Providing resources and trai­ning in the practices and tools of the digital humanities

Amazigh (Berber)

Classification: Afro-Asiatic language family [iso 639-5: ber]
Exonym: Berber
Endonym: Amazigh
Dialects: Tamazight (tzm), Tarafit, (rif), Tashelhit (shi), Kabyle (kab, Algeria)

This indigenous language of the Maghreb (North Africa) is sometimes known as Berber (< Greek βάρβαρος / βάρβαροι ‘stutterers, stammerers’ > ‘barbarous’), but the term is disfavoured because of its negative connotations. Despite having a large estima­ted population (in the absence of language census data, the Ethnologue estimates 4.5 million speakers), far fewer people speak the language fluently, especially among the younger generation. In contact areas and in the urban settings, the language is endangered. The largest number of Imazighen (Amazigh people) are found in three regions of Morocco: North/North­east (known as Tarifit), Central (known as Tamazight) and South/Souss (known as Tashelhit). The language used to be spoken from the Mediterranean Sea to Burkina Faso and Mali, and from the Atlantic Sea to the Siva Island in Egypt.

Moroccan Arabic (known locally as Darija) is a second mother tongue for Amazigh people, and is a major source of endangerment, even in private do­mains. Yet Modern Standard Arabic (Morocco’s official language) in no way competes with Amazigh. (French is also a prestige language among elites.) Had it not been for the presence of Darija, Amazigh would have been in a diglossic relationship with Modern Standard Arabic. Historical, religious, political, economic, geographic, linguistic, and socio-psychological factors have all contributed to the exclusion, marginalization and stigmatization of the Amazighs. Until very recently, Amazigh was excluded from all the formal domains. Under pressure from Moroccan and Algerian Amazigh protests, the Institut royal de la culture amazighe (IRCAM) was established in 2001. Despite current official positive discourse, no political will exists to promote the Amazigh language and identity. Ironically, the very institute designed to promote of the Amazigh language and culture has in fact weakened the cultural movement and even led to a division among the Imazighen from different linguistic areas, and between the institute and civil society activists. Amazigh was introduced in primary schools beginning in 2003, but the project is failing due to a lack of a agreement on a standard variety, a lack of a uniform curriculum, and ad hoc ways of addressing the considerable linguistic variation among Amazigh varieties. Amazigh is now the second official language of Morocco.

This variation will be one focus of the 2012 Co-Lang practicum. Although the language has been studied extensively during the French colonial era, by Amazigh researchers, and by phonologists, a lot needs to be done, particularly in the areas of variation and documentation: Many varieties of Amazigh have still never been studied.

Language Consultants: Mustapha Ouzir: I was born on August 12th, 1961 in Goulmima, the central locality of the Ayt Merghad tribe. Both of my parents are native speakers of Amazigh. They are from the Irklaouen, Ait Mguild tribe located in Azrou—the middle atlas region, and the central part of Morocco.  I have always been in permanent contact with the community, Ayt Mguild in Azrou, through agricultural activities (farming, sheep growing, etc.), and collective action with local people for improving the life conditions and solving the issues related to the local tribe. I am also the president of the local association: “Association Irklaouen for Human Development and the Safeguard of the Amazigh Patrimony”. I use the Amazigh language on a daily basis, but I have not transmitted it to any of my children, as my wife is not Amazigh.

Abdessamad Ait Dada: The Amazigh language (Tashelhit variety, in particular) is my mother tongue and the language of my parents. It is the only language I use when I am in my hometown, Tamzmoute. Amazigh is the most widely used language with my parents and brothers at home in Salè. It is also the language I use with all the people coming from my hometown to Rabat and Salé. In short, Amazigh is the language I use the most, and the one I feel at ease in.

Yamina El Kirat El Allame: I was born in Wawallout, a rural area in the Northeastern part of Morocco, close to the small urban center Berkane not far from the Algerian border. Amazigh was my mother tongue and the sole language used at home till I reached school age, as is the case for all Amazigh people. Both of my parents are native speakers of the Beni Izmassen Amazigh variety. I was the last child in my family to acquire Amazigh. My younger sister and brother both acquired Darija, the second mother tongue in Morocco as Amazigh was excluded from school and was perceived as a stigma. I lost contact with the language when my family moved to Marakkech, in the South of Morocco. I have gone through a phase of rejection of the Amazigh language and a denial of the Amazigh identity as a result of the psychological trauma I went through at school as a child. I had to relearn the language again when I started research on the Amazigh language as a Third Cycle student in 1983. Since then, I have been in touch with the language and I never miss any opportunity to use it with whoever is Amazigh.

Instructor: Professor Yamina El Kirat El Allame, Ph.D. is a Professor of Lin­guistics in the English Department and current director of the research group Culture, language, Education, Society and Development and the doctoral program Studies in Language & Society at the University Mohammed V-Agdal in Rabat. Professor El Kirat has taught and carried out research in general and Amazigh linguistics (phonetics, phonology, morphology, sociolinguistics and language endangerment) for more than 27 years. She has held visiting appointments at EHES- Paris (Ecole des Hautes Etudes Sociales), Tilburg University, Universaà degli Studi Catania, and was a Fulbright fel­low at Greenville Technical College (South Carolina). Professor El Kirat has partnered with Professors from American universities in the supervised Doctoral theses on the Amazigh language and culture in the U.S., published in Moroccan and international journals, and recently organized an international conference on Globalization and Mother Tongues in Africa and is and is its proceedings editor.

See also: UPenn LDC Wiki page on Berber

IDRH on Twitter
Join the IDRH Reading Group this month in a discussion of electronic literature, textual studies, & archival practi…

Directory of DH Scholars

Looking for collaborators, expertise, or other scholars with related interests?

Please see our list of affiliated scholars at KU.

If you would like to be included in this list please complete our affiliated scholars form.

Subscribe to our mailing list
Email Address *
First Name
Last Name

KU Faculty/Staff
KU Student

KU Today
Home to 50+ departments, centers, and programs, the School of the Arts, and the School of Public Affairs and Administration
KU offers courses in 40 languages
No. 1 ranking in city management and urban policy —U.S. News and World Report
One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times