Siwa language

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Žlan n Isiwan
Native to Egypt
Region Siwa Oasis, Gara Oasis
Native speakers
15,000 (2010)[1] to 20,000 (2013)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 siz
Glottolog siwi1239[3]

The Siwa (Sioua) language, Siwi, also known as Oasis Berber or ambiguously as Zenati, is a Berber language of Egypt, spoken by 15,000 to 20,000 people[1][2] in the oases of Siwa and Gara, near the Libyan border. The language has been heavily influenced by Egyptian Arabic,[4] and it is not closely related to the other Berber languages.[2] Its use by the ethnic Siwi population is in decline,[5] as most have shifted to Arabic as their primary language.[6] Some native adult Siwis express a certain distaste for the language, believing it would be better for their children's educational prospects if they spoke Arabic from the start.[1] Overall, the majority of the native population views the language in a positive light[1] and nearly all learn to speak Arabic as a second language from an early age.[1]


Ethnologue[7] places Siwi in an Eastern Berber group with the Awjila–Sokna languages of central and eastern Libya. Kossmann (1999)[8] links it with Sokna and the Nafusi dialect cluster of western Libya and Tunisia, but not with Awjila. The "Endangered Languages Project"[9] classifies the Siwa language as vulnerable to extinction, listing a 20% certainty based on compiled evidence[10][11]


A preliminary inventory of the Siwa language shows a total of 42 distinctive segments, 38 consonants and 4 vowels.[12]


The Siwa language contains 38 consonants and 38 long counterparts of these consonants.[12]

Labial Alveolar
Velar Uvular Epiglottal Glottal
plain phar. plain phar. plain lab. plain lab.
Nasal m n
Stop b t d tˤ (dˤ) c ɟ k ɡ kʷ ɡʷ q (ʔ)
Fricative f s z sˤ zˤ ʃ χ ʁ χʷ ʁʷ ʜ ʢ h
Approximant l j w
Tap ɾ ɾˤ
  • /c ɟ/ can appear as [t͡ʃ d͡ʒ].
  • /ʁ ʁʷ ʢ/ can appear as approximants.


In Siwa, there are 4 vowels and 1 or 2 diphthongs: /a, i, u, ə/; /ai/ [e:] and /au/ [o:].[clarification needed][12]

Writing samples[edit]

The thumbnail picture at the following link contains a list of pronouns and typical greetings first written in Siwi, then with the English pronunciation and translation, and ending with a description of the word in Arabic.[13]

Numerical system[edit]

The Siwi utilize a numerical system almost entirely borrowed from Arabic, and have only retained two traditional Berber numerals: one and two.[12] This system uses numerals 3-10 both for counting and qualifying nouns.[12] Numbers 11-19 have two separate forms for counting and qualifying nouns.[12]

1. waʜəd ~ əd͡ʒːən, əd͡ʒːən, əd͡ʒːət 22. ətnaina wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
2. ətnain ~ sən, sən 23. ətlata wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
3. ətlata 24. arˤbˤəʢa wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
4. arˤbˤəʢa ( c. and q. ) 25. χamsa wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
5. χamsa ( c. and q. ) 26. sətti wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
6. sətti ( c. and q. ) 27. səbʢa wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
7. səbʢa ( c. and q. ) 28. ətmanja wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
8. ətmanja ( c. and q. ) 29. təsˤʢa wa ʢəʃrin ( c. and q. )
9. təsˤʢa ( c. and q. ) 30. ətlatin ( c. and q. )
10. ʢaʃrˤa ( c. and q. ) 40. arˤbˤəʢin ( c. and q. )
11. əʜdaʃərˤ (counting), əʜdaʃ (q.n.) 50. χamsin ( c. and q. )
12. ətˤnaʃərˤ(c.), ətˤnaʃ (q.n.) 60. səttin ( c. and q. )
13. ətlətˤaʃərˤ(c.), ətlətˤaʃ (q.n.) 70. səbʢin ( c. and q. )
14. arˤbəʢtˤaʃərˤ(c.), arˤbəʢtˤaʃ (q.n.) 80. ətmanjin ( c. and q. )
15. əχməstˤaʃərˤ(c.), əχməstˤaʃ (q.n.) 90. təsˤʢin ( c. and q. )
16. səttˤaʃərˤ(c.), səttˤaʃ (q.n.) 100. məjja ( c. and q. )
17. əsbaʢtˤaʃərˤ(c.), əsbaʢtˤaʃ (q.n.) 200. məjjətain ( c. and q. )
18. ətmantˤaʃərˤ(c.), ətmantˤaʃ (q.n.) 1000. alf ( c. and q. )
19. ətsaʢtˤaʃərˤ(c.), ətsaʢtˤaʃ (q.n.) 2000. alfain ??? * not attested


  1. ^ a b c d e Grammatical Contact in the Sahara: Arabic, Berber, and Songhay in Tabelbala and Siwa, Lameen Souag, PhD thesis, SOAS, 2010
  2. ^ a b c Siwa at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Siwi". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Werner Vycichl. 2005. "Jlân n Isîwan: Sketch of the Berber Language of the Oasis of Siwa (Egypt)," 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
  5. ^ Battenburg, John (1999). "The Gradual Death of Berber Language Communities in Tunisia". International Journal of the Sociology of Language 137: 147–161. ISSN 0165-2516. 
  6. ^ Dimmendaal, Gerrit, and Erhard Voeltz. 2007. "Africa". In Christopher Moseley, ed., Encyclopedia of the world's endangered languages.
  7. ^ "Siwi". Ethnologue. 
  8. ^ Kossmann, Maarten. 1999. Essai sur la phonologie du proto-berbère. Köln: Köppe.
  9. ^ "Endangered Languages Project - Siwi". The Endangered Languages. 
  10. ^ Brenzinger Matthias. 2007. "Language Endangerment in Northern Africa." Matthias Brenzinger- Mouton de Gruyter. Ch.6: 123-139
  11. ^ Moseley, Christopher. 2010. "Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger." Christopher Moseley (edt.) 3rd edn.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Mr. Christfried Naumann, Doctoral Student, Department of Linguistics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany. June 26, 2009.
  13. ^ " * Siwa Oasis - Culture - Language *". 

External links[edit]

Ongoing research on Siwi: