Berber - also called Berbero-Libyan language group of languages that make up one of the constituent branches of the Afro-Asiatic (formerly Hamito-Semitic) language family; the other branches are Egyptian, Semitic, Cushitic, and Chadic.
The Berber languages are spoken in scattered areas throughout northern Africa from Egypt westward to the Atlantic Ocean and from the Niger River northward to the Mediterranean Sea. Altogether some 11,000,000 people speak Berber languages.
The Berber (Berbero-Libyan) branch is represented by a multitude of New Stage Berber dialects distributed all over North Africa, from the Siwa Oasis in the Arab Republic of Egypt to Senegal (about 11,000,000 speakers).
The more important dialect clusters are Tamashek (Tuareg), in the central Sahara and south of the Niger; Shawia and Kabyle (Zouaouah), both in Algeria; Rif and Tamazight, predominantly in Morocco; Shluh (Tashelhayt or Shilha), in Morocco and Mauritania; and Zenaga, in Mauritania and northern Senegal.
Little is known of ancient Libyan, also called Numidian.
It is attested by inscriptions found in Tunisia, Algeria, and elsewhere, dating from the times of the Roman Empire and written in a native consonantal quasi-alphabetic script still surviving in a modified form among the Tuaregs of Sahara. Whether the extinct language of the Guanches in the Canary Islands and of the Iberians of Spain belonged to the Berber branch or even to Hamito-Semitic is doubtful.
In the phonologies of these languages the vowels *a, *i, *u were lost or reduced to , and *a, *i, *u became a, i, u; *w and *y may appear both as consonants and as vowels, and the emphatics are represented by d, gh (but in reduplication tt, qq), and z. The system of spirants has been simplified but retains s (sh) and z (zh) sounds. Interdentals, laterals, and affricates were lost.
Word formation and morphology
Except in the verb, there are only traces of the internal inflection type of word formation characteristic of the Semitic branch.
Among grammatical features, a former article no longer retaining its determinative function (masculine *ha-, plural *hi, feminine *ta-, plural *ti-) is prefixed under certain conditions to the noun, displacing the prefixed markers of gender, w- and t-. These latter gender markers are at present used in a form of the noun as an attribute or as a subject of a verb when following the predicate in the sentence.
The plural of the noun is masculine -n and -an and feminine -in.
A pluralis fractus "broken plural" has also developed (mostly an infixation of -a-).
The perfective of the main verbal stem also has a habitative form (reduplication of the second consonant of the root, or prefixation of -tt- to the word base). Tamashek has several verbal tenses.
There is little or no intelligibility between the dialects, except for historically neighboring ones. A great number of Arabic borrowings are evident in most dialects; there are also a number of borrowings from Punic, Latin, and from the languages south of Sahara. Berber Language
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