Zenati languages

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North Africa
Linguistic classification: Afro-Asiatic
Glottolog: zena1250[1]

The Zenati languages, named after the medieval Zenata tribe, are a branch of the Northern Berber language family of North Africa, first proposed in the works of French linguist Edmond Destaing (1915)[2] (1920–23).[3] 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.


Kossmann (2013)[edit]

According to Kossmann (2013: 21–24),[4] Zenati is a rather arbitrary grouping, in which he includes the following varieties:

Blench & Dendo (2006)[edit]

Blench & Dendo (ms, 2006) considers Zenati to consist of just three distinct languages, with the rest (in parentheses) dialects:[5]

  • 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, Zrawa)

Shenwa and Zuwara are not addressed.


According to Kossmann (1999:31-32, 86, 172),[6] 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:[7][8] 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 *əɣ s "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.[9] 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 and , 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),[10] 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[11] and all but the easternmost Riff dialects.[12]


  1. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Zenatic". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Edmond Destaing, "Essai de classification des dialectes berbères du Maroc", Etudes et Documents Berbères 19-20, 2001-2002 (1915)
  3. ^ Edmond Destaing, "Note sur la conjugaison des verbes de forme C1eC2", Mémoires de la Société Linguistique de Paris, 22 (1920/3), pp. 139-148
  4. ^ Maarten Kossmann (2013) The Arabic Influence on Northern Berber
  5. ^ AA list, Blench & Dendo, ms, 2006
  6. ^ Maarten Kossmann, Essai sur la phonologie du proto-berbère, Rüdiger Köppe:Köln
  7. ^ Maarten Kossmann, "Note sur la conjugaison des verbes CC à voyelle alternante en berbère", Etudes et Documents Berbères 12, 1994, pp. 17-33
  8. ^ André Basset, La langue berbère. Morphologie. Le verbe.-Étude de thèmes. Paris 1929, pp. 9, 58
  9. ^ See also Maarten Kossmann, "Les verbes à i finale en zénète", Etudes et Documents Berbères 13, 1995, pp. 99-104.
  10. ^ Salem Chaker, 1972, "La langue berbère au Sahara", Revue de l'Occident musulman et de la Méditerranée 11:11, pp. 163-167
  11. ^ # Penchoen, Th.G., 1973, Etude syntaxique d'un parler berbère (Ait Frah de l'Aurès), Napoli, Istituto Universitario Orientale (= Studi magrebini V). p. 14
  12. ^ Lafkioui, Mena. 2007. Atlas linguistique des variétés berbères du Rif. Köln: Rüdiger Köppe. pp. 207, 178.