Berber languages

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The Berber languages (native name: Tamazight) are the indigenous languages of North Africa west of the Nile. The Berber group is a member of the Afroasiatic language family. A relatively sparse population speaking a group of very closely related and similar languages and dialects extends across the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara, and the northern part of the Sahel in Morocco, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Tunisia, Libya, and the Siwa Oasis area of Egypt. There is a movement among speakers of the closely related Northern Berber languages to unite them into a single standard language.

The name Tamazight, which traditionally referred specifically to Central Morocco Tamazight, and is also used by the native speakers of Riff (Tarifit), is being increasingly used for this Standard Berber, or even for Berber as a whole. Its usage is less consistent in some areas like the Kabylia where locals call their language Taqbaylit rather than Tamazight. Due to the rising Berber cultural and political activism and its recent prominence in the North African media, the popularity of the term Tamazight made it known and recognizable by virtually every citizen in North Africa, including non-Berber speakers.

Among the notable varieties of Berber are Central Morocco Tamazight, Riff, Shilha (Tashelhiyt), Kabylian (Taqbaylit), and the Tuareg dialect chain. The Berber languages have had a written tradition, on and off, for over 2,000 years, although the tradition has been frequently disrupted by various invasions. It was first written in the Tifinagh alphabet, still used by the Tuareg; the oldest dated inscription is from about 200 BC. Later, between about 1000 AD and 1500 AD, it was written in the Arabic alphabet; since the 20th century, it has often been written in the Latin alphabet, especially among the Kabylians.

A modernized form of the Tifinagh alphabet was made official in Morocco in 2003, and a similar one is sparsely used in Algeria. The Berber Latin alphabet is preferred by Moroccan Berber writers and is still predominant in Algeria (although unofficially). Mali and Niger recognized the Berber Latin alphabet and customized it to the Tuareg phonological system. However, traditional Tifinagh is still used in those countries. Both Tifinagh and Latin scripts are being increasingly used in Morocco and parts of Algeria, while the Arabic script has been abandoned by Berber writers.


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