Tamazight at 3 million in 1998, which would give Central Atlas 40%, Shilha 40%, and Riff 20% of the total. See
    "Languages of Morocco". SIL International. n.d. Retrieved December 20, 2009. 
    "Tarifit". SIL International. n.d. Retrieved December 20, 2009. 
    "Tachelhit". SIL International. n.d. Retrieved December 20, 2009. 
    "Tamazight, Central Atlas". SIL International. December 20, 2009. 
  6. ^ [p] is missing from about 10% of languages that have a [b]. (See voiced velar plosive for another such gap.) This is an areal feature of the "circum-Saharan zone" (Africa north of the equator plus the Arabian peninsula). It is not known how old this areal feature is, and whether it might be a recent phenomenon due to Arabic as a prestige language (Arabic lost its /p/ in prehistoric times), or whether Arabic was itself affected by a more ancient areal pattern. It is found in other areas as well; for example, in Europe, Proto-Celtic is reconstructed as having [b] but no [p]. Nonetheless, the [p] sound is very common cross-linguistically.
  7. ^ Abdel-Massih refers to this as a "flap" produced with "vibration" of the tongue.
  8. ^ Audio recordings of selected words without vowels in Shilha can be downloaded from [1].
  9. ^ prefixed or suffixed depending on multiple factors
  10. ^ /n/ and /d/ assimilate to some initial consonants: e.g. /ʃa lːħlib/ 'some milk'), /aɣjul tːfunast/ 'the donkey and the cow'.
  11. ^ such as the English "who saw what?", see Stoyanova (2004:174–175)
  12. ^ when the verb does not agree with, or agrees in a relative manner with wh-words, see Richards (2004:18).
  13. ^ In Ayt Ayache the Arabic numerals are only used for counting in order and for production of higher numbers when combined with the tens, see Abdel-Massih (1971b:22)


  1. ^ Central Atlas Tamazight at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Central Atlas Tamazight". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Tamazight, Central Atlas". SIL International. n.d. Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Chaker
  5. ^ "Tifinagh alphabet and Berber languages". Omniglot. S. Ager. n.d. Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  6. ^ a b Brenzinger (2007:128)
  7. ^ a b Abdel-Massih (1971b:295)
  8. ^ a b Sadiqi (1986:25–26)
  9. ^ a b Abdel-Massih (1971b:153)
  10. ^ a b Kjeilen, Tore (n.d.). "Berber". LookLex Encyclopedia. LookLex Ltd. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c El Aissati (1993:5–6)
  12. ^ a b "Ethnologue report for Morocco". SIL International. n.d. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  13. ^ a b c Ross (2004:20)
  14. ^ a b Moustaoui, 1.3 The distribution of speakers in the territory
  15. ^ a b c Sadiqi (1986:2)
  16. ^ a b Kossmann & Stroomer (1997:461)
  17. ^ Brenzinger (2007:124)
  18. ^ Messaoudi, D. (2009). "The Etymology of the Word "Amazigh"". Scribd. Retrieved March 21, 2010. 
  19. ^ Penchoen (1973:1)
  20. ^ a b c d e Ennaji (2005:71)
  21. ^ Achab, Karim (2001). "The Tamazight Language Profile". University of Ottawa. III.9 Dialectic variation. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  22. ^ Penchoen (1973:5)
  23. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971a:ix)
  24. ^ Penchoen (1973:4)
  25. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:xiii)
  26. ^ Edmond Destaing, "Essai de classification des dialectes berbères du Maroc", Études et Documents Berbère, 19-20, 2001-2002 (1915)
  27. ^ Augustin Bernard and Paul Moussard, Arabophones et berbérophones au Maroc, Annales de Géographie 1924, Volume 33 Numéro 183, pp. 267-282.
  28. ^ Maarten Kossmann, "Grammatical notes on the Berber dialect of Igli (Sud oranais, Algeria)", in ed. D. Ibriszimow, M. Kossmann, H. Stroomer, R. Vossen, Études berbères V – Essais sur des variations dialectales et autres articles. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe, 2010.
  29. ^ "The Berbers – History". Arabic German Consulting. n.d. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  30. ^ Vermondo Brugnatelli, "I prestiti latini in berbero: un bilancio", 9° Incontro di Linguistica Afroasiatica (Camito-Semitica), Trieste, 23-24 aprile 1998,
  31. ^ Abdel-Massih 1971; Werner Vycichl, Berberstudien & A Sketch of Siwi Berber (Egypt). Ed. Dymitr Ibriszimow & Maarten Kossmann. Berber Studies, vol. 10. Cologne: Rüdiger Köppe Verlag. ISBN 3-89645-389-0
  32. ^ "The Berbers". B. Whitaker. 2009. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  33. ^ a b "Berbers". World Directory of Minorities. The Gale Group. n.d. Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  34. ^ Mughal, Muhammad Aurang Zeb. 2012. Tunisia. Steven Danver (ed.), Native Peoples of the World: An Encyclopedia of Groups, Cultures, and Contemporary Issues, Vol. 3. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, pp. 688-689.
