In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Berber Languages and Linguistics

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks and Grammars
  • Atlas and Geolinguistic Studies
  • Dictionaries
  • Collective Volumes and Special Issues
  • Bibliography
  • Journals, Book Series, and Encyclopedia
  • Conferences and Proceedings
  • Text Collections, Manuscripts, and Archives
  • Prehistoric Epigraphy
  • Phonetics
  • Phonology
  • Morphology
  • Syntax
  • The Syntax-Prosody-Pragmatics Interface
  • Language Contact

Linguistics Berber Languages and Linguistics
Mena B. Lafkioui
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0219


Berber (aka Tamazight) is a branch of the Afro-Asiatic language phylum and counts about forty languages, which entirely cover North Africa, stretching from Morocco to Egypt, as well as from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sahara and the northern and western Sahel, including Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The number of Berber speakers is estimated at more than forty million, of which the majority lives in Morocco (about 70 percent speaks Berber, mainly along with other languages). Berber has a general “continuum” makeup, which means that one Berber language gradually merges into another Berber language when they are contiguous. As a result, Berber forms a tightly knit and coherent bloc, which makes its subclassification very tricky. On the typological level, three major subdivisions can be made. The first is Northern Berber, which mainly contains Tarifit (including Senhaja Berber; North, Northeast, and Northwest Morocco), Tamazight of the Middle Atlas (Central Morocco), Figuig Berber (East Morocco), Kabyle Berber (North Algeria), Tashawit (Aures, Northeast Algeria), and some oasis languages like Berber of Mzab (South Algeria) and of Ouargla (South Algeria). The second is Southern Berber, which comprises languages such as Zenaga (Mauritania), Tashelhit (South Morocco), and Tetserret and Tuareg Berber (Sahara, Sahel). The third is Eastern Berber, which includes languages such as Berber spoken in Siwa (West Egypt), Sokna and El-Fogaha (Fezzan, Central Libya), Yefren and Zuara (Tripolitania, North Libya), and Ghadames (East Libya), as well as all the Berber languages of Tunisia (e.g., Jerba, Tamazret, and Sened). Berber has its own writing system, tifinagh (Libyco-Berber script), an ancient indigenous system that the Tuaregs have preserved and developed and that has recently been renewed by other Berber peoples, especially in those countries where Berber acquired an official status, such as in Morocco and Algeria. Berber is also written in other scripts, generally Latin based or Arabic based. The latter script is also attested in manuscripts tracing back to ancient times.

General Overviews

There are no general overviews of the entire Berber family, but there are some general comparative introductions to Berber, such as the foundational work of Basset 1894 and later of Applegate 1971, Basset 1952, and Galand 1988. The latter contribution was recently worked out in more detail in Galand 2010.

  • Applegate, Joseph R. 1971. The Berber languages. In Afroasiatic: A survey. Edited by Carleton T. Hodge, 96–118. The Hague and Paris: Mouton.

    A general introduction to some of the primary issues in Berber linguistics.

  • Basset, André. 1952. La langue berbère. International African Institute. London and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This detailed comparison of the Berber verbal morphology is an indisputable milestone in Berberology and still provides a valid framework for current linguistic descriptive and theoretical studies.

  • Basset, René. 1894. Etudes sur les dialectes berbères. Paris: Leroux.

    The first comparative grammar of Berber, involving phonological, morphological, and lexical phenomena of about forty language varieties.

  • Galand, Lionel. 1988. Le berbère. In Les langues chamito-semitiques. Vol. 3 of Les langues dans le monde ancien et moderne. Edited by Jean Perrot, 207–242. Paris: Edition du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

    A very solid overview of Berber’s main comparative features.

  • Galand, Lionel. 2010. Regards sur le berbère. Milan: Centro Studi Camito-Semitici.

    This landmark work provides the principal comparative-historical phenomena of Berber phonology, morphology, and syntax.

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