  35. ^ David Hart, Qabila: tribal profiles and tribe-state relations in Morocco and on the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier, 2001, p. 33
  36. ^ Mezzine, Larbi (1987). Le Tafilalt, Contribution à l'histoire du Maroc aux XVIIè et XVIIIè siècles. Publications de la FLSH, Mohammed V University (in French) (Rabat). 
  37. ^ Sussman, Sarah (n.d.). "Jewish Population of French North Africa". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  38. ^ a b Becker (2006)
  39. ^ Joël Donnet, APRÈS DEUX MILLE ANS DE MÉPRIS: Renaissance berbère au Maroc, Le Monde diplomatique Jan. 1995
  40. ^ a b El Jechtimi, Ahmed (2009). "Amazigh from oblivion to the classroom". Rabat: Agence Maghreb Arabe Presse. Retrieved December 20, 2009. [dead link]
  41. ^ a b Wikisource:Dahir n° 1-01-299
  42. ^ Sadiqi (1986:2)
  43. ^ Chaker (2003:2)
  44. ^ Brenzinger (2007:125)
  45. ^ "Berber Language Page". Michigan: African Studies Center. n.d. 2 Number of Speakers. Retrieved December 18, 2009. [dead link]
  46. ^ The 1960 census estimated via interpolation that 37% of Moroccans were Berbers, see "Berbers of Morocco – Orientation". Retrieved December 19, 2009. 
  47. ^ El Aissati (1993:8)
  48. ^ El Aissati (1993:8,10)
  49. ^ Penchoen (1973:3)
  50. ^ Hoffman (2006:148)
  51. ^ a b El Aissati (1993:7)
  52. ^ a b van Heelsum (2002:9)
  53. ^ "Berber Language Page". Michigan: African Studies Center. n.d. 3 Dialect Survey. Retrieved December 18, 2009. [dead link]
  54. ^ Benmhend, Driss (1997). "The Amazigh Revival in Morocco". Georgetown: Gourad Media Group LLC. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  55. ^ a b c d e Larbi, Hsen (2003). "Which Script for Tamazight, Whose Choice is it ?". Amazigh Voice (Taghect Tamazight) (New Jersey: Amazigh Cultural Association in America (ACAA)) 12 (2). Retrieved December 17, 2009. 
  56. ^ El Aissati (1993:11–12)
  57. ^ "Morocco: Lift Restrictions on Amazigh (Berber) Names". New York: Human Rights Watch. September 3, 2009. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  58. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971a:viii)
  59. ^ a b c Ben-Layashi (2007:166)
  60. ^ Ahmed Touderti, Une prophétie berbère en tamazight (Maroc central), Etudes et Documents Berbères, 15-16, 1998 : pp. 101-113
  61. ^ Miloud Taïfi, Dictionnaire tamazight-français (parlers du Maroc central), Paris, L'Harmattan-Awal, 1991
  62. ^ a b Penchoen (1973:7)
  63. ^ Kossman & Stroomer (1997:464)
  64. ^ Penchoen (1973:5–7)
  65. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:4, 6, 19–20)
  66. ^ Abdel-Massih (1968:16)
  67. ^ a b Abdel-Massih (1971b:5)
  68. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:11)
  69. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:13–15, 20)
  70. ^ a b Abdel-Massih (1971b:15)
  71. ^ a b c d Penchoen (1973:10)
  72. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:15–17)
  73. ^ Abdel-Massih (1968:3–4)
  74. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:17–18)
  75. ^ Penchoen (1973:11)
  76. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:88–89)
  77. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:97)
  78. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:88–89, 93–96)
  79. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:97–112)
  80. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:121–123)
  81. ^ a b Abdel-Massih (1971b:119–121)
  82. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:69, 81)
  83. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:159, 217)
  84. ^ Penchoen (1973:25–26)
  85. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:154–159, 216–217)
  86. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:161–166, 218–219)
  87. ^ Louali, Naïma; Philippson, Gerard (2003). Vowel apophony and underlying segments in Siwa Berber (Egypt) (PDF). Workshop on the Phonology of African Languages (WOPAL). University of Vienna. Retrieved December 20, 2009. 
  88. ^ "Berber (Middle Atlas)". The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology & Max Planck Digital Library. n.d. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  89. ^ a b c Sadiqi (1986:23)
  90. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971b:123–125)
  91. ^ Stoyanova (2004:172)
  92. ^ Chaker, Salem (n.d.). "La Syntaxe de la Langue Berbere" (in French). Paris: INALCO. Retrieved December 18, 2009. [dead link]
  93. ^ Abdel-Massih (1971a:298)
  94. ^ a b Stoyanova (2008:105)
  95. ^ Richards (2004:19)
  96. ^ a b Sadiqi (1986:25)
  97. ^ Sadiqi (1986:24–25)
  98. ^ "Interview met Karl-G. Prasse". Archived from the original on May 3, 2008. Retrieved December 20, 2009. 
  99. ^ Sadiqi (1986:25)
  100. ^ Penchoen (1973:24)
  101. ^ Souag (2007:240)
  102. ^ Lucas (2007a:2)
  103. ^ Lucas (2007b:1)
  104. ^ "Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Tamazight, Central Atlas (Tifinagh)". The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 
  105. ^ "Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Tamazight, Central Atlas". The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Retrieved December 18, 2009. 


External links[edit